Portugal is a country long popular with British overseas property investors, and most flock to the sunny Algarve region with its miles of sandy beaches and sea views.
However, sea views come at a premium in the Algarve, but head inland to the country and you can get a lot more property for your money.
Located at the foot of Portugal, the Algarve is dissected lengthwise by two main roads: the EN125 national highway and the A22/Via do Infante motorway. Typically, holiday-home hunters in search of the dream-sea view head south of these roads, to the Algarve’s golden beaches.
However, with property prices rising steadily in the Algarve, many property investors are turning their attention north of the highways, as properties located away from the coast generally offer more space and can be significantly cheaper than their counterparts on the developed oceanfront.
Offering traditional towns and whitewashed hamlets, with quaint cottages, grand old townhouses and sprawling farm estates, inland is the place to head if you want the choice of an authentic Portuguese property, yet still be a short drive from the allure of the region’s main coastal attractions.
So where should you look to escape to the country in the Algarve?
Dominated by its historic hilltop castle, the riverside city of Silves lies about 15 kilometres north of the coast, a 45-minute drive west of Faro airport and a 10-minute drive north of the coastal municipality of Lagoa.
Silves is lined with unfussy restaurants and every Saturday locals flock to the farmers’ market. A 20-minute drive to the nearest international school and the closest beaches and a 10-minute drive to the local golf course, Silves has an active community, with the local council regularly organising activities for residents, young and old, such as open-air aerobics, walking tours and culinary workshops and competitions. There are even regular beer festivals in the castle grounds.
The city also has a burgeoning foreign community and its own microclimate, which can often be markedly hotter in the summer than the rest of the Algarve and chillier in winter.
São Bartolomeu de Messines
Approximately 20km north-east of Silves is São Bartolomeu de Messines, or simply Messines as it is commonly referred to. It is a bustling rural Algarve town within Silves’s municipality, a 25-minute drive north of the holiday hotspot of Albufeira, with its shopping centres, neon bars and a plethora of international restaurants and hotels.
The older part of Messines centres around a whitewashed 16th-century church, next to which is a small museum dedicated to Messines’ most famous son, the 19th-century poet João de Deus.
The main streets are lined with impressive townhouses, with their elaborate wrought-iron balconies, and lead to quieter cobbled back streets. However, the buzz of new construction is a clear sign that interest in the town is growing.
Silves and Messines are linked by the N124 road, which is dotted either side by a string of hamlets that have welcomed a growing number of foreign residents in recent times. Among the most popular are Enxerim, Pinheiro e Garrado, Canhestros, Cumeada, Torre and Amorosa. These little communities are clusters of traditional whitewashed village houses and working farms, where life unfurls as it did decades ago.
Fifty kilometres east of Silves is Loulé. Home to the aﬄuent ‘golden triangle’ and some of the Algarve’s most exclusive resorts such as Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago and Vilamoura with its well-heeled marina, the municipality of Loulé comprises two very diﬀerent halves.
Whereas its coastline is one of the most cosmopolitan in Europe, if you head to the country you will find genuine Portuguese towns and villages.
Situated 15 minutes’ drive north of Faro airport, Loulé city is a traditional market town packed with genuine Portuguese charm whose historic centre incorporates the remnants of an ancient castle. The city’s exotic-looking Arabic market is its centrepiece and its medieval back streets are lined with traditional arts and crafts shops.
Loulé is home to one of Portugal’s biggest and oldest carnivals as well as a bustling Saturday-morning gypsy market and its outskirts are dotted with authentic towns and villages.
Among the most popular villages is the busy parish of Boliqueime (15km west of Loulé city), which oozes authentic Portuguese charm despite housing a growing number of international eateries.
The picturesque spa village of Alte (26km north of Loulé), with its pretty natural springs, nestled in the foothills of the Caldeirão mountain range, is another popular haunt, as is Salir (15km north of Loulé), an authentically Algarvian village famous for its castle.
Boliqueime, Alte and Salir centre around whitewashed churches and cobbled central squares, where locals swap gossip in cafés and go about their daily business at a leisurely pace.
If you want a more laid back and traditional Portuguese lifestyle, but within easy distance to the vibrant Algarve coastline, escape to the country.