Monday, 18 May 2015

Three days in the Algarve

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 Old Town
Faro Cathedral
Faro buildings
View of Faro from the hotel
Faro Old Town
Faro Old Town
Faro building details
View of Faro from the hotel

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.

View from the ferry to Ilha Deserta
Ilha Deserta
Ilha Deserta
Ilha Deserta
Ilha Deserta 4

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!)

Shells and a street sign in Albufeira
A boat at Albufeira

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.)

Igreja de Carmo
Chapel of Bones at Igreja do Carmo in Faro

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.

Old Town and Quarteira

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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