Algarve holidays offer so much more than sandy beaches, they also boast impressive sights which encompass the rich history belonging to Portugal. Explore the idyllic Benagil Caves located in the quaint fishing village, Benagil or discover the fascinating architecture and history at the Castle of Lagos, also known as The Governor’s Castle.
Benagil is a small fishing village on the southern coast of the Algarve, and is particularly well known for its incredible sea cave – a large, dome-shaped cave with a high ceiling, with sunlight pouring through openings in the rock.
The Benagil cave can only be reached from the sea, and there are many boat trips available to take visitors to the cave from Benagil beach or from other local beaches, including Armacao de Pera and Carvoeira. Only smaller boats can actually enter the cave, so if you’re looking for something completely different, hire a Stand-up Paddle Board (SUP).
The Banagil Cave has become a very popular tourist attraction and does get extremely busy in high season but it is open all year round, sea conditions permitting. Although close to the beach, swimming to the cave is not advised as the tides and currents can change quickly and it can sometimes be a little dangerous.
Cape St. Vincent is a coastal landform in the village of Vila do Bispo, and is the most south-westerly point of Portugal and of mainland Europe. The rough, rugged cliffs rise 60 metres above the sea amongst a wild, remote and exposed landscape. Once thought to be the end of the world, it was believed that any sailor who ventured too far from the coast would face sea monsters that could consume a whole ship in one bite.
Cape St. Vincent Lighthouse, constructed on the old ruins of a Franciscan monastery that revered St. Vincent, whose bones were supposedly found in the cliffs and to whom the headland is named, can be seen from the headland. Unfortunately, the lighthouse isn’t open to visitors but the view alone makes a visit to this area worthwhile and the sunsets are absolutely amazing. The village itself is very picturesque and there are a number of small shops, cafes and restaurants for you to explore, as well as a small attractive park, located in the main village square.
The Castle of Lagos, also known as the Castelo dos Governadores was built in Roman times and was renovated and enlarged during the 16th century, providing the town with its main defence against intruders. In 1755 it was practically destroyed by the tsunami that followed the great earthquake and once it was reconstructed it was officially recognised as a National Monument.
Today, the well-preserved portion of the city walls and towers, guard the entry archway and are well worth a visit and offer some lovely photo opportunities. There is a café in the castle grounds, offering a variety of delicious meals and snacks, all at reasonable prices. Or if you prefer, the park in front of the castle is a lovely spot for a picnic or just to sit and relax and take in the view of the ocean in front of you.
The Castle of Loule is Moorish in origin, and dates right back to the 8th century, even being rebuilt in 1249. Today, there is not much of the actual castle left except for three towers and their connecting walls.
The towers now house the Municipal Archaeological museum of Loule, where various artefacts from archaeological digs, Roman pottery and an interesting collection of Bronze Age elements are exhibited. A glass floor allows visitors to see fascinating excavated Moorish ruins and there is also a reconstructed, traditional kitchen displaying ancient tools, implements and copper pans.
From the top of the towers, you have a lovely view of the town of Loule with its narrow streets, fascinating churches and small workshops, where local craftspeople manufacture leather, wood and copper goods.
The castle is open six days a week: Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm and Saturday, 9am-2pm & 3pm-5pm.
The Cathedral of Faro is a Roman Catholic cathedral, located in the heart of the city’s small Old Town, Cidade Velha. The cathedral was originally built over the remains of a Roman temple and then a Moorish mosque. With the exception of the tower gate and two chapels, the Cathedral of Faro was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and has since been rebuilt in a variety of styles, from Baroque and Gothic, to Renaissance.
Today, Faro’s cathedral contains some beautiful azulejos tilework, marble inlay and gilded wood carvings and the small cathedral museum displays an assortment of statues, religious paintings, vestments and a small vault. There is also a beautiful organ located in the cathedral and you will often find an organist playing beautiful music. You can climb up the narrow, winding staircase of the bell tower to the roof for wonderful views over Faro, and when you have done all that why not relax in the café in the square and enjoy the peace and tranquillity, amidst the orange trees?
