Overseas Property PORTUGAL: Buy into 'The Real Portugal' ; the Infrastructure Is Improving, and Property Prices Are Up " but It Is Still Possible to Snap Up a Bargain on the Algarve

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Portugal's Algarve recently topped a poll by Channel 4's Place in the Sun programme as the best place to buy overseas, and it's not hard to see why. This stretch of coastline has all the ingredients necessary for a second home or even for permanent relocation: sandy beaches, golf courses, traditional fishing villages and great transport links with the UK all make it a firm favourite with British buyers. But, as its popularity drives up prices, is it still possible to find a bargain on the Algarve?

Winkworth's Ian Wilson believes so. 'There are areas where you can still get in at a good price and where you definitely won't lose money,' he says. The Algarve is the first overseas destination for Winkworth, which began trading there nine months ago. It has four branches, with plans to expand further. Wilson first moved to this part of Portugal in 1987, working for another agency, and understands the area's special appeal for British buyers: 'It has everything. It's not as built up as Spain, its beaches are way ahead of theirs and the climate is very temperate. The summers are lovely and hot, yet we still get Atlantic breezes, and it never gets particularly cold in winter.'

Many Winkworth clients are older buyers looking to permanently relocate but, increasingly, younger buyers are putting a toe in the water with pure investment purchases and plans to move permanently at a later stage. A typical budget is around pounds 250,000 which, in the popular tourist destinations in central Algarve such as Vale do Lobo and Quinta da Lago, now buys very little. It will get you more depending on how far east or west you are prepared to go.

Historically roads have been notoriously congested along the Algarve but a new motorway has substantially cut journey times, making the eastern stretch up to the Spanish border and the villages as far as the most westerly point, Sagres, more viable.

Million-pound properties are now commonplace in many areas, particularly those near golf courses, there are currently 29 on this part of the coast, and in frontline coastal spots but Wilson has this tip for bargain hunters. 'Head west and north of Sagres to the area known as Aljezur. It's very rugged and unspoilt with many pretty bays and coves and you can still get a good three-bedroom villa with pool for under EUR250,000 [pounds 179,000].'

And in the villages behind the coastline, you can also pick up apartments with reasonable price tags. Entry-level is around pounds 60,000 to pounds 70,000, two bedroomed apartments on good quality developments are currently available for pounds 120,000 upwards, and detached villas with a pool cost from pounds 250,000.

However, prices everywhere have risen dramatically in recent years and some agents are warning anyone buying as an investment to choose wisely. 'Two years ago it didn't matter. Anything you bought would have gone up, but today's buyers must do their research,' says Quadrant Properties' Connie Vito. She points to the eastern Algarve around Tavira, where the infrastructure is improving, as a good place for a bargain.

The infrastructure may be improving all over Portugal but many agents say that the lack of infrastructure appeals to some. A spokesman for Hamptons International says: 'An increasing number of clients bought in Spain 10- 15 years ago but now find it too built- up. …