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Destination Portugal: Why Not Choose… Faro?

At the southernmost point of Portugal, in the heart of the magnificent region of the Algarve, Faro promises an unforgettable holiday. Various periods of rule (Roman, Moorish, then Portuguese) have left Faro with a very diverse heritage. Of course, it is perhaps above all a destination for sun-lovers, with its sublime sandy beaches being a key attraction for many holidaymakers. Join them for a taste of easy living in Portugal.

 

A Treasure-Filled City, Reborn from the Ashes!

Starting at the Arco da Vila, explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town. The ramparts around the city are partly from Roman times, and some are more recent, from the period of Moorish rule. Due to its various reconstructions, Faro's landscape bears the marks of multiple architectural styles.

Visit the beautiful Sé cathedral, one of the most charming buildings in the city, and climb to the top for a magnificent view. If you're passionate about religious architecture, you can follow a trail taking you to Faro's numerous churches, each more impressive than the last. For example, don't miss the Nossa Senhora do Carmo church and its chapel, where the walls are entirely covered with the bones of 1200 monks. The gilded, sculpted wood and the baroque stuccos (18th century) in the Igreja de São Francisco contrast with the blue and white of the azulejos depicting the life of Saint Francis.

Beyond the Arco da Vila and outside the walls, the 16th century Igreja da Misericórdia (closed to visitors) still has a magnificent Manueline portico, the only part of the old chapel left intact after the 1755 earthquake. At the south end of Largo do Carmo, don't be fooled by the unremarkable exterior of the Igreja de São Pedro: step inside to admire its 18th century azulejos and its sculpted wood.

Art lovers will find plenty to satisfy their passion. The Municipal Museum is worth a detour, even just for its main building, the Convent of Our Lady of the Assumption. Make time to admire the 3rd-century mosaic of Oceanus, as well as the busts of Roman Emperor Hadrian and Empress Agrippina. The Trem municipal art gallery has given new life to several buildings in the old city centre.

Finally, the jewel of the Algarve and an unmissable stop on your stay, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is an absolutely sublime 17,000 hectare nature reserve. For 60km along the coast, an alternation of islands and lagoons provides breathtaking landscapes and opportunities to encounter all kinds of animals. For an even more perfect picture, head for Barreta Island, also known as the Deserted Island. This little corner of paradise is easily accessible after a short boat crossing.

Top 10 Must-Sees

 

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The Old Town: surrounded by the Medieval ramparts, the Old Town, with its little cobbled streets and small squares, exhibits a mixture of styles. This is due to the successive reconstructions following many human and natural disasters.

The Sé Cathedral: completed in 1251, the cathedral undoubtedly occupies the former site of a Roman temple, which was followed by a Visigothic basilica, then a mosque. The tower gate and several Roman-Gothic chapels survived the 1755 earthquake. The rebuild mixes Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, featuring gilding, twisted columns and azulejos panels.

The Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo: dating back to the 18th century, this church has two twin towers, richly decorated with Brazilian gold. Behind the building, sensitive souls might want to avoid the somewhat macabre "Capela dos Ossos" (Chapel of Bones), constructed in the 19th century using the bones and skulls of over 1200 monks.

The Igreja da Misericórdia: this large church was built in the 16th century on the ruins of the old Chapel of the Holy Spirit, mixing the Baroque and Manueline styles.

The Municipal Archaeology Museum: occupying a former 16th-century convent, this museum exhibits items from the region, including the 3rd-century mosaic of Oceanus.

The Museu Regional do Algarve: this museum's collection is devoted to peasant artefacts, agricultural tools, ceramics and basketwork from the region, explained by dioramas representing typical interiors. Don't miss the antique sprinkler, a water cart used until the death of its owner in 1974.

The Ria Formosa Natural Park: this labyrinth of canals, islands, wetlands and sandbanks extends along 60km of the Algarve coast. Its diverse ecosystems attract a variety of animals, including many bird species.

Barreta Island: located in the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, this unbelievably preserved island is so beautiful that you will struggle to believe such a natural paradise could still exist on Earth.

The Eiffel fish market: a 10-minute train journey from Faro, the little town of Olhao has a charming fish market on the seafront. Its metal framework might give you déjà vu: in fact, the architect who designed the market was none other than... Gustave Eiffel!

The Castle of Silves: built between the 8th and the 13th centuries, the castle is the best preserved Moorish fortress in Portugal. This formidable structure perching on the hill overlooks the town of the same name.

 

Cuisine from Land and Sea

Although fish and seafood are dominant in the gastronomy of the Algarve, it is also based on a wide variety of regional agricultural produce: citrus fruits, olive oil, almonds and all sorts of vegetables create a colourful and varied cuisine.

The queen of regional delicacies is the "cataplana", a stew using produce from the sea and land: shellfish (gambas, prawns, muscles) and pork (chorizo, tenderloin), along with onions, shallots, garlic, tomatoes and fresh red peppers.

Almonds and figs feature heavily in desserts, as do dried fruits accompanied by cool liqueurs.

Cultural Events

 

April: Liberty Day

This festival commemorates the Carnation Revolution, the name given to the events of April 1974 , which brought about the fall of the Salazarist dictatorship that had reigned in Portugal since 1933 .

July-August: Ria Formosa Festival

This festival promotes regional gastronomy, putting Ria Formosa and its produce in the spotlight.

August: FolkFaro

Large festival with local and foreign groups, music and celebrations in the street.

October: Feira de Santa Iria

The largest traditional festival in Faro, in honour of Saint Irene. It features many events and exhibitions for the whole family.


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