The Algarve Coast of Portugal is synonymous with sun, sand and sea for most people. We are here in the middle of winter. This is one of our favorite “tricks” in our travels ~ by going counter cyclical to the “seasons”, we get a chance to explore places when they are in their “down mode”. Cities and towns are more authentic in the off season than when the swelling of population around the European Summer holiday season adds a thick layer of all things “turistas”.
So what does the Algarve look like in the off season? It’s phenomenally beautiful and we pretty have it to ourselves!
Stripped of its throngs of Northern Europeans, the Algarve returns to a combination of architectural beauty and unspoilt nature. Our first visit to Algarve is split between two towns/cities: Faro and Lagos.
Faro has an interesting past. During the 500 years of Moorish rule that started in the 8th Century, Faro was the most important town in the Southwestern region of the Iberic Peninsula. But even before the 6th century reign of the Moors, Faro had already been a happening place, being an important town during the Roman occupation of Spain. Under the reign of the Moors, a large Jewish community flourished in Faro, copying Torahs for dissemination to other Jewish communities in Europe. The Moors were defeated by the forces of the Portuguese King Afonso III in 1249. From that time, Faro took over the role of administration of the Algarve area.
So… what does this mean to us as first time visitors?
We spend our time walking the streets of Faro to see what remains architecturally from its glorious history. One of the most enjoyable ways for us is to explore a new place is to wander the streets and be open to what we might come across. Faro also has an area of lagoons and a beach that can be accessed only by ferry.
Faro’s architecture is only half of the town’s draw. The other is the proximity of “Desert Beach”, reached by ferry from the mainland.
In Faro, we find a town that combines two of our “core wants”: access to a beautiful beach and an architecturally rich historic district. Oh, and good sushi too!
We continue our discovery of the Algarve, with a trip to Lagos. Lagos, like Faro, has a distinguished history that spans over 2000 years. The Moors fortified the town with a castle and established important trade links to Northern Africa from this base.
A more ignominious phase in Lagos’ history began when Portugal started to explore Africa. Lagos became the gateway for the first African slaves into post-medieval Europe. The Seamen of Lagos were enthusiastic slave-catchers. From the first slave markets in Lagos (the Mercado de Escravos, which opened in 1444), many Africans were dispersed throughout Europe, bringing a considerable income to the Portuguese monarchy and merchant classes, as well as cheap labour force.
All this wealth translated into the construction of a gorgeous town. Of particular note is the extraordinary set of tile-covered buildings that pop like jewels against the pure white walls of surrounding buildings.
Beautiful as it is, it is not the town that for us would be the reason to contemplate living here. It is the beautiful wild coast that is all around Lagos. We will be back mid March for two weeks when we have a home exchange in the Lagos region, and look forward to more time here, then. For now, we are on the way to Lisbon where we have an exchange waiting for us and so just spend a day getting our first exposure to the beauty of the countryside.