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Ria Formosa – An unmissable Faro day trip

A costal lagoon, hidden away islands, world class seafood and unspoiled nature await just outside Faro.

Declared one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders, the Ria Formosa Natural Park is one of Europe’s most important wetland areas and occupies over 18,000 hectares. It’s made up of a collection of canals, islands, marshland and sandy beaches that extend some 60 kilometers along the country’s southern coastline.

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Something for both beach bums animal lovers

Sunseekers in search of peace and quiet have plenty of options as the area is lined with stunning sandbar isles that are relatively deserted compared to other swathes of the Algarve seashore. The region extends from the Garrão Beach in the west, to Manta Rota in the east, and is a haven for birds, including flamingos and the rare purple swamp hen, as well as saltwater aquatic life. The area is still home to small fishing communities that are dedicated to preserving traditional and sustainable practices. Here, you’ll find the Portuguese water dog, a breed made popular worldwide when it was chosen to be the house pet of President Barack Obama and his family during their time living at the White House. The longhaired animal may be seen assisting fishermen by diving and catching fish caught in the nets.

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Experience world class fish and seafood

Local activities include the extraction of salt and the collection of mussels and clams that become key ingredients in fish soup recipes. Close to the hamlet of Pinheiro is the family-run Moinho dos Ilhéus oyster farm, where the mollusks are raised naturally in the tidal flats and nurtured on the cool waters of the Atlantic. Endangered species include the chameleon – a reptile only found in the south of Portugal – and the seahorse.

Moinho dos Ilhéus

Sítio dos Ilhéus, Livramento, Arroteia

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Go to a deserted island

Travelers in search of privacy should make a beeline for Ilha Deserta (“deserted island”), one of the most remote locations in the Algarve – even at the height of the summer season you’ll only encounter a handful of people out sunbathing. The island offers pristine beaches with just a single building on its 8km coastline – the restaurant, Estaminé. The wooden-clad structure is an architectural delight and breaks up the flat landscape composed of white sand and crystal-clear waters that call to mind the Caribbean, and where the sea temperature reaches 24 degrees Celsius in summertime – be sure to bring an umbrella when you descend on the island.Animaris operates a year-round fleet of craft ranging from catamarans to speedboats to ferry passengers to destinations such as Culatra Island, an ideal spot for snorkeling, and Deserta Island.

Foto: Estaminé

Enjoy the fruits of the sea on Ilha Deserta

Emerging from the sandy dunes like a crab preparing to shuffle across the beach, the Estaminé restaurant is a seafood sanctuary. The lone structure on Ilha Deserta is a 15-minute water taxi ride from Faro. Begin with starters that include Ria Formosa oysters or carabineiros (giant red prawns) fried in garlic butter and served with rice or breaded prawns. Then move on to black cuttlefish linguini or charcoal-grilled fish, prepared butterfly-style.


Deserta Island

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Tel: +351 917 811 856

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Cities to explore

Modern-day explorers shouldn’t miss the Cabo de Santa Maria, the most southerly point of mainland Portugal on Barreta Island, where the sand dune headland is marked by a makeshift monument made of driftwood. To the east, another must-see destination for those wishing to take a break from getting sand between their toes is the seaside village of Cacela Velha. A former outpost of the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs, today the town of whitewashed homes offers spectacular panoramas of the sea, sky and estuary from its hilltop fortress that was erected in the 18th-century to fend off attacks against regional pirates.

Cacela Velha

Cacela Velha, Portugal

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Go hiking in the nature

For those who tire of sunbathing, PerNatur organizes a series of three-hour nature hikes to explore the Ria Formosa area. The wildlife tour brings visitors within sight of dozens of local bird species, including egrets, spoonbills and purple gallinules. For better views of the surrounding area, try a hike up Monte Figo.


Ön Armona från ovan. Foto: Shutterstock

A restaurant that's worth a boat trip

A short ferry ride from the town of Olhão, this restaurant is located on Armona Island at the end of a pedestrian-only street near the beach. Its Belgian owners offer a menu focused on seasonal seafood. You’ll find everything from cuttlefish and horse mackerel to squid and sardines. Enjoy succulent calamari in a light batter served with the house tartare sauce.

Restaurante Santo António

Ilha da Armona Casa 359, Portugal

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Tel: +351 289 706 549

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