The Algarve, Portugal

My holiday decisions always seem to be a bit hit or miss, from the disappointment that was Naples, to the utter joyful seclusion of the Sardinian beaches.

The Algarve was in many ways pleasant but nothing to write home about. The nicest beaches were packed to overcrowding, and the quieter ones had seas that were too choppy for a relaxing swim, or a scarily strong undertow that made me a little nervous about stepping in.

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There wasn’t a lot in the way of cultural sights to see. Here is a destination where the predominant attractions really are sun, sea and sand. Maybe storks too 🙂

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There were storks everywhere, nesting on the most unlikely of tall structures. From random stumps in the middle of derelict construction work, to electricity pylons, to the roofs of petrol stations, these birds certainly weren’t afraid of heights.

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Quaint cobbled streets with brightly painted whitewashed houses were actually rather a rarity. Look a little closer and they have names like Gingerbread Cottage – housing retired British expats of course. 

I guess that’s one of the reasons I didn’t feel drawn to the Algarve. It was hot, sunny and there were beaches galore, but I never got the feeling of really getting away from the UK. It surrounded me everywhere – from the tourists en masse, to the road signs and hotel signs, shops…it was almost surreal, and not in a very good way.

Escaping to the West provided some respite from the commercialism and built-up surroundings. Less child-friendly, fewer nightclubs…here the simpler, plainer beauty of the coastline is allowed to shine, and the tourist vibe a casual, relaxed surfer-based one. There are already signs of development creeping into the western coastline too, so perhaps this won’t last for long.

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I don’t tend to think too much about the way tourism affects the local character of a holiday destination. Usually, both find a way to work pretty harmoniously. In some ways, tourism helps preserve some local customs, cultures and traditions, albeit in a somewhat sanitised, showy way.

Sadly, in the Algarve, tourism seems to be the monster that ate and ate and ate. It feels like the coastline is no more than an endless chain of purpose-built resorts, imported-sand beaches, cheap drinks and night-life. For sure it generates jobs, and provides economic growth for a previously poor area, but what a shame it has to be at the expense of what was once a very beautiful coastline.

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