Do you already know the Portuguese town Faro? You should, because it is worth it. The Algarve is known for its wonderful beaches all over the world. It is a great holiday spot. But most people concentrate on very touristy towns even though there is so much more to the Algarve. A good example is its capital, Faro.
Many people recognize the name Faro, because it is the Algarve’s main traffic junction with the international airport, the head-quarters of the supra-national bus-company EVA and a big train-station. But instead of rushing out of the plane and hopping onto a bus to travel to the hotel as fast as possible, one should take the time and visit the town or come back later to do this.
The reason why this is a non-touristic place is hidden in its location. The town lies at the Ria Formosa River, behind a wonderful lagoon area and has no direct access to the beach. The Ria Formosa nature preserve area is at the same time Faro’s most beautiful jewel. It offers food and rest for many migratory birds and hides one of Portugal’s most celebrated culinary treasures: the mussels.
But this does not mean that who stays in Faro has to do without a beach. The beach – Praia de Faro – lays approximately 5 kms away from the town and can be reached by car or bus. Praia de Faro is actually an island, situated between the Ria Formosa lagoon area and the Atlantic Ocean. It is reached by a small bridge. (Careful: In August, when in Portugal are holidays, the bridge and the parking lot become very crowded.) The beach is wonderful, with fine sand and very far-stretched, which makes it perfect for long beach-walks. It is also very nice for all kinds of water-sports, like swimming, kite-surfing, sailing, etc. One should know though that the water takes some time to warm up in the summer. In June and July it still can be pretty cool.
Faro itself is a town of about 40 000 inhabitants. The old town, named vila adentro, is one of the few places, which survived the devastating earthquake in Portugal in 1755. It is surrounded by a wall, parts of which were already built by the moors, when they had captured Faro. You have to go in there during your visit. The town gate is a monumental entrance with a very friendly gate watch: Many storks build their nests here and you will be welcomed by their clattering. They offer some nice snap shots, too. If you go through the gate just follow the little street and it will take you to the plaza Largo de Sé, where you find the Sé cathedral and the bishop’s palace. This is the centre of the town. The Sé cathedral was originally built by the Visigoths was then replaced by a Moorish mosque, just to become a Christian cathedral again. The earthquake destroyed big parts of it but still today you can go up on the tower from the 13th century. It is a breathtaking view from up there. Try it.
Outside of the walls you will find the more modern Faro. Stroll around the marina and have a coffee at an esplanade. In Portugal you get many, many different kinds of coffee. You may want to bring a dictionary. From the marina and the little park Jardim Manuel Bivar you come to a picturesque pedestrian zone. This area really invites you to do some shopping. Just remember that on Saturday afternoons and on Sunday the shops are closed. But there is always Forum Algarve, a big shopping mall, at the entrance of the town. So if it is Sunday, just go there.
Right next to the town gate is a tourist office. It is recommendable to stop there and get a little map in order to find your way to our next stop: The Carmo Church. This pretty baroque church is definitely worth the little walk. It also has a little eerie attraction. If you pass through the sacristy and step out in the graveyard, you will see the Chapel of Bones. You should not miss that, as long as you have strong nerves. The whole chapel is decorated with bones and skulls, which are artistically arranged. Monks of the Carmelite Order built the chapel in 1800 and used the remains from the graveyard for the decoration.
Faro has many more sights, too many to be named here. To give you some inspiration: Visit the São Pedro Church which was built during the renaissance and have a look at its wonderful tiles. Or go to the archaeological museum. Not only the museum is interesting, but also the building. The museum is set in an old Clarissine convent with a very beautiful cloister. Then there is the Lethes theatre, which was a Jesuit school in earlier times. It is a little copy of the Scala in Milano.
This town is definitely underestimated. If you stay in the Algarve during your holidays, you really should take a trip to Faro and visit all the great places. Just explore everything yourselves and you will spend a fabulous day.