After about 24 straight hours of travel, I barely had enough energy to throw my stuff down on the floor of my Faro room before passing out in bed fully clothed. No dreaming, no waking up in the middle of the night in a jet lag induced froth, just complete darkness…
12 hours later my eyes snap-open to the sound of booming laughter outside my window, followed by a loud and fast conversation in boisterous Portuguese. I fumble dazedly to me feet and look at my phone, hoping that it will help shed light on exactly what time it is. My still crusty eyes are just barely able to make out the text… 9am. Still time to catch another hour more of sleep before I needed to get my butt in gear.
But nope. More belly laughs and roaring discussion from my friends outside. This time, I figured I’d best just take it as a sign that it was time to get moving. After all, I had a brand new city, not to mention country, to explore!
I had done a bit of research on Faro before hand, but certainly not to the point that I could assemble a full fleshed out hit list. Honestly, I preferred it this way. I figured I’d just head in the general direction of areas I had read about and see what I come across.
The first thing that struck me about Faro is how weathered, yet vibrant many of the buildings felt. A consistent colorful grit that seemed to follow me throughout Portugal and heavily reminded me of some of the Central American countries I’ve previously visited.
And the tiles! Many of these buildings were awash with hundreds of hand-made tiles that gave the exteriors a unique texture.After snapping these up, and ducking in to check out the Chapel of Bones, I continued on my way down towards Old Town.
Decked out with cobblestoned streets, studded with cafes and restaurants, all under blooming lavender trees, this area of the city has charm to spare.
While making my way through Old Town, I couldn’t help but notice all of the rather mysterious nests that were perched on top of just about every one of the old chapels. Turns out there are all inhabited by a rather large stork population that covers a large portion of Faro. Being a protected species within Portugal, which prevents the removal of these conspicuous bundles of roughage, the locals just leave well enough alone.
Old Town Faro is also the perfect place to stop for a quick bite and cold drink in one of the may cute outdoor cafes. It being especially hot and sunny, I went with a large Super Bock beer and a cheese sandwich, made with crusty Portuguese bread and a smidge of sweet mayo. DELISH!
After I had cooled off a bit, I continued down another one of the many narrow windy roads down towards Faro Cathedral.
Constructed during the 13th century and refurbished after both an English raid in 1596 and earthquake in 1755, the main tower still stands overlooking the entire city. In the square below, fragrent orange trees line the street full of bright colored fruit.
For €3, I was able to walk up to the top of the main tower, which provided a nice view of the town below. Looking from the coastline onwards, you can almost see the passage of time, as the older pale buildings with their terra-cotta rooftops transition into more modern apartment complexes.
My €3 entrance fee also gave me access to the interior, along with a few of the museums onsite, though unfortunately these were closed when I visited, so I was only able to duck in and take a quick peek at the impressively large pipe organ.
With the Cathedral in my rearview, I continued down towards the water where I found Faro’s Marina. Unlike the claustrophobic twisting and turning narrow streets of Old Town, this space was wide open. It’s here that you can find boat tours of the Ria Formosa, view tasteful art displays, enjoy a fine dining experience overlooking the water, or even just grab a pastry to munch on under some shade (I highly recommend this last option).
By this time, the sun was beginning to set and I was starting to get hungry for something a little more substantial than beer and pastries (though that still sounds like a pretty good meal to me). One of my hosts had recommended a little place called Fim do Mundo, or End of the World in Portuguese, where the head chef had been using the same charcoal grill for over 50 years. Even more enticing is that he was supposed to make a mean piri-piri chicken, something that would become one of my favorite dishes throughout my time in Portugal.
For those uninitiated to the magic of piri-piri chicken, let me change your life for a quick sec. Take hot pepper paste, lemon juice, garlic, oil, vinegar, with a few other secret personalized spices to taste, and let that all soak into 1 whole butterflied chicken overnight. The next day, take that chicken and get it over some extra hot charcoal, making sure to continuously glaze it using the leftover marinade. Once you start to get a nice char on the outside, put that sucker on a plate and serve with some tasty wine and some french fries. Good luck my friend, because there will be no turning back after you dive face first into this.
By the time everything on my plate had been devoured, the sun had set and I figured it was time to make my way back home for the night. The moon outside was dim, but the streetlights cast a nice warm glow that bounced off of the cobblestone streets.
I put one foot in front of the other and thought about where I was, where I’d been, and where I’m hoping to go. So far so good Portugal…