Algarve Province on Portugal’s south coast has been a tourist magnet for so long that it has turned into a region of hotels and holiday apartments. Coastal villages and towns have been re-built for tourists, but if you know where to go, you can still find genuine towns and villages where life goes on as it has for hundreds of years. The best destinations to discover the traditional culture of Algarve are in Loule, Alcoutim and in Aljezur.
These destinations are described in detail in the Algarve travel guidebook.
Loulé is an ancient inland town with a rustic center that is a pleasure to explore until your legs tell it is time to sit down at a café and enjoy a refreshment with residents. A section of wall from the Medieval fortress still stands on the hill where the old town is located. The 940 meter / 1030 yard long walls used to protect the town. Art shops, cafés, ancient homes, artisan shops, local delicacy stores, and small churches line the narrow streets and alleys.
A Loulé landmark is the Sao Clemente Cathedral. Outside the church, a small park provides shade on a sunny day and views towards the sea. Loulé is as authentic Algarve town in the middle of the popular tourist region. Life continues on the hill 10 km / 6 miles from the sea as it always has, although tourists occasionally find their way into the town as well.
Aljezur on the quiet west coast of Algarve is somewhat out of the way from the major tourist centers, but its castle, old town on the slopes of the hill below the castle, location in green southwestern Vicentine Coast Natural Park make it a fine destination to visit.
Signs of settlements in Aljezur have been discovered that date back to the Iron Age. The castle on top of the hill is the first building visitors see as they approach Aljezur. The first version of the castle was built during the Muslim era. It was fought over many times during the centuries because of its strategic location. At the end of the 15th century, a long-term peace was achieved, and the castle was abandoned.
If you are into surfing, the coastline here and down south towards Sagres provides many quiet beaches with waves.
Alcoutim is an inland village located by the border river between Spain and Portugal, Rio Guadiana. Strong currents flow towards the south coast even after long and dry summer. Alcoutim has a sister village across the river on the Spanish side, the village of Sanlucar de Guadiana. You need a boat if you want to visit the other side, though.
Standing on a hill next to the village, the Castle of Alcoutim was built during the 14th century. The Church of Our Lady of Conception is considered to be older than the castle or the remnants of outer walls of the village. Parts of the castle have been reconstructed, but it still is a shadow of what it used to be. The building of walls around the village started in 1660.
Many battles have been fought between Alcoutim and the village on the other side of the river in the past. When trading wasn’t possible between these two communities, smuggling across the river was a prosperous business.