The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal and is the main tourist area of the country, because of its prime beache location and towns. The region has as its administrative centre in the city of Faro, where both the region's international airport (FAO) and public university, University of Algarve, are located. Tourism and related activities are extensive and make up the bulk of the Algarve's summer economy. Production of food, which includes fish and other seafood, fruit, oranges, carob beans, figs and almonds, is also economically important in the region. The Algarve is the most popular tourist destination in Portugal, and one of the most popular in Europe. Its population triples to nearly 1.5 million people in the peak holiday season thanks to seasonal residents, and receives an average of 7 million foreign tourists each year. In total, including national visitors, almost 10 million people visit the Algarve annually.
The Algarve covers 4,997 km2, extending just south of the Tagus valley to the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Its highest point is Fóia, 902 metres, in the mountain range of Monchique. It also includes some islands and islets. The region is also the home of the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve of over 170 km2 and a stopping place for hundreds of different birds. The length of the south-facing coastline is approximately 155 kilometres. Beyond the westernmost point of Cape St. Vincent it stretches a further 50 kilometres to the north. The coastline is notable for picturesque limestone caves and grottoes, particularly around Lagos, which are accessible by powerboat.
The maximum recorded temperatures in the Algarve fluctuate between 25 °C (77 °F) in winter and 48 °C (118 °F) in summer, with the temperature almost never falling below zero in the winter months.
Faro Airport is the main airport for the region. On arrival there is a wide selection of car hire options both at static desks in the airport and also within the terminal at a meeting point. From Faro airport the train station and bus terminals can be reached by taxi.
There are daily(fast) train connections between Faro and Lisboa (4 hours).
There are daily bus connections between Lagos, Olhao, Faro (and many other cities) and Spanish cities such as Seville and Huelva. A single ticket Sevilla - Faro costs €16 and the journey takes 4 to 5 hours.
There is a ferry service between Vila Real de Santo António and Ayamonte (Spain). The ferry was once a main mean of transportation although after the construction of the Guadiana International Bridge it is nowadays mostly used by tourists. Naviera Armas operates a ferry to Portimão from Madeira (connecting with Gran Canaria) with a couple of departures per month.
The Algarve railway is the most convenient way to get around in Algarve. It connects Lagos in west with Vila Real de Santo António on the border to Spain, calling at most towns and cities along the way. You will probably need to change train a few times although there's little waiting time.
A car is often the best way of seeing the Algarve, owing to the limited public transport services. Cars can be hired at Faro Airport and in other towns and cities in the Algarve. Most car rental companies will stipulate a minimum age of 21. Prices start from about €30 a day for a small car and there is often a wide range of cars to choose from.
The Algarve has a good network of roads, but be aware that some country roads are little more than dirt tracks. Roads are however generally well maintained, however, road markings may randomly disappear (in this case stick to the right as far as possible - a favourite Portuguese habit is to overtake, still they are mindful). After many years, the A22 (IP 1) motorway was finally completed in 2007, which goes from Bensafrim in the west all the way to Monte Francisco on the Portuguese/Spanish border. The Algarve, like the rest of Portugal and mainland Europe, drives on the right.
Petrol stations are found all over the Algarve. All stations will sell standard unleaded (95 RON) and super (97 RON) and diesel. Some stations sell LPG (GPL) as well. Unleaded petrol is known as gasolina sem chumbo and diesel gasoleo.
The Algarve is famous for its hot and spicy Piri Piri Chicken, which can be found all over. Since it has a big and rich coast, it has a very interesting array of wonderful fish and seafood, from sardines to cataplanas, and many dry fruit sweets that will make your mouth water for more.
Medronho is a traditional fruit brandy, traditionally produced and drunk in The Algarve. Medronho can be fiercely potent and is available in variations ranging from unlabelled local homebrew bottles, moonshine style, to connoisseur tipples at more of a premium price range.
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