Six days might not seem like long enough for an Algarve road trip but when the sun is shining day after day, you’ve got the freedom of reasonably-priced car hire and the beer is cheap (more on that later…) then spending time on Portugal’s gold coast needn’t take up your entire annual leave.
We’re still reeling in memories of culinary deliciousness, sea breezes and clear skies and so for Travelavo’s very first blog post, feast your eyes on part one of our 6-day guide to the Algarve – and we promise not to regurgitate all the usual touristy haunts…
We flew from Leeds to Faro to begin our trip, a nice and manageable 2.5hour flight. Our flight arrived into Faro just shy of 11pm and, hand-baggage in tow, we hopped off the plane and glided straight through passport control and onto collect our hire car. Budget-allowing, a convertible would be ideal in this part of southern Europe – wait til you see the coastal roads! But, functional and reliable, our Micra would have to suffice. To be honest, it was everything we needed for two of us to trundle along the coastal trail.
The drive from the airport to the city itself is just short of 20mins, depending on how far into the winding streets of Algarve’s capital your accommodation is. Luckily it didn’t take us long to find our basic but comfortable hotel – Hotel Sol Algarve. And with secure underground parking for €5, you can’t really go wrong. Breakfast was also included!
A Friday in September was our first full day in the Algarve, so we’ll begin there. We’ve explored many of Europe’s historic towns and cities over the years, becoming accustomed to beautiful architecture, cobbled streets and friendly locals. Faro was no different – with its renowned Roman history. Perhaps unknown to most though, Faro wasn’t always the capital of the Algarve. It was only after the earthquake of 1755 that Faro snatched the title from nearby Lagos. A bit of history never goes amiss!
Faro can pretty much be explored in a day, which is great news when you’re short on time.
Hotel Sol Algarve is located within easy walking distance of pretty much everything, so you won’t waste time trundling to find the hotspots. A short walk away is Igreja Do Carmo, the 18th Century Baroque church with characteristic twin bell towers. An absolute beauty on streetview, it’s actually famous for its smaller chapel hidden at the rear, built from the bones and skulls of over 1,000 Carmelite monks – a rather morbid reminder of how transient our lives are. Yikes!
While we’re on the theme of impressive architecture, not far from Igreja Do Carmo is the Arco Da Vila – an impressive archway that features a clocktower. You’ll not miss it! The streets that follow are endearingly tatty around the edges, adding to the city’s rugged character.
Keep on with the cobbles and you’ll soon be met with a large open square that houses the Cathedral of Faro (sometimes confused with Igreja Do Carmo), right in the heart of Old Town. Its concoction of Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles is signature to its beauty – you can thank the English raid of 1596 and earthquake of 1755 for that… Still, it only adds to its uniqueness. Well worth the small entrance fee, inside the cathedral area itself you’ll find a narrow stairway to the rooftop which gives panoramic views of Faro city and the mud flats beyond the harbour – honestly worth the claustrophobic climb! TIP: Head here first thing or later on in the day to avoid the crowds as you might find yourself stuck at the top, or bottom, waiting for others to pass.
In the cathedral grounds you’ll find a quaint square filled with lemon trees and the remnants of a shrine made from (more) skulls. We were mesmerised by the detail inside the chapel itself so make sure you take some time to admire its intricacy.
History and architecture out of the way, wander through the streets some more and you might be surprised at what you find around each corner…
Lunch time! By now you’ll be ready for a bite to eat so make your way towards the harbour and we’ve found just the spot. The Woods is characteristic of health food bars popping up left, right and centre, but its prime-positioned rooftop terrace and ridiculously tasty menu sets it above the rest – plus it doesn’t have the arrogance of some London spots… Choose your dish and grab one of their signature juices or smoothies and watch the world go by as you fill your boots.
Juiced up with a full tum, now’s the time to head harbourside and enjoy meandering past the local yachts and small fishing boats. And if you didn’t get a photo with the giant FARO sign, did you even go?
This just about sums up Faro in a few hours. You can also head out on a boat trip through the mud flats to Faro’s beach, but with knowing the sandy beautifulness that awaited us on the rest of our adventure west, we didn’t feel the need to see it – this time at least!
Must see: Cathedral of Faro
Must eat: The Woods
You can see more photos on Instagram, @travelavo, and watch out for our next post to read about Days 2-6 and more Algarve wanderlust!