It’s been over 5 years ago I made an experience of living almost literally by the Atlantic Ocean shore in Faro, where the South-Western European continent ends. It was a pretty stress-free life of an Erasmus student in what we used to call ‘Iberian California’, even though at the end most of us had to come back to some sort of adult life. I was lucky enough to host my parents and friends from Poland, Chile, UK and Spain during these months which made it even more special.
Lately some friends who are going to drive through South of Portugal asked me to describe my favourite places I collected and saved in my memories during these couple of months. I have to say that going through my photo collection evoked strong, beautiful freeling and that even though time has passed, Algarve stays in an important place of my heart.
First of all,I’ll describe the major town of Algarve: Faro, principally known for the international airport where most of the tourist arrive and reach their resorts. Boring, distant from the sea and pretty catastrophically planned – this is how it seems at the first glance. Well, having lived and studied there for a good couple of months, I started to love it in a very special way.
It was definitely the smallest town I’ve ever lived in (around 100K inhabitants if you count in students of the University of Algarve), so this was an interesting experience itself. You could literally recognise everyone on the streets, and get to know local ‘characters’ very easily, which can be an interesting thing to live for a city person, like I am.
Good thing was that it was very convenient to discover inland, leeward and windward Algarve, taking EVA buses (yes, they are monopolists in Algarve with all of its characteristics, but they can get you pretty much everywhere), trains (if not on strike which was a thing to often do in 2011 at least) or the best way: your own car or bike. Portugal, especially in the South has still a very strong ‘driving culture’ , which may come as a shock to people used to commute by bike everyday (again: like I do). And the breathtaking views of the coast and neighbouring Alentejo simply calls for a bike ride!
Tiny, but picturesque city centre of Faro is full of cafeterias and bars, some of them back in a day were still pretty local, and inspired by the students culture. Remember that Thursdays are typical days for Portuguese students to go out and ‘sentir, viver, cantar a noite linda‘ (to ‘feel, live and sing the beautiful night’ – no other words could describe better the wit of it!).
If you are careful, among the typical Algarvian architecture you’ll notice places with patios and terraces with life music, jazz jams and poetry evenings, and world-class street art pieces. There is a beautiful park where you can chill from Algarvian heat, and if you are lucky, you will meet a peacock waving its tail, as if he wanted to cool down the air.
Last but not least: you should visit the Island of Faro, where the beach is, as well as take a chance to discover the Formosa river’s lagoon, with the plethora of fauna and flora (and flamingos!). Which leads us to the chapter no. 2: Leeward Algarve, to be continued soon.