Heading west this time to Faro. It is a short trip on the train, and you travel right beside the Rio Formosa. Most tourists arrive in the Algarve via Faro airport, but never stop in Faro itself. They are definitely missing out. Faro is the capital of Algarve, with a population of around 50,000. It has been a city since Roman times, although the Great Lisbon earthquake destroyed much of Faro in 1755. There is though still the walled city, and wonderful small streets to get lost in and you can even walk from the centre out into the Rio Formosa – which by the way was created by that same earthquake of 1756 which destroyed so much of Portugal.
The railway station is just a few minutes walk from the harbour. Unfortunately you cannot walk all the way round the harbour, however there is a lovely cafe between the harbour and the railway track which makes up for that! The main hotels in Faro are also located in the harbour, so if you decide to have a stopover then it is a lovely place to reside for a night or two. I cannot comment on the quality of the hotels as didn’t even go inside for a coffee.
Our main reason for visiting was the walled city – Cidade Velha – the oldest part of the city. Most visitors, including us, enter through arch at the end of the Manuel Bivar gardens. Walking up the small, cobbled street you find yourself in a beautiful square, surrounded by orange trees. The square is called Largo de Sé, and it is here you find the cathedral which the Earl of Essex ransacked in the 16th century when he helped himself to some of Portugal’s oldest books. The books now reside in the Bodleian Libary and I’ve read somewhere recently that Portugal has asked for them back. Hopefully by the time we next visit they will have been returned.
As well as the cathedral there are some beautiful villas inside the walls, and also art/music galleries. The streets within the walled city are mostly traffic free, and you can easily spend a couple of hours wandering here (do be respectful though many of the buildings you are looking at are homes). And if like us you take a relaxed approach to being a tourist, stop for a coffee to watch the world go by. We found a tiny cafe at one of the entrances on the eastern side of Cidade Velha – they had our favourite pastries Pastal de nata, excellent coffee and green tea.
On leaving the walled city there is still much to explore as the main shopping streets are pedestrianised, and there are also churches and museums to visit. Faro is definitely underrated, which in some ways is a bonus as it means you are mingling with locals rather than tourists!