While many are familiar with the Algarve's beaches and golf courses, few explore its rich culture shaped by geography, history, and people. Join our Rough Guides editor, Dre Roelandt, on a sustainable week-long journey to discover the hidden cultural treasures of the Algarve.
In the Algarve, a growing trend of responsible travel is revitalizing traditional Portuguese traditions and cultures. Visitors are given the opportunity to authentically experience the local community, and contribute to preserving its legacy.
Rather than solely focusing on the beach and resorts that the area is so known for, this alternative way of experiencing the Algarve highlights the rich Portuguese culture. It offers off-the-beaten-path adventures that go beyond the typical tourist experience and connects travellers with real people with fascinating stories.
As you step into Rui Jeronimo's farm in Zambujal, the aroma of cured meats wafts in the air. Coming from a long line of pig farmers, Rui has dedicated the past nine years to working on this farm after a previous career as a banker. His family farm, Feito no Zambujal, is one of the most renowned producers of aged pork in Portugal.
Together, we indulge in the farm's homemade presunto—a delicious cured ham that undergoes a meticulous two to three-and-a-half-year preparation process. Each delicately sliced piece is beautifully marbled and crafted using traditional methods passed down through the family. The flavour is slightly sweet, and melts in your mouth.
After a brief tour of the farm's expansive fields filled with free-roaming pigs, we are treated to an unforgettable meal. The menu consists of delectable chorizo dressed with balsamic, flame-broiled neck cuts, and accompanied by handmade wine.
Zambujal is a village community of only 15 people. This includes Rui's mother, who pops in during our meal with a delightful handmade carob cake for dessert. One can book a tour of the farm, or just come for an unforgettable dinner.
The salt flats have an other-worldly quality to them. Rectangular pools of pink and white stretch out into the distance. The sun highlights the glittering salt that is slowly forming on the serene surface. To gather the salt, Jorge — wielding a net attached to a long rod — delicately scoops the salty surface with practised precision.
Inside, Jorge and I proceeded to a salt-tasting experience where meticulous dedication and craftsmanship truly shine through. Despite the soaring demand, Jorge Raiado remains focused on quality over mass production.
Tours can be booked through the Salmarin website.
Ceramics, cataplana making, and weaving are just a few of the crafts being revived by the local community. In a short amount of time, Loulé has become a hub of funded studios for the traditional arts. Here older generations pass down their expertise to the younger ones, ensuring the continuation of these important cultural traditions.
Visitors can also participate in workshops, where they have the opportunity to try their hand at various handicraft skills, such as painting their own azuleja (ornamental tile) or crafting a mat using local plants. Regardless of your artistic skill level, Loule offers a diverse range of workshops for all ages.
Led by Vanessa Florido, a local artist, I attended a fascinating 1.5 hour long workshop teaching the basics of working with sugar cane - a traditional Portuguese art. Experiences can be found and booked through the Proactivetur website.
Without wasting a moment, Silvia gracefully waded into the ocean, returning with a bag filled with live oysters. Moments later, she skillfully shucked one and graciously handed it to me, granting me the privilege of savouring the freshest oyster I have ever tasted.
However, Culatra’s allure extends beyond culinary delights. This island stands as a beacon of forward-thinking sustainability, driven by a community-based initiative that goes beyond oyster farming. The island itself is run by a cooperative that channels its farming proceeds back into the island community.
For example, the cooperative uses the money from oyster farming to fund local young businesses, feed the local elderly, and fund ecological projects. They are not just focused on the fishing industry, but rather, are more concerned with life on the island.
A seamless collaboration between local fishermen and dedicated scientists ensures the preservation of the island's delicate ecosystem. Together, they implement sustainable practices that safeguard the precious oyster species and maintain the pristine environment Culatra Island calls home.
Cultura, with its funky, charming traditional houses and pristine beaches, offers a unique blend of natural and cultural elements.
Stopping at the local bakery for a jusiuta (a flakey, custardy pastry), and taking in the serene village atmosphere and unspoiled nature, the island truly felt idyllic. I had a dinner of the morning catch at a local fish restaurant (which is co-owned by three siblings who live on the island).
Private tours are available through Portugal4U, and a percentage of the tour price goes directly to the island itself.
The Cataplana workshop started with an extensive tour of the local market. Here our guide showed us how to select the finest ingredients.
This bustling marketplace itself was somewhat recently created in an effort to empower local farmers. We buy our fish and seafood from a market that traces its roots to a single humble fisherman who began by selling his own catch.
From there, we venture into a spacious restaurant, dividing ourselves into groups for an exciting endeavour of preparing our very own Cataplanas. A cataplana is a traditional Portuguese cooking utensil. It is essentially an ancient pressure cooker consisting of two hinged metal clamshell-shaped pans that are used to cook various seafood and meat dishes.
Our dish is made with local tomatoes, bell peppers, muscles, sea bass, prawns and more. The results were absolutely delicious. We dined together at a long table, savouring the fruits of our labour, accompanied by the perfect complement of local wines.
Tertúlia Algarvia offers cooking classes and cooking vacations through their website.
By promoting local communities, reinvigorating Portuguese traditions, and emphasizing sustainable tourism practices, the Algarve offers more than a beach or golf holiday. Feeling inspired to take your trip? See our Rough Guide to Portugal for inspiration and travel tips.
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For further information on Portugal's Algarve, visit vistalgarve.pt.