Most visitors overlook Faro as a gateway to the golden beaches that lie beyond. Algarve-based writer David Lugg digs a little deeper to reveal a city with a fascinating history, a splendid old town and enough seafood restaurants and daytime adventures to satisfy all budgets and desires
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High: It is tempting to highlight any of the world-class golf courses that adorn the Algarve coastline but, for the ultimate relaxation, set sail by private motor yacht from Faro marina to the idyllic Ilha Deserta – an uninhabited 7km-long golden-sand paradise. Share a bottle of the local Barranco Longo sparkling wine as the sun sets.
Low: Head to nearby Quinta Dos Santos, a wine farm and craft brewery that produces some of the Algarve’s best wine, beer and gin. A ‘tasting and tour’ starts from as little as €15. Finish the experience by dining at its Esquina tapas restaurant while gazing longingly over eight hectares of vineyards, olive trees and protected woods.
High: Don’t be fooled by its slightly tired façade, as the Teatro Lethes is a tiny, unmissable gem. Originally built as a Jesuit college in 1599, it was inaugurated into a four-tiered theatre in 1845 with intentions of mirroring La Scala in Milan. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a performance or recital, but the true star is the fabulous little auditorium itself.
Low: Set within the grounds of a 16th-century convent, the Museu Municipal offers a splendid showcase of Faro’s Roman and Moorish history. The highlight is a superb third-century mosaic of Oceanus (ancient Greek Titan), but the serene cloistered gardens are worth the €2 entrance fee alone.
High: Search for dolphins and explore secret beaches from the luxury of a privately hired catamaran. Paddleboards and snorkelling equipment are included to keep the kids happy, while lunch and wine can be included to keep the parents happy. The boat has a galley, two bathrooms and four cabins for when anyone has had too much sun.
Low: The secret to the Algarve lies in its simplicity. Sure, there are excellent waterparks, pirate ships and adventure parks, but these glorious beaches keep drawing families back year after year. There are more than 100 to choose from, with the long golden stretch of Praia de Faro only a five-minute drive from the airport, making it a great stop-off before the flight home.
High: Dining at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Hotel Vila Joya is a truly sensational experience. With its cliffside location, splendid Mediterranean cuisine and extensive wine list, its chef Dieter Koschina has perfected the art of satisfying all the senses. The menu changes daily, but expect fresh and locally sourced produce with an understandable emphasis towards seafood.
Low: If traditional, family-run restaurants are more your thing, then Taberna Zé-Zé is a sure-fire winner. This is the place to go if you wish to try the local seafood cataplana, a Portuguese dish (similar to a stew) full of oysters, clams, cockles and prawns. With great service and delicious food in an authentic setting, what more do you need?
High: On Faro’s doorstep is the remarkable Ria Formosa National Park (a 60km wetland network of lagoons, salt marshes and islands) that is a breeding ground and a resting place for migratory birds. Charter a yacht and skipper/guide from iSea Yachting in Faro marina for the chance to view booted eagles, white storks and greater flamingos, to name but a few local species.
Low: The Algarve is an adventure playground for adults and children alike. It is also reassuringly affordable. Learn how to kitesurf on the shallow lagoon of Alvor, hone your surf skills on the high rollers of the Atlantic, or for a truly unique experience, stand-up paddleboard through the spectacular sea caves around Benagil (opening image).
High: Not only is the neighbouring resort of Quinta do Lago home to three of the world’s top golf courses, but it is also within the Algarve’s affluent ‘golden triangle’. Quinta Shopping is the epicentre of extravagance and has long been the place to purchase many top designer brands or perhaps even a new villa.
Low: Loulé is best known for its spectacular three-day carnival, which attracts thousands of revellers to marvel at its flamboyant street parades. Outside of party season, the main crowd draw is the Mercado Municipal, widely considered to be the best market in the Algarve. Housed in a striking Neo-Moorish building, the focus is on local produce but the place is also a melting pot for vibrant Portuguese life. Open Monday to Saturday 7am-3pm.
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