The Algarve in Portugal is perhaps best known for its beaches, golf and leisure pursuits. But in addition to its more obvious assets, the area is home to a wealth of traditional crafts and modern arts.
Visitors to Alvor, nearby Lagos or Portimão with an interest in art and design will enjoy discovering the galleries, studios, boutique shops and market stalls of this western section of the Algarve.
So if you are visiting the area and are on the look out for a gift, a memento of your trip or something to adorn your mantelpiece, what should you look out for and where can you go to find it?
What to buy
There is a strong tradition of embroidery in Portugal, with exquisitely embroidered dining sets, bed linen, handkerchiefs, children’s clothing and other accessories proving enduringly popular. Ceramics are another favourite and play a key role in Portuguese culture, from the traditional “azulejos” or decorated tiles featured on the country’s architecture through the ages to modern, hand-painted pieces at the cutting edge of design.
Jewellery is another favourite and spans a broad range of styles. Here on the Alvor area of Algarve for instance, there is a good selection of handmade pieces using shells and semi-precious stones – some aimed at the lower end tourist market and some proving to be real pieces of modern jewellery design. At the other end of the jewellery spectrum is gold. All gold in Portugal must be a minimum of 19.2 carats by law, so if you invest in something special while you are here you know you can count on its quality. What’s more, prices are competitive and tend to be lower than in many of Portugal’s European counterparts.
The attractive scenery and wonderful natural light have drawn people to the Algarve for decades – and not just tourists. Many artists have made this lovely stretch of Portuguese coast their home and as a result the area sports a good many galleries, showcasing works by local painters and sculptors as well as some well-known names from abroad.
Basketware, leather goods, hats, costume and all manner of handmade household and personal items are given a unique makeover at the hands of the local craftspeople and many make lovely gifts or mementos to take back home with you at the end of your stay.
Where to buy
Alvor’s central streets are filled with several small boutiques selling crafts, ceramics, basketware and jewellery, including some lovely pieces made from precious and semi-precious stones, such as the Kraftwork craft studio. The Kraftwork craft studio is home to several crafts people who make one-off jewellery and clothing pieces by hand as you watch and offer a large collection of pieces for sale.
The municipal market in central Alvor is a good place to get a feel for what is on offer, and offers some nice pieces for sale at excellent prices. There is also an antiques market, which takes place on every first Sunday of the month and is well worth a visit.
A little further afield, Lagos and Portimão offer some interesting additions to the local arts and crafts scene. The main street in Lagos has several stores selling fashion jewellery and accessories, handmade with semi-precious stones, pearls and crystals. The J13 Giftshop is a good option to try, with a wide selection of artisan wares.
The area around the main street in nearby Lagos also features some excellent stalls selling similar products. Look out for Erika’s homemade jewellery stand, which features the usual range along with some attractive pieces made from hand-painted ceramic beads.
A great place to look out for ceramics is close to the ceramics factories that are dotted along the roads between the Algarve towns. Here the roads are lined with a whole range of tiles and hand-painted ceramics for sale at great prices.
Further ceramics examples can be picked up in Lagos in the streets around Rua da 25 Abril. Checkout O Caixote Artisanato Pottery, Zavia, Poticho and Olaria Nova. Olaria Nova sells lovely carved marble wall pictures from their own studio that you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
For paintings and artwork, Head to the gallery on Rua Merechal Furtado in Lagos, which features a constantly changing exhibition of pottery and paintings by national and local artists, or to one of several galleries in Portimão such as the EMARP Gallery or the Museu Digo Gonçalves or the Claude Bernier Art Gallery in Silves. The EMARP Gallery displays a range of art works from the local area and beyond while the Museu Digo Gonçalves houses various exhibitions of paintings and sculpture, which change on a regular basis. The Claude Bernier Art Gallery specialises in modern art, particularly surrealism, contemporary art and portraiture.