It's Raining, It's Pouring...
On average, the sun shines on Portugal’s south coast for 3,000 hours each year
Most people think the Algarve climate means the region basks constantly in wonderful sunshine, but that is not quite accurate. On average, the sun shines on Portugal’s south coast for 3,000 hours each year, which probably leaves about 1,000 hours of daylight unaccounted for. Enter the occasionally cloudy, rainy day.
Head for the beach
No, really. There is something elementally invigorating about a walk along a deserted stretch of fine sand that is being pummeled vigorously by the Atlantic Ocean. Head to Sagres for some amazing scenery and wild seas, and visit the fort where Henry the Navigator plotted his voyages of discovery. The views across the vast, turbulent waters from the cliff tops here are impressive. Be careful though - those waves can come in very quickly.
Explore Tavira and Silves. The former is an elegant town, hailed as the Queen of the Algarve, with over 22 churches, a medieval castle and the wonderful Ria Formosa Park at its feet. The latter was the Moorish capital of the Algarve, an important trading town and seat of local power. The narrow streets wind upwards towards the castle, with plenty of conjoining lanes and alleys crying out to be explored. Leave the high heels at home though – those cobble stones are not made for high fashion.
Ponder the meaning of life
For a creepy experience visit the Capelo dos Ossos in Faro, the Chapel of the Bones. The walls and ceiling here are covered in a regular pattern of toothy skulls, framed by femurs, fibias and tibias, all of which were once covered in the tissue, sinew and skin of a human being.
This is not the lair of some sinister mass murderer, but rather the work of the Carmelite monks who displaced a cemetery of their brethren while building the Igreja de Carmo nearby. They salvaged the bones and created the small chapel as a macabre reminder of our mortality. Another example of a bone chapel can be found at Alcantarilha.
Enjoy the local culture
The Algarve may not have an outstanding reputation as a cultural hotspot, but there are some great museums, galleries and theatres that are well worth visiting. In Portimão, a visit to the local sardine museum, which is set in a former canning factory and has won accolades for its fascinating insight into the area’s past, is a must. It’s got great exhibitions for adults and children alike, particularly the creepy underground passageway.
You should also head to Porches, home to one of the most famous pottery workshops in the Algarve. Each item produced here is hand-crafted and totally unique - there are no two exactly alike. During your visit you can see the process of creation nad the finished product, and literally look over the shoulders of the artists illustrating their final designs. Or visit Art Catto Gallery in Loulé - a vibrant and cosmopolitan gallery in a beautiful townhouse.
Find a luxurious hotel and stay there
The perfect way to while away a few hours. Enjoy the elegant opulence of VILA VITA Parc, siping tea and admiring the views across the manicured lawns to the ocean. Visit the subterranean Wine Cellar which lies beneath those lawns - a magical world of tastes and aromas. Or enjoy high tea luxurious at the Conrad in Quinta do Lago. Alternatively, enjoy a meeting of old-world charm with modern luxury at the Penina Hotel near Alvor, home to the first golf course in the Algarve, which was designed by Sir Henry Cotton. Sip some local Portuguese wine, catch up on your reading, and enjoy the pleasures of idleness.
Fall back on your purse
If all else fails: retail therapy. The Algarve has several great shopping centres, such as Aqua Portimão, which is the most recent and also home to the region’s very first Primark. At Algarve Shopping near Albufeira, and at the Forum Shopping Centre in Faro, you can find all the international brands you would expect as well as a multiscreen cinema. And of course, if you visit in 2017, the huge new IKEA and Mars shopping centre is due to open in March 2017. Fuel the day with some delicious local food, enjoyed at a leisurely pace.