Estoi is an unspoilt, quaint little hilltop town, nestled in the foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão. Narrow, cobbled streets wind through this charming resort to the central town square, where you will find the impressive town church and a handful of cafes where you can enjoy a coffee and a cake. On the second Sunday of each month a market is held on the outskirts of Estoi, where a variety of clothing and handmade crafts as well as fruit and vegetables can be picked up. Estoi also boasts two architectural gems, one is the Palacio de Estoi, known as the Pink Palace, and the other is the Milreu Roman ruins, one of the first villas built in the Algarve by the Romans.
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With such a large coastline it’s no surprise the Algarve is a great place for all kinds of fish and seafood, with restaurants commonly serving fresh sardines, bream, cod, monkfish and tuna. Another famous dish of the Algarve is chicken piri-piri great for a relaxed atmosphere! Most dishes will be served with served with boiled potatoes and vegetables or salad.
Estoi is a small, quiet town with a couple of lovely bars and restaurants. if you were looking for a more lively evening you are not far from Faro.
Rio Formosa Nature Reserve
The 170 square kilometres of saltwater lagoons, islands and marshes of the Ria Formosa estuary is a breathtakingly beautiful area, teeming with migrating birds, dozens of species of fish and unique flora and fauna. Only half and hour’s drive away, the reserve’s easily accessible pathways and boardwalks make this a fabulous place for walking, cycling and birdwatching and there are numerous guided boat trips on offer. You can even hire a kayak and paddle your way around the canals and lagoons. Viewing points and bird hides are strategically placed to make the most of the views and to spot rare birds in their natural habitat. You could spend several days here but be sure to include at least one visit during your stay.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting August you may catch the village’s annual Horse Fair with lots of equestrian events and evening entertainment. There’s also the Festa da Pinha in May with a procession of decorated horse-drawn carriages and riders, all carrying torches, and a fireworks spectacular to round off the fair.
It may be best known for its international airport but the city of Faro is well worth a visit. Its charming old town is located to the east of Faro marina. The city’s Se Cathedral, quite unassuming on the outside, is surprisingly ornate inside, with gilded carving, traditional azulejos (tiles) and impressive works of art, and you can get a wonderful view of the city by climbing the steps up the cathedral tower. A mainly pedestrianised shopping area consists of dozens of cobbled streets and squares with plenty of cafés and restaurants. For a little retail therapy head to the Forum Algarve shopping mall on the main EN125 road from the Faro airport area; it has a wonderful choice of stores built around an open air square.
With more churches than hotels, the unspoilt riverside town of Tavira is one of the Algarve’s best kept secrets, exuding authentic Portuguese charm. History abounds in its colourful architectural details, with decorative features from Renaissance to Baroque, Moorish to Gothic. The fishing port is a hive of activity and it’s a wonderful place to wander around at leisure. Pop into the former water tower that’s been turned into a camara obscura, reflecting a fascinating 360° tour of the town on a horizontal screen.
Former Estoi Palace
The stunning pink Palacio de Estoi has recently been restored and turned into the smart hotel, Pousada de Faro. Built in the early 19th century, the lavish neo-rococo palace was commissioned as a family home by the wealthy Viscount of Estoi and is all the more striking for its contrast to the simple, traditional neighbouring homes in the village. The impressively ornate entrance is at the end of the village square near the church and it’s worth taking the opportunity to visit the exquisite Versailles-style gardens.
Milreu Roman Ruins
A short drive from the village of Estoi on the Faro road you’ll find one of Portugal’s most important archaological sites, the ruins of a grand Roman villa dating from the 1st century AD. Beautifully excavated, the villa’s luxurious origins are clear, with a central courtyard surrounded by columns, a series of rooms dedicated to bathing and even underground heating. Large sections of intricate fish mosaics are still intact and there is evidence of the villa’s later use as a church and then a Muslim burial site. The ruins are well worth a visit for anyone with a fascination for Roman history.
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