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Faro sits at the southern tip of Portugal, almost in the middle of the Algarve coast. The area sites on the Ria Formosa lagoon with stretches of land dotted between waterways. This geological feature helped Faro to survive the 1755 earthquake which struck near Lisbon and damaged much of the Atlantic coastal regions from Lisbon down to the Algarve.
Faro's survival allowed it to regain its glory as the most important city in southern Portugal. The airport is located so that you see a magnificent aerial view of the lagoon when you fly in from the sea.
Things to see
The best thing about Faro is everything – the typical Iberian architecture, the narrow streets and the incongruous blend of ancient and modern.
You will especially enjoy Carmo Church and the square in central Faro. Attached to the Carmo Church is the Capela dos Ossos (chapel of the bones). Here, from floor to ceiling, the walls are adorned with the bones of more than 1200 monks.
Ria Formosa lagoon is a nature reserve that's a photographer's dream, with not only great natural views but also many types of migratory birds at different times of the year. You will also see salt mountains here, because the area is used for salt harvesting, as well as seafood harvesting.
Take a trip east, towards Spain, via Olhao and on to Tavira – a traditional and beautiful town that is almost an opposite of the towns in the western Algarve. While the Brits and the Germans fill up the towns and beaches of the west, Tavira is indicative of the type of Portuguese town that is more populated by locals.
During the summer months, thousands of people flock to the town (be ready for the queues) to park near the Tavira ferry, so they can take the boat out to Tavira Island. This is not actually an island, it is a beach location on the Tavira peninsula and boat is the only way to get there. Once you arrive, you are greeted by fresh seafood restaurants and golden sands with the warm ocean, and nice beach bars where you can drink a Caipirinha or a Sagres beer.
Spain is not far away. Within an hour you can be across the border and in Huelva. Many locals do their shopping in Spain and fill up their cars there because petrol is cheaper than in Portugal – sometimes by as much as 10 cents a litre.
When Faro Airport was built, this facilitated the possibility of tourism in the area. Since it opened, beach resorts have popped up all over the Algarve. Most towns in the region are reachable within about half an hour, and some, such as Quarteira, are still relatively untouched by hardcore tourism.