Albufeira vacation apartment offered a fantastic sea view from the balcony
We needed a relaxing break and then Nev saw
a bargain advertised... and that's how our
Albufeira vacation of September 2004 began!
We'd never stayed in Albufeira before, only visited to recline on a nearby
beach, so it was with a hint of trepidation that I approached
our visit. It turned out, I'm happy to report, to have been unnecessary
worry. (If you want more general information on Albufeira, check out this page here).
Albufeira has received rather a lot of unfairly
bad press, due mainly to snobbishness about 'tourism' and one tiny part of the town.
We spent two weeks in an absolutely lovely apartment - and loved it! And I do mean just about all of our Albufeira vacation...
We'd wondered what a '3-star aparthotel', would be like, but once again, our concern was unfounded. The Cerro Mar complex on Rua António Aleixo is a splendid place to stay, with a choice of studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, with the latter sleeping up to 6 persons.
Our (1-bedroom) apartment was well-appointed, spacious and offered tremendous views of the sea and across a
'valley' from some other apartment blocks at Cerro Branco. (Husband Nev had a go at a watercolour of them, but I kept him so busy
sightseeing that it remained unfinished).
The roomy kitchen even boasted a dishwasher - a definite boon, as I find washing dishes while on holiday a real pain in the b*m!
And the weather during our Albufeira vacation was so warm that we were certainly glad of the air-conditioning, whenever we returned from our daily activities.
We also enjoyed use of an indoor (salt water) pool, steam room, sauna and gym - although I left the latter to Nev, who has more of a conscience than I do about overdoing food and drink while on vacation ...
There was maid service 6 days per week and towels and linen were changed twice a week.
In addition, we had access to 2 outdoor pools, a bar/restaurant with free live music several times a week, and an onsite mini-market which provided the essentials without the need to venture further afield if you didn't feel like it.
The wonderful sea views were afforded by the site's elevated position, on a hill (Cerro de Malpique) above Albufeira's old town. This meant that going to town was pretty easy, but returning last thing at night meant negotiating the picturesque, cobbled steps of the Travessa de Malpique. (For picturesque, read steep!)
Albufeira old town, seen from our hilltop apartment
With this in mind, the Cerro Mar management kindly provide a 2-hourly minibus service down into the centre of the Old Town. I didn't use it, since the walk wasn't too long, but it was a nice touch,
much appreciated and commented upon by some of the frailer
guests that were sharing our Albufeira vacation
Actually, I was a bit limited in my walking abilities during
our Albufeira vacation, since I'd turned my ankle some three weeks before we travelled. (The day after Nev had booked the holiday, in fact). Normally, I love walking and would have covered simply miles, seeing everything I wanted...
Fortunately, however, Albufeira had just introduced a new Giro (round town) bus service, which was free until the end of August! There were 3 circuits covering the whole of the centre and the outskirts, and plenty of paragens (bus stops). So we just hopped on and off wherever the fancy took us!
What a great way to get to know a place! (and we did just that, with a little adventure thrown in for good measure).
One day, during the first week of our 2004 vacation, we were using the Linha Azul service to visit
and photograph The
Strip. We had just alighted from the bus and Nev realised he'd left his backpack at the stop where we'd climbed on. We crossed the road and waited (in the shade - it was a boiling day) for some 20 minutes for the Linha Verde service to take us back to
our start point.
Since there's nothing quite like losing your
paperwork for ruining an Albufeira vacation - or
one taken anywhere, really - we tried not to panic.
Fortunately, most of our important documents were tucked away in pockets and
'bum-bags' (rather quaintly known, I believe, in
North America as 'fanny packs'). But
our worries were groundless, for there was the offending item, on the bench where
Nev had left it (almost an hour earlier). Not
quite overcome with relief, I captured the moment when man and backpack were reunited.
Even after September 1st, 2004, when they started charging fares, a 3 Euro ticket (roughly £2.50 or
$3.75) would get you unlimited travel on any of the Giro routes for a whole day. (That's how to get tourist money circulating around an area; take note,
Like a number of other coastal towns,
Albufeira has a tourist road train, known as Turistrem. I'd looked forward to riding on it, but the 50 minute journey was a bit bone-jarring, if I'm honest. The route started at the road behind Fisherman's
Beach in the Old Town, with stops at the Câmara Municipal, and 'The Strip'.
Some of the roads are a bit bumpy and in poor repair, and the carriage's suspension was probably borrowed from an original design for George Stephenson's 'Rocket'!
There was an unscheduled stop for a few
minutes, halfway through our ride, when the driver
fancied a cigarette! No explanation or apology,
but perhaps he was giving our backsides a chance
to recover from the pummelling they'd had already?
