Where to Go What to See
Salema & Algarve
Salema is one of Portugal’s relatively few remaining fisherman’s villages. Tourists share the beaches with colourful wooden fishing boats that are pushed and pulled to and from the sea by a tractor. On the promenade by the beach men repair their fishing nets and there you also find terracotta crocks that are laid out attached to long lines. Octopus that have used them as hide outs are hoisted into the boats. 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.
Only a relatively small part of the small town has been renovated and built for tourists. Luckily Salema is unlikely to become a desolate holiday destination due to it´s geography but also since the village and it´s town council never promoted the type of mass tourism that has overtaken some other parts of the Algarve coast.
On a frequent basis there’s a morning market, where clothing, vegetables, fruit and sardines are offered for sale. 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 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 of Interest
Salema is an excellent base for visits to nearby towns and sites. The south-western-tip of continental Europe, Cabo de São Vicente (20 km), Sagres, (20 km), Lagos (25 km), Silves (45 km) and the mountain village and spa of Monchique (60 km) are all more than worth a visit.
Some kilometres from the Southwest point of European continent lies the village of Sagres. According to the legend it was here prince Henry the Navigator, in Portugal also known as Infante Henriques, based a Navigation School in the early 1400’s (see History section).
Today Sagres is relatively touristic with the 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 a 16th century fortress.
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 south-western tip of the European continent has soaring cliffs down to the sea (75 m high) and offers a magnificent 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.
Sagres has 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 itself 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 that 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 most 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 nice 15th century church
Colégio dos Jesuítas – The Jesuit College, 1660-1707
Convento de São Francisco – 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 it´s 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 (via the nearby village of Raposeira) another 4-5 beaches on the located on the southern coast west of Salema can be accessed.
During rule of 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 which the Romans built a bridge. the remnants of which still can be found.
Significant landmarks in and around Silves are:
The Castle – Having climbed the steep car-free roads of the old part of Silves you will 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 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 is a new small archaeological museum that has been built against the old city walls around a 13th century well and features the history of Algarve/Silves.
Fábrica do Inglês – An entertainment and culture park with a cork museum.
For 10 days in the middle of August, a colourful and vibrant medieval festival takes over the historic town centre. It attracts visitors from all over the world who come to dress in medieval costumes, sell or buy goods, eat and drink during the fair, 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 13th Century feel. (Photo below)
The area around Silves is 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).
Faro hosts the University of Algarve and has a nice pedestrian centre with many different shops and lots of traditional portuguese houses and stretches down to the harbour-
Faro Cathedral (Catedral da Sé) was 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 locals is Ilha de Faro, an island located very close to the airport.
Lagos is a well-known and busy tourist spot with a historical city centre and beautiful beaches. 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 – 1756) parts of the city walls remain intact; the current city wall was built on top of an old one between 1400’s and 1600’s.
Lagos still is a fisherman’s harbour but also a harbour for yachts. Several international regattas are organised here.
The centre is partly car free and cosy with narrow streets and white houses. Beach lovers can visit the small beaches adjacent to 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 really worth a 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 is also 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 Henry the Navigator.
Mercado de Escravos – On the right side of the 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 and hosts exhibits.
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).
Due to the altitude the climate here is somewhat different from that on the coast, with more rain and even the ocasional frost during the winter.
Unfortunately the area was ravaged with a large wild-fire during thr summer of 2018, 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.