Welcome to our tour of the Algarve. We will be touring the entire region. We are at the very start, this is our Faro 3 day tour. From here we will keep close to the coast moving to the far western corners of the region. We will then move inland travelling eastwards through the mountainous regions until we hit the Spanish border, then head back down to the coast, and slowly travel back to Faro.
Many travellers are drawn to the Algarve for its dazzling beaches, hot summer nights, premiere golf camps, and staggering natural features which promise to leave its visitors in awe. While its popularity continues to grow worldwide, there is still a side to the Algarve that remains unexplored by many: Faro, the main gateway to the Algarve.
Faro airport is often the first stop on your route to the Algarve and for some, it is the only side of Faro they will ever see. This underrated city, is in fact, the capital of the Algarve, but it receives much less attention than its neighbour resort towns in the West. I decided that Faro deserved more than just a flying visit. At 10.15 am I landed in the South of Portugal for the first time with one suitcase and a plan to explore every town in the Algarve.
It was late September and the temperature was still hot enough for a swim. In 15 minutes a cab could take me to the Faro beach or the city centre, all I had to do was pick. For convenience sake, I decided for the latter and headed straight to the Luxury Guest House_Opus One, my home for the next two days.
After checking-in, I was ready for my morning walk. In less than 5 minutes I was in front of the Igreja do Carmo, a baroque church dated from the 18th century and paid with Brazilian gold. The first thing that caught my eye was the bright yellow window frames, highly contrasting against the rustiness of the building’s façade. On top of the church’s towers, large stork nests emerged, a sight that I would eventually find in most of the town’s high landmarks.
in and I was even more impressed by the golden details embellishing the walls
of the church from the bottom to the top. My ticket also included a visit to the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel
of Bones) which is set right behind the main church building. “Stop here and consider the fate that will befall you.” - I read
before entering a room fully adorned with bones and skulls staring at me from
every angle. These are the remains of over 1000 monks which were exhumed from
an overcrowded local cemetery during the 19th century. As creepy as it may
look, it does remind you that life is ephemeral and that our destiny lies in
After the chapel, I followed the path to Faro marina, where many
locals dock their boats. From nearby here you can take to a boat trip to the local beach, Praia de Faro or one of the islands, Ilha da Barreta (also known as Deserta) or Ilha do Farol, but that's for another day. I walked towards the Old Town, making
my way through the old Arco da Vila. I was welcomed by the city’s patron saint,
St. Thomas Aquinas, the figure that lies on top of this neoclassical arch that
marks the entrance to the medieval neighbourhood known as Vila-a-Dentro.
Once inside, I found Faro’s Cathedral, a splendid building that during the Moorish occupation actually served as a mosque. Later, with the attacks of the English troops and a wave of devastating earthquakes, the church underwent a series of renovations which significantly altered its original features. The result is a unique mix of renaissance and baroque architecture. But
it’s on top of the clock tower that real beauty strikes. If you follow the
narrow stairs to the top of the Cathedral, you will be rewarded with stunning
views of the city of Faro and the Ria Formosa Natural Park. This is one of the
best viewpoints in town and the perfect place to capture the sunset.
The sound of my rumbling stomach was overshadowed by the twelve
strikes of the church’s bells, a sign that it was time for lunch. As I was making my way to Faro Museum, I
stumbled upon the restaurant Faz Gostos, where I settled in for my first
Portuguese meal. I figured, since I was near the coast, I should be ordering
fish. So I scanned the menu and found a sea bass casserole with clams and
shrimp, a delightful introduction to the local cuisine. (Please note that Faz Gostos is not open for lunch at weekends).
my energy levels replenished, I continued my walk and went inside Faro's
Municipal Museum, where I discovered more about Algarve’s historical background
through the museum’s artefact collection. From the prehistoric era to the
neoclassical period, the museum features a variety of items, but it was the
large Roman mosaics that won me over, that, and the cloister garden surveilled
by gargoyles hiding just below the roof.
I left in the direction of the Jardim da Alameda João de Deus, the largest garden in the city. Guided by the palm tree corridor, I was lead to a small striped house with beautiful Islamic details. I also found another Neo-Arab building, a former slaughterhouse, now home to the city’s main library. If it weren’t for the peacocks meandering around the garden, it could have well been set in Marrakech.
After a relaxing stroll, I headed to the restaurant Chefe Branco
for a delicious homestyle dinner. The perfect ending to my first day in Faro. The fact that it was a straight line from the hotel prevented
any chances of me getting lost, which was almost inevitable after a few glasses
always a reason to get out of bed when there's food involved.
For day 2 of my Faro 3 day tour, I booked a tour with the
Eating Algarve Food Tours so I could learn more about the local gastronomy. And
when I say learn, I mostly mean taste. The Fishermans Tour
started at the Mercado Municipal de Faro, a modern market where fresh produce
is put on display and carefully picked by passersby making their weekly
me on the tour were two American journalists and three young ladies from the
We met the tour guide and local resident, António, at 10 am and immediately set off to try our first treat. We popped inside a small café where we sampled a pork dish, which was to be the only meat stop of the tour. From then on, we were treated with a selection of luscious seafood and local sweets. After a leisurely walk through the market’s fish stalls and picking up live crabs, we slowly made our way to the Old Town and the marina.
