Albufeira – The Gateway to Algarve

Located in the south of Portugal, in the centre of the Algarve, Albufeira enjoys Mediterranean climate with pleasant air and water temperatures all year round. We’d been planning a trip to Algarve for some time, finally Easter break of 2019 provided an opportunity when kids had two weeks of school holidays and things turned out just fine on the work front too. So off we went and boarded an Aerlingus flight to Faro on a windy and rainy day at Dublin.

The Algarve is Portugal’s southermost region and is famous for its Atlantic beaches, soaring cliffs, sea caves and numerous golf resorts. Albufeira is a coastal city in soutern Algarve and was a former fishing village that now has become a major holiday destination. The name of Albufeira comes from the Arab “Al-Buhera” which (means “Little lake/lagoon”) – this name might have derived from the existence of a fortification built on the rocky outcrop that dominated the lagoon on the lower part of the town. Albufeira is one of the oldest cities in the Algarve, but today it has transformed itself into a “Capital of Tourism” in Portugal. It’s famous for its sunny beaches & spicy nightlife but it is also an area full of history, with vestiges of human occupation since the remote Neolithic and Bronze ages. At the start of last millenium, commerce with the North African coast led to a gradual influx of the Moors throughout the Algarve. The Arabs made great strides in the development of agriculture, introducing new cultivations, tools and techniques, such as ploughs, water wheels and intoduced the use of fertilizers. The Christian conquest of the region began at the end of the 12th Century. After decades of conflict, a tight siege of the town by the Knights of the Order of Santiago, finally drove out the Moors in 1249, in the reign of King D. Afonso III. The town was awarded to the Military Order of Aviz and became part of the kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves. King D. Manuel I awarded Charter to the Town of Albufeira on the 20th of August 1504 (date of the municipal holiday) and from that day the town was governed according to the legislation in force for the rest of the country.

We were excited to visit this historic city but as this usually turn out wih vacations, our flight was delayed by almost an hour and we landed at Faro airport around 9:00 PM. The weather was pleasant around 20 degree centigrades, it was an hour’s drive from Faro to our beech resort at Albuferia. We had booked our stay at Grand Muthu Oura View Beach Club which is a five star rated resort with lovely pool area, right in the middle of really beautiful Oura Beach and the Albuferia Strip, famous for its night life on the other side, probably one of the best located hotels in the Algarve for all round access. The hotel is owned by MGM Group of Companies founded by late Dr. M.G. Muthu (1935 – 23rd May 2018). He was born in Thisayanvilai (a small village) in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu to the Manuvelnadar family. He started his career in 1952 working in the port of Chennai and later went on to start the MGM Group of Companies with interests in logistics, hospitality and the popular MGM Dizzee World theme park in Chennai.

We’d arrived late at night at hotel reception, the checkin was quick and we got checked into a spacious apartment at the first floor. We were all tired after a three hour long flight, so had a quick dinner and went to sleep. The morning was bright and sunny, at night we were too tired even to have a quick look around but once we opened the curtains the day light filled in the huge balcony with good partial views of the Atlantic. As it was our first day so we decided to explore the resort and to our delight found that access to beech was just next to our apartment. The beech itself is quite scenic and we spent a great time there playing discus throws and trying our beach ball skills with kids.

There are a plenty of food options forlunch just next to the beech and we settled on a lovely restaurant called Vivaldo. We took vegetarian and sea food options and had a delightful lunch with great views of the sunny beech.
It was hot & sunny and views were amazing, we clicked a  lot of photos sitting there having our lunch. After lunch we again climbed down to the beach through the wooden staircase access from the restaurant and sunbathed for a while and then had a good swim with ocean waves hitting us at speed.

Later we had a little swim session at the hotel outdoor pool also at the insistance ofthe kids. Overall it was a great day, well spent with family on a sunny beech topped by a great lunch. Later at the apartment we were too tired, but a hot shower revived us and we cooked a great dinner together and then went to a sound sleep

We woke up to the cloudy skies next morning, checked weather forecast online and it was showing rain till afternoon, so we decided to plan something indoors. Finally we all agreed to do some shopping and went to Algarve Shopping Centrewhich seemed to be the favorite rainy day destination at Albufeira in online reviews. We booked an Uber from our hotel which cost around a tenner for 15 min ride to shopping centre. The centre is partially open air, so was a bit breezy but beautifully built and have tens of stores for a great shopping experience. We bought some footwear and t-shirts from Sport Zone, there’s a nice Tiger store which is always good for inexpensive small utilities, and there’s a section of the ground floor with several other clothes such as Zara, Breshka, Chicco, and Metro Kids Company. We started feeling hungry after fair bit of walking and decided to have lunch. One can be spoilt for choices for food at the centre, but all stalls seemed quite crowded. Finally we chose Pizza Hut which seemed to have some empty seating and had a big cheesie pizaa and pasta lunch together. After lunch we decided to pick up some grocery from the in-store hypermarket called Continenti. It’s a huge one and we could get everything we were looking for there. The good thing was that the hypermarket was quite near to the taxi rank so with all the heavy bags we were quickly able to get into the taxi and head back to resort. The rain had subsided by then and sun had started peeking in again. After evening tea,

We decided to visit Strip which was just 5 min walk from hotel. Even that late in
night, the place was teeming with activity with crowds of holiday makers thronging all the bars and restaurants. We shopped around for few souvenirs and enjoyed the ambience for a couple of hours there. I was tempted to go in one of the pubs and have my fill of beers but decided wisely to go back to hotel room and take a nap to be ready and fresh for the next day.

