Portugalsurvival

A quick hop, skip and 2 hour plane ride away and we have landed in Faro for 10 days sun and relaxation on the Eastern Algarve.

Being my first trip to Portugal I spent a long time researching where to stay, my nightmare scenario is turning up abroad and arriving in an ex-pat community where your only dining options are all day British breakfasts and fish and chips and where the nightlife consists of nightclubs packed to the rafters with 18-30’s holidaymakers.

It turns out it’s pretty easy to avoid them, it meant just going East out of the airport instead of West, problem solved!

We picked a beautiful farmhouse only about 15 minutes drive from Faro on the edge of a small village called Pechao, which was itself just 3km inland from the marina town of Olhao.

The Eastern Algarve is fairly untouched by mass tourism, the main reason for this has to be the fact there is no direct beach access along most of its coastline.  The bulk of the coast is taken up with a nature reserve, huge stretches of wetlands which are home to colonies of bird life, it is beyond this, further out to sea that there are vast stretches of sand islands which house the Eastern Algarve beaches, accessible by boat or on some spots further East by a small road or steam train.  The ‘hassle’ of getting to these beaches is not desirable for my fellow countrymen who want to fly and flop and burn to a crisp immediately.   To be fair, we never made the trip to the beaches either mainly because  our accommodation, the pool and the grounds were so great we rarely left during the day, but the beaches do look incredible from the images I have googled!

When we did venture out we visited the nearby town of Olhao, cobbled streets fronted by a promenade overlooking the harbour, lined with cafes and centred around a huge red-bricked and covered fish market, we never made it into town early enough to benefit from the fresh catch though, always arriving too late to catch them hosing down the floors.

Olhao’s side streets are  also, having a shabby chic feel to its architecture.  Some people will say they were just run-down, but I had seen areas of other towns which were genuinely run down and decaying but there was a faded grandeur to these buildings in Olhao which lifted it above its decaying state.   Beautiful solid and intricately carved doorways, wrought iron balconies framing shuttered windows, some facades entirely covered in traditional tiles, and some with the render breaking off exposing layers of history.

Another day we drove to Tavira nearer the Spanish border and on the way you drive through Luz de Tavira, a small village but made up of the cutest tiled cottages which epitomise the architecture of the region.  Lying on the banks of a river, Tavira itself  had a more open feel to it, very clean and peaceful and devoid of crowds, the perfect spot to sit by the river have lunch and while the time away.

After lunch and armed with directions from the tourist office we headed for Pego del Inferno, a waterfall and pool nestled in the hills beyond Tavira.   From what I read on the internet before leaving for Portugal you would think it was impossible to find, my advice, go to the tourist office off the town square, they will highlight on a map the road you need to take, only a 15 min drive from Tavira and basically just follows the river out of town and you are then guided by a couple of signposts until you come to a small parking bay.   You are then led down a series of wooden stairs until you emerge into a clearing hosting the waterfall, whilst not massive, it was fairly quiet and perfect for cooling off form the afternoon sun.

What struck me most from Portugal were its people, I cannot recall another destination I have been where the people were so friendly, and genuinely friendly, there was no hassle to entice you in to spend your money, they were charming, amiable and easy-going.  No more so than our village of Pechao, just a short street with a butcher, a cafe, an ATM and a couple of restaurants, the highlight being restaurant Fonte Nova.   We arrived on our first night there after reading reviews from the guestbook at our farmhouse and weren’t disappointed.   Snacking on bread and olives that are brought out at every meal along with ubiquitous sardine paste,  followed by a delicious sharing for us to share, just simple ingredients but with so much more flavour in one tomato than we can muster back home.   Next came, platters of meat, beef and pork, a sizzling pit of clams and another of fried squid in squid ink, both sublime and all way too much food and all at far to low a cost!  A couple of days later we went back to the same restaurant and whilst watching a football match the owners were closing for their siestas but just told us to help ourselves to drink and leave the money on the counter and just close door behind us when we were finished.  Honestly, can you imagine such hospitality anywhere else, entrusting strangers to their bar, amazing people.

My usual short-haul jaunt to grab some sun has always been Spain, but after this experience I will definitely be returning.

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