Algarve, Portugal

One of the most popular resort areas in Europe is the heavenly Algarve province in Portugal. The sunny Atlantic coastline seems like another world - part Mediterranean and part North African. The towns are in a time warp, using agricultural methods that haven't changed in centuries to grow oranges, grapes, olives, almonds, figs, and carobs. While the tourism industry keeps airlines on strict timetables and beautiful resort hotels dotting the beaches, the native Algarveans leisurely stroll through life, worrying about little, relaxing a lot, and rushing only to be friendly and hospitable to their neighbors. Urgency is an unfamiliar notion to Algarveans, and that makes the gorgeous beaches and quaint towns even more refreshing.

The Algarve is steeped in history, too. From the original Celt-Iberean tribes, to the Romans and Visigoths, the southernmost province in Portugal has dealt with conquest, but none so important as the Islamic Moors in the 8th Century. The Islamic Moors ruled for more than 500 years, and their impact on Algarvean culture can still be seen, with architecture like lattice chimneys and Moorish doorways in towns with names such as Al-Gharb ("the West"). Most notable are the azulejos, painted ceramic tiles that cover the walls, floors, and ceilings of Portuguese buildings. In the 15th century, after Portugal was back under Christian control, the Algarve was the center of the Age of Exploration, the base for such legends as Henry the Navigator and Vasco de Gama. Nowadays, the explorers are tourists, who look no further than the golden shores and untouched lagoons of Algarve itself!
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