The Eastern Algarve - Portugal
Whilst a neighbouring country to Spain, Portugal offers a distinctive change in terms of its culture, countryside, towns and villages. The people here are generally more reserved and formal than the Spanish whilst retaining the latin "warmth" to make you feel very welcome.
The country is known, among other things, for its discovery of Tea and subsequently introducing it to the English, (a curiosity here is that the Portuguese for tea is "Cha", (also in Hindi), as in "a cup of cha"). Of course Portugal has also its reputation as a popular tourist destination to the Western-Algarve area and the coastal resorts of Albufeira, Vilamoura and Lagos.
The lesser known Eastern Algarve is much less developed by comparison to the mass tourism developments of the Spanish & Western Portuguese Costa's. Here lie the delights of the sleepy medieval village of Castro Marim, its pristine neighbouring town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, the colourful estuary town of Tavira and the marshland Natural Reserve, "Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim".
The nearby Algarvian hills are home to secluded untouched villages of centuries passed whilst the coast provides all you could want from sunbathing to scuba diving along some of Europe's best kept beaches and coastline.
With Faro international airport at very close proximity you can be at your accommodation in under an hour depending on your destination.
The Eastern Algarve is ideal for visitors looking for a somewhat rural, untouched and laid back appeal whilst benefiting with some of Europe's most beautifully kept golden sand beaches and the pictoresque hills & countryside backing them. The area is richly blessed in terms of its history, architecture and scenery.
Prime attractions include medieval Castro Marim, Vila Real de Santo Antonio, the Estoi Palace, ("Palácio de Estoi"), the pretty fishing town of Tavira and neighbouring Caçela Velha.
The marshland nature reserve of "Sapal do Castro Marim" is a great spot for birdwatchers, walkers and cyclists looking to "get away from it all" in true rural style.
The Guadiana river is the natural borderline between Portugal and Spain and allows for a unique way to cruise along to inland areas up to quaint Alcoutim where a 4x4 jeep can be arranged to meet you to return off-road through the Algarvian hills.
If you are looking for a bit more action, the nearby seaside resort of Monte Gordo is a milder version of the mass tourism found further along the coast but nevertheless you will find an excellent selection of shops, bars, restaurants, beaches and a very pleasant promenade stretch.
Faro airport has regular flights to & from the UK and is just a 30-40 minute drive away.
With Spain close to hand, Seville airport is a close contender for rapid transfers taking little over an hour to reach the Portuguese border.
If you have a car there are countless villages dotted around for exploring whilst taking in the peaceful and almost sureal scenery.
Monte Gordo is the place to go for a more lively night time atmosphere whilst Vila Real de Sto. Antonio is preferred for its local art & craft markets, coffee shops, shopping and, (new for the summer of 2006), a complete WIFI installation in the town centre for anyone to connect to the internet free of charge!
Activities catered for in the area include various water sports, golf, tennis, mountain biking, clay pigeon shooting and fishing. Boat trips along the river Guadiana tend to be particularly popular during the summer and are often combined with a 4x4 off-road Jeep tour. Spanish highlights within easy reach from the Eastern Algarve include the immensely historic city of Seville and the national park of the "Doñana Nature Reserve".