Thursday, 20 August 2015

The faded charm of Faro, Portugal

The pace in Portugal is different. Although similar in some ways to its Iberian neighbour, Portugal lacks the frenetic fiesta vibe often associated with Spain. Instead Portugal has an old-school charm I adore, and nowhere is this more evident than Faro.

In addition to being the country's third city, Faro is the capital of the southern Algarve region. It's far from a bustling metropolis though: this seaside town is little and laid-back. In the cidade velha, Faro's partly-pedestrianised old quarter, storks swoop through the skies, settling on church spires. From the vantage points of their nests, they keep watch over Faro's residents as they go about their daily business in the streets below. Tourists mingle with locals, usually taking a break from a resort holiday to do a little shopping and admire Faro's discreet charms.

Faro's storks survey the streets

And they are discreet: Faro has no prime tourist attractions to speak of. Instead, visitors will find tumbledown houses alongside local businesses, sunbleached stone next to intricately-worked tiles. Local businesses mix with high-street chains, family-run restaurants nestle next to boutiques. Faro has a decadent air to it that's far-removed from the flashiness of some resorts. This is the Algarve at its purest.

In recent years, restoration work has been carried out gradually, bringing some of Faro's facades back to full glory. A few new businesses have opened up too, with high-end boutiques alongside chain stores. But in true Faro fashion, this development is low-key and slow-paced, a gentle polish rather than gentrification.

Tiles in Faro's cidade velha

Dining in Faro's cidade velha also offers a sharp contrast to the Algarve's resorts: this time for price. Beachside restaurants often come with a premium price tag, but in Faro you can easily pay around €10 per person for lunch. Piteu offers good value fish and meat dishes with friendly service, which you can round off with an artisanal ice cream from Chelsea cafe (I can only assume the non-local name is Mourinho inspired). Faro's mini marina is also worth a wander: here you'll find petite pleasure boats rather than super yachts. And that's the beauty of Faro: its charm is in the small things.

Faro marina

You can find more posts on Portugal here.

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