Serene & Authentic 

Those who take the Algarve’s path less travelled and head east, on arrival at Faro Airport, find themselves richly rewarded. Stretching from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António, life marches (or, rather, pleasantly ambles) to a different beat in the Eastern Algarve and - in contrast to the hustle and bustle to be found elsewhere - traditional towns and villages offer a more tranquil take on Portuguese living. With an enchanting blend of culture, history and, of course, beautiful beaches, this sleepy corner of the country, nestled up against the Spanish border, is emerging as a rising star for those looking for the regions true authenticity. 


Much of the area's calm lies in its unspoilt identity, with many towns retaining plenty of old-world character thanks to more rigorous building restrictions than elsewhere on the Algarve. From the cobbled streets and orange-tree-edged squares of towns such as MoncarapachoVila Real and Tavira (undoubtedly one of the Algarve's prettiest towns, all white-washed buildings, distinctive rooftops and decorative azulejo facades) to the former fishing villages of Cabanas and Santa Luzia (where octopus is a local speciality), those looking for a more laid-back way of life will find themselves spoilt for choice.

That, same hassle-free spirit extends to Faro, too. It may be a city and the Algarve's capital but, in true Algarvian style, it retains an easy-going air. That said, there's more than enough to satisfy culture vultures within the city's historic walled centre from museums and historic buildings to the regenerated neighbourhoods of Mouraria and Vila Adentro, the Moorish-influenced old town.


The East's distinctive culture is matched by a rich history, and two important sites lie in and around the small town of Estoi, just north east of Faro in the foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão. The first of these is the imposing and impossibly pretty Palacio de Estoi. A restored palace and one of the Algarve's finest example of 19th century rococo architecture, where tourists and locals alike flock to discover its stunning gardens, take 5 o'clock tea in the grand salon, or dine on the picturesque terrace.

There's also the nearby Roman villa of Milreu, where some of the country's best preserved ruins dating back to 1AD hint at the area's long and varied past.


With over 300 days of sunshine a year, it would be a sin to stay indoors all day in the Algarve and, for those who like their outdoor activities to extend beyond sitting in a shady spot with a cold drink, the Eastern Algarve has much to offer (although there are plenty of local bars ready to cater for the former option too).


Most notable is the Ria Formosa National Park, a unique series of saltwater lagoons that extend from Faro to Tavira. Hailed as one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal, the area teems with migratory birds and other coastal wildlife, including seahorses, dolphins, chameleons and flamingos - a real treat for nature-lovers, whether explored by boat or foot.


This being the Algarve, the East also offers an abundance of beaches to enjoy, boasting quiet coves and even secluded ilhas (islands) that are accessible only by boat, where you can experience a real Robinson Crusoe moment: the feeling that you're the first to set foot on the gorgeous golden sand.


Meanwhile, the inland location of São Brás de Alportel acts as a doorway to exploring the Eastern Algarve's countryside, with a wealth of walking trails catering to all abilities, with everything from casual strolls to heart-rate-raising hikes.


But perhaps the biggest pleasures are found in the simplest of situations. The chiming of church bells as you sit in the town square, a friendly nod from a local fisherman, a breath of sea breeze on yet another warm, blue-sky day. And, above all, taking the time to notice.