Words and photographs by Kate McAuley
Given its underwhelming popularity, it would be easy for Faro, the capital of Portugal’s Algarve, to have an inferiority complex, but it continues to hold its own. At the airport, as the hoards to tourists head west, lured by the region’s epic beaches and resort towns, I breathe a sigh of relief and take a short taxi ride into the sleepy port town that is to be my home for the next three days.
I’d been to Faro before, so when it popped up as a relatively cheap destination for a few days of spring sunshine following a fairly dismal London winter, I didn’t hesitate. With memories of clams cooked in butter, white wine and garlic, and endless blue skies, I knew it would be the perfect salve.
With its broken cobbled streets, ubiquitous graffiti and decaying buildings, it's hard to call Faro pretty. The town has the rundown feeling of a place forgotten, but there are pockets of beauty if you take the time to look. On the pedestrianised streets by the marina, I eat freshly baked pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) while inside Faro’s ancient walls, I walk past the fruiting orange trees by the cathedral to drink a glass of vinho verde as the sun sets over the water. I eat the aforementioned clams at every meal they're offered - invariably prawns, octopus and chorizo (barbecued at the table over a mini spit) join them.
Before heading home, I take a short ferry ride to Baretta Island. Also known as Ilha Deserta, this small parcel of sand has a single restaurant, a few fishing huts and nothing much else - unless you count the seagulls and other birdlife I encountered on the 2km boarded walk I took before heading back to the mainland.
And here lies the reason I returned to Faro - sun, sand and peaceful moments. An unusual find in this part of the world.