A busy trading port in ancient times, Albufeira declined into a poor fishing town in the 18th century, having been swamped by tidal waves and burnt out by civil war. But since the 1960s the tide has turned again and this central Algarve enclave is once more awash with prosperity, thanks to a tourist boom.
Albufeira, Portugal's most popular holiday resort, has been described as a stretch of 'holiday-land suburbia', spreading from the old town both east and west along the coast, its sandy coves and golden beaches drawing an assorted crowd from retired couples to wild teens, and plenty of families with young children. Satellite resort developments provide every imaginable type and grade of accommodation.
Everyone finds something to enjoy in this sprawling, low-rise holiday destination, which retains its old world charm in narrow alleyways behind the new hip and happening "Strip". The Strip, to the east of town, runs from the Montechoro Hotel down to the Praia da Oura, lined with dozens of cafés, restaurants and bars that keep pumping from breakfast time to the small hours. On the long stretch of beach below Albufeira's central square, accessed through a tunnel, craggy fishermen mend their nets, unperturbed by the languishing topless sunbathers around them.
While the chief holiday attraction of Albufeira is its numerous enchanting beaches, most protected by ochre-tinted cliffs, there are some interesting sightseeing possibilities too, like the new Virtual Archaeological Museum, the Municipal Art Gallery and a small museum showcasing Ming ceramics. Those who venture inland will find a tranquil green countryside to explore, replete with almond, fig, orange and pine trees, where little villages stand timelessly in the sun.
From seafront kiosks full of fun-in-the-sun odds and ends to a full on shopping mall experience, Albufeira can keep most shoppers reaching for their wallets with a tantalising array of merchandise. The town's main shopping plaza is the Modelo Centre in Rua de Municipio, north of downtown. Not far away is the lively Algarve Shopping Complex in Guia, where brand name shoes and clothes are on offer in a high street mall type complex, along with restaurants, an English-language cinema and bowling alley. Those seeking genuine local souvenirs should look out for mats made from rush or cornhusks in the villages of Almeijoafras and Monte Novo, woven baskets, woodcarvings and some glazed terracotta ceramics. These are to be found in numerous independent shops in the town centre as well as local markets.
Like everywhere in Portugal, seafood is the speciality of the house in most of the dozens of restaurants in and around Albufeira. The catch of the day is guaranteed to be fresh in this traditional fishing town, particularly in the eateries clustered at Fisherman's Beach, below the main town square. Specialities to seek out are sardines, flounder and bass, lobster and prawns. A true local dish is Caldeirada, a stew made up of several types of fish, cooked up with potatoes, peppers and parsley. Steamed clams, cuttlefish cooked in their ink and octopus salad are other indigenous culinary adventures. The local wine is a worthy accompaniment.
After a day in the sun most holidaymakers enjoy sipping a drink at one of Albufeira's many outdoor cafés, watching the world go by, before adjourning to one of the lively bars that surround the town square or line The Strip. Bars keep hopping until three or four in the morning, but those who want to dance the night away can keep going until sunrise at one of the nightclubs or discotheques that are ten a penny in the town.
While on holiday in Albufeira, relaxing on the golden beaches and in the warm, clear water is enough to content most vacationers, with about 23 beaches (some with Blue Flag status) in the area along a 19-mile (30km) stretch of coastline. Watersports of all sorts are on offer at the main beaches, from sailing and windsurfing to jet skiing. Golfers can try out the neat nine-hole Pine Cliffs course about three miles (5km) east of Albufeira at the Sheraton Algarve.
Those with children will spend fun times at Zoo Marine in Guia, just a few miles away, with water slides, swimming pools, dolphin shows and an aquarium. Just wandering around the intriguing old town centre is a pleasant way to pass a day. Look out for interesting local landmarks like the Clock Tower at Rua Bernardino de Sousa, and the 18th century Parish Church on the Rua da Igreja Nova, built on the site of an earlier one that collapsed in the earthquake of 1755.
One of the few buildings that survived that quake is the Old Inn on Rua Henrique Calado. Also fascinating is the Xorino Cave, which served as shelter for fugitive Moors during the Christian conquest of the town in ancient times. There is also an archaeological museum in Albufeira and several art galleries worth visiting while on holiday.
During the height of summer Albufeira is a favoured holiday destination for young singles, and it can become a bit rowdy at night.