There may be more picturesque destinations than Portugal’s Algarve and more luxurious vacation resorts than the Pine Cliffs Resort, but when you put the two things together it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to vacation.
Welcome to the Algarve, a popular tourist center along Portugal’s southern coast with lively holiday resorts which has nevertheless retained much of its Old World charm and customs. This warm and lush corner of the world, brimming with festivals and golden beaches fringing the Atlantic ocean, will absolutely delight you.
At one time, this was considered land’s end, the end of the world as Europe knew it. Beyond this southern edge of Portugal, all was unknown. Sagres, the most south-westerly village in mainland Europe, was on the edge of the known world right up to the late Middle Ages. Henry the navigator is thought to have had his headquarters — his so-called “school of navigation” — in the vicinity of Sagres, though the exact location is not known. Perhaps it was within the fortaleza, defended on the land side by mighty, manmade ramparts, and on the seaward sides by towering cliffs. From the headland fortress, the awesome cliffs curve round past the 17th-century fort at Beliche to the famous lighthouse on the point of Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vicent). Steeped in history, this is a windswept place of rugged beauty. Nowadays, it is the end of the line, well-beloved by backpackers from all over the world, and of considerable interest to botanists and bird-watchers.
A mere two to three hours flight from most European capitals, the Algarve– Portugal’s southernmost province– has been a magnet to many discerning vacationers for decades. Increasingly, it has become the winter home for a good number of international expats, as well. This province is famous for its dramatic scenery, 18 beautifully tended golf courses, a cosmopolitan culture, a wonderful climate, and friendly people who really don’t care how much money you do or don’t have. The family is important in Algarve culture which perhaps accounts for the warmth and friendliness of the local people. Children are very welcome throughout the district.
Though the Romans inhabited the Algarve more than 2,000 years ago, it was the Moors– who left many hundreds of years ago– whose influence remains most strongly felt on the land. Even today their influence over the architecture lives on. The properties at many villages reveal the Moorish influence, and inland are the famous orange, fig, almond and olive groves the Moors so loved– and which so fragrantly scent the warm air throughout the year. Heavily forested with pines, especially at the higher elevations, you will find as you travel inland a feast of orange, olive and cork groves interspersed with walled market towns and unspoiled villages. Spring begins in January in the Algarve, with the pink and white blossoms of almond groves melding with the hues of green pines and fig trees and with the fragrance of eucalyptus in the air.
The largest town near the Pine Cliffs Resort was known in Roman times as Baltum, which was later changed to Al-Buhera in the time of the Moors and its name today is a bastardized version of the Moorish name: Albufeira. Today Albufeira is a major and bustling resort town– the kind of place you either love or hate– less than ten minutes from the resort.
In its history it was a thriving seaport and had its own castle that was later destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Happily, most of the older parts of the town that survived have been carefully maintained. During the “War of the Miguels” the town was besieged and set ablaze. The destroyed town consequently suffered a period of poverty covering hundreds of years and has only now really recovered with the boom of tourism.
As a result of being “discovered” this ancient fishing village has expanded since the 1960s into a major holiday resort and now has nearly 14,000 permanent residents. The centre of the town changes complete character after the sun sets. A plentiful collection of bars, restaurants and clubs start to fill-up with the tourist until they over spill into the narrow streets. Tourism is the thing in Albufeira now, pure and simple.
But some of the old charm is still there if you search for it, in the labyrinth of narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses, apartments, cafes and shops, which lead down the hillside to a central square, Largo Eng. Duarte Pacheco. The square is a good place to sit and watch the world go by. Nearby, next to the tourist information office, a tunnel at the end of a pedestrian-only mall leads on to the town’s main beach.
Just a few miles to the east you will find another beach, less crowded and one of the loveliest in the Algarve. This is Praia de Falesia, and set atop impressive sandstone cliffs overlooking this beach is the Moorish-influenced Sheraton Algarve Hotel & Resort, one of Starwood’s Luxury Collection properties. Within the confines of this most excellent resort you will find the RCI Gold Crown Resort, Pine Cliffs Vacation Club, a residential club unrivaled in the area.
Pine Cliffs Vacation Club features 54 two-bedroom apartments, 12 three-bedroom apartments and 12 three-bedroom duplex apartments, consisting of fully equipped kitchen, living room and bathrooms ensuite, all with spectacular views overlooking the 3rd and 4th holes of the Pine Cliffs Golf Course. Climate control systems and satellite TV are included in all bedrooms and living rooms.
All 78 apartments also contain a safe in the master bedroom, direct dial telephones with data port, mini-bar, satellite TV, and enjoys 24-hour room service. In the lounge you can enjoy pay-per-view movies or listen to the mini Hi-Fi system.
Accommodation management is handled via a flexible system that permits each member to choose the season in which they want to stay in the resort and use their holiday week(s) (Platinum, Gold, Silver Season).
Additionally, as a member you can exchange your holiday week or weeks making use of two exclusive options: the RCI weeks program or the network and The Registry Collection network, with an endless choice of destinations, resorts, yachts, cruises, ski resorts, and much more, redeemable against the points you have been awarded in exchange for your week(s).
Pine Cliffs’ club-membership offers right-to-use vacation accommodations for 30 years. The resort, owned by IFA Resorts, is fully managed by Sheraton and all the facilities and amenities of the Sheraton Algarve Hotel & Resort are available to guests.
Unique features of the hotel include a children’s village offering a wide range of entertainment (restaurants, pools, bicycle track, remote control boats, playground areas, football and basket courses) which is unique in the area. The hotel offers private access to the beach below via elevator or stairs.
But even if you don’t want to do a darned thing except kick back in the lap of luxury and be spoiled to death in one of the world’s great garden spots, you can’t go wrong with the Algarve, and you surely can’t go wrong with Pine Cliffs.
It may be the end of the world as you know it after all.
Some Web sites to explore for more information:
- http://www.pinecliffs.com/en/resort.php –Pine Cliffs Resort
- http://portugal-info.net/ –For everything about Portugal
- http://albufeira.com/ — Albufeira, the gateway to the Algarve (with 360° virtual tours)
- http://www.algarve-web.com/algarve/6places.htm –6 Places not to miss!
- http://www.enterportugal.com/ — An excellent site about Portugal
- http://www.sagres.co.uk/ –Dedicated to the town of Sarges
- http://www.algarveresident.com/ –The Algarve’s only English language weekly newspaper
--by InsideTheGate.com staff