Live like an A-list celeb in the unspoilt Algarve
10:38am Friday 21st September 2007 in Leisure
PORTUGAL'S prime tourist region is home to a host of A-list celebrities - and, within an hour of touching down at Faro airport I'd been given a seemingly endless run-down of who lives where.
Madonna, England midfielder Paul Scholes, Alan Shearer and Formula One's Rubens Barrichello all have their very own private places in the sun here.
Sir Cliff Richard, incidentally, outcelebs everyone by boasting his own vineyard and winery just outside Albufeira.
There are many reasons why the Algarve attracts a glittering mass of big-name residents.
For a start, the region averages 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and remains unspoiled by the high-rises and overdevelopments that mar much of the Costa Del Concrete coastline of neighbouring Spain.
Then there is the exotic wildlife - and bird life in particular. The pine groves along the coast are hugely popular with British twitchers on the trail of flamingos and azure-winged magpies.
Then there's the golf. If you really want to rub shoulders with celebs your chances will be vastly enhanced if you swing a club at one of thoroughbred courses on Portugal's Atlantic coast.
From its beginnings as a golf destination in the mid 1960s, the Algarve has developed slowly but surely. Golfers can now put their skills to the test at almost 30 courses, with the knowledge that another 20 are in the pipeline.
And the subtle development has been facilitated by a quantum leap in the area's communications network.
For example, the A22 motorway has cut journey times from Faro by over a third.
In the 1970s, it would have taken almost four hours to cover the 120km west of the airport to the golf resort of Parque da Floresta, nestling in the Costa Vincentina Nature Reserve in the shadow of the Monchique mountains.
Parque da Floresta boasts one of the Algarve's most challenging 18-hole courses and offers tennis and bowling, with horse riding arranged at the neighbouring nature reserve.
Like many golf developments, the resort allows homebuyers to live on the course itself and, oops, yes, there are more celebs here too: goalkeepers David Seaman and Paul Robinson to name two.
There are 500 properties on the development, one of seven operated by the Vigia group in the Western Algarve - and around 85 per cent are UK-owned.
The Algarve attracts almost 12m tourists each year and a couple of years ago was voted the best place in the world to buy an overseas property by viewers of Channel 4's A Place in the Sun.
Fractional ownership is the new buzz phrase . This enables four separate buyers, for example, to buy a quarter share in a three-bed villa on the golf course for around £95,500 to just over £106,000, with each paying annual fixed charges of around £1,760. Other permutations allow up to 12 people to share a property - and there's no shortage of buyers.
Qualms about the struggling Spanish property market will have caused many potential buyers to have second thoughts about property overseas, but experts believe Portugal is vastly different.
Miranda John of Savills Private Finance International said: "Portugal is a world away from the Spanish market. It is more like France or Italy, mainly thanks to the golf."
Oceanico's new Vila Baia resort at Praia de Luz is made up of 146 apartments, most of which will be sold on a shared basis,while the finishing touches are being applied to the Vale d'Oliveiras resort and spa at Carvoeiro, just along the coast. Buyers qualify for membership of Interval International, a global holiday exchange network with more than 1.6m members, offering access to more than 2,000 quality resorts in 80 countries.
As well as golf, The Algarve boasts a selection of water parks, and deep-sea game fishing has become an established favourite, Florida-style fighting chair boats operating out of the port of Lagos.
Lagos dates back to well before Roman times, but today boasts a modern marina.
It was from the town's ancient harbour that Vasco da Gama set out in 1499 on his epic voyage of discovery to Brazil.
Today the harbour is home to a full-size replica of Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria,which regularly plies its way to Portugal's Atlantic outpost of Madeira.
A number of ancient buildings remain in Lagos, notably its historic fort and slave market,which today offers a wonderful al fresco meal in the rooftop Estrella do Mar restaurant,where I indulged in fresh gambas, and turbot.
Don Sebastião on the Rua 25 de Abril is another speciality fish restaurant, offering unforgettable red snapper, bream and sea bass, and an unrivalled Port cellar.
Round off a memorable night at Stevie Ray's Blues Jazz Bar on Rua Senhora da Graça.
And you know something? I didn't see one celebrity!