Portugal's Algarve: An antidote for the winter blues

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November 02, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Anticipation is half the fun, or so they say and never are these words of worldly wisdom more true than when it comes to vacations. Vacations may only last for a week or two, but planning a holiday escape, six months or even further ahead of the event, gives us all something to look forward to and the benefits of that special vacation stretch much further.

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Winter's chill is coming it's time to plan an escape.
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Among The Algarve's top courses is San Lorenzo ranked fifth in Europe.
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The Algarve's often deserted beaches are the best to be found in all of Europe.
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Vale do Lobo's Royal Course is a cliff-top sparkler that shouldn't be missed.
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Faro's old town is a sightseers delight filled with centuries of Portuguese history.
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Pine Cliffs Golf may only offer 9 holes but it's considered one of the world's very best shorties.
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The Algarve's vibrant nightlife includes opportunities to flirt with Lady Luck.
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Planning a warm, sunshine escape now for February, March or even later, can be especially helpful in getting us through those cold, bone-chilling months, which we know are ahead. This time the weatherman is promising us a particularly harsh winter, scheduled to arrive earlier than usual and likely to finish later than we normally expect. As depressing a thought as this is, we all need to find an antidote for this especially gloomy time of year. We can't keep Old Man Winter away, but we can certainly make his stay a little more tolerable for ourselves and planning a late winter break will do the trick. If you think a winter escape is an extravagance, think again -- evidently you don't live in the northeast or Midwest, because here it's practically a necessity.

With your mind made up that there will be a winter break this year, the decision must be made as to where it will take you. Think outside of the box, make the world your oyster and be surprised to learn that by carefully choosing the right place, some exceptional destinations, away from American shores can cost far less than you ever thought possible. The cost need be no more than your neighbors are paying when they join the flocks of other migrating snowbirds heading to high season Florida or the over-priced Caribbean. There are some exceptional values around, enabling you to make this a very special vacation to an equally special destination - the anticipation benefits will only multiply and at no extra charge.

There's an unwritten law attached to winter vacations that says, they cannot and must not be golf vacations, unless of course you are looking for a mutiny among the non-golfers in the family. Everyone needs the break and that includes those who might have no love for the game at all. Trying to take care of everyone's likes and dislikes equally may seem an impossible task, but there is a place where the weather is year round beautiful, there are drop-dead, gorgeous beaches, the scenery is picture perfect, the food and wine is to die for, there's shopping, fascinating sightseeing of centuries old towns and villages that just call out to be explored and that's not all.

Adding icing to the cake, there is also a popping nightlife, the locals are genuinely warm, friendly and mostly English speaking and it offers one of the best values for money on the planet. Topping it all off very nicely for dad -- there's also an abundance of golf -- not your every day, run-of --the-mill golf courses, but world class layouts, some ranked among the very best in all of Europe, together with a few that sit high on the latest listing of the World's Top 100 Courses.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it really does exist and it's probably a place you have never even considered visiting before, sitting closer to the good old USA than any other part of Europe. It's Portugal's Algarve Coast, the southernmost region of a tiny country with a total population of only a little more than 10 million.

If there's any truth to the saying that precious things come in small packages, Portugal's Algarve Coast is the proof positive. Deserving of far more American visitors than is the case, Portugal and its sun-blessed southern coast, has long been a favorite sunshine destination for Northern Europeans. How we Americans have managed to miss for so long, this utterly charming corner of Europe, rich in practically everything we are looking for in a vacation, might be one of tourisms great unsolved mysteries.

The Algarve region extends less than 100 miles from east to west, running the full length of Portugal's southern shoreline and reaching inland for barely 25 miles. But the wonders that abound in this small and thoroughly enchanting area, are nothing less than astounding.

This coast is one of Europe's most handsome; an endless succession of pristine, golden sand beaches, fringing small bays, coves and dramatic cliff formations in the west, changing to massive expanses of pure white sand to the east. All constantly washed by the surf of a brilliant blue Atlantic Ocean, the temptation to wile away the days on an all but deserted beach, soaking up The Algarve sun maybe too much to resist and neither should you -- after all this is the laid back, easy going Algarve, where time doesn't really matter. There's so much to see and do, yet no real reason to do anything at all and the only schedule you have to keep is whatever you feel like doing (or not doing) at the moment

For golfers, the three dozen top-drawer courses dotted along this picture perfect coast, will be an irresistible temptation and they are all so close, so why not? It's likely to be a long, long time before you have this many world class layouts to choose from. Have no concerns for the non-golfers, they have an even greater bounty of other fascinating distractions that will keep them happily entertained for as many rounds of golf as you can squeeze in. The sightseers have over 2,000 years of colorful Algarve history to discover, so the absence of any golfers will hardly be noticed.

Among the more important sites is the westernmost tip of The Algarve, visiting Sagres and Cabo San Vicente, where 15th century Portuguese explorers including Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan set off on their voyages of discovery. This is where Prince Henry the Navigator established his school of navigation and great advances in mastering the world's oceans were made. Christopher Columbus owes much to Prince Henry's school, as this is where the revolutionary Caravel sailing vessel was designed and later used by Columbus in his discovery of The Americas.

Travel inland just a few miles away from the coast, to the cool green hills of the Monchique mountain range and experience a completely different side of The Algarve. Visit the spa village of Caldas de Monchique, which has existed since Roman times and has been noted for the curative powers of its waters ever since. Nearby, the ancient Moorish capital of Silves is well worth visiting, with its dramatic 1,000-year-old castle and well preserved city walls. Silves was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting between the Moors, the Portuguese and British Crusaders and the town still retains its distinctly medieval flavor.

For a shopping excursion to purchase some of Portugal's famous folk art, there is no better place than the town of Loule, a thriving crafts center, where you can watch craftspeople at work carving wood, weaving baskets and making lace. The best time to come here is for the busy Saturday market, which takes place around the Moorish market hall.

Save some time to visit the elegant riverside town of Tavira, said to be the most beautiful on The Algarve. Filled with handsome 18th century mansions, shady gardens and some 30 churches, this is a town filled with architectural beauty that demands exploration. And this is still only a small sampling of the wealth of sightseeing opportunities that flood The Algarve and it's all located close to the very best golf courses.

There's no question that The Algarve offers far more than pretty beaches and year round sunshine, with an amazing variety of other diversions to tempt both golfers and non-golfers alike. Few other destinations can even come close matching the many wonders of this heaven that finds its way into every visitor's heart. Add in the extraordinary collection of well over 30, top quality golf courses and you have the ideal escape from the winter chills of home, guaranteed to delight even the most jaded world traveler. So best to start planning your Algarve escape now.

For more ideas and suggestions on getting the most out of your Algarve vacation, contact Golf International, toll free at 1-800-833-1389 and speak with one of our Algarve experts personally, or, click here.

©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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