It’s more than just a place to fly into, get a rental car and drive out of. Enjoy the Algarve spends a day in Faro and discovers scary skulls, tasty pastries, and a booming bohemian scene.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2015
Pictures by Marijke Verschuren
Start early as there’s loads to discover in the capital of the Algarve. Park your car at the Largo de São Francisco. Contrary to what the guys ‘helpfully’ pointing you towards the unoccupied parking spots might think, parking here is free. Ignore their directions and directly make your way to the old town – that’s the part surrounded by medieval Roman walls. You’ll get there via the Arco da Repousa, a 19th century gateway with a portico of Moorish origin, or the Rua Nova do Castelo.
Go for a wander
The old town, or cidade velha, is a small maze of cobbled streets, so you’ll probably get lost. Enjoy it. It’s part of the charm. With pink-red bougainvillea and purple jacaranda bursting colour in the white washed streets and cats sleeping in front of doorways with paint flaking off, the old town is made for wandering. There are plenty of cafés, galleries, shops and restaurants to keep you busy for a couple of hours.
Climb the Cathedral
Eventually, you’ll end up in an orange tree lined square in the heart of the old town. This is Largo da Sé where you’ll find Faro Cathedral (open Mon-Fri 10-18, Sat 10-13, €3) which is built on the ruins of a Roman temple. Inside the richly decorated church there are small side chapels which combine stained glass windows with yellow and blue azulejos. Particularly pretty is the Gothic chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Conception.
On your way back out, climb the tower, which is about 80 steps in a worn down narrow spiral staircase and shouldn’t be attempted when wet and slippery. On top, you’ll see the higgledy-piggledy red roofs of the old town around you, the Ria Formosa to the southeast, and storks nesting on the high buildings in Faro in all other directions.
(Largo da Sé, 8000-138 Faro)
Head to the marina
Exit the old town via the Arco da Vila and head to the marina, which is the leaving point of all possible boat trips to Faro’s islands and the Ria Formosa. (If you need to pick up a free Faro map, the tourist office is directly on your right after the Arco da Vila). Stroll over the palm tree lined plaza and grab some late breakfast / early lunch / very early cocktails at one of the cafés / bars. See Faro’s answer to the little mermaid which is half in the water of the marina (yes, she still has legs. No, we don’t know why). Imagine what kind of super yacht you’d buy if you’d won the lottery (there’s usually some blind man about selling lottery tickets would you want to try your luck).
Shop & stroll
Looking for something to buy but fed up with mass produced consumer goods? In his workshop and street store Espaço 18 (close to the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church) Sérgio Viana transforms unwanted chairs and other furniture into true pieces of art. They’re one of a kind, colourful and affordable (from € 35 per piece). A chair too large to take home? The woodworker also sells homemade magnets, money boxes and pencil holders. More interested in paintings? Ask to see the atelier of Sérgio’s wife, a talented painter, which is just a few streets away.
(Rua Jardim do Cardeal, 18, 8000-000, Faro)
Alternative 1: Shop in the modern centre
From the marina, you’ll see the pedestrianised streets of Faro town centre which are paved with mosaics. Although not as visually appealing as the old town, it’s still a pleasant walk through the modern centre.
Shops range from tourist tack to genuine Portuguese handicraft and from wine stores to the usual clothes shops you’ll find in any high street. (If it rains and you want to shop, go get your car and drive to Forum Algarve, a huge and partly indoors shopping centre).
Alternative 2: Antiques, but different
Loja dos objectos inúteis indeed sells useless stuff. At least for some. Others might find the statue of a horse sniffing its feet, iron train wagons or one of the 18 different clocks that currently don’t function just the perfect addition to their home.
It’s a small antiques shop, but without the snobbish stuffiness usually find in these kind of stores. If Aladdin were a collector of random old stuff, this’d be his cave.
(Largo de São Pedro, 13, 8000-148, Faro)
Taste great cakes
Contrary to other pastelerias, there’s no fancy shop window displaying the goods. It’s almost hidden, in a back alley. There’s nothing to see on the outside of the ugly building apart from the sign ‘Pastelaria Fábrica de Bolos’ and a line of people waiting patiently for their turn.
Inside the factory, you’ll see bakers working hard on marzipan sweets, bolos regionais, palmires, nógados and birthday cakes. There’s no room to sit or stay, so make up your mind and order. The cakes will be handed over in a simple cardboard box, lacking any decoration or even a company name: no fuss, but maximum taste, especially the fig sweets.
