Where to Go What to See
Salema & Algarve
Salema is one of Portugal’s last fisherman’s villages. Although there’s no such thing as “the last undiscovered tourist destination” on the Portuguese coast there are a few small Algarve towns where sun lovers share intimate beaches with colourful wooden fishing boats.
Salema has two faces. The most well known is the town with little white houses, big eyed children, lazy dogs and fishermen with life written all over their faces. Tractors push and pull the fishing boats to sea, little children play in the waves and old men repair the fishing nets.On frequent basis there’s a morning market, where clothing, vegetables, fruit and sardines are offered for sale. The old fish market is no longer in use but it still provides shade for the villagers who gather here to share the news of the day. The terracotta crocks are fishing tools, used for fishing octopus. The crocks are laid out attached to long lines. Octopus who use crocks as comfortable hide outs are then hoisted into the boats.
Only a relatively small part of the town has been renovated and built for tourists. Luckily Salema is unlikely to become a desolate holiday destination since so far the village and it´s town counil never indulged in the type of mass tourism has overtaken some other parts of the Algarve coast.
A new mini-boulevard separates the beach and the village. The village, has a range of different restaurants and cafés with nice terraces. There’s an Internet café, pizzerias and several supermarkets and shops that provide the inhabitants and holiday guests with their daily groceries .
For those seeking a larger variety of goods there is a Supermarket (InterMarche) in Budens 4 km away and another (Lidl) in Vila de Bispo 11 km away plus many more in Lagos.
Other Nearby Places
Salema can also be used as a base for visits to smaller or bigger nearby towns and sites.
The most Southwest point of continental Europe, Cabo de São Vicente (20 km), Sagres (20 km), and the mountain village and spa of Monchique (60 km) are more than worth a visit.
Some kilometres from the furthest Southwest point of Europe lies the village of Sagres. It was here prince Henry the Navigator, in Portugal also known as Infante Henriques, based the Navigation School of Sagres in the early 1500’s (see History & Economy section).
Today Sagres is relatively touristic with an emphasis on surfing. There are a number of shops selling surfing gear, several surfing schools and an infinite number of bars/cafes/restaurants. The harbour serves as a starting point for several companies with whale and dolphin watching as their mission.
Significant landmarks in and around Sagres include:
Ponta de Sagres – On this hill are the remains of the 16th century fortress (fortaleza).
Forte de Beliche – This is a little fortress with a nice chapel. The fortress now serves as a hotel/restaurant.
Cabo de São Vicente – The most southwestern tip of the European continent has soaring cliffs (75 m high) that offer a fantastic view, especially when the sun sets (see photo below). The fortress that stood here has been rebuilt as a lighthouse.
The Caves of Monte Francês are 2 km north of Sagres.
Several good beaches facing different directions.
Rural small town situated in the green (during winter and spring, see photo below) backlands of the city of Lagos.
The name originates from Arabic and was originally written Benassaharim.
Originally a center for agriculture it is now mainly inhabited by people working in Lagos. In still has a nice little market with locally grown fruits and vegetables every Tuesday morning.
Portimão is after Faro the second largest city of the Algarve. Portimão is more of a commercial and industrial centre than a tourist place but is well known for it´s shops and fish restaurants. The local industry is mainly ship construction and canning of sardine and tuna.
Tourist activity mainly happens in the adjacent Praia da Rocha. Praia da Rocha became known when a group of English writers and intellectuals established themselves there between 1930 and 1950. Subsequently the little place expanded into one of the biggest and well-known vacation places of Portugal.
Other significant landmarks in and around Portimão include:
The old bridge of Portimão was built using leftover material from the Eiffel tower.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição – This is a 15th century church
Colégio dos Jesuítas – The Jesuits College, 1660-1707
Convento de São Francisco – This is a 16th century monastery
Capela de São José – A beautiful chapel
Museu Diego Conçalves (in the city centre) – Exhibitions of regional artists
Forte de Santa Catarina (in Praia da Rocha) – Built between 1629-1633 (Photo below)
Vila do Bispo
This cosy litlle town about 11 km west of Salema with its beatiful little square in the middle hosts the Municipality Office of the area.
From Vila do Bispo several beaches on the west coast can be accessed by car (5 km), These beaches, Castelejo (photo), Cordoama and Barriga are always beautiful but even more so at sunset.
From Vila do Bispo another 4-5 beaches on the southern coast west of Salema can be accessed.
