Monday, 18 June 2012

2 Days in Faro

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Dressed for London                vs.            Dressed for the beach!

Despite a few transportation hiccups (almost getting on the wrong flight outbound, flight getting cancelled inbound), our weekend in Faro was just what we needed.

I was super pleased with our hotel - Hotel Santa Maria. Although located on what they describe as "the outskirts" of the city, it was less than a 10 minute walk anywhere we wanted to go including the Old City & The Harbour. It was also very clean and all the staff we encountered spoke excellent English (the Portuguese have a really lovely, comprehensible accent in English) and were kind and helpful. The decor is a bit dated, but otherwise this hotel was excellent value for money. I would definitely stay there again.

On Saturday, we got up just early enough to catch the last of the inclusive breakfast buffet and then headed to the harbour to catch a ferry to the beach. The area around Faro is actually a protected wildlife preserve (Ria Formosa) and so it doesn't have at beaches in town. However there are plenty of options within 30 minutes by either boat or public transport.

After nosing around we decided to head to the Ilha Baretta known more romantically as the Ilha Deserta (the Deserted Island). It's essentially a long sandy spar on the outer edge of the preserve. This means you have a choice of splashing about either on the less protected (but more spacious) Atlantic side or the rather more protected (though limited) inland side. As it was quite windy, we opted for the inland side to layout our beach towels.
The water was a bit too cold for swimming for very long, but perfectly refreshing to splash around to get some relief from the sun. And so, slathered in sunscreen, we just chilled out with the other handful of local families who had also made the trek. Bright sunshine, brilliant blue water, a good book and the love of my life - what could be better?

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We took a late lunch at the lone restaurant (sangria, obligatory!) called Estaminé, which we very much enjoyed. We had an octopus & tomato salad, dry cured tuna to start and shared a huge pot of shellfish polenta that was amazing. Usually shellfish aren't at their best in June, but the waitstaff assured us that in this corner of Portugal they can be eaten and are excellent all year round - we definitely found this to be true during our entire trip.

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View from the restaurant

After lunch we took a bit of a snooze on the beach

Portugal WE-9.jpgSnooze!

and then headed back into town to get cleaned up for the evening.

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pulling away from the pier

We took a bit of a wander through the Old Town before dinner, enjoying the quaint streets, mosaic pavements, and plethora of orange trees heavy with fruit.

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mosaic pavements!

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quaint streets!

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orange trees!

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now we know why all the oranges are out of arm's reach. . .

The atmosphere was initially sleepy, most streets were empty, but coming into the square just outside the castle was a little mini festival where we stopped briefly to watch part of the Eurocup match between Portugal & Germany being shown on a huge screen.

We got detoured into a particularly horrible restaurant (whose name I've conveniently forgotten - a salad, glass of bad wine each plus bread & olives cost €30! ) but watching the sunset from the docks improved our mood considerably.

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How could you be unhappy after that?!

Fortunately try two for dinner was a considerable improvement. Called Sabores de Se, it served Portuguese cuisine in tapas style portions. We chose to sit inside, now that the sun was down the night air still had a bit of bite. Our server recommended a very pleasant and surprisingly complex white 

Barranco Longo (2010) to go with our chosen small plates:

Amuse bouche - shredded cured ham over the local fresh cheese & honey on toast

Salt Cod Fritters - beautifully crispy on the outside, soft, salty and creamy on the inside. Paired with a tomato & rice dish that was almost but not quite a risotto. Could have done with a bit more tomato, but a wonderful start.

Panfried Black Pepper Squid - not my favourite dish (though Stephen happily finished it off) it was possibly the best squid I've ever eaten - served whole, well cooked without being rubbery with a spicy sauce just enough to be pleasantly piquant without actually burning.

Pork and Clams - when they brought out this dish I couldn't believe it was considered "small"! Served in a mini wok, this did just what it said on the menu, hunks of intense meaty pork cubes seared and then tossed with salty tender clams (in the shell) mixed with fresh cilantro and a butter tomato sauce in which the whole thing was steamed again. The flavour combinations were simply and yet perfectly complimentary.

After all that we were too full to attempt the very tempting dessert menu. The total bill came to just €43! An outstanding value considering the location, quality of both food and beverages, and charming serving staff. Highly recommended! In fact we enjoyed it so much that our biggest regret from our unforeseen layover was that it was announced too late for us to get back here for another meal!

From there we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel to the echo of the concert that had taken over the plaza.

The next day we also got a bit of a later start, and unfortunately ended up missing the only boat to our chosen beach of the day (Praia de Faro) and the bus system was totally incomprehensible. So we got a taxi instead. Taxis in Faro are pretty good value since everything is quite close. Even the airport is only about €15 from town. We found most drivers spoke enough English and we had learned enough phrases to get where we wanted to go without too much trouble.

The Praia de Faro is definitely a local's beach, and given the glorious weather just about everyone was there. But being (again) another long sandy spar, there was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out.

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Praia de Faro - on a crowded Sunday afternoon

After lunch (sandwiches and ice cream at a beach-side cafe, nothing special), we were even treated to a display of kite surfing, which was great fun to watch.

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Kite surfing!

As the sun started to dip it was time to collect our luggage from the hotel, change clothes and head out to the airport. But we came back to London (when we eventually did make it back) a few shades browner and much more relaxed. Assuming that I can find a different airline, we will definitely go back!

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