Whitewashed fishing villages on low cliffs overlooking sandy coves were transformed in the 1960s, and now its central coast between Lagos and Faro is lined with villas, hotels, bars and restaurants. The region's western Atlantic coast and rugged interior are less developed.
The principal city in Algarve, Faro, offers visitors the perfect combination of modern amenities and natural beauty. Shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities abound, and scenic gardens and open spaces provide pockets of relaxation throughout the city. There’s a pretty Old Town section in Faro worth exploring as well.
The Alentejo region is vast, occupying nearly a third of Portugal. The southern, or lower Alentejo Baixo, is characterized by a rolling landscape, has the most beautiful plains panting with olives trees you’ll ever see. Évora the regional capital, is the obvious starting point, and you should allow two days to discover this enchanting destination, the historic center of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The surrounding area lends itself to a convenient circuit, and any tour should take in medieval Monsaraz and its evocative 13th-century castle. From its weatherworn ramparts, you can gaze over another impressive landmark, the enormous Barragem de Alqueva, the largest manmade reservoir in Europe.
The Upper Alentejo, Alto Alentejo, embraces a significantly different geography to that of the region's southern half and offers a dissimilar but no less appealing sightseeing experience.
The ancient city of Évora, the regional capital, is a good base from which to explore, a vehicle is reccomended to reach picturesque villages like Estremoz and Évoramonte before arriving at Vila Viçosa, where you can join a guided tour of the town's sumptuous 16th-century Paço Ducal, the royal palace.
Once an important center for textile, tapestry, and silk manufacture, Portalegre offers the chance to visit the last remaining factory still in use and browse a fascinating museum dedicated to the industry.
The terrain north of Portalegre is notably more rugged as the road climbs up the Serra de São Mamede, a remote range that's home to an abundance of flora and fauna. This is classic hiking territory, and if time permits and you've come prepared, indulge in a spot of hill walking. In fact, if you want to explore further, it's worth considering spending a couple of days at the pretty spa town of Castelo de Vide. A rewarding detour is its near neighbor, the medieval hamlet of Marvão, dramatically set at over 800 meters on a granite escarpment. The jaw-dropping views from the 13th-century castle take in the entire range and the low plains of Spain beyond - a stunning image you'll recall all the way back to Évora.
When to visit
In general, the best times to visit and experience as much as possible in Southern Portugal are between end of March and early June or mid-September and mid-to-late November.