The full tour of 50 km (31 miles) would fill a day if you wished, or just visit Faro, Estoi and Almancil if you have only a half-day to spare.
Now the Algarvean capital, Faro is essentially the hub of the Algarve, encompassing an ancient, walled city with its charming outdoor caf?s in traffic-free streets. Sights to enjoy include the castle, with its Roman-era city walls, and interesting churches and museums.
Remember to visit Faro’s Chapel of the Bones with its inscription above the entrance loosely translating as ‘Our bones await yours’. This curious place, lined by Carmelites with the remnants of pre-deceased brethren, was intended to make observers consider their own mortality.
It´s impossible not to be awed by the sheer scale and workmanship in buildings such as cathedrals, of which you will see many as you explore the Algarve. However, Faro’s impressive example stands on a site that has seen many changes over the years, among which were a Roman basilica, a Visigoth church, a Moorish mosque and now the Roman Catholic cathedral.
The mighty door of Faro’s huge cathedral Se:
10 km (approx.6 miles) from Faro, Estoi has numerous examples of Algarvean country architecture.
Favourite historical sites here include the old palace, with its impressive facade and the surrounding picturesque, old-style, unkempt gardens.
Nearby, you can visit Milreu’s 1st Century Roman ruins, which are sign-posted, but closed on public holidays. These ruins are believed to be either a private villa or public baths.
Sao Bras de Alportel
This well-to-do market town, about 10 km (6mls) from Estoi, is set in an almond growing area. (Visit from December to early March to enjoy the blossom). Eat at the hill-top pousada (inn) and enjoy the great views from its terrace. Breakfasts are especially good value, if you choose to start your day from here, and there is an outdoor pool.
Down in the town, the 15th Century parish church, or igreja, has a wonderful classic frontage and bell tower along with some impressive carving inside. The panoramic view from the tombstone-flagged terrace is stunning. Aso nearby is the erstwhile bishops’ palace, with its domed pavilion and elaborate fountain. The museum (museu) houses a collection of Algarve clothing throughout history and also an interesting exhibition recording how cork was produced.
This is another market town and the best time to see things fully bustling is mid-Saturday morning. The outskirts of the town are modern, unlike the old centre.
Loules traditional covered market
The central market area has interestingly mock Moorish architecture – its pinkish domes are worth viewing. Be careful not to be directed to the modern new market when asking directions? The picturesque cobbled street called Rua 9 de Abril houses craft workshops, where authentic artisans produce useful items like pots and pans. The lovely cobbled Rua Garcia de Horta, with its charming houses, is most picturesque. There is welcome shade under the fronded palms in the Jardim dos Amuados (“Garden of the Sulkers”, is the nearest translation). There is a museum of modern art and, to the West of the town, jutting out of a hill-top, is the futuristic church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade, locally known as Mae Soberana. Whether or not you prefer traditional architecture, there’s no denying that this building boasts a wow factor.
Some 12 km (7 miles) to the West of Estoi and 7 km (4 miles) South of Loule, this area is renowned for its painted ceramics. Although it is no longer a traditional Portuguese village, it does possess the charming church of Sto Lourenco dos Matos. Down the cobbled hill, there is an informative cultural centre, which holds musical concerts and displays modern art.
The Almancil area offers an excellent choice of restaurants.
From Almancil, the return to Faro is14 km (8 miles).