The other side of Portugal’s Algarve

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 17.04.2024

While many are familiar with the Algarve's beaches and golf courses, few explore its rich culture shaped by geography, history, climate and people. Join our Rough Guides editor, Dre Roelandt, on a sustainable week-long journey to discover the hidden cultural treasures of the Algarve.

Supporting local communities through tourism

In the modern age of travel, it's easy to feel a sense of cynicism as many popular destinations become over-touristed, negatively impacting the environment and local communities. Nevertheless, a promising movement of responsible travel is on the rise, centring around the support of local cultures and the surrounding ecosystems.

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.

The border of Portugal and Spain in the Algarve  © Dre Roelandt

The border of Portugal and Spain in the Algarve © Dre Roelandt

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.

A day at a local pig farm in Zumbujal

The pig holds significant importance in Portuguese culture, symbolizing culinary traditions, family gatherings, and the cherished art of charcuterie.

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.

Famous chorizo in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

Homemade presunto in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

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.

An afternoon harvesting award-winning salt

Salmarin is a small gourmet salt production, which specializes in some of the best salt that Portugal has to offer. The salt flat is operated by salt expert Jorge Raiado, his son João, and six other employees. Every grain of salt is harvested by hand.

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.

Harvesting salt in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

Harvesting salt in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

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.

Attending a craft workshop

Loulé, known for its rich artistic heritage, offers a glimpse into traditional Portuguese crafts. A mere 15 years ago, the arts in this town had effectively disappeared. However, with the help of the Projecto TASA initiative, traditional Portuguese artisanship is being revived in a real way.

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.

Local craft in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

Local craft in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

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.

Fresh oysters at Culatra Island

Embarking on a short water taxi ride, we eagerly arrived on the beautiful island of Culatra. There we were met on the beach by the island’s president, Silvia Padinha.

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.

Fresh oysters in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

Fresh oysters in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

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.

Taking a traditional cooking class

Tertúlia Algarvia is an organization committed to advancing the culinary arts, historical knowledge, and cultural heritage of the region. They provide an exciting array of culinary workshops and exhibitions.

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.

Cooking class in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

Cooking class in Algarve, Portugal © Dre Roelandt

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.

    Where to Stay in the Algarve:

  • For a peaceful country retreat, Hotel Rural Quinta do Marco is an excellent choice. Surrounded by 10,000 orange trees, this family-friendly hotel offers comfortable rooms (each one named after a local plant). The on-site restaurant is exceptional, providing an opportunity to savour delicious meals.
  • For a luxurious stay, Pousada Palacio de Estoi combines neo-classical and modern styles. Its palatial sitting rooms offer a great setting to unwind with a drink, while the sleek and beautiful pool overlooks the Algarve.

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.

The stunning scenery of the Algarve © Dre Roelandt

The stunning scenery of the Algarve © Dre Roelandt

Planning your trip to Portugal

Our local experts can plan wonderful trips for you in Portugal. Simply get in touch when you would like to travel. We will then create a personalized itinerary, which you can amend until you are totally happy with every detail of the booking. All of our planned itineraries can be tailored to meet your specific needs.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

For further information on Portugal's Algarve, visit

Dre Roelandt

written by
Dre Roelandt

updated 17.04.2024

Dre Roelandt is originally from the United States but lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Dre is a freelance writer and artist with a passion for travelling. They are an in-house Content Editor at Rough Guides.

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