Why? Because although it is (was) the main route from East to West of the Algarve, it was kept a good distance back from the beach front. Southern Spain, in my view, sadly permitted the construction of a coastal road, ‘marginal’ the A7 which for several hundred kilometres follows along the coast, the result, nonstop strip development.
One of the great attractions of the Algarve is the couple of hundred kilometres of unspoilt countryside and beaches. Without a coastal road, there is no attraction for developers to build overlooking the beaches, except in tightly controlled areas thanks to good planning controls. Most of us, flying into Faro at some time or another would have realised, simply by looking out of the aircraft window, how unspoilt the Algarve actually is. As you wander around places like Albufeira, Praia da Rocha or Carvoeiro etc you don’t realise that quiet and beautiful beaches, even some only accessible by boat are not far away. You have to see the Algarve by air to really appreciate how superb our coastline is. Most of us love the towns with their many bars, restaurants, cafes and night life, not to mention the shopping, but the balance between town and countryside is very well controlled.
The Algarve coastline is around 200 kilometres, and official figures are difficult to find, but development is probably restricted to (in the region of) 10 percent of the beachfront area, it’s kept in the main part to concentrated areas.
The N125 doesn’t attract endless roadside hotels and developments, though it does attract many business outlets. Feeder roads take you down to the beach areas and there is plentiful cluster development around the towns and villages, but a couple of kilometres along the coast and you are back into delightful unspoilt countryside and unspoilt beaches.
Back in the early 70’s I met a man in Armação de Pêra who had the original plans drawn up by an American group to develop a ‘marginal’ from Armação de Pêra along the beach front towards Albufeira. It looked impressive and very well thought out, for developers! The deal was that they would develop the road at their own cost, but they would hold the rights to the land beside the road for development. Can you imagine that beautiful strip of beach and countryside lined with hotels and developments? Fortunately, their proposal was turned down by the planning authorities at the time.
Cascais has the Av. Marginal, 27 kilometres of what some consider to be one of the most beautiful roads in Europe. It is, inevitably, highly developed to the exclusion of the countryside, which is what probably would have happened if the Armação de Pêra project had been given the go ahead.
The superb beaches and countryside are one of the main attractions of the Algarve and rightly so. You can probably thank the N125 for that. So next time you are driving along the N125, with all its curves, roundabouts, impatient drivers etc, just think how much you have to thank this road for. If you are in a hurry, now we have the motorway, it might cost a few Euros to use it, but it’s a great asset to road travel, and it’s even further away from the beachfront!
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.