Built in the first half of the 18th century, the charming, whitewashed Church of São Lourenço provides the very best example of Algarve baroque decorative tile work. From the outside, the church is unique in appearance, with a staircase rising from the front of the building up to the bell tower and the corners of the roof decorated with pinnacles.
The interior of São Lourenço is spectacular with its traditional blue and white tiles (azulejos) covering the walls, the barrel-vaulted ceiling and the inside of the cupola. The eight panels of 18th-century tiles on the walls were designed by Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes, and portray the various phases in the life of the saint after whom the chapel was named. As well as the magnificent tiles, there is also a beautifully carved and gilded wooden altarpiece, believed to be the work of Manuel Martins, the greatest woodcarver and sculptor in the Algarve at that time.
Open all year round, this is a truly beautiful church and definitely worth a visit. Ensure you check the opening hours before heading here; they do alter depending on the time of year.
Mount Fóia is the highest mountain in the Algarve, being 902-metres long and is topped by several telecoms facilities – aerials, globes and the Radar Station N°1, of the Portuguese Air Force. You can reach the peak of Fóia by jeep, mountain bike or on foot, but it is quite a hike. At the top, there is a large carpark and a viewing platform, a chapel, a café and a craft gallery displaying work by local artists. On a clear day, you can see for miles and feel the breeze of the cool air.
The lovely market town of Monchique is very charming with lots of narrow cobbled streets crisscrossing up the hillside, with an array of cafes and restaurants. The central square boasts an attractive paved area with benches, trees and a lovely water feature, including an example of a Moorish water wheel. Monchique is a very quiet and relaxed place, which is ideal for pottering around and appreciating the fantastic views.
Ponta da Piedade, also known as Mercy Point is a group of golden-yellow, rock formations lying three kilometres to the south of Lagos and can be accessed by road, by foot along a cliff-top path, or by boat.
The road from Lagos passes the beaches of Dona Ana and Camilo, ending at a large car park next to the lighthouse. There are cafés and souvenir shops here, with a flight of 182 steps leading down to the sea where the waters are calm and crystal clear.
There are coastal paths that cross the cliffs, allowing you to see the golden sandstone cliffs. Birdwatchers may even see migratory falcons or egrets on the rocks below. However, the best to way to explore the Ponta da Piedade headland is by boat, sailing through the maze of unique rock formations, arches, natural tunnels and hidden grottos. If you are adventurous, you could hire a Stand-up Paddle Board (SUP) for your trip around this fantastic headland.
The Ria Formosa lagoon stretches along the Eastern Algarve coast, from Faro International Airport to the village of Cacela Velha – near Tavira, and has been classified as a Natural Park since 1987. This unique coastal lagoon is constantly changing due to the continuous movement of winds, currents and tides. It is also a paradise for birdwatchers; it provides shelter for colourful flamingos, oystercatchers, egrets, ibis, cranes and the Purple Swamphen, which is one of the rarest birds in Portugal.
The natural park designation also means that certain endangered species of wildlife are protected, as are the small fishing communities which rely on traditional and environmental fishing practices that otherwise would be lost.
There are various boat trips available along the lagoon making this is an ideal, fun way to see all that Ria Formosa lagoon has to offer. The local captains are very knowledgeable and passionate about the area and are a fund of information.
The Sagres Fortress is situated at the southern tip of the Sagres headland and is unusual in the fact that it is consists of a single large wall dividing the mainland from the headland, with the other three sides protected by very tall cliffs.
Much of the original fort was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and the resulting tidal wave that rose higher than the giant cliffs. There is very little of the fort remaining today, except for the walls and the striking entrance arch but it is still a popular place of interest for tourists.
Visitors can learn about the fort’s history from the various signs dotted around the area. There is also the small chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graças and a giant wind compass that was used to aid early navigation. The fort is open every day and is definitely worth a visit, even if it’s only for the amazing views and the chance to try out your yodelling in the ‘chamber of sound’.