Why the Algarve is the perfect destination for food lovers

Boasting more Michelin-starred restaurants per square mile than anywhere else in Portugal, the Algarve is the perfect holiday destination for food lovers.
For the past five years, Portugal has been at the center of a food revolution. It now has 23 Michelin-starred restaurants across the country, with Lisbon, Porto and Madeira all represented. But it’s the Algarve where the real action is—there are more Michelin-starred restaurants per square mile here than anywhere else in Portugal.

In Quinta do Lago, Gusto by Heinz Beck was recently awarded a Michelin star for its contemporary Mediterranean cuisine. Seafood stars and exuberant vegetables take center stage at  Conrad Algarve’s acclaimed restaurant; the à-la-carte and tasting menus are created by master of gastronomy Heinz Beck to reflect the region’s bounties. “Since opening, we have focused on sourcing excellent raw ingredients and respecting their seasonality,”  he says. Winning combinations from the Michelin-starred chef include marinated mackerel on sautéed spelt; and cod in tempura on cherry gazpacho and celery.

Algarve’s culinary traditions influence the menu at  Gusto, too. “We’re working on revisiting classic Portuguese dishes in an Italian way,” says Beck. “For example, my signature fagottelli dish, which is usually served with carbonara sauce inside, is filled with Bacalhau à Brás [a typical local dish made from shredded cod].”

Citrus and egg sweets, a dessert by Portuguese chef José Avillez

Citrus and egg sweets, a dessert by Portuguese chef José Avillez

The stars also come out for Culinary Extravaganza—a three-day gourmet summit hosted by Heinz Beck that confirms Conrad Algarve as a leading gourmet destination in the Algarve. Michelin-starred chefs from around the globe are invited to the hotel to collaborate on an array of ticketed dining experiences, showcasing the best produce from land and sea.

There’s a near-unequalled level of choice here, especially when it comes to seafood. Olhão, the Algarve’s largest fishing port,  is home to a world-famous fish market boasting a diversity of produce not experienced anywhere else in Portugal. Browsing the stalls, you can find biqueirão (anchovies), octopus roe, or litão (blackmouth catshark), both dry and preserved with salt, while caramelized almonds, jams, honey and piri-piri sauce line the fresh produce pavilion. “I particularly enjoy sourcing bacalhau [cod],  porco alentejano [pork and clams] and sardinha [sardines] from the Algarve’s food markets,” says Beck.

Muxama, filleted salt-cured tuna known as the “ham of the sea,” remains an Algarve specialty and a regular sight in Olhão’s fish market. Records show that the Phoenicians, and then the Romans, introduced this technique of drying tuna loin with sea salt to the region. Portugal has a long history of preserving fish. It was in Olhão that the first canning factory was established in 1882 and fish salting stations can be found in the Roman ruins of Cerro da Vila, where it was believed the popular “garum,” a fish sauce, was produced and exported to Rome.

A Culinary Extravaganza creation

A Culinary Extravaganza creation

The Algarve is famed for its seafood, but, away from the coast, the region’s red and fertile soil nurtures some of the best tomatoes, oranges, olives, figs, or carrots that you can find in Portugal.  In Lisbon markets, “Origin of Algarve” is proudly shown on the labels for these ingredients.

José Avillez, the only Portuguese chef with two Michelin stars, visits the Algarve every year for his family vacation. “I’m a big fan of Algarve cuisine,” he says. “I love the fresh fish and seafood; with wonderful summer tomatoes and aroma of oregano; the grilled fish; the caldeirada [fish stew] and the rice dishes!”

Avillez always returns to Tavira, where one of his favorite restaurants, Noélia & Jerónimo, is located. “My friend Noélia is charming and has an impressive talent for combining the freshest ingredients in the right quantities with the perfect cooking times and seasonings,” he says. Noélia is celebrated for her traditional food including cataplana, a Portuguese stew made in a traditional copper pot dish. It’s a chance to taste the flavors of sweet potatoes from Aljezur, Ria Formosa clams and “flor de sal” from Castro Marim.

Chef José Avillez in his Lisbon restaurant

Chef José Avillez in his Lisbon restaurant

Tavira doesn’t just have a great restaurant scene, it also represented Portugal during the campaign to make the Mediterranean diet part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, an honor granted in 2013.

Perhaps it’s the mix of the freshest ingredients, sprinkled with history and the growing cohort of visitors that’s fueling the expansion of Michelin-starred restaurants in the Algarve. There’s no doubt, however, that the Algarve people like Noélia and Olhão’s traders are part of the story and charm of the south. Avillez says he feels inspired with each trip to the coast. “The Algarve cuisine tastes like holidays and reminds me of family,” he says.

Terrace dining at Gusto by Heinz Beck

Terrace dining at Gusto by Heinz Beck

Reserve your table at Gusto by Heinz Beck at Conrad Algarve

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