(Rua Brites de Almeida, 27, 8000-234, Faro)
Alternative 1: Sit and chat
Want a pretty place where you can sit down and have a chat? Try Baixa Caffe and aim for the one window seat with comfy cushions.
The décor is light and playful and the extensive menu comes in the shape of an exercise book. The coffee specialities are tiny, but tasty and the berry cheesecake comes recommended.
(Rua de Stº António, 54/56, 8000-283 Faro)
Alternative 2: Keeping it savoury
No fan of sweet stuff? Caco, o Original sells traditional bolos de caco; wheat bread, typical of Madeira Island baked on a hot stone. Colourful light bulbs hang from the ceiling in this place that combines woodchips on the walls with blue and yellow colours (it’s like Ikea, but cooler). There’s no table service, so order at the open kitchen. A small bola de caco, served with garlic butter, only sets you back €1.75 but is quite filling.
(Rua Conselheiro Bivar, 42, 8000-255 Faro)
See some skulls
Even if you’re not into museums or churches, do visit the Capela dos Ossos (open Mon to Fri 9-13 and 15-18, Sat 9-13. Price 2 euros). It’s a small chapel attached to the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church. You’ll find the chapel when you go through the church and out onto a walled garden. Why visit? Because it’s the most macabre thing you’ll see in the whole of Faro. The walls and even the ceiling of the Ossuary (which was built in 1816) are made with the bones of over 1200 monks whose bodies were exhumed from the nearby cemetery. That’s one way of recycling … Pretty morbid eh? Those with weak stomachs should do this first and get cakes afterwards.
(Largo do Carmo, 8000-148 Faro)
Relax on the beach
Jump on Bus 14 or 16 or collect your car and drive to Ilha de Faro (also known as Praia de Faro) for a well-deserved rest on the beach. From the centre it’s a 10-15 minutes’ drive (follow the directions to the airport and turn off at the last roundabout), the last part of it over a bridge which leads you to the half-island. Ilha de Faro is a small but long stretch of sand, popular with people who have a few hours to kill before their flight leaves. There’s free parking which gets crowded in the high season and snack bar-restaurants which offer drinks and grilled fish. The lagoon side is calm and filled with little boats. At the ocean side the waves break close to the shore, so it’s not that good for surfing but ideal for skimboarding. Take care when swimming: there’s usually a strong current.
Alternative: Visit the islands
Stay in Faro and take a ferry or speedboat from the marina to one of the islands (Ilha Deserta, Farol and Ilha da Culatra are only accessible by boat).
Hang out in style
Drive back to Faro and park your car. From the marina, cross the train line and head west. After about 500m you’ll find Fábrica dos Sentidos (only open Thursday – Sunday) on your left hand side. This old fabric hall gone funky is to Faro what Camden Town is to London, albeit on a smaller scale. Inside you’ll find a second hand market full of colourful hippy stuff. Artists have each displayed their work on 15m² while music is playing on an old jukebox and a toddler rolls around on a pushbike.
Chill out on the settees, have a drink at the bar or follow one of the workshops, ranging from DJ-ing to didgeridoo. Performer Mato le Freak, who leads this voluntary project, believes the time has come to put Faro on the map as a vibrant bohemian hotspot, using an old coca cola slogan by Fernando Pessoa to make his case: ‘Primeiro, estranha-se, depois, entranha-se’ (which translates as ‘First you find it strange, then you can’t get enough of it’). He might well be right as after our initial bafflement we’ll be coming back here for sure. Fancy a jam session? Visit on Sunday, June 14.
Alternative 1: Go to a concert
Party the night away in Faro’s old town, where an old brewery has been turned into a music association, or Associação Recreativa e Cultural de Músicos. Started just over a year ago, this is an ongoing process; ask the nice volunteers to show you around in the daytime and you’ll see rooms being converted into recording studios. A café is still in the planning, but plenty of concerts have already been held in the bat room. (www.arcmusicos.org)
Alternative 2: Have a scenic cocktail
Nothing on at the music association? Walk a bit further towards the centre of the old town and visit restaurant and lounge bar O Castelo. It’s open every day and has something going on (from live shows to jazz, blues and rock) every night. It usually gets busy with people dancing in the courtyard after 11pm. Try their O Formoso cocktail with Tangerine, ginger, cognac, espumante and grapes. It’s a tad pricey at 8 euros, but gorgeous views over the Ria Formosa are included (so get a window table).
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2015