Portugal is the first new country we’ve visited since the beginning of COVID and we were very excited to experience a new place. We weren’t sure how similar or different Portugal would feel from Spain. After all, they’re close neighbors. However, we quickly learned they are very different and as much as we love Spain, there’s a lot to love about Portugal too.
Our first stop in Portugal was the southern city of Faro in the Algarve region. This part of Portugal draws a huge amount of tourists (especially from the UK) due to its beaches, so we wanted to check it out, but we were a little concerned it would feel too touristy. Faro is one of the larger towns in the region and is said to feel more normal, so it was a natural choice for us. There was definitely a strong tourist industry present, but it was very nice.
We immediately noticed some differences between Portugal and Spain. First, the weather. Coming from Seville where the daily high was always over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperatures in the mid-80s in Faro felt amazing. However, our first waiter apologized for the heat they were having! We assured him that Faro felt wonderful to us. And that exchange illustrates the second difference we found. Tons of people speak English in Portugal and they are very friendly to non-Portuguese speakers. We never felt unwelcome in Spain and my Spanish is getting good enough that we got by at restaurants where the staff didn’t speak English, but it was a relief to put down my intermediate Spanish and speak my native language. I still practiced Spanish every day, but at least I didn’t have to use it.
Faro itself is quite charming, at least the part of town we were in. We chose a hotel (review below) in the center of the tourist area to maximize our limited time there, less than 48 hours. When we arrived in the late afternoon, we had a quick snack at the café with the friendly waiters, where we also tried the Portuguese liqueur Beirão. It was good – very herbal and not too strong. Then we just wandered around and enjoyed the architecture and cobblestone streets.
We also went down to the marina to check the ferry times and then on the way back visited a pub called Ancora, which claims to be Faro’s oldest bar. There we tried some of the other Portuguese liqueurs Chad had researched. We tried Aguardente de Medronho (like brandy) and Licor de Amêndoa Amarga (like amaretto), as well as a couple small glasses of the main beer of Portugal, Super Bock. Beirão, I think, was our favorite of the three, but all were fun to try.
The next day we took a ferry to Faro’s main beach, Praia de Faro Este. The ferry was fairly quick and quite affordable – just 3.5 euros per person roundtrip. It dropped us off at a developed area of the beach and we walked down to the end to a small grocery store to buy a picnic lunch and headed further down to a more secluded spot on the beach. The water was cold but nice and we really enjoyed our lunch, the sun, and the waves. We walked back to the ferry pickup spot and waited for our return ferry at a cute café that of course served Super Bock. It was a fun, relaxing Saturday.
That evening, after a nap to recover from the sun, we went out to dinner in the marina at restaurant called Santa Maria Petiscaria where we got our first real taste of Portuguese cuisine (the prior evening we’d gone out to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant and the food was good but not unique). We enjoyed hummus with bread and some cockle rissoles (like clam fritters) as our appetizer with a couple of Portuguese craft beers (which were much better than Super Bock). Then we tried bacalhau à brás (a very traditional cod and potato dish) and Xerém (which was similar to shrimp and grits) and Portuguese wine. Our waiter here was also very friendly, a Brazilian student in Portugal studying art. It was a fun dinner out.
Summary and Hotel Review
I was unsure whether we’d like Faro and the Algarve region of Portugal, but it turned out to be a great introduction to the country. We were able to try many of the local foods and drinks and started to learn about Portuguese culture. It was already clear we were going to really enjoy our time in Portugal.
Review of Stay Hotel Faro – My husband and I spent two nights at this hotel. It was convenient for walking to the marina and near many great restaurants and bars. The room was a good size and clean. Front desk staff were professional and spoke English. It was nice having an electric kettle in the room; we didn’t try the breakfast. The hotel is walkable from the bus and train stations, but the cobblestone sidewalks were hard on our big luggage so we took a very cheap Uber to the train station when we left.