Take a trip to visit the beautiful historic town of Silves, and explore one of the best preserved Moorish castles in Portugal.
The ‘Castelo de Silves’ is one of the main attractions, and the biggest castle, in the Algarve. Learn about the occupying forces over the years, starting with the Lusitanians, then it’s believed that Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians all made use of the site before the Romans, followed by the Moors, who reinforced and developed the fortifications further. In addition to learning some interesting history about the castle and its repairs and reconstructions over the centuries, you can enjoy fabulous views of the surrounding countryside as you walk around the perimeter of the castle’s red sandstone walls, and take a break in the lovely central gardens, where you’ll find a café for refreshments.
To fully take in the charm of Silves we recommend you devote a day to explore; other sites to visit during your excursion are the magnificent gothic cathedral and the Municipal Archaeological Museum, and if you care to meander through the town you’ll be delighted by the cobbled streets, remnants of the old walls and city gates, the municipal market, and river banks.
And if you’re in the Algarve in August, the ten-day Medieval Fair is not to be missed. As all the streets leading up to the castle become a medieval market, alive with musicians, jugglers, food stalls with bbqs and spit roasts and Moroccan goods such as arts, crafts and jewellery, the entire town becomes a reenactment of when Silves was the Moorish capital of the Kingdom of the Algarve.
The Ria Formosa is a unique coastal lagoon, designated as Natural Park and covering over 170 km².
One of the most amazing natural landscapes in the Algarve, it’s constantly changing due to the effects of the tides, currents and wind, despite protection from the sea by its 5 barrier islands and 2 peninsulas.
The Ria Formosa serves as a resting place for thousands of birds during the migratory periods, in spring and autumn, and is linked to the sea via six inlets, one man-made. It’s also an important area for salt production and seafood farming.
Among the islands and islets, tidal flats and marshes, saltpans and dunes, woodland areas and lagoons, a huge variety of flora and fauna can be found; including seahorses, chameleons, and rare birds such as the Purple Swamphen.
A paradise for bird-enthusiasts and nature-lovers, if you really want to get away from it all and explore the natural beauty of the Algarve, here’s the place we recommend – on foot or bike, by boat, kayak or SUP. Guided tours, rentals and charters are available for all the above-mentioned modes of transport.
With its cobbled streets, quaint harbour and historic centre, Tavira, on the banks of the Gilão river, has retained its unhurried Algarvian charm as surrounding areas have clambered to keep up with the pace of modern life. In the evening, you’re drawn along the streets by the smell of grilled fish as the restaurants fill up with a good balance of locals and tourists, and its ornate churches and roman bridge give it a very different feeling to the developed areas.
The tourists attracted by Tavira’s character tend to find entertainment in a stroll along the riverside and the local culture and cuisine, rather than lively bars and clubs.
In the northwest of the Algarve region, the Monchique mountain range is where you can still see Moorish farming methods practised to this day and, on a clear day, the most spectacular view of the Algarve from south coast to west.
From Mt Fóia, the highest point of the Serra de Monchique at 902 m above sea level, you can take a thrilling downhill bike ride all the way to the coast with Outdoor-Tours, or take some photos if you’d rather just enjoy the view.
Monchique itself is a small market village with a traditional atmosphere, dependent mainly on tourism and handicrafts. At the Tourist Information office you can get information about organised walks and leaflets such as the ‘Monchique Crafts and Producers Map’ – handy if you’re hunting for gifts or souvenirs, the map will lead you to hidden shops down cobbled streets where you’ll find knitwear, basket work and leather goods, pottery, ceramics and tiles, soap, honey, and the local spirit – medronho. Also look out for the famous scissors chair that’s made in this area.
In the foothills of the mountain range, the picturesque village, Caldas de Monchique is a well-known spa town renowned for the healing water that flows from its four geothermal springs. You can sample the spring waters from one of the natural falls dotted on the hill, or from a fountain in the village square.
The Monchique Spa has a good range of relaxation and well-being treatments if you care to try out the curative properties of the sulphur hot springs. They also offer a childcare/babysitting service so there’s no need to debate whose turn it is to look after the kids!
While you’re in the area, we recommend a little detour to the waterfall ‘Cascata do Barbelote’. During the summer it’s likely to be a dismally dry disappointment but it’s a pleasant walk to find it (accessed via a footpath from Mt. Foia) and after heavy rainfall you’ll be duly rewarded at the sight of its beauty.
Cheryl’s Top Tips for Algarve Exploring
Shiny Cobbled Streets
The well-worn cobbled streets of hilly towns and villages can be slippery – comfortable shoes with a good tread are recommended for exploring, especially in Silves and Monchique.
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