In summary, a scenic but bone-shaking trip, with the Giro service much better value (and more comfortable).
So, there's plenty to see and do on an
Albufeira vacation, as we discovered. In fact, almost a week had gone by before we even thought of a hire car and getting 'out and about'.
And now, let's get down to what we enjoyed in and around
Albufeira . There's a great deal to tell, so
The raised area in Albufeira's Largo Eng. Duarte Pacheco, where free events are staged.
Expect some free live entertainment during your
During our stay, the Old Town square was host to:
A rock concert by local band Quadrito
Flamenco dancing by a visiting troupe from Spain
A fado concert
Daytime concerts by jazz saxophonist Johnny Hooper
And we'd only just missed a free concert by Cliff Richard
that he'd given the day before the start of our Albufeira
vacation. He has a villa in the area, I learned, and loves the place. Whether or not you're a
fan of his music, you must admit that was a novel way to 'give something back'.
What we did see were sideshows such as the 'statue' artistes who hold poses for long periods, only breaking off to 'give a twirl' to those who put money into their offerings hat. And there was a man who gave a puppet show to music, a South American pipe
band (not, actually, my cup of cocoa), and an amusing mime artist.
Plus, there were quite a few portrait artists, most of them pretty talented, who would do group or individual portraits on the spot. They work in difficult conditions, since friends and family of the sitter always get restless and try to disturb proceedings, which doesn't do much for the artist's concentration. One portraitist took 90 minutes to be satisfied with his effort and only charged 30 Euros!
(That was about £20 or $36 in those days, so I don't think he's ever going to be rich).
Many of the cafes and restaurants offer live
music during the evening. Often, when we were
walking down the steep hill into town, we could
hear a Neil Diamond impressionist wafting up on
the warm air. Of course, if we could hear him half
a mile away, you can bet it was too loud up close,
so we never ate in that particular establishment.
'I Am, I Said' indeed!
Then, there were two festivals during our
Albufeira vacation. The first took place in the evening and was the Festa dos Pescadores (Fishermen's Festival) which had lots of tables set out for eating and drinking in the area in front of the stage. All around were covered stalls selling copious amounts of steaming seafood, with wine or beer to wash it down. And a fado concert took place on stage all the while.
(I must admit that fado's not for me, although I
do know non-Portuguese who love it - each to his
(or her) own, I suppose...
On the following evening, the stage was the setting for a display of folk dancing.
The other festival was unmissable, since it started with a firework display from the fishermen's pier at 9 in the morning! This was the Feast of S. Vicente de
Albufeira. Among other events during the day was a religious procession through the town at 6.30 pm, and the day closed with a 15-minute flurry of incredibly noisy fireworks at midnight. (Bad news for those who had gone to bed early, but great for those who, like me, are suckers for
Other landmarks in
We couldn't resist the temptation, during our
Albufeira vacation, to visit the famous (some
might say infamous) 'Strip'. Probably, this long, usually-crowded street of
shops, bars and clubs is the area that gives
Albufeira its reputation (in some quarters at
least) as a
tacky, touristy urban jungle.
In fact, it is all of those things, but it
represents only a small area within greater Albufeira
and is easily avoidable if it's not your sort of
It is a north-to-south road just up from Praia da Oura, and it is lined with tourist-trap bars and shops. Most have some form of music blaring forth, which makes for a bit of a cacophony. And many of the shops are selling the same sort of things, but I know nothing about
business practice, so perhaps that makes commercial sense.
One thing that did puzzle me was the number of 'Irish bars'.
During our Albufeira vacation, we didn't encounter
that many Irish residents (or Irish tourists,
either). We only looked into one or two bars (for research purposes, naturally). Apart from the Guinness, Boddingtons and Murphy's beers and the occasional chap singing
Irish laments, it was big-screen TVs showing English Premiership or International football matches - just like any pub back home!
Albufeira Vacation Advice
If you don't like the sound of the 'Strip', just avoid
it; there's lots more to see and do in
But even if you wouldn't wish to linger, it's worth a short visit. There's a definite buzz about it, and most of the people you'll see are enjoying themselves well enough. Also, there are many places that hand out free maps of the town, which are extremely handy (and more informative than anything we gleaned at the Old Town's tourist information office).
Easily distinguished from the hillside approach road by its 'Legoland' aspect, the
was brand new and desperate to establish itself
back in 2004. I didn't much like the pastel shades
of the apartment blocks, but it seems that all
those clamouring to buy them disagreed with me!
For most of our
Albufeira vacation, there was a free open-top bus operating
a circuit around the tourist areas to the marina and back.