Next morning sun was back shining in all its glory and we decided to spend time on the beech and pool. It was one of the days where you just wish to relax, so we spent around an hour or so at the beech and then snooze out on the pool which was warm enough for kids to splash around. We spent the day reading book on pool side with stunning views of Atlantic all around. There was a continous supply of food and drinks from the restaurant on the pool and it was a great day well spent reading and snoozing with the family. Later back at the room we cooked a great dinner and spent time planning for the rest of the trip. Our teenage daughter had found out online that one could do parasailing right on the Oura beech and booking could be done just a stone throw from our hotel room and was adament to try it next morning.

I was hoping that parasailing pestering would be over by morning but I underestimated a teenager’s tenacity to badger so we decided to give it a try and luckily for us there was a slot available, so we booked it. The prices were reasonable, an inflatable boat took us to the main boat anchored a bit off from the beech. Once we were in the main boat we were given instructions on parasailing basics. The crew prepared the parasail and then fastended her to the body harness, which is a sort of like a swing seat attached at either end to the passenger tow bar. Then the crew accelerated the boat and loosened the rope attached that slowly started taking her up the sky. The crew also recorded her ascent and captured few snaps of her doing parasailing which were later downloaded to our phones. Overall it took 40 min for the whole adventure and she was on the moon after that. The inflatable boat brought us back on the beech and atleast I was happy to get back to the safety of solid land.

We decided to have lunch after that and then headed to the old town Albufeira. It was a short ride off from our hotel and Uber charged barely six euros for the trip. Our driver was a lovely lady who had just started the Uber driving that day and we were her first customers ever. Anyway she drove us safely to the old town which was teeming with tourists like us. Again our soccer crazy son led us to the Force Portugal shop and got us to buy him Ronaldo’s jersey. Ronando seemed to pretty popular and there were life size cutouts of him everywhere in old town, our son is a great fan on him so for him he was in a heavenly zone there. We shopped a bit in some of the numerous souvenir shops and then strolled down to the beech. After that we decided to climb to the top of the hill of the beech, but then noticed that there are escalators to take you to the top. Once at the top, we could see there a lovely panoramic view of the old town on one side and ocean on the other side. There was a lovely little cafe at the top which had one of the best coffee and chocalate waffles I’ve ever tasted.The sun was setting by then and it was lovely to sip coffee with the excellent views all around. It was late evening around eigth that we were back at hotel. We cooked a quick dinner and had it together with rose wine.

Next day we’d planned a trip to ZooMarine which is touted as the best family theme park at Algarve. The park had opened in 1991 and is located in Guia, a town near to Albufeira and it took us around 30 min to ride there with Uber at the cost of around 12 Euros. We’d booked tickets online and went straight in, the centre looked world class and has marine park with seal & dolphin shows, an aquarium & a sandy beach with slides & a wave pool. We were given a programme leaflet at the entrance and a quick browse informed us that pirate show was about to start. The good thing about ZooMarine is that all the shows and rides are free once you enter, even the water park can be enjoyed without any topups. The pirate show was funny, had some acrobatic stunts and kids loved it, it was a simple story of a pirate giving up his trade for the love of his life who then is snatched by a villain and how he rescues her with the help of his old pirate mates. I’m always afraid of the rides but kids forced me to do a roller coster ride after the show which was pretty scary and our go pro video came out just perfect for that ride. We then had a quick lunch at one of the restaurants before the highlight of the centre i.e. the Dolphin Show started. We took our seats at the Dolphin pavilion ten minutes in advance. The show was amazing, there were trainers who did lot of antics with the Bottlenose Dolphins who seemed to be following all their commands. There were jumps, dances, rides and number of tricks that dolpins performed to entertain the guests. For kids the most exciting part was when Dolphins kicked the balls towards public and there was a scramble for those balls which I’m sure those lucky kids will retain as their most precious souvenirs. If swimming with dolphins is your dream, it will come true here at Zoomarine, the only place in Europe where you can do this, there are different unique experiences packages offered apart from the public show. As the dolphin pond is some 16 feet deep and we’re not sure how our youngest one would deal with that though he can swim ok, so instead we picked up the Dolphin Snap package where kids were able to touch the dolphins and get their pictures snapped while holding their snout. Kids were so excited afterwards that they can now boast about having held a real dolphin on their laps. Afterwards we did few more rides, then watched the parrot show which was again quite funny with parrots doing lot of silly tricks. We found Zoomarine park itself to be really interesting, lots of fun and certainly worth the entry price – and you really need the entire day to see and do it all as the attraction shows are simply amazing to watch. We didn’t use the pool or wave ride but they looked great fun & would be a must next time around. We called the Uber back to hotel which picked us from the Zoomarine entrance.

Next day was again bright and sunny, such a luxury for someone living at Ireland. We thought of getting the best of it and occupied the best sunbeds around the pool and spent the day reading, swimming, sunbathing and gulping in tons of cocktails and sleeping with warm breeze coming from Atlantic.

Our flight back was late at night next day and transfer to airport was already booked at 6:00 PM so on our last day we checked out of our apartment at 12:00 and had great lunch at poolside restaurant and then spent some more time at the pool. Kids went in for their last swim and we sunbathed and lazed around. Our transfer cab was a bit late but we still had plenty of time at the airport, Faro’s not a very big airport but still we enjoyed shopping around for few souvenirs. It was a great trip and we boarded our flight back with a promise to ourselves to be back at Algarve pretty soon.

Tarun Rattan

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