Faro and the Algarve
We thought long and hard about visiting the Algarve as it has a reputation for attracting bargain-hunting British tourists on cheap package holidays. But, we were seduced by stunning coastal images of the area and so we reasoned that there would be less of those package-holiday tourists there because of Covid and, that if we based ourselves in Faro, the region’s capital and gateway, usually bypassed by said tourists as they hot-footed it to the region's beach resorts, that it would probably be okay. Also, on further investigation, we learnt that Faro has a fascinating cultural history, a well-preserved old town and is said to be a slightly alternative holiday destination that promised an authentic Portuguese experience. And so we booked our hotel and in early June boarded the bus to Faro!
A very brief account of Faro’s tumultuous past is reflected in the building and rebuilding of the walls that enclose the Old Town…
The area where Faro is today, was established as an important port for maritime trade along the Mediterranean by both the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians from about 1200BC. In the second century BC the Romans arrived and named the settlement Ossonoba. They built public buildings including temples and a forum and protected them with high stone walls. After the Romans came the Visigoths and then the Moors from 713AD. The Moors repaired and strengthened the walls and inserted arched, defensive gates for further protection. Several of these arches still exist including the most ornate - the Arco da Vila - picture below.
The Moors were defeated by King Afonso III in the Reconquest of the city in 1249. And in the 16th century the city walls were again damaged in attacks by English raiders. Even further devastation was caused by a major earthquake in 1755.
Battered and a little ramshackle in places, the Roman walls are still standing and together with the winding, cobbled pedestrian streets, squares and buildings, they contribute to the jaded but charming allure of the old town.
We were fascinated by these massive birds and their massive nests. Our walking tour guide, Marcello (Faro free walking tours from locals) , had a keen interest in these amazing birds and he was able to tell us that there had always been storks in Faro. (I had seen their nests on the Arco da Vila where we met him and asked about them). He also said that storks have no vocal chords and, therefore, their sole means of communication is clacking their beak. We were intrigued to hear this “chatting” noise from the storks in the early evenings.
We had a great view from the upper terrace of our hotel of one nest on the roof of the Our Lady of the Cross church. We spent most evenings watching the storks returning to the nest and doing a sort of dance at dusk as they settled in for the night. Early mornings also provided entertaining viewing and so I attached the zoom lens to my camera and took the following shots.
Probably the most well known type of Portuguese food is the Pastel de Nata - a delicious crispy flakey pastry with a creamy sweet custard filling that is often dusted with cinnamon. We were keen to try these and after the first one we realised how delicious and decadent they were and thought we should probably ration them to one a day - but it didn’t quite work out that way and we might have had a few more than that...
The other widely known Portuguese dish is
Periperi chicken (also known as piripiri chicken) - a traditional Portuguese Chicken dish made with Piri Piri peppers which actually originated in South Africa, and were imported to Portugal on spice ships from the two Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. We ordered this at a beachside cafe for lunch and found that it was served with chips and salad. Maybe it was that particular cafe - but we found it a bit underwhelming.
We also ate dinner one evening at a small local restaurant called 'A Venda'. Our guide had recommended the restaurant as it served traditional dishes with a twist. We were seated at a table outside the restaurant in a small street. Although the food was pretty good the best part of the evening was our view of a little bit of ’street theatre’ as the restaurant was in a residential area and the locals were living their lives in the street! Very entertaining to watch their interactions as we had dinner.
More good stuff - A Road Trip along the Algarve Coast
Lagos, Nigeria may have been named after it, since, at the time in the 15th century, Lagos, Portugal, was the main centre of Portuguese maritime expeditions down the African coast. It is a town situated at the mouth of Bensafrim River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
We arrived in Lagos on a sunny morning and wandered along the cobbled streets of the bustling old town admiring the white washed buildings, covered in vibrantly coloured tiles and how they contrasted with the brilliant blue sky. Time for a coffee and Pastel de Nata to fortify ourselves for a cliff top walk along the stunning Ponta da Piedade.
The Ponta da Piedade...
is a short walk from Lagos, it is the headland along Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast It is where centuries of wind and water have carved their way through the cliffs to create a network of caves and tunnels. With the brilliant blue sky and the clear turquoise ocean as its backdrop it was an unforgettable spectacle.
is located on the extreme western tip of the Algarve.
Sagres is windswept with a barren landscape, towering cliffs and raging seas… well that’s what our research told us
When we visited, we found that it was remote, that the surrounding landscape was rather barren, and that the wind was blowing, but
the sky was impossibly blue and that raging sea was actually gently lapping the shore of a gorgeous beach that was sheltered by cliffs on either side. There were very few people there and it was all rather special. We walked along the beach and had Periperi chicken for lunch at a local cafe that overlooked this idyllic scene.
Estoi Rococo Palace
In Estoi, a little town about ten kilometres from Faro there is a unique Rococo-style palace with rather lovely French-style gardens with statues, fountains and a grand blue and white tiled staircase.
It’s not particularly old, construction having begun in the 1840s and eventually completed in 1909. It’s then owner died in 1926 which meant that over the following decades the palace passed between several family members and new owners. In 1977, the palace and its gardens, fountains, and statues were classified as a Property of Public Interest. And then sadly, it was pretty much abandoned so that by the 1980s, it had fallen into a state of disrepair. Eventually the Faro Municipal Council stepped in and, with financing by the Portuguese Tourist Office, it was converted into a Pousada (a state-owned hotel in a building of historical interest). Restoration and renovations were completed in 2009 and it was then converted into a luxury hotel.
Our interest was the gardens and particularly the grand staircases decorated in vibrant blue azulejo tiles. The gardens were actually arranged on three levels, all connected by these staircases.
We arrived late in the afternoon when there was no one around and everything seemed to be closed up. Following a narrow lane lined with high bricked walls that ran adjacent to the hotel. we eventually came to a wooden door in the wall. When we pushed it open we discovered we were at the bottom of the garden and at the base of the tiled staircases. We explored this part of the garden - then made our way up the stairs to a second garden and then to a third, one with fabulous views out over the Estoi township. Fabulous!