A busy trading port in ancient times, Albufeira declined into a poor fishing town in the 18th Century, having been swamped by tidal waves and burnt out by civil war. But since the 1960s the tide has turned again and this central Algarve enclave is once more awash with prosperity, thanks to a tourist boom.
Albufeira, undeniably Portugal’s most popular resort, has been described as a stretch of ‘holiday-land suburbia’, spreading from the old town both east and west along the coast, its sandy coves and golden beaches drawing an assorted crowd from retired couples to wild teens, and plenty of families with young children. Satellite resort developments provide every imaginable type and grade of accommodation. Everyone finds something to enjoy in this sprawling, low-rise holiday mecca, which retains its old world charm in narrow alleyways, close beside the new hip and happening “Strip”.
Those who venture inland will find a tranquil green countryside to explore, redolent with almond, fig, orange and pine trees, where little villages stand timelessly in the sun.
Albufeira, set among low-lying hills and facing a succession of beaches, divided by cliffs is located midway along the S coast, 190 mls S of Lisbon, 19 mls E of Portimao, 25 mls W of Faro and the airport.
Sun and sea bathing provides the central activity on the golden beaches and in the warm, clear water is enough to content most holiday-makers, with about 23 beaches (some with Blue Flag status) in the area along a 30km stretch of coastline.
Watersports of all sorts are on offer at the main beaches, from sailing and windsurfing to jet-skiing. Golfers can try out the neat nine-hole Pine Cliffs course about three miles (5km) east of Albufeira at the Sheraton Algarve.
Look out for interesting local landmarks like the Clock Tower at Rua Bernardino de Sousa, and the 18th Century Parish Church on the Rua da Igreja Nova built on the site of an earlier one which collapsed in the earthquake of 1755.
One of the few buildings that survived that quake is the Old Inn on Rua Henrique Calado, Also fascinating is the Xorino Cave, which served as shelter for fugitive Moors during the Christian conquest of the town in ancient times. There is also an archaeological museum and several art galleries. Albufeira can certainly keep most shoppers reaching for their wallets with a tantalising array of merchandise.
The town’s main shopping plaza is the Modelo Centre in Rua de Municipio, north of downtown. Not far away is the lively Algarve Shopping Complex in Guia, where brand name shoes and clothes are on offer in a high street mall type complex, along with restaurants, a English-language cinema and bowling alley.
Those seeking genuine local souvenirs should look out for mats made from rush or corn husks in the villages of Almeijoafras and Monte Novo, woven baskets, wood carvings and some glazed terracotta ceramics. These are to be found in numerous independent shops in the town centre as well as local markets.
After a day in the sun most holidaymakers enjoy sipping a drink at one of the many outdoor cafes, watching the world go by, before adjourning to one of the lively bars that surround the town square or line The Strip. Bars keep hopping until three or four in the morning, but those who want to dance the night away can keep going until sunrise at one of the nightclubs or discotheques which are ten a penny in the town. Most popular and energetic club is Kiss at Montechoro, with Libertos as a close runner up.