Graced with the natural beauty of the lagoons and meandering channels of the Ria Formosa estuary, Faro’s appeal transcends beyond its kilometres of beautiful sun-drenched beaches, wonderful climate and warm waters. This vast estuary, comprised of five islands and two peninsulas is home to migrating flamingos, shifting sand barriers, salt pans and a wealth of flora and fauna that have earned it recognition as a Natural Park and a universally appealing destination. The municipality of Faro includes the islands of Barreta, Culatra and the Ancão peninsula.
Easily accessible from the nearby airport and now a cosmopolitan city, it is hard to believe that an area comprising approximately 60 km of coastline and over 18,000 hectares of unspoilt beauty could lie so close to the thriving urban centre. A short trip across the city and visitors are regaled with long strips of uninhabited dunes and a labyrinthine mesh of canals where they can either opt for sun-drenched days on the kilometres of sand dunes or peaceful trips around the canals and lagoons for a chance to gaze at the biological wealth of this protected area.
Ilha de Faro (Faro island) on the Anção Peninsula is the busiest beach in the area. Situated on the western boundary of the Ria Formosa and linked to the mainland by road, its long expanses of fine, white sand attract many visitors to its shores during the summer months. The beach provides a wide range of amenities and water sports facilities including surfing, windsurfing and fishing and is more secluded and picturesque at either end as fishermen’s huts gradually replace the long line of holiday homes. The narrow beach on the other side of the sand dunes facing the lagoon is a favourite with jet skiers, windsurfers and sailors.
The uninhabited island of Barreta beach stretches over approximately 10 km, providing an unequalled atmosphere of serenity on both its ocean and lagoon fronts. Access is only possible via boat from Faro, the journey itself providing a wonderful opportunity to marvel at the beauty of the meandering waterways of the lagoon and its varied wildlife. Culatra beach on the island of Culatra was originally a fishing village and now provides a full range of services and amenities. It is still possible to observe the fishermen go about their daily work here using the traditional octopus-catching pots and the basket traps. Also on the island of Culatra, the Lighthouse beach (Praia do Farol) owes its name to the imposing lighthouse on its western end. Although heavily built up with holiday homes at this end, a walk eastwards will guarantee more seclusion.
In addition to the appeal of the beaches and estuary as a holiday destination, the economic importance of Faro and its estuary has always attracted invaders and foreign settlers, conferring an important historical status on it. An important town during Roman and Moorish occupation, it continued to prosper after the Christian re-conquest in 1249 and was later declared capital of the Algarve. The following centuries saw its decline as the city was ravaged by raiding British soldiers and three successive earthquakes, but there are still several monuments that bear witness to its former glory. Faro’s impressive cathedral, originally commissioned in 1251 but later rebuilt, still contains two original chapels as well as examples of beautiful 17th century altarpieces. Moorish influence is evident in the city’s walls, originally built by the Muslim prince Ben Bekr in the 9th century and the Mouraria, or Moorish quarter. The archaeological museum of the Monastery of our Lady of the Assumption, built on the site of the old Jewish quarter, houses an impressive collection of Roman remains found within the city and in the nearby Roman ruins at Milreu.
No visit to Faro would be complete without a taste of the local cuisine in one of the abundant restaurants that line the city’s busy streets. The fishermen’s recipes provide the ultimate local flavour, notably the fish soups and the rice and razor clam dish. Another Moorish legacy, the local figs and almonds, form the basis of the sweets while the traditional liqueur ‘medronho’, made from the arbutus berry, or the local fig brandy provide a robust finishing touch.
Shopping opportunities abound in and around Faro, with the old town area providing many smaller high street shops while the Forum Algarve shopping mall contains a large selection of shops, fast food outlets, a supermarket and a cinema.
Golfers have a wide range of golf courses to choose from in the surrounding Almancil area, namely the Laranjal, Pinheiros Altos, Quinta do Lago South, Quinta do Lago North, the Royal and the Ocean courses.
Visited by holidaymakers, golfers, ornithologists, biologists and nature-lovers alike, it could be said that Faro retains its timeless, universal appeal.