São Bartolomeu de Messines is a typically Portuguese small town which can feel like a different world from the busy and tourist-filled coastline just 10 kilometres away. Coming here and visiting the surrounding villages feels like coming to the real Algarve as it has been for centuries, with the classic white-painted buildings, the peaceful cafes (which today have English translations on their menus) and the tranquil views of the surrounding hills with their Mediterranean woodlands and scrubs.
This was the birthplace of João de Deus, one of the greatest Portuguese poets of the 19th century. The town is full of interesting shops selling clothes and furniture. It is easily accessible, being located along the Lisbon-Faro railway line and there are passenger services to both of these cities, whilst the A2 toll motorway, the main route connecting the north and south of the country, runs just a kilometre to the east of the town which can be accessed from junction 14.
The old part of the town boasts an impressive church, named after the municipality, which was built during the 16th century and is still used by many of the locals today. The inside is elegantly decorated, with a beautiful altar, and it is also worth sitting outside underneath the olive trees to take in the calm surroundings.
A few kilometres to the northwest of the town, nestled in between the hills, is the Funcho Dam, a trip to which might be a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Algarve coast; it is so quiet here that you really could hear a pin drop. It offers excellent and varied hiking trails, wonderful views, and many cycle tracks. Apart from the occasional roadside café it can feel like visiting a bygone age.
A number of operators organise quad biking and buggy trips around the surrounding lush, green countryside. Taking one of these trips can be excellent opportunity for anyone who wants to explore this amazing area in a unique way.