A couple of weeks ago I set off to Faro, Portugal, for a mini-holiday. I stayed in what old books call a pension and hopped around various locations in the Algarve - to Quarteira, Albufeira, and most memorably the beautiful Ilha Deserta.
Faro makes a good base for an Algarve holiday - for a start, the airport's there, but it's
also quiet, inexpensive, not overtly 'touristy', and has beautiful architecture. The Old
Town in the south of the city is lovely to wander around, there are lots of fantastic
details on buildings (I loved the intricate street signs) and even the graffiti makes for
nice Instagram pics.
Ilha de Barreta, more popularly known as Ilha Deserta, is an uninhabited beach island -
it can only be reached by a ferry from Faro (or by taking your own boat, if you happen
to be that lucky). It's also the southernmost point of all of Portugal. It's an incredibly
peaceful place: anything I say about how de-stressed and relaxed I felt while there - like
all my problems were millions of miles away, etc etc - will probably sound like a
meaningless platitude, but it was genuinely a bit of a spiritual experience. It's just you,
the ultra-soft sand, the sky and the sea; it feels like there's nothing else in the world.
The ferry company who take you there advertise it as a once-in-a-lifetime event, and
unlike many things described thus, it actually IS. If you're visiting Faro/Albufeira/the
Algarve, it's a must-do (and try to get the first ferry of the day so it's as empty as
possible) (oh and also, it's really cheap - €10 return!)
Albufeira is a more tourist-orientated resort slightly to the west of Faro (you can get a
bus between the two). There are lots of souvenir shops and there's an escalator to
the beach, but compared with some other resorts I've been to or heard about, I
was pleasantly surprised by how laid-back it felt. The fact that it was relatively quiet
probably helped. The beach is gorgeous, with spectacular rocky cliffs and picturesque
whitewashed buildings in keeping with the traditional style of the region, and it's great
for ice-cream, cheap food and people-watching.
(I also visited Quarteira, another resort which is less picturesque, dominated by
tower-block-style hotels - and it happened to be deserted and pouring with rain that
day, giving the whole place a vaguely post-apocalyptic air. It gave me lots of imaginative
fuel but didn't result in the best photos.)
On my last day I took the opportunity to join an hour-long tour around Faro - I'd been
eyeing the little tourist train all weekend, and when I found out it only cost €2.75 I felt
like it would be stupid to miss out. The train took us around the Old Town, past the Ria
Formosa national park and Alameda João de Deus gardens, before stopping at a
stunning church, Igreja do Carmo. I'd been wanting to visit this place and didn't think
I'd get a chance to see it properly (it had been closed on my previous attempt to visit)
so I was thrilled to be able to go inside and particularly to see the Capela dos Ossos -
Chapel of Bones - attached to the church.
I was so sad to leave and could definitely have spent several more days exploring the surrounding towns and visiting some of the other beaches around Faro.
Until next time...
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