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Zoning Out in the Algarve

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Proposed here is a method of dividing the Algarve into meaningful zones. The above map is my attempt to refine other zoning schemes by removing some borders and adding others. Please see below for a step-by-step account of this process and a brief discussion of the result. Feel free to use any of the maps that I have produced here.

1 - Vicenti/Sagres Coast 2 - Western Coast 3 - Central Coast

4 - Eastern/Guardiana Coast 5 - Barrocal 6 - Monchique Mountains

7 - Central Mountains 8 - Eastern/Guardiana Mountains


The Algarve consists of a variety of landscapes and terrains, and there are a number of different ways to divide the area into meaningful zones. These dimensions include coastal/inland, urban/rural, flat/mountainous, forested/unforested, and tourist popularity. Finding (or inventing) a good scheme for defining zones in the Algarve would be very useful for many reasons, with deciding on the type of area one wants to live in being high among them. I've been thinking about this for quite a while, and I regularly image search maps of the Algarve to try and find maps that attempt this. One search result took me to a publication featuring a promising zone system: "Modeling Nature-Based and Cultural Recreation Preferences in Mediterranean Regions as Opportunities for Smart Tourism and Diversification," André Samora-Arvela, Jorge Ferreira, Eric Vaz and Thomas Panagopoulos, Sustainability, Jan 2020.

Here is their original image:

It looks to me like they made a mistake when they referenced these zones. It should be:

  • A - Monchique Mountains and Surroundings

  • B - Caldeirão Mountains

  • C - Algarve Barrocal Midlands

  • D - Central Coastal Landscape

  • E - Ria Formosa Wetlands

  • F - Western Coastal Landscape

  • G - Vicentine Western Coastal Landscape

  • H - Sagres and São Vicente Cape

  • I - Guardiana River Valley and Tributaries

  • J - Guardiana River Mouth

And btw, I love that a guy in Vancouver who has been to the Algarve only twice in his life noticed this mistake.

The article is a bit of a slog - poorly translated academic-speak - but as the title suggests the authors are interested in ways to diversify tourism and direct interest to the interior. Zones are defined along geographic and tourist-activity lines. The divisions seem intuitively fitting to me, but I will be the first to admit that my knowledge here is adolescent at best. In particular, my knowledge of the East is low, so I don't know if it makes sense to define the two skinny/small I and J sections as they are. Section B seems overly large, and looking at the satellite version of the map suggests to me at least one more subdivision. In fact, it looks like the authors just lumped Central/Eastern divisions together and added on the Guardiana River sections. Again, I have no opinion yet on those Spanish border regions, but it does seem a bit odd that sections B, C, and D don't make a Central/Eastern distinction.

Let's have a look at some other attempts. Here's one from visit eastalgarve, used without permission:

As you can see, the center regions are divided north to south as "Serra," "Barrocal," and "Litoral Sul." "Serra" translates as "Mountains," and "Litoral Sul" means "Southern Coast," but "Barrocal" is interesting. Based on "Barroca," the Portuguese word for "baroque," the word is defined as:

"A natural sub-region of the Algarve, located between the Serra and the Coast. In geological terms, it is characterized by the presence of several calcareous elevations of irregular form, that rarely exceed the 400 meters of altitude, denominated baroque. This subregion crosses the Algarve longitudinally, the central region being wider than the extremities. In its endemic vegetation the holm oak forests predominate. However, man's continued action has given rise to a more degraded vegetation cover where shrubs such as the zambujeiro or myrtle, small carob trees and a few specimens isolated from holm oak predominate. In agricultural terms, rainforest crops predominated over the centuries, especially the almond, fig, carob and olive trees. In the valleys prevailed the cultures of irrigated, especially of citrinos. In the last decades we have seen the expansion of irrigated and vineyard crops to areas formerly occupied by the dry land. At present agricultural production is largely abandoned." educalingo

I like that distinction. I also like the use of the terms "Barlavento" and "Sotavento," meaning "windward" and "leeward," respectively. I've read a couple of times that these are words sometimes used in common conversation. Perhaps not too useful for zone-defining purposes, but cool nonetheless. The serra-barrocal-litoral distinction is used again, so I think some aspect of that should be preserved. (If you haven't guessed by now, I am developing my own zone scheme. Right this very moment - it's happening right before your eyes!) The map above, from AlgarveTips without permission, more or less confirms the distinction as a valid one to my way of thinking.

This Barlavento/Sotavento map was lifted from Wikipedia, emphasizing the importance of the western border of Loulé.

Here's another way of looking at it, used without permission from F. M. Mudanças. This is a trucking and delivery company, so I would imagine these are delivery zones. A bit too busy for our purposes, but I like the idea of the zone boundaries being municipality borders. Let's find a map that defines Western, Central, and Eastern zones that also uses municipal borders.

I believe the article is about health centers.

I have found quite a few versions of this map used for different things, but so far not a clean one. Here's a goofy, stylized one from That western border of Loulé again plays a role. This a little weird to me, as a more balanced division would likely attach Silves to the Central region. Hm. I wonder why that is.

The next step is to lay the zones as defined at the top of this post, from the Sustainability article, over top of all municipality borders. Note that I removed the Ria Formosa zone as it didn't make much sense from a "where do people live" perspective.


Back the next morning...

I've been tinkering around with the above map while using the new Google Earth to really zoom in and have closer looks. Here is what I have come up with, a proposed system of zones for the Algarve:

Emphasis on "proposed," as I need feedback from people who actually live in the Algarve and have traveled it. These are the names I have come up with:

  • 1 - Vicenti/Sagres Coast

  • 2 - Western Coast

  • 3 - Central Coast

  • 4 - Eastern/Guardiana Coast

  • 5 - Barrocal

  • 6 - Monchique Mountains

  • 7 - Central Mountains

  • 8 - Eastern/Guardiana Mountains

I could attempt Portuguese versions, but I'm not the best suited to do that. I'm not the best suited to do any of this, but that's the fun of it.

My gut tells me that some of these borders need tweaking. The border between 3 and 4 definitely needs to head west of Tavira, but I'm not sure where (***Edit - I just moved that border to the western edge of Tavira municipality). Zone 7 feels too big and could be split in two. The border between 1 and 2 could be shifted some. I shaved off some of the Barrocal in the east to establish a more even band of Coastal area; it seemed to me that proximity to the coast overruled Barrocal as far as residence/property is concerned. Perhaps "Monchique Mountains" should be "Western Mountains," given that so much of it falls outside of Monchique. I just like the name "Monchique," though.

Feedback encouraged. Please tell me where I'm wrong. :-)

***Edit: I will be posting about this article on the Expats Portugal forum today. We'll see if I can get some constructive criticism from some of the members there.***

Here's the non-satellite version:

Here's the non-satellite version with municipality borders laid in:

Here are Google Earth screen grabs to visually exemplify each zone:

Zone 1 - Vicenti/Sagres Coast

Zone 2 - Western Coast

Zone 3 - Central Coast

Zone 4 - Eastern/Guardiana Coast

Zone 5 - Barrocal

Zone 6 - Monchique Mountains

Zone 7 - Central Mountains

Zone 8 - Eastern/Guardiana Mountains

103 views2 comments


Justus Hayes
Justus Hayes
Jul 17, 2020

On the dry side. :-)


I did read the whole post, but too close to bed. Now I am the one who has to zone out.

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