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This week’s dream: An unspoiled side to Portugal’s Algarve

Behind the “sunscreen-smeared hullabaloo” of the Algarve, you can still find history and even serenity.

Behind the “sunscreen-smeared hullabaloo” of the Algarve, you can still find history and even serenity, said Seth Sherwood in The New York Times. Millions of mostly British vacationers swarm this 100-mile-long coastline of southern Portugal, which is “blessed with windswept dunes, powdery sands, ocher cliffs, and natural grottoes.” But my aim was to avoid the beaches packed with sunbathers and lined with generic hotels, to find “a less-trod Algarve.”

Making use of the excellent EVA bus system, I journeyed “along rocky coasts and sun-baked hills, pleasantly surprised to find fishing villages and citadel towns.” In Tavira, a coastal settlement near the Spanish border that still bears evidence of its Roman and Phoenician origins, “whitewashed buildings with wrought-iron balconies” share the narrow streets with Renaissance and Baroque churches. As I meandered past street musicians and a riverbed where men collected bucketfuls of mussels, the saltwater air “suffused the town with an agreeable torpor.” There was less of that farther west in Praia da Rocha, a large resort with plenty of typical touristic excess. But even there I found remnants of a calmer era, such as the Bela Vista Hotel & Spa in a beautifully restored Moorish-style mansion built a century ago. After another bus ride through the backcountry, I stopped off in Silves to explore an impressively preserved Moorish castle in red stone, a reminder of the Arab settlers who in the 11th century made the town the capital of the “al Gharb”—or west—of their Iberian realm.

My final stop brought me to Pedralva in the Algarve’s far southwestern corner. Not long ago, the population of this hamlet had dwindled to nine residents, and many of the 19th-century houses were falling apart. Then Antonio Ferreira stepped in. A former advertising strategist, Ferreira left his high-pressure job to launch Aldeia da Pedralva, an ecotourism village with “cobbled lanes, whitewashed houses,” and a fine traditional restaurant. In my cottage there that night, no TVs or phones intruded on the peacefulness. “The only sounds were those of owls and crickets in the surrounding valley: the voices of the unspoiled Algarve.”

At Aldeia da Pedralva (www.aldeiadapedralva.com), cottages start at $94.

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