It used to be a quiet valley, dozing under sun-baked almond trees. But now the plains to the west of Albufeira are home to a massive investment, which has transformed it into one of the most colourful and vibrant marinas on the Algarve. At the heart of the development, located just five minutes away from the Via do Infante and the main road, will be a bustling commercial shopping area aimed at attracting a year round clientele. To date, the Marina de Albufeira developer has spent 41 million euros on infrastructure alone – including 11 million on underground parking and another 10 million euros on green spaces and roads. This does not even include the apartments and villas. The complex covers a total of 65 hectares, including commercial, sporting and recreational areas, the site of the new hotel, 200 shops, an underground car park with space for 1,100 vehicles and mooring facilities for 475 boats. The marina, set to create 3,500 new jobs, will eventually be linked to the city and main beach via a sea-front pedestrian promenade. The first phase of development will be completed by next year and, if all goes to plan, the second and final phase of development, involving the construction of a new hotel, soccer fields and tennis courts, will be complete by 2008.
A refreshing alternative:
Dr Luís Ferreira Alves, one of seven administrators at Albufeira Marina, has been with the project for two years. His enthusiasm was immediate: “I instantly realised it was an extraordinary concept,” he says. Dr Alves strongly defends the choice of colours used on the buildings, transforming the complex into a myriad patchwork of bright colours, viewing them as a refreshing alternative to the traditional whitewashed developments associated with the region: “We should bear in mind one important point about the controversial colour scheme. People say the Algarve has always been white, but in the olden days it was not. It was very much influenced by North African culture, with strong blue, yellow, red and orange hues from Morocco and Algeria. We’re trying to return to the enjoyment that all those colours used to bring. The colours give life to the buildings. Some people did not appreciate the reason but, after we explained, they came to understand. The strongest colours are at the centre, the nucleus of the development, and they become progressively lighter as you move towards the perimeter.” The architecture is also innovative. “The architectural concept is different to other marinas in the Algarve. The buildings face the marina, whereas in most developments of this kind, the marina faces the buildings and the shopping areas. In some places in the Algarve in the winter, you sense a certain emptiness, but I really believe Albufeira Marina is a living, breathing entity.”
Introducing quality and elegance:
Dr Alves believes the marina will boost tourism and help to end seasonal variations in visitor numbers. “We will stage all year round events, which will give life to the whole of the Algarve, not just to Albufeira or the marina. For example, over the New Year period, we drew thousands of people here with our concert.” There are already plans for this year. Dr Alves says the first cafés will open at the time of Carnival and Easter and, later in the season, the first shops will open their doors. “It’s in our interest to have flagship companies with us and we’re going to start contacts with those companies, but I can’t divulge names just yet. With regards to food, we will have a combination of fast food restaurants – located in the family entertainment centre – and more exclusive restaurants in the ‘golden walkway’, with international cuisine catering to all budgets. Our intention is to introduce some quality and elegance into Albufeira’s tourist offering,” Dr Alves tells me. “We also have a big logistical advantage over other marinas in the region. Our car park is just next to the marina. Not just in the Algarve, but across Portugal, there have been problems with people wanting to access marinas, but being unable to park. This is a big selling point, offering direct access to commercial areas, the ‘hot spot’ of the marina, and the big pedestrian walkway at the centre.” The marina will have regular bus services stopping at the quayside, en route to Galé and São Rafael. There will also be a taxi rank and a tourist train, currently doing the rounds of the main city, which will also stop at the marina in the future.
“We want to make the Algarve’s marinas famous throughout the world”:
Dr Alves also revealed that the consortium operating Albufeira Marina is planning another, more ambitious project, five times the size in fact, between Salgados and Armação de Pêra, with golf courses and hotels. But, for the moment, the marina is their only project. Around 330 apartments and 35 villas, representing about 40 to 50 per cent of the total, have already been sold. To date, 95 per cent of the buyers are Portuguese and the other five per cent are foreign, but Dr Alves says that last year saw a lot of interest from British buyers. “The Portuguese are mostly from Lisbon or Porto and will come down at holidays or at weekends. We don’t really talk in terms of people having second or third homes because we don’t want people to see this place as a once-a-year destination.”
And what can boatowners considering Albufeira expect on offer? Dr Alves says the rates for mooring at the marina will be competitive: “We’re not really looking to make a difference in terms of price, but more in terms of the quality of the facilities and services offered. We offer all the basic services you will find at any other marina, plus a crane supporting boats weighing up to seven tonnes, a travel lift for boats up to 70 tonnes and a seven-metre beam, an unusual feature in marinas. There will be 24-hour security and boats entering the marina will only be able to do so with authorised cards. We’re also asking a company to send us information regarding internet access and we’re studying quotations at the moment.”
Although marinas continue to develop across the region, there is no overall plan for uniform development. However, Dr Alves believes there is a healthy liaison between the various marinas along the coast: “Our attitude is not one of competition, but more one of a friendly, co-operative association. We are all striving for the Algarve to be seen as a quality, sought-after destination for sailors, because we want them to come here all year round. We want to make the Algarve’s marinas famous throughout the world.”
By Gabriel Hershman