Introduction

Golf is the most popular participation sport among visitors to the algarve. The game can be played all-year-round and most of the Algarve's 30 courses, including some of the finest in Europe, are open to any player with a handicap certificate.
It is a surprisingly well-established sport in Portugal. The first course was built near Oporto in 1890. The first course in the algarve was being played in the 1920's but it was very rough and ready. The father of the modern game in the Algarve was Henry Cotton. He designed the Penina course in the mid-1960's and went on to design two others, Vale do Lobo and Alto Golf.
Take advantage if you can of discounts offered on multiple green fee tickets at certain courses. Several of the clubs are also tied into an economical "passport" scheme offering reduced green fees. During the summer, cut-price green fees are available for midday and evening teeing off times at some courses.

There are many riding centres with Lusitano horses for adults and ponies for children. Those who have not been in a saddle for a while may want to take a few lessons before riding out over sand dunes or on trails through pine forests.

Tennis is another very popular, year-round sport and there are a great many courts which can be hired at hourly rates, some of which offer coaching.

Other sports with more limited facilities include archery, clay-pigeon shooting, lawn bowls, micro-light flying and squash. There are a few health and leisure clubs with good facilties for a number of sporting activities.

Conditions along the coast vary to suit all the watersports. There are two major yacht marinas, at Vilamoura and Lagos. The prevailing north-westerly winds in summer are just right for sailing. The combination of force five afternoon winds and calm seas is perfect for windsurfing. The sandy-bottomed lagoons of the eastern algarve are best for water-skiers, while the wrecks and weird and wonderful marine creatures that attract divers are concentrated more in the centre where the seabed is rocky. Over in the west, surfers ride the Atlantic rollers.

Game-fishing boats are based in Vilamoura and Portimão. Blue sharks are the normal quarry, but record catches of the very much rarer blue and black marlin have been made by boats out of Vilamoura.

Sightseeing boat trips show the best side of the algarvean coastline. The two most scenic sections of the south coast are between Armação de Pera and the mouth of the river Arade at Ferragudo, and from Lagos round the Ponte da Piedade headland. Day and half-day trips depart from Portimão and Lagos. Shorter trips operate from these two harbours and any number of beaches.

River cruises from Vila Real de Stº António penetrate far up the Guadiana that separates the algarve from Spain. The much shorter river cruises from the quayside at Portimão go up on the high tide as far as Silves.

Visitors interested in archaeology or history will need a car to get around properly. One of the places they should visit is the neolithic dolmen site at Alcalar, 5km inland from Penina and signposted on the EN125. There are various standing stones, mainly in the eastern Algarve, but they are rather difficult to find. From the first three centuries AD, there are Roman ruins at Milreu (Estói), Vilamoura (near the marina) and Abicada (7km west of Portimão). The main medieval fortresses are at Sagres, Silves and Castro Marim, with remnants of Moorish fortifications at Aljezur and Paderne. Museums at Faro, Lagos, Silves and Moncarapacho contain relics from the neolithic through Roman, Visigothic, Moorish and medieval Christian periods.

Naturalists will find that the algarve is extraordinarily rich in fauna and flora, but it is not always obvious and often requires diligence and patience to find the most interesting or unusual species. Among the best places for both birds and plants are Cape St Vincent, the Serra de Monchique, the Alvor Estuary, the Ria Formosa National Park, Castro Marim Reserve and the south-eastern Alentejo.
The marshes of the Ria Formosa are one of the last refuges in Europe of the purple gallinule. Cattle and little egrets, black-winged stilts, flamingoes, alpine swifts, woodchat shrikes, bee-eaters and azure-winged magpies are just a few of the many species which may be unfamiliar to northern birdwatchers, but which can be easily spotted in the algarve summer. Spring and autumn migration periods and winter bring many other unusual species.
The almond blossom of January is followed by glorious displays of mimosa in February. In March and April cistus rock roses are blooming over huge areas of hillside. In May the Judas trees and jacarandas are out and there is an abundance of wildflowers, including yellow and red vetchlings, pimpernels, periwinkles, French lavender, crown daisies and Bermuda buttercups. Swallowtails, painted ladies and many other species of butterfly abound. From March to June several varieties of orchid are prolific, none more so than the bee orchids.

Drives

Start fairly early and make a day of it on each of these drives so that you don't have to rush. Take time to linger a while at the places you particularly like. Fill up with petrol before you go because petrol stations are scarce in some areas. There are plenty of places for refreshments or lunch along the way but, if you prefer, take your own picnic.

