Faro, capital of the Algarve region, has often been overlooked as a destination, but it can in fact be the perfect start to a road trip along Portugal's sun-drenched south coast.

The very fact that this culturally rich and authentically Portuguese city is overlooked by many travellers is in itself a reason to visit. You can relish in its tight cobbled streets and Medieval old town in peace, enjoy the city's culinary delights in some of the quaintest restaurants you can find in the Algarve, and even take a short drive just outside of the city to find some unique attractions.


Faro has a colourful history. The city was under Roman control until 713, before it was conquered by the Moors, who fortified the city. After 500 years of Moorish rule, Portuguese forces under King Alfonso III defeated the Moors and occupied Faro, interested particularly in its secure port and salt reserves. It became an important commercial centre for the 'Portuguese Age of Discovery', and following a number of unfortunate natural disasters that ravaged Portugal's south coast, Faro, protected by the sand banks of the Ria Formosa lagoon, was promoted as the Algarve's capital.

Back to modern day, and what better way to prepare for a day of exploration than an early morning coffee atop Hotel Faro. This stunning rooftop location is open to all, with a view over the glistening Marina.

An excellent and highly recommended way to explore and learn about the capital is with an environmentally friendly TUK-TUK tour. Our friendly guide met us in the gardens in front of Hotel Faro and we set off along the Marina, skipping through tight little cobbled streets, ancient archways and revealing medieval town squares lined with quaint restaurants. There are many tasty spots in the Old Town including Faz Gosto, Tertulia and O Castelo Restaurant and Bar. For a fine evening meal head just west of Hotel Faro to the small, cobbled streets and take your pick from a range of restaurants including Guaka (Mexican), Hamburgueria da Baixa and for great Portuguese food try Tasca do Ricky, which is a bit further west.

With our cultural and historical appetite quenched we stopped for some brunch. Chelsea is a brunch cafe situated within the Old Town, serving a delicious Eggs Benedict and other juicy goodies available all day long. Although traditional Portuguese breakfasts are generally toast with cheese and chouriço, washed down with a small espresso, don’t pass up the opportunity to grab a classic 'flat white' here. Talking of coffee, the local way to ask for an espresso is “bica” which stands for “beba isso com açúcar”, a drink this with sugar (because it is so bitter).


Just 7km from downtown Faro is the Ria Formosa nature park and lagoon. Considered one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal, it’s a perfect spot to cool down away from the city's scorching streets, and you can reach it with a short drive from the city. In minutes you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and we decided to arrange a paddle board trip that took us around the surrounding lagoons. Drift past clumps of heather with fish gliding below your feet, totally at peace. Little crabs scuttle around on the mud banks as the tide slowly comes in, filling up the entire area. You can hire kayaks and go on paddleboard tours, but if you're new to these water activities make sure to go early in the morning as wind can sometimes be a bit of a struggle in the afternoon.


If water sports aren't quite your thing, another great activity is to take a boat out to the Barrier Islands. These islands are basically one long sand dune, pedestrianised so that no cars are allowed on the islands. Its a quaint and tranquil set of islands, all reachable by boat. There are some lovely, traditional restaurants, including Estaminé, which is a classic Portuguese culinary experience.


One of Faro's other attractions is its lively nightlife. We capped off a peaceful and scenic afternoon by returning to the city and visiting Hotel Eva. You can visit their idyllic rooftop pool - a perfect place for sundowners to enjoy a cocktail and take in the spectacular views over Faro and Ria Formosa. There are sunset parties there every Sunday evening, with live music and DJ sets, that are really worth a visit.

Faro can be a wonderful way to start a road trip of the Algarve. Take in the city's history, culture, plus a little relaxation before you hit the region's famous beaches and picturesque landscapes.

For further inspiration about road trips in Portugal, take a look at the Avis Portugal Road Trip guide, available online at www.avis.co.uk/inspires/guides/portugal-guide/