During rule by the mores Silves was the capital of Algarve and it was said that it´s beauty surpassed that of Lisbon.
On top of the white town that lies on a slope you can see the sandstone walls of the castle. In the lower part of Silves the river Arade runs over the Romans built a bridge the remnants of which still can b found.
Significant landmarks in and around Silves are:
The Castle – Having climbed the steem car-free roads of the old part of Silves you will, when reaching the top of the castle, be rewarded with beautiful view over the Monchique mountains, the Arade valley and in the distance, the Algarve coast.
In the inner square of the castle there’s a garden where concerts are held on a regular bases.
The Cathedral – This 13th century cathedral was built on on top of a mosque. The many tombs that lay here are said to belong to crusaders that helped reconquering the city from the Mores.
Museu Arqueológico – A new archaeological museum that has been built against the old city walls around a 13th century well.
Fábrica do Inglês – An entertainment and culture park. There’s also a cork museum.
For 10 days in the middle of August, a colourful and vibrant medieval festival takes over the historic town. It attracts visitors from all over the world who come to dress in Medieval costumes, sell or buy goods, eat and drink during the fare, cheer on jousting knights, dance to Medieval music and enjoy the magical atmosphere. The entertainment and activities centre around the spectacular Silves Castle, giving the event a true 12th Century feel. (Photo below)
The area around Silves containt the center for orange culture of Portugal.
Faro is the main city and administrative centre of the Algarve, located approximately 105 km from Salema (about 1h 15min via the motorway).
It hosts the University of Algarve and has a nice pedestrian city centre with many different shops. The old town, with lots of traditional portuguese houses, stretches down to the harbour.
Faro Cathedral (Catedral da Sé) – Built between 1249-1271 (Photo below)
Faro Airport is the closest international airport with many direct flights to other European cities. (see also Getting there)
An attraction amongst the portuguese is Ilha de Faro, very close to the airport.
In medieval times Lagos was an important port from which Portuguese explorers started their endevours to explore the African continent.
Around the old citry centre of this former capital city of the Algarve (1576 till 1756) parts of the city walls remain intact; the current city wall was built on top of an old one between 1400 and 1600’s.
Lagos still is a fisherman’s harbour but also a harbour for yacht. Several international regattas are organised here.
Lagos is a well-known and busy tourist spot with a historical city centre and beautiful beaches. The centre is partly car free and cosy with its narrow streets and white houses. Beach lovers can visit the little beaches with the famous rock formations. The Porto de Mós beach lies at the foot of the tourist district Torralthina.
The impressive rock formations of Ponta de Piedade are more than worth the visit (photo below). From here Cabo São Vicente in the west and Cabo Carvoeiro in the east can both be seen. Ponta de Piedade can also be visited by boat leaving from the harbour at Forte da Ponta da Bandeira or from Lagos. The beach Praia da Dona Ana can be found here. The large beach Meia Praia lies to the east of the city centre.
Praça Infante Dom Henrique – In the middle of this square there’s a statue of Henrik the Navigator
Mercado de Escravos – On the right side of the above-mentioned square there’s a building where Europe’s first slave market was held in the 1500’s. Nowadays the purpose of the building is more humane: exhibits are held here.
Forte da Ponta de Bandeira – This is a 17th century fortress. Via a suspended bridge you can reach the inner square. The chapel has been decorated with 17th century azulejos (blue tiling of arabic origin, common all over Algarve).
Museu Regional – This regional museum at the Igreja de Santo António has an interesting archaeological collection and an ethnographic department.
A curvy road takes you up to the picturesque Monchique village on the mountain (Fóia, 900 m above sea level) with the same name.
Due to the altitude the climate here is somewhat different from that on the coast, with more rain and even frost during the winter.
Unfortunately the area has been ravaged with wild-fire fires during recent summers, but that does not effect the charms of the trip.
Tavira is one of the most charming towns in the Algarve and is situated along the slow flowing Gilão River.
The town is a delightful mix of traditional Portuguese heritage with deep-rooted Moorish influences. Concealed within the labyrinth of cobbled streets are traditionally tiled houses, family run restaurants, and a myriad of decorative churches.
South of Tavira are the protected waterways and mudflats of the Parque Natural da Rio Formosa (see photo below), that leads to the beautiful sandy beaches of the Ilha de Tavira.
Surrounding Tavira are the fascinating towns of Olhão, Vila Real de Santo António and Cabanas, along with world-class golf courses and unspoiled countryside.