The Greening of the Algarve.

[ Friday, 16th February 2007 ]

With sun-drenched fairways, glorious sandy beaches, year round mild weather and easy and affordable access, it is no wonder that the Irish love affair with The Algarve goes from strength to strength. Ita O’Kelly reports.

It is no accident that Portugal’s Algarve has become a virtual home-from-home for so many Irish people. Portugal ticks all the right boxes when it comes to meeting the needs of the average Irish holidaymaker.

The Algarve offers value for money, it takes just over a couple of hours to get there, it is very child friendly and the weather is reliable throughout the year. In addition the people are warm and pleasing, the golf is glorious and the beaches are not overcrowded and heaving with too many people. And of course the food and wine is exquisite and delightfully inexpensive. While the Irish are a discerning bunch when it comes to selecting a holiday destination, we are among the most loyal when we find what we are looking for. And that is why we keep returning to the Algarve.

More than 420,000 Irish people visit Portugal every year and of those 300,000 select the Algarve. With Ryanair and Aer Lingus offering daily flights and most of the main tour operators offering charters, getting there has never been easier or cheaper. For those looking for sun on their backs, Portugal delivers. Algarve temperatures range from the balmy 60s in December and January to 70 degrees and upwards from April onwards. In the high season in July and August temperatures reach right up to the sizzling 80s. The Algarve basks in a staggering 3000 hours of sunshine per year making it the perfect destination for the sun starved. In spite of being the capital of the Algarve, Faro has always been more of a bridesmaid than a bride.

The vast majority of tourists rush through the airport and head for the necklace of resorts and villa developments along the Algarve coast. A firm favourite is the resort of Vilamoura where a fabulous array of accommodation is available. I stayed in a chic and elegant two-bedroom two-bathroom apartment called Brisa Sul Vilamoura, 20 minutes from Faro Airport available from from just €50 per day. The interior, designed by Australian stylist Leanne de Cerbo is cool and contemporary, and the large wraparound terrace is ideal for al fresco dining. The apartment is five minutes from the stunning marina and beaches. Here gourmet food costs about half of what we are accustomed to paying in Ireland. Check out Il Lamparo for the best Italian food in the region and try Perra de Pau for a magnificent chateaubriand for just €32.

Car rental is a very popular option in Portugal. If you fancy a trip down to Seville, you can hit the motorway and land running in just 90 minutes. Marina car Rental at Faro Airport and Lagos offer car rental now from as little as €125 per week. Perhaps the increasing appeal of the Algarve is that it offers a pace of life that we Irish no longer find at home. The quality of life in Portugal is so good that many Irish people have now bought homes there including Ireland’s favourite entrepreneur Denis O’Brien who owns and resides in the Quinta de Lago complex just 15 minutes from Faro Airport. But don’t expect to see him at the check-in desk. He uses the airport to store his Lear jet!

Fact File:

AROUND & ABOUT LOULE: Situated about 18km from Faro, Loule is best known for its arts and crafts. Beneath the castle walls a warren of whitewashed cobbled streets are packed with craftspeople making copperware and lace. A market takes place every Saturday.

 LAGOS: This is a truly delightful town situated in the Western Algarve. It has a large marina and many wonderful beaches. It also boasts some wonderful shopping and some excellent restaurants that specialise in Portuguese cuisine. SAGRES: If you enjoy windsurfing, the best waves are located at Sagres. It is a delightful small town also noted for its seafood and wonderful beaches. The local lobster is a must.

VILAMOURA has the highest concentration of golf courses in Europe with three award winning ones – the Millennium, the Victoria and the Laguna. The marina has berthing for in excess of 1000 boats. There are many restaurants dotted around the marina that becomes a glittering vista by night.

ALBUFEIRA is an old Moorish trading port with lots of quaint cobbled stones. There is a huge selection of restaurants, pubs, shops and discos.

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Ita O'Kelly - Abroad Magazine