We stopped at several
cafés en route, including a wine shop where we enjoyed a wine tasting
accompanied by a plate of tuna and mackerel. For dessert, Vila Adentro
delighted us with their traditional roll cakes, which combined almond, fig, carob,
orange and sweet potato. The building itself breathes history,
with catacombs running below the ground dating back to the 13th century and
decorative tiles embellishing the walls, a memory of the time where the
building served as a tile factory. Today, the restaurant is a mandatory stop
for those who, like us, are eager to taste the Algarvean cuisine.
of the places on the tour were quite hidden, making them easy to miss on a
first visit. With the tour, we had the opportunity to unravel some of these
secret spots and learn more about the region’s food heritage. Our
last stop was at the Columbus Bar, an award-winning cocktail establishment with
a passionate team ready to pour you a drink at any time. It was here, that we
bid our farewells, an hour later than expected as the food, wine and engaging
conversation with our guide made us completely lose track of time.
I left the bar and headed straight to Cais da Porta Nova, where I hopped on a ferry to Ilha da Barreta, also known as Ilha Deserta, and Portugal’s most southern point. 35 minutes later we reached the island’s shore. Deserta is worlds apart from the jam-packed beaches of the Algarve. In fact, this is one of the least frequented beaches in the South. It belongs to the Ria Formosa Natural Park, along with four other islands that make up this coastal lagoon considered one of the country’s Seven Natural Wonders. Not many foreigners make it this far, and even for some locals, this paradisiacal refuge remains an unknown territory. For those who do venture this way, you’ll be rewarded with white sandy beaches, incredible wildlife and crystal clear water, all for a 10 euro trip - now, that’s a cheap ticket to paradise!
I took my towel out of the bag and sat down reading a book, before dipping my feet in the water. At least here I didn’t have to worry about someone splashing water on me, there was plenty of room for everyone.
you get hungry, there’s really just one place you can go - Estaminé is the only
restaurant in Ilha Deserta and surprisingly, one of the best restaurants in the
Algarve. Its specialities include seafood dishes such as sea bass, clams and
Since I had my fair share of fish for the day, I decided to head back to the mainland for dinner. I ended up at Portas de São Pedro, a local restaurant, conveniently located right beside my hotel. "It is strictly forbidden to leave this tavern hungry" - that was the last of the ten "commandments" written on the restaurant’s menu and I wasn’t about to break it. I started by ordering a plate of cheese, followed by a dish of pork cheeks stuffed with tomato sauce and to finish it off a rice pudding and a glass of port wine. Mission accomplished.
It was a tiring day so I
walked straight back to the hotel and instantly fell asleep.
Onto day 3 of my Faro 3 day tour. After two days exploring Algarve’s capital, there was only one place left on my list - Estoi. This small town is only half an hour away from Faro and well worth the visit.
I had a ticket for the 12.35 pm bus, so I still had time to do a
quick visit to the Algarve Regional Museum (Museu Regional do Algarve). Here, I found a series of
photographs showcasing how the Algarve has evolved through the centuries, as well
as traditional objects that were used for fishing and local costumes.
Once I finished the tour, I headed to the bus terminal and got on the bus to Estoi. There are two stops in the area, one drops you off near the Estoi church and the other near the Roman Villa of Milreu. I decided to start by the church and then followed the path to the Estoi Palace.
The Igreja Matriz de Estoi is set right in the town’s centre. It
was built in the 15th century and like Faro’s church it was also affected by
the earthquake of 1755 and later restored to its former glory.
It’s hard to miss the Estoi Palace with its predominant pink façade and its luxurious gardens. This 19th-century palace is now a hotel, with little more than 60 rooms, a spa and two large swimming pools, along with many other facilities you would expect to find in the finest hotels. Its interior is museum-worthy, with magnificent plaster ceilings, stunning chandeliers and mythological figures on the walls. Outside, goddess statues and tile panels hide amongst the greenery. Visitors, like myself, are allowed to explore the main garden and the hotel’s grand room. Many lovers choose the Estoi Palace as their wedding venue or a place to relax on their honeymoon. Away from the hustle of the city, it seems like the perfect site to celebrate any special moment.
I booked a table at the restaurant’s hotel, O Visconde, and got a chance to sit on their beautiful terrace, with Algarve’s countryside in the background.
restaurant offers a variety of regional delicacies, including the Cataplana,
which much like the tagine is named after the pan where it's prepared. The fish
cataplana is the most famous around the Algarve but here they also serve one
with pork loin and clams. With so many options available it was hard to make a decision.
The fried shrimp with garlic seemed like a good place to start, and then, of
course, the fish cataplana, to see what all the fuss was about. I was
definitely not disappointed with either and if I had had some extra room I
would have ordered one of the many appetizing desserts on the menu. I guess I
will have to save that for my next visit.
A coffee gave me enough boost to continue my walk towards the
Roman Villa of Milreu. This well-preserved site was occupied by the Romans
during the 1st century AD and served as a luxury villa in the following
centuries, which featured a bathing complex and a large temple. Most of its
mosaics are still very much intact and show a clear emphasis on sea motifs. The
ticket was 2 euros which didn’t seem enough to cover this lost piece of history.
I was spending the night at Vila Monte do Casal, a few miles off the centre but just what I needed after two days of walking non-stop. I took a taxi to get there and was more than happy to relax in my ocean-view room for the rest of the day.
Set atop of a hill, the Vila provides breathtaking views of the
now seemingly far away islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. The staff are extremely welcoming, making me feel like home from the second I arrived. After a well-deserved nap, I sat down and watched the sunset
from my bedroom’s balcony before heading back down for dinner.
In 3 days I was able to see pretty much everything that Faro had to offer and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of this amazing region. The team from Iberian Escapes was a big help in terms of planning this trip. Besides giving me a full plan of things to do around each town, their team has helped me find my accommodation, arranged local tours and even hired a car for me, which will be delivered tomorrow at the Vila, so I don’t have to worry about picking it up elsewhere.
Tomorrow, I’ll be driving to Loulé and continue my trip towards
the West of the Algarve...