The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, is known for its Atlantic beaches and golf resorts. Whitewashed fishing villages on low cliffs overlooking sandy coves were transformed in the 1960s, and now its central coast between Lagos and Faro is lined with villas, hotels, bars and restaurants. The region's western Atlantic coast and rugged interior are less developed.
The Algarve, (from Arabic al-gharb, literal "the west") is the southernmost region of continental Portugal. It has an area of 4,997 km2 (1,929 sq mi) with 467,495 permanent inhabitants and incorporates 16 municipalities (concelhos or municípios in Portuguese).
The region has its administrative centre in the city of Faro, where both the region's international airport (IATA: FAO) and public university, the University of Algarve, are located.
The region coincides with Faro District and is subdivided into two zones, one to the West (Barlavento) and another to the East (Sotavento).
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, as well as different types of fruit and vegetables, such as oranges, figs, plums, carob pods, almonds, avocados, tomatoes, cauliflowers, strawberries, and raspberries, are also economically important in the region.
Although Lisbon surpasses the Algarve in terms of tourism revenue, the Algarve is still, overall, considered to be the biggest and most important Portuguese tourist region, having received an estimated total of 7.1 million tourists in 2017.
Its population triples in the peak holiday season due to seasonal residents. Due to the high standards of quality of life, mainly regarding safety and access to public health services, as well as due to cultural factors and considerably good weather conditions, the Algarve is becoming increasingly sought after, mostly by central and northern Europeans, as a permanent place to settle.
Several studies and reports have concluded that the Algarve is among the world's best places to retire.
The Algarve is the fourth most developed Portuguese region – in 2019, it was placed fourth out of seven regions with a human development index (HDI) of 0.847 (Portugal's HDI average was 0.864 in 2019). With a GDP per capita at 85.2% of the European Union average, it has the second highest purchasing power in the country, standing only behind Lisbon Metropolitan Area.
In 2019, the year in which the region continued to represent the largest share of overnight stays in Portugal (30% of the total), being the only one to host more than 20 million overnight stays in tourist resorts.
Human presence in southern Portugal dates back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The presence of megalithic stones in the area of Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Alcoutim and elsewhere in the region attests to this presence.
At around the year 1000 BC, the Phoenicians founded the city of Cádiz, and, subsequently, coastal ports along the Algarve coast.
By the time of the Carthaginians, Portus Hannibalis – located in what is today either the city of Portimão or the town of Alvor in the Algarve – is named after Hannibal Barca.
The Algarve region came under Roman control after Fabius Maximus Servilianus defeated the Lusitanians and the Turduli in the context of the Lusitanian War, as was the case of much of the Iberian Peninsula, which was absorbed into the Roman Republic in the second century BC.
Many Roman ruins, both in the form of temples, countryside villas (of which more than 30 were found in the Algarve), public baths, bridges, salting and fish-processing facilities and mosaics are widespread all over the region, notably in Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Portimão, Quarteira, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and in other areas, illustrating the strong contributions that Roman culture as a whole made to the Algarve.
The Algarve as a whole is one of the warmest places of Southern Europe, with an Atlantic influenced Mediterranean climate, it has mild wet winters and warm to very hot, dry summers. It is overall the sunniest region in Europe, with annual sunshine values ranging from 2600 h in the Monchique Range, to values well above 3100 h on the southern coast.
In the 1960s, the Algarve became a popular destination for tourists, mainly from the United Kingdom which still is the origin of the largest group of foreigners in the Algarve. It has since become a common destination for people from Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Sweden and Italy, not only as tourists who visit the Algarve but also as residing expats who settle in the region and buy property there. The Algarve's mild climate and hours of sunshine per year have attracted interest from Portuguese and other European people wishing to have a holiday home or residence in the region. Being a region of Portugal, and therefore in the European Union, any EU citizen has the right to freely buy property and reside with little formality in the Algarve. Algarve-based publications and newspapers are written in English specifically for this community.
The region of the Algarve has a rich ethnographic heritage, with centuries-old customs, traditions and historical heritage. The Algarve is a cultural and historical point of interest all year round, but at particular times, such as Easter, Christmas, or even Spring, together with its gastronomic delicacies, the Algarve region has an old, multifaceted legacy that also shaped its regional cultural identity within Portugal.
The Algarve is a place that gathers many settlements, from prehistoric times, to Phoenician, Roman, Visigothic, Arab and Christian Reconquista times, there are several testimonies that left a little piece of themselves, to form the Algarve of today. Since the menhirs and megalithic monuments like the Megalithic Monuments of Alcalar and the Menhirs of Lavajo that prove the presence of the first humans of its history, also the Romans left the testimonies of their presence and culture. The Roman Ruins of Milreu in Estói, the Roman ruins of Cerro da Vila in Vilamoura or the Roman ruins of Quinta da Abicada in Mexilhoeira Grande, are good examples of Roman vestiges in the Algarve.