Geography of the Algarve: a brief overview
The Algarve is the southernmost region of Portugal. Along the soutern coast, it has a length of about 155 kilometres and about 50 kilometres along the western coast. In total, the Algarve has an area of about 5000 sq km. In this article you can read all about the geography of the Algarve.
The Algarve has three natural borders:
- The Atlantic Ocean in the west and south
- The Guadiana river in the east, which separates the Algarve from Spain
- A series of mountain ranges in the north, dividing it from the Alentejo and the rest of Portugal
The Algarve consists of three different geographical areas:
- Litoral (the coast)
- Barrocal (central Algarve)
- Serra (mountain area in the north of the Algarve)
The litoral is the coastal area of the Algarve. This includes all the beaches and seaside resorts. It also includes many of the biggest towns of the Algarve, such as Albufeira, Faro, Lagos, Portimão and Tavira. Most of the economic activity of the Algarve takes place in the litoral. But even within the coastal area, there are big differences. To the east of Faro the coast is low. You can find the Ria Formosa here. This is a large wetland area, consisting of lagoons and a string of barrier islands. It protects the coast from storms. There are magnificent long sandy beaches, both on the islands from Faro to Tavira and to Monte Gordo, where you can find the longest beaches of the Algarve. These beaches are excellent not only for bathing, but also to take long beach walks.
To the west of Faro, the beaches are protected by beautiful rock formations. You can also find some grottoes here. The area from Faro to Lagos is also the most touristic one.
In the southwest of the Algarve you can find the village of Sagres. Here you can find the Cape of St. Vincent, which is the most southwestern point of continental Europe. The west coast of the Algarve from Sagres to Odeceixe also is very different from the rest of the Algarve. This unspoiled part of the Algarve is called Costa Vicentina. If you like nature and the variety of its forms, you should explore this marvelous wild coast.
The barrocal in the centre of the Algarve corresponds to the area between the coast and the mountains. It consists of plains and hills, which are formed by clay and limestone (barro + cal = clay + lime). In some parts, the ground is quite red. You can also find some agriculture in the barrocal area. There are orange trees, fig trees, almond trees, carob trees and olive trees, as well as greenhouses for the production of strawberries, melons, tomatoes and vegetables. There is a typical Mediterranean scrub vegetation of holly oaks, rock roses, rosemary, thyme, lavender and other shrubs.
The northern Algarve is formed by several mountain ranges, which represent a big part of the area of the Algarve. These mountains are an important part of the geography of the Algarve and shield the region from northern winds. This unspoiled area has the lowest population density of the Algarve. It represents a completely different world, where old traditions that can hardly be found anywhere else are still preserved. This shows another side of the Algarve. If you like to explore the authentic and traditional Algarve away from the crowded coastal area, you should go here during your holiday.
There are three mountain ranges in the Algarve:
- Monchique. This mountain range of Monchique is popular among tourists for hiking, but also for wellness and relaxation. The area is known for its thermal springs of Caldas de Monchique, which are unique in the Algarve. Near Monchique you can also find the highest point of the Algarve: Foia, which is 902 metres high. Another high mountain here is Picota (774 metres). Due to the fertile soil and a humid micro-climate, there is a great variety of vegetation, such as mimosa trees, pine trees, eucalyptus, cork trees, orange trees and a scrub vegetation.
- Serra do Caldeirão. This mountain range forms the border between the Algarve and the Alentejo region. The highest peak of this mountain range is in Pelados, with a height of 598 metres. In Serra do Caldeirão you can find cork trees, oak trees and the typical Mediterranean scrub vegetation.
- Serra de Espinhaço de Cão. This mountain range to the west of Monchique consists of hills covered with trees. Its highest point is 297 metres. You can find arbutus berry trees, eacalyptus trees and many other types of vegetation here.