Historic Faro, the centrally placed coastal capital of the Algarve is a joy, and well worth at least a day trip of your time. The old town area of Faro couldn't be further away from Faro Airport and its industrial surrounds. As you enter the narrow cobbled streets of the old town via the imposing neoclassical Arco da Vila. you're in for a historic treat of a tour through numerous historic buildings and some fascinating architecture. Faro has a host of chic boutique and specialist shops, a bustling port, boat trips out to the Parque Natural da Ria Fomosa, and a choice of museums including the Museu Capitular inside Faro Cathedral buildings and the Museu Municipal in the old Jewish quarter of Faro. Faro has a superb beach too with ample windsurfing and watersports - come in mid-October and lap up the Faro Festival atmosphere!
Faro Tourist Information Centre, Rua da Misericordia 8-11, Faro, Algarve. Tel: 289 803 604.
If you just zip through Faro Airport heading straight for an Algarve resort, you're missing the essence of the Algarve. There's history afoot around Faro's historic port and historic Cidade Velha - old town. The Algarve's beautiful capital town is crammed with fantastic shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. Faro is a delight - take a day trip at least, combined with a boat trip out to the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa.
Start your tour of Faro in the port area - fine views here across to the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Just behind the port there's a ferry pier where you can hop on a boat trip to Praia de Faro beach which is on Ilha de Faro around 10km from Faro centre. You can catch ferries from the pier to more beaches near Faro too, including Praia de Farol (Ilha da Culatra) and Ilha da Barreta otherwise known as Ilha Deserta (Desert Island). See the Ilha Deserta and Boat Trips from Faro weblink right for details. There are all sorts of nature tours, boat trips and birdwatching tours available around the natural park.
Faro's old town and central hub Praca Dr Francisco Gomes with adjacent Jardim Manuel Bivar are all close together, making it easy to explore on foot. Some of the best specialist shopping on the Algarve is here in Faro - it's a joy to wander around.
Museu Municipal de Faro (Museo Arqueologico), Largo D. Afonso III, 8000-107 Faro, Algarve. Tel: 289 897 400. (weblink right/Portugese language site only). Open from April to September Tuesdays to Fridays from 10am to 6pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon to 6pm. From October to March - Tuesdays to Fridays 9.30am to 5.30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11.30 to 5.30pm.
The Municipal Museum in Faro is housed in the Convento da Nossa Senhora da Assuncao. The building dates from the 16th century, and like Faro's walls it survived the 1755 earthquake. Inside are finds from the Milreu Roman Villa, plus Moorish artefacts and Manueline window frames. This sits alongside hotch-potch Portuguese furniture and ceramics. There's some rather interesting paintings in here too. It's now been confirmed that the drawing here in Faro Municipal Museum thought to have been by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) is indeed by Gauguin. Pop in and see his charcoal drawing now back on display, plus other works from the donated Ferreira d'Almeida collection - which includes a fake Rembrandt. No wonder they were sceptical!
Museu Maritimo, Capitania de Porto de Faro, Tel: 289 894 990. Open Mondays to Fridays, 2.30pm to 4.30pm. Head to the Harbour Authority building and alongside is the Maritime Museum with models of 15th century caravels, modern navel ships, collections of shells and exhibitions on the fishing industry in the area through the ages.
Museu Regional Do Algarve, Praca da Liberdade, Faro. Tel: 289 827 610. Open Mon-Fri from 9am to 12.30pm, and 2pm to 5.30pm. Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. This Faro Museum focuses on handicrafts and local handicraft industries such as saddlery, salt panning, weaving and lace making. It traces the day to day life of Algarve residents up until the 1970s.
Faro offers a mix of period architecture, some buildings survived the 1755 earthquake and others didn't. Just opposite the edge of lazy lounge magnet Jardim Manuel Bivar is the Acro da Vila entrance to Faro's old town. You'll notice on this baroque archway a statue - it's Faro's patron saint St Thomas Aquinas. This entrance was built after the 1755 earthquake - part of Faro's reconstruction orchestrated by Bishop Francisco Gomes. However, much of Faro's city walls survived the earthquake.
The cobbled street then bends round to the main square where the cathedral and other buildings of note sit alongside orange trees. The fragrant smell in the square is divine. The cathedral forms the centrepiece of the square and, as is the common practice, is thought to have been built on the site of other religious buildings previously here such as a Roman temple, Moorish mosque and a Visigoth cathedral. Much of what you see today was rebuilt after the earthquake. Note the huge storks nesting on the rooftop - in fact you can see these storks on many of the historic tall buildings around Faro, for example also on the Igreja do Carmo dating from 1719 situated slightly inland.
Just beside the cathedral is the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao dating from the 16th century - inside here is the Municipal Museum. Other buildings here though in the main square are more recent, like the Bishop's Palace with its mimic Manueline doorways which is late 18th century. These later buildings and the pristine main square contrasts with older domestic buildings outside the main square (note the old iron balconies on these buildings and their old peeling exteriors), and indeed older churches such as the Igreja do Carmo which dates from 1719. (see below) You exit the main square via the Arco de Repouso (Gate of Rest) out towards the Ferry Pier. There are a couple of cafes and a taverna next to the cathedral situated in the main square.
You can take your pick of historic churches around Faro. One of the most striking is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo with its adjacent intriguing 'Chapel of the Bones' or Capela dos Ossos. The baroque fronted church still dominates the Largo do Carmo square, despite its now modern building surround of banks particularly. The architecture is ordered, almost perfectly symetrical with twin bell towers.
The unique Portuguese baroque style of Do Carmo is called talha dourada. The outside facade wasn't actually finished until after the earthquake. Inside is even more ornate, with Brazilian gold everywhere. Igreja do Carmo church became a bit of a hotbed meeting place in 1808. Locals met here then to devise a plan to resist the Napoleonic occupation of Faro. The cover was that they were attending a usual religious festival. The result was success.
Most visitors head for the rather weird adjacent Capela dos Ossos built out of ordered bones by Carmelite monks - the bones are monk's bones. Their point was to remind visitors of their mortality and to shock them into a sinless life. The chapel and bones date from the 19th century and there's another one of these bone contructions in Evora! Today it's the spectacle that pulls in the visitors, and a spectacle it is indeed. (open 10am to 1pm and 3pm to 5pm from Mondays to Fridays from October to April and later upto 6pm Monday to Friday from May to September. On Saturdays and Sundays it's open from 10am to 1pm.
Just near Largo do Carmo moving down towards the waterfront marina sits Igreja de Sao Pedro - this Faro church dates from the 16th century. Note also Igreja de Sao Francisco on Largo de Sao Franciso - 18th century baroque architecture here.