Faro: Algarve’s best kept secret

Portugal’s vibrant city is giving other destinations a run for their money. Get there now, before the crowds take over

There are more reasons than ever to stay in this compact, colourful city. The fresh cuisine, culture and history, combined with a climate that seldom drops below 15 degrees in the winter ensure Faro is a European destination to keep coming back to at any time of year.

Wander down the cobbled, zigzag streets and you may lose yourself, literally, but you’ll just as quickly set yourself straight. The confusing layout is no accident; the former grid structure was redesigned so the hidden alleys provided ample defence during the battles to conquer Faro. It’s all part of the city’s charm.

View from the cathedral

A recent increase in tourism has led to a host of new restaurants springing up, but old favourites retain regular custom. Popular Michelin starred restaurant Faz Gostos is celebrating its tenth year in the Algarve’s capital, and it’s reasonable: around €55 per head for three course meal and wine.
For tapas, try the succulent pork cheeks and the fiery shrimps at Petisqueira 3 Em Pipa. If you’re after a wine bar with a difference, head to Epicur for a tasting and smelling competition. Take a sniff of the vials and if you guess right, you’ll win a bottle of wine. For late-night drinks, go to Varandas for live music on a rooftop, or grab a cocktail at the award winning Columbus Bar.

Cataplana

You won’t have to search far for the regional seafood stew cataplana. It, and variations of it, are everywhere. But for the richest experience, head to Aqui D’el Rey for an Angolan inspired dish, “prepared with love”. Relax into a seat for the evening and immerse yourself in this family restaurant, set in a medieval building with a roaring fire. You won’t get any fast food – a good cataplana takes around 45 minutes to prepare.

Half an hour’s drive or bus ride north (look for the São Brás de Alportel bus from Faro bus garage) will get you to the town of Estoi. Its main attraction is the palace, a rococo 19th century pink building bursting with colour and those distinctive blue azelajos tiles synonymous with Portugal. It’s recently been renovated to include a fine hotel; the Hotel Estoi has a spa and heated swimming pool on site, but visitors are free to wander the palace and gardens. The town itself is a glimpse into Algarve life before the advent of tourism, where prices are reasonable and the pace unhurried. Be sure to visit the Roman villa of Milreu (entrance €2.00) with mosaics dating back to the 1st century AD.
Bear in mind buses run weekdays only and the Milreu villa is closed on Mondays. 

Estoi

Away from the streets, Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of the world’s largest protected habitats and great lengths have been taken to keep its ecology thriving. Protected by Unesco, the rich lagoon landscape is home to hundreds of species of birds, including flamingos and spoonbills. Take a tour around the islands on a boat with one of the providers on the harbour. Our captain with Islands4You took us to four islands and spoke in four languages. The isles do get busy in the summer, so get there in the low season for more space to roam. Fans of nautical sports will find spots to surf, paddle board, flyboard and scuba dive around Faro.

 Teatro Lethes, the city’s outstanding cultural hub, has extended its programme of events for 2019. Its roster encompasses classical and contemporary music, theatre and dance, all of which hover around the very reasonable €12 mark. As Faro is a candidate for the European Capital of Culture 2027, it showcases a dynamic sequence of events this year. Be sure to check out the programme and events and grab a ticket or two while you’re there.

There has been an increase in tourism in recent years and a five star hotel is currently being built in the city centre. There are currently plenty of options: We stayed at the Boutique Hotel, located in the old town, features a terrace overlooking the city. Rooms from €60 a night.
Four star Hotel Eva is close to the marina and offers a health suite and spa. Rooms from €80 a night. There are a number of guest houses for those travelling on a budget, such as 1977 Guest House, located on Travessa de São Pedro. Rooms from €20 a night.

For more information Visit Algarve

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