Faro is the capital of the Algarve region of Portugal, and where most tourists begin their holiday in the Algarve; at Faro airport. However it is worth exploring Faro as it has beaches, reached by boat and the stunning nature reserve at Ria Formosa, which is a boat ride away. You can enjoy pottering around the old cobbled streets in the city and eating at one of the traditional Portuguese restaurants where you sit at long tables on benches, next to local Portuguese who are always willing to strike up a conversation. Once it was about my choice of food – squid cooked in its own ink. They were surprised that a foreigner could eat it with such gusto, especially as my friend had commented that it looked like an oil slick on the plate.
Of course there are many other Portuguese dishes which are easier on the eye, such as the cataplanas, These dishes can be a mixture of seafood or meat and are named after the closed dish they are cooked in (the cataplana). However my favourite food in Portugal was another traditional dish, pork with clams. That may sound an odd combination, but it’s simply another, very tasty, version of surf and turf. The Portuguese cakes or gateaux are also extremely good and difficult to say “No” to! The fish is fresh and cheap too, cheaper than in Greece, for example.
Faro is part of the Moorish Al-Gharb and one of the Moorish strongholds until the middle of the 12th century when they were driven out of Southern Portugal. There are remains of the 500 years of occupation all over Portugal, and at Estoi, about 11 kilometers from Faro there are extensive Roman ruins. The Phoenician and Carthaginian traders visited the city well before the advent of the Romans, so it has a fascinating – and long- history. In the 15th century it was important as a port from which voyages of discovery were embarked upon.
I particularly love the old town with its winding narrow streets, perhaps because they remind me of the Greek Cycladic islands where I have spent so much time.
Faro’s municipal museum is housed in a 16th century convent, one of the buildings which survived the earthquake in the 18th century which was responsible for the destruction of so many Portuguese buildings, and of course it was accompanied by a tsunami which destroyed a lot of the city of Lisbon.
As the gateway to the Algarve, Faro has a lot to offer, including golf courses, as golfing holidays brought in the wealthier tourists in the 1980s and 90s. There really is something for everyone, so don’t wrote Faro of as just another city – it isn’t! It is a great place as a base for exploring the rest of the Algarve.