As a holiday destination, ALBUFEIRA, like Quarteira, is the sort of place you like or hate. An amazing number of people from all age groups like it. Retired couples feel just as at home here as raving teenagers and families with young children.

Albufeira is spread out rather than high-rise. The town itself consists of "old" and "new" sections which merge seamlessly into an extensive holiday-land suburbia, spreading off back east along the coast to Balaia, Olhos d'Agua and Falesia, and west to São Rafael, Galé and the links golf course at Salgados. The whole area, greater Albufeira you could call it, is the most tourist-intensive place in Portugal. It has very little to do with the real Portugal, or with the real planet earth for that matter, but people come here in droves and have the time of their lives.

Albufeira started out at least 2,000 years ago as a small, fortified town which the Romans called Baltrum. Eight centuries later the Moors renamed it Al-Buhera. The Moors turned it into a prosperous port trading with North Africa. The Knights of Santiago led the Christian re-conquest of the town in 1250, but without its trade links Albufeira fell upon hard times and they lasted for hundreds of years.

It suffered a succession of devastating earthquakes - in 1719, 1722 and worst of all in 1755 when the town was not only devastated by a series of earth tremors, but swamped by tidal waves. In 1833 it was first besieged then burnt to the ground during a Portuguese civil war. Prosperity only returned to Albufeira with the tourist boom that started in the late 1970's and gathered momentum in the 1980's. Tourism, pure and simple, is what it's now all about.

Some of the old charm is still there, and it is to be found in the labyrinth of narrow streets, lined with whitewashed houses, apartments, cafes and shops, which lead down the hillside to a central square, Largo Eng. Duarte Pacheco. The square is a good place to sit and watch the world go by. Nearby, next to the tourist information office, a tunnel at the end of a pedestrian-only mall leads on to the town's main beach.

Another section of this long beach is equally easily accessible from the streets leading off the other end of the square. There the beach is known as Fisherman's Beach and it's shared without a shred of self-consciousness by topless sun-bathers and sun-hardened men of the sea far too busy mending their nets to notice the bare boobs bobbing about their boats on the sand.

"New" Albufeira, centred on Areias de São João, is on the east side. Its most famous thoroughfare is affectionately known as The Strip. It stretches from the looming edifice of the Montechoro Hotel, past scores of cafes, restaurants and bars, all the way down to a big busy beach called Praia da Oura. The Strip and nearby streets are a hive of activity from mid-morning, when cheap English breakfasts are served to help with the hangovers caused by imbibing well into the wee hours the night before.

There is an abundance of all sorts of accommodation in Albufeira and the broad area around it, and that includes both good hotels and a good campsite, but without advance booking you may find it difficult to get your head down anywhere in summer. Incidentally, the campsite has a huge open-air restaurant and bar where hundreds of people enjoy live music every night during the summer.

See the official Albufeira council site for more information (Portuguese language)