We delayed taking a trip in it until our last full day, after we'd handed back our hire car, only to find out it had been discontinued - great planning! But we used the free Giro service when we did visit, earlier in our
If you can ignore the multi-coloured apartment blocks (no easy task), the marina is quite handsome. I've always liked boats, even though I'm a rotten sailor and get sick at the hint of a swell.
It wasn't busy on the day we visited (even the kids' entertainment section was deserted), but we enjoyed our sandwich lunch near the harbour entrance (Porto de Abrigo), where the breezes took the sting out of the midday heat.
Then we waited in the shade of a building for our Giro bus back to
Albufeira, where we hoped more was happening!
Our apartments were served by a mini-market shop that was fine for bottled water and some basics. But for greater choice,
we always stocked up at the larger supermarkets.
Bargains do abound, once you learn where to look.
We found one tiny 'supermarket' on the Avenida de Liberdade, not far from our
apartments and near what was then the main bus
terminal, which was offering a 2-for-1 deal on local wines. (This boosted the place considerably in Nev's estimation). They were also saviours inasmuch as they stocked filter papers for our coffee maker and some patés that contained vegetables instead of some variety of seafood - a welcome rarity in my
The weather was great during our Albufeira
vacation. And the climate seemed less popular with biting insects than many places we've visited.
The only time we were bothered was when we spent part of the evening seated (wearing shorts and tee-shirts) on the famous "Albufeira
is Cursed by the Almighty God" wall adjacent the bench
seat up above Fishermen's Beach (now painted over,
I report with a tinge of sadness - it wasn't
exactly Banksy-standard, but it seemed heartfelt).
Anyhow, as we admitted afterward (while we creamed our several bites) we had rather asked for it.
Not-so Lucky Man?
We were told by our tour company's representative about the folk who dispense scratch cards to tourists. She warned that they just promote time-share schemes.
But hey, holidays are for taking risks (well, small
risks) so, while we wandered hither and thither
during our Albufeira vacation, we did accept some cards when offered - and guess what happened?
We were assured that Nev had won a week's free holiday! Yes indeed; and he had already stored up Lord knows how many Brownie points for booking the wonderful Albufeira
vacation at Cerro Mar.
His scratch card revealed the 'free holiday' and we were asked to take a mini-bus to the Clube Praia da Oura to claim the prize.
You can guess the deal; they walk you around the complex, show you the facilities and the high standard of the apartments, then try to get you to sign up for one week a year...
Honestly, it was tempting, since they offer second week top-ups for silly money like £69 per apartment. But it was all too much to think about while on holiday, so we turned them down and just asked for the prize to be validated.
We sent off the paperwork once we got back home
from our vacation and waited to hear from the company concerned.
We had a choice of holiday types, but plumped for the simplest option. This
gave us 18 months within which to take a free-flights-and-accommodation 1-week holiday in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyprus or the Canary Islands. The only stipulation
was that we take a tour of the resort while there.
What happens with these deals is that they eventually
offer you a last-minute vacation, off-peak, usually nowhere
that you'd want to go, and they give you a short time in
which to accept. If you don't take it, they keep the
£65 per head (might be more now) that they charged for
'processing' (funny word for 'wasting my time').
It's just another sad rip-off. Don't be tempted by the
scratch cards; don't waste an afternoon (or longer)
traipsing around apartments - unless you're already
interested in timeshare. If they offer you a free
evening meal and show, take it. Small recompense for
subjecting yourself to a few hours of unsubtle sales
And that's about it...
We had 2 great weeks for our Albufeira vacation* and we'd happily return there.
* (We did also revisit extensively our favourite spots in the west of
Algarve, which I'll tell you about on other pages)
I'm sure if you try an Albufeira vacation yourself, you'll find it equally enjoyable. If you can't afford
to rent an
villa, just make sure your apartment
is in (or near) the
impressive Old Town.
OVERALL UPDATE (2010):
Much has undeniably changed since our Albufeira
vacation in 2004. The municipal works around
Fisherman's Beach and its approaches have been a
mixed blessing, in my opinion. I'm pleased that
they have pedestrianised more areas around the Old
.... but the slab-like aspect of much of the
Fisherman's Beach area, while being easier to
navigate, has lost much of its charm. I'm sure
that many who have visited Albufeira since well
before I first went there will mutter that it's
just another step on the way to its becoming a
concrete jungle. And, I suppose, they're in a
better position to comment. Certainly, some of the
work completed in 2008 has meant that water finds
it much more difficult to run off the paved areas,
and lots of the basement shops that were flooded
during the rains that year probably have trouble
getting full insurance nowadays.
Not great corporate planning, then... but I
still think that, judging by the fun I observe
whenever I visit, most people enjoy their
* If you find this website useful, feel free to
recommend it to a friend.
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