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Algarve

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Algarve swimming

Algarve Vacation activities

Sunbathing and swimming are the leading sports activities in the Algarve. And with toplessness now being tolerated in Portugal (unlike the situation in my youth, when my father was required to wear a shirt on Estoril's beach), seaside activities have become a spectator sport as well. Other ocean-related sports include sailing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, and water skiing.

Golf is popular, although club members (including the Algarve's many British retirees) generally get first dibs on tee times. Tennis is also available at tennis clubs and the better resort hotels, and a dozen or more riding stables rent horses to visiting cowboys and equestriennes.

Food in the Algarve

Fish is a staple of Portuguese cuisine, and it's nearly always fresh (except for salt cod or bacalhau, which is cooked in innumerable ways and is worth trying at least once). Grilled sardines are popular--for snacking, not just for meals--and they're larger and tastier than their canned minnow-sized relatives.

In the Algarve, two specialties include grilled tuna (or "tunny," if you're British) and shellfish cooked in a copper cataplana with herbs and pork.

The Algarve also has many foreign restaurants, so you can easily find a hamburger or British-style fish and chips if your taste buds get homesick

Finally, Portugal is a mecca for anyone with a sweet tooth. Look for a dense and eggy orange cake, the traditional Algarve almond cake, or ovos de fio ("thread eggs" or "string eggs,") a concoction made with sugar and egg yolks that can be used as a cake garnish or pastry filling.

  • Note: The Portuguese generally eat fairly late by U.S. and Northern European standards--usually around 1 p.m. for lunch and 8 p.m. or later for dinner, although restaurants usually open by 7 p.m. in tourist areas.

Drinks

The leading red wine is Dão; others, such as Colares and Buçaco (my sentimental favorite) are also good. In general, you can trust the house tinto (red) or branco (white).

Vinho verde, or "green wine," comes in white, rosé, and red varieties, of which the white is the best and most popular. It's low in alcohol and has a slight effervescence, making it pleasantly tingly on the tongue and refreshing on hot days.

Port, a wine from the Douro region of Northern Portugal, shouldn't be missed. Order a dry porto branco (white port, served chilled) in a sidewalk café or as an aperitif before dinner. After your evening meal, have a glass of sweet, dark tawny or vintage port, which bears little if any resemblance to the American domestic ports that are typically served from bottles hidden in paper bags.

Beer is readily available. Sagres is a good brand with a local name, but you can also find imported British beer in many pubs if you're willing to pay the price.

Soft drinks and mineral waters are also in generous supply, although my favorite non-alcoholic Portuguese drink is coffee. Ask for uma bica (espresso) um café duplo (double-sized espresso), or um café com leite if your tastes run more to latté than straight Brazilian black.

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