Exploring Faro’s old town
Due to the many incredible beaches and world class golf courses on offer in The Algarve, its capital Faro can often be overlooked as a tourist destination. However, this charming little city is full of hidden gems that make it worthy of a visit in its own right.
One of the highlights of Faro is undoubtedly its gorgeous Cidade Velha (old town), the history of which dates back to Roman times.
Although only small, the way the town is set out means that many of the fantastic buildings, restaurants and attractions are tucked away so there is plenty to explore.
An afternoon stroll around these winding cobbled streets is pleasing enough in itself but there are also plenty of other things to get up to in Faro’s old town.
The majority of Faro’s hotels congregate around the Jardim Manuel Bizar plaza and the streets that lead off from it. Form the plaza, facing out to the marina you will see the Arco da Vila (Town arch), simply walk through here and you are up into the old town itself.
Before heading through the arch, take a moment to enjoy its architecture and splendour. Built by the decree of Bishop Francisco Gomes, this neoclassical gate is a real visual treat and typifies the type of stone work that adorns the Cidade Velha’s streets.
The cathedral, which has been rebuilt numerous times in its long life, is a must when visiting the old town, and with it being located in the main plaza as you walk up from the Arco Vila, you can hardly miss it.
Entry costs a mere €3 (Approximately £2.40) which gives you access to the cathedral, its museum and the two displays in the courtyard.
Once you step inside, you will be dazzled by the ornate decorations that cover the cathedral’s interior and its magnificent altars. The gold leaf design used on the main altar is simply stunning, while other religious monuments make use of the famous azulejo tiling that adorns many of Faro’s buildings and street signs.
The museum itself shows a collection of Holy relics from ancient books and priestly clothing to magnificent jewellery and other sacred objects.
In the cathedral’s courtyard you will find a chilling altar made up of the bones of long-dead priests. This grizzly attraction is worth a look but for more bones head over to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo for a look at the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones).
Before you leave, you must take the steep climb up to the holy building’s bell tower, where you will be treated to the best panoramic view in the city. Gaze out over red-tiled roofs towards the vast expanse of the Ria Formosa park and marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds Faro.
Within the beautiful walls of the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assuncao, you will find the Museo Municipal.
The museum covers art, history, culture and architecture all of which relate back to Faro in some way.
On the top floor you will find works from Faro’s own Carlos Filipe Porfirio as well as other, more classical works depicting biblical scenes painted by a variety of artists.
A particular highlight is the Mosaic of the Ocean which has been partially restored from when it was discovered by local builders in 1974.
The museum also houses artefacts from the many cultures that have been and gone in Faro, from a replica of an ancient Islamic kitchen to Roman busts and coins.
From October all the way through to May 2015, you will also get the chance to learn about the history of the Portuguese guitar at the Recital de Guitarra Portuguesa João Cuna. Part lecture, part live performance, João uses visual aids and his own knowledge to talk about this unique instrument.
João takes you through the story of the Guitarra Portuguesa from its origins in the country’s slums and brothels to becoming a prestigious part of Portuguese music and culture.
Entry costs €5 with sessions taking place every hour from 11am until 5pm, with the exception of 1pm – well worth the entry fee and a pleasant way to spend half an hour.
Places to eat and drink
While the Cidade Velha is very peaceful during the day, in the evening things start to liven up a bit. In Portugal, it is the norm to eat much later and so the old town’s many fabulous restaurants and bars tend to stay open well into the night. Of course, most are open during the day for lunch and early in the evening for families with children or those who do not like to dine too late.
Like the rest of Faro, there is a wide range of cuisine on offer in the old town, whether you are after finer dining or a more casual affair.
Behind the cathedral, you will find a number of of great little tapas bars that specialise in the Portuguese variety of this dish. O11ZE is a popular little place where you can sit out in the courtyard, choose a selection of delicious nibbles and wash it down with a recommended wine. Vila Adentro Galeria is another wonderful little eatery here, with friendly staff and a wide ranging menu.
Next door you will find Taberna Da Se, a Portuguese restaurant that serves excellent seafood dishes within a delightful interior. The Taberna also has bar and is open for those who wish to have a few cervejas before exploring Faro’s lively nightlife.
O Castelo provides live music concerts from 11.30pm on weekends but during the day this trendy restaurant is worth a visit just for the incredible views it boasts of the Ria Formosa lagoon.
Other places of interest
The Galeria de Arte Arco will interest art lovers as it showcases a variety of contemporary pieces created by Portuguese artists. Other buildings of interest include the São Francisco (Church of St. Francis), Nossa Senhora do Pé da Cruz and the Paco Episcopal which is opposite the cathedral.
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