Where is everyone? It is 3pm, Friday afternoon in Faro and I am standing on the Largo da Sé. The square is nearly empty and I have the Cathedral and the blossoming orange trees all to myself… Strange, since this is supposed to be the main tourist attraction of Faro…
It reminds me of my stay in Málaga, Spain. Both are mainly treated as airport hubs and a quick access to the region’s beaches. A shame, because there are plenty of things to do in Faro.
The Cathedral was originally built in 1251. Nowadays only the belltower and a few chapels remain of the original exterior, the rest has been destroyed during the 1755 earthquake and rebuilt afterwards. You can visit the main courtyard, the cathedral itself with its dazzling gilded carved statues and a museum housing numerous religious objects. The main reason for coming here though are the stunning views across the walled town, all the way to the sea and the lagoon of Ria Formosa!
The old town or Cidade Velha is surrounded by medieval walls and offers different entry gates. Most people enter via the neoclassical Arco da Vila and exit via the Arco de Repouso (Gate of Rest), which according to the legend was the place where Afonso III, after taking Faro from the Moors, put his feet up and heard mass nearby.
The rest of the Cidade Velha is a pleasant mixture of cobbled streets and picturesque squares.
After exploring the old town, I go for a walk on the outside of the medieval walls, along the ferry pier. It makes for a romantic stroll with nice views over the coastal lagoon. At the marina fishermen prepare their boats before setting off into the open waters. A slice of traditional Portugal.
Faro doesn’t stop at the old town; outside the walls is the newer, downtown part of Faro, the Baixa area. It is scattered by numerous churches and chapels (ermidas) Few of them are open to visitors and unfortunately The “Capela dos Ossos”, a chapel made of bones and skulls from over a thousand monks is closed during my visit…
It’s great to see people going about doing their daily business and enjoy the charms of a working Portuguese town without the massive hords of tourists, that are all packed in resort towns along the coast.
One of the pleasures of visiting Portugal (or any country for that matter) is the food. So I start the evening in a little bar/restaurant that offers a free “petisco”(tapas) with every glass of beer or wine. I feast on some “pimentos de piquillo com bacalhau” ( which sounds so much better than small peppers stuffed with salted codfish) and a chickpea salad before heading to another bar for a dish of snails.
The old town is supposed to be beautifully lit at night,so before heading back to the hostel I enter the Arco da Vila for the third time today. As soon as I enter, all traffic noise from outside vanishes, I find my own shadow reflected on the whitewashed walls and all I can hear are my own footsteps. A haunting and spooky atmosphere… Around the corner, a group of friends are entering the Ponchas bar. I decide to follow them for a night cap. While minding my own business and my vodka-red bull, a woman named Marcela comes up to me and invites me to join her and her friends at their table. Never known to decline an invitation, I join Marcela, Ana, Neuza, … and the three year old Santiago. Most of them live or are born in and around Faro and they all speak English, making conversation much more easy. I chat the night away, trying out a few ponchas, the signature drink of the bar. I feel truly privileged!
The next day the sky is covered with clouds, so maybe this is not the best time to visit the Ilha Deserta and its beautiful beaches. But I only have one day left here, so it’ll have to happen today! The ferry sets off amidst the beautiful lagoon of Ria Formosa, a perfect haven for birdwatching at low tide. Thirty-five minutes later I set foot on Ilha Deserta, or Desert Island. The name is very accurate as the only building is the Estaminé Restaurant, apart from a few fishermen huts. I follow the sign indicating the pedestrian walk and set off… We were only about ten people on the ferry and within five minutes I find myself alone, surrounded by the abundant nature and the empty beaches. Its quietness and tranquillity are quite impressive, the only sounds that accompany me are songs of the overflowing birds and a passing motorboat. The circular island walk starts of on a wooden pathway, amongst flowers and bushes, and finishes along a beautiful stretch of golden sand! A pity the sun’s not out, this would be the perfect place for a lazy sunny afternoon with a drink, a book and nothing else!
Back on the mainland the sun finally starts to appear! I spot a nice square with some inviting terraces in the Baixa (dowtown) area of Faro, and sit down with beer and some olives, waiting for my chocos grelhadas (grilled cuttlefish)! I spend the rest of the day walking around various parts of town and taking in the sun while reading a travel magazine, in search of my next adventure…
Have you been to Faro? What were your impressions?