With over 100 miles of west- and south-facing Atlantic coastline, the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, has remained the most important tourist destination in Portugal since the 1960s, when hordes of sun-starved Northern Europeans first began arriving there. Today, it is one of the most popular holiday destinations in all of Europe.
For centuries the Algarve was a region of vital economic importance to Portugal – indeed, until the 1820s to be ‘Portuguese’ was to be a subject of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. Used as a staging post for several historic fifteenth-century maritime expeditions, the Algarve became synonymous with the successes of the emerging Portuguese empire; this remained so until the late eighteenth century, when natural disaster met with an economic downturn and the Algarve’s pre-eminence waned.
Today, however, the Algarve is enjoying renewed success, riding a wave of inward foreign investment stemming from the first trickles of British interest back in the 1960s. Tourism has been the mainstay of the local economy for half a century, as attested by the ease with which one can slide into the Portuguese way of life. During the peak summer months the local population doubles to nearly a million; but even so, it’s still easy to find somewhere secluded. There are hundreds of beaches and coves, thousands of picturesque towns and villages, and seemingly limitless villas hidden away among the hills or dotted along the coastline. People are drawn to the area for its warmth (300 days of sunshine per year), its safety and the sheer number of activities on offer, the most famous of which is undoubtedly golf.
The Algarve is the European golfing tourist destination, with over 30 courses ranging from the grand and illustrious Royal Course at Vale de Lobo to the very latest addition at Lago Laranjal. The sheer variety of courses, the majority of which are found in the Algarve’s central region, is a crucial selling point for foreign investors, and it is this central region, between Faro and Lagoa, where most people look to buy. Resorts-wise, the most exclusive area here is the ‘golden triangle’ comprising Almancil, Vilamoura, Vila Sol, Vale de Lobo, and Quinta do Lago. There are also three main international schools in the area, for families wishing to relocate permanently.
Outside of the ready-made luxury on offer in the resorts, more and more people are looking to buy a plot of land and build, relatively draconian local planning regulations notwithstanding. Buying a plot is considerably cheaper than buying ‘off-plan’, ensuring a higher rate of return in the future. Having said that, since the market peak of 2007 many villas have been reduced to 75 per cent of their original listing price, and with the pound currently strengthened against the euro many are seizing the opportunity to snap up a cut-price deal.
Further west, the property market has been buoyed by the extension of the A22 motorway – Lagos, Carvoeiro and Luz are increasingly popular. Meanwhile, in the eastern region, which is probably the least fashionable, and where the climate is more sheltered, great deals can found, particularly for those seeking a more traditional, slower-paced way of life.
Strict planning regulations have allowed the Algarve to retain a quirky and cosmopolitan flavor not found in other European destinations. Considering the cheaper cost of living and of property compared to areas of similar standing in Spain or France, it seems that buying property in the Algarve will remain a viable investment for many years to come.