As naff holiday resorts go, it's far from the worst

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Poor old Albufeira. It used to be wonderful. Fabulous beaches with those trademark ochre cliffs, backed by twisting little alleyways, with doom-laden fado bars and salty old soaks mending their nets by the quayside. In fact, against the odds, much of it still is here. It's just hard to see it underneath the mountain of anonymous white apartment blocks and tourist tat.

Poor old Albufeira. It used to be wonderful. Fabulous beaches with those trademark ochre cliffs, backed by twisting little alleyways, with doom-laden fado bars and salty old soaks mending their nets by the quayside. In fact, against the odds, much of it still is here. It's just hard to see it underneath the mountain of anonymous white apartment blocks and tourist tat.

Ironically, the very oldest part of town, high on the cliff-top, just a few yards from the pandemonium of the central square, is almost the same as it was four or more decades ago when the hordes started to arrive. But while tourists still buy the postcard - you know, the one with that famous lamp strung above the quaint little alleyway - and no doubt marvel at what a charming little place they have come to, 90 per cent cannott be bothered to walk five minutes uphill to discover it for themselves.

Despite all that, Albufeira is, as tacky holiday resorts go, a long way from being the worst. Naff, certainly; ridiculously overcrowded, yes; but not in-your-face unpleasant. Stay in the western half and you can still, with some imagination, think you are in Portugal. The problems start in the heavily built-up centre and reach their nadir two miles east on "The Strip" in Montechoro. Here there are dozens of identikit bars and eating establishments (you just know it isn't going to be classy when you see Naughty's, Yorkshire or Coconuts above the door) purveying cheap beer, cheap food, cheap laughs and cheap thrills.

If you can get past the timeshare touts the restaurant touts get you. Distressingly, many holidaymakers are staying here by accident. They are sold the postcard image of Albufeira's Fisherman's Beach then packed off to the depressing purpose-built satellites of Praia d'Oura, Montechoro or Areais de Sao Joao, often ending several miles east of Albufeira. No wonder they seek solace on The Strip by night.

The accused English fans say that the police have over-reacted to recent incidents, that in fact very few people were really involved, that they were merely caught up in the trouble. I believe them, I really do. The vast majority are not hooligans at all, their only guilt is an appalling lack of taste in being there at all.

The writer is author of several guidebooks to the Algarve. His new book, Don't Even Go There! The Crappiest Resorts under the Sun, comes out in 2005.

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