Drive A takes in scenic countryside, wooded hills, spectacular beaches and cliffs, and the most interesting places associated with the Age of Discovery starting with Lagos. Having looked at Lagos itself, particularly the stretch between the Praça Gil Eanes and the little fort at the harbour mouth, continue westward on the EN125 past the villages of Espiche, Budens and Raposeira to Vila do Bispo, where you bear left toward Sagres.
At the imposing fortaleza, you can either park outside and walk, or drive in through the main archway and do a circuit of the headland. Across the water at the end of an arc of rugged cliffs you can see your next stop, the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent.
From the lighthouse, retrace your path to Vila do Bispo and then take the EN268 northward. At the village of Carrapateira, turn left off the main road where you see signs for "praia" and Sítio do Rio. Follow this rough road all the way round in a circle past sensational coastal scenery until you are back on the main road.
On then past the village of Bordeira and straight up to Aljezur. Go up to the fort at the top of the hill for views before crossing the bridge.
At the roundabout, take the Lisbon road but after a short way, turn left at the signpost indicating praia. A long rough road ends up at the Paraíso do Mar restaurant overlooking Praia da Amoreira.
Return to the Aljezur roundabout and take the Monchique road. Up you go into the wooded Serra de Monchique, eventually passing terraced fields beyond Marmalete and Casais. At the T-junction by the granite quarry, turn right. Soon you can turn right again off the main road and refresh yourself at Caldas de Monchique.
After that, it's all downhill towards the EN125 Portimão bypass and the direction of home.

Drive B takes you through cork and almond- covered foothills, along valleys filled with orange groves, and into villages which give a real insight into algarve rural community life. There are remnants of the region's Roman and Moorish heritage in places, beginning with Estói.
Access to Estói is easy from either direction on the Via do Infante motorway. Take the São Brás de Alportel exit and follow the Estói signs very soon afterwards. Before the village, a signpost indicates the Ruinas Romanas of Milreu (open 10.00am-12.30pm, 2.00pm-5.00pm, closed Mon.).
After looking at the ruins, carry on into the village proper and find the Estói Palácio (9.00am-12.00pm, 2.00pm-5.30pm closed Sun & Mon) tucked away to the left of the parish church.
Retrace your path and turn right on to the main road to São Brás. A little museum on the left of the Tavira road is an interesting feature of the town.
Leave São Brás by the Lisbon road, which winds its way up through hillsides of cork oak, pine and eucalyptus. At the intersection with the EN124, turn left towards Messines. After about 7km, take a left turn as marked to Querença. It's a hilltop village with three restaurants, the biggest being Quinta do Olival to the right of the church square.
Leaving Querença, take the riverside road signposted to Tor. At the main road intersection, turn right to Salir with its remnants of a Moorish castle.
From Salir, the EN124 continues westward for about 11km before the turn-off to Alte with its Manueline church and Fonte Grande.
Return to the EN124 and on through São Bartolomeu de Messines, past row upon row of orange trees until the castle looms into sight at Silves. Spend some time looking at the castle (9.00am-6.00pm), cathedral (9.00am-1.00pm, 3.00pm-5.00pm) and museum (10.00am-12.30pm, 2.30pm-6.00pm).
On leaving Silves, cross the bridge and turn right for Lagoa. Go through the town and you reach the EN125. It's right for Portimão and all places west, left for Albufeira or the Via do Infante to all places east.

Bike Rides

If you have gone to the trouble of bringing your own bike and you need spares or repairs, or if you want to hire a bike in the Algarve, check out the "yellow pages" of the Algarve phone directory under Bicicletas - Aluguer e Reparações or any tourist information office. The tarred roads running east-west are nearly all more or less on the level. The EN125 is by far the busiest. The steep climbs are only on the north-south roads running up into the serras. The main things to look out for when road riding are manic drivers, badly surfaced roads and dangerously rough edges.

Walks

There is no network of designated footpaths and trails in southern Portugal as there is in many other countries, but much of the coastline and many areas inland are ideal for walking. The absence of designated walks is not in any way restrictive. On the contrary, virtually the whole of the algarve is open to exploration on foot.
The only places closed to walkers are properties with walls or fences obviously designed to keep people out. Provided you do not blatantly invade people's privacy, or cause damage to vegetation or crops, there is no great concern about trespassing. There are hundreds of tracks leading along clifftops, across sand dunes, through farmlands, up river valleys, into woodlands and over hills.

The best clifftop walks on the south coast may be started at any of the following places (east to west): Senhora da Rocha, Praia da Albandeira, Praia da Marinha, Benagil, Lagos, Ponta da Piedade, Porto do Mos, Praia da Luz, Burgau, Boca de Rio, Salema.

There are good coastal walks among the stone pines above Praia da Falesia between Vilamoura, Aldeia das Acoteias and Olhos d'Água.

Some of the best countryside walks are in the vicinity of Alte, Paderne, Salir, Querença and São Brás de Alportel. Strike out east of Azinhal (8km north of Castro Marim) and you reach the banks of the Guadiana river.

For hillside walks, travel up to Monchique, Alferce and Fóia.

Visitors are welcome to join nature walks organised by the Liga para a Protecção da Natureza (League for the Protection of Nature). They are held on the first Saturday of each month (except August). Membership is not a requirement. Non-members are asked only to make a symbolic donation. The meeting place is always the square in front of the Portimão Railway Station at 9.30am. These walks are usually not particularly tiring or difficult, but they may be quite long. Bring along a picnic.

Every walk should be a mystery tour. Unless you go on an organised outing, find a path in an area that takes your fancy and see where it leads to and what you come across along the way. Explore. Apart from sensible footwear, the only real precautions you need take concern the weather. In summer, wear cotton clothes, not synthetics. If you anticipate being in the sun for any length of time, wear a hat and take along a bottle of water.