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August 27, 2017
Citizens, of all the places Victoria and myself have travelled to, truth be told, one of the most favourite destinations ever has to be a town called Olhao. Olhao, pronounced 'oll yo', happens to be the largest fishing port in the Algarve area of Portugal and during our visit we discovered that it is increasingly becoming popular amongst tourists from around the globe and after our visit it was easy to see why.
Having never heard of its existence and going by how reasonably priced the whole holiday was, I was sceptical and so thinking I'd quickly be playing castaway, looking for something to do. Having only travelled to Lisbon in Portugal, the first meal I had there was grilled sardines and salted potatoes drizzled with olive oil and it was love at first bite. I quickly learned that outside of peri-peri chicken this was as authentic and as Portuguese as the artistic ceramic tiles found all over this country.
Before going there, I read that Olhao was a mecca for seafood and so we set our expectations as high as Bob Marley Jammin, and agreed, for the right price (as cheap as possible), to embark on a mission to explore this town.
A bonus of Olhao is that it is only 20 minutes from Faro Airport and so from checking in to dumping our bags in the rental apartment, we hit the road. This was no time to cuddle up in the lovely apartment we had rented at the Real Marina Residence, I was on a mission, seafood had been mentioned, it was time to find out what all the hype was about.
As we walked down the beautiful long cobbled path that runs along the marina, all I felt was real peace amongst the warmth of the sunshine. This place had the same bug that I had caught in Lisbon, it had that down to earth vibe which V and I were drawn to.
Unlike the popular destinations to the west of Faro, Olhao doesn't seem to cater to the hordes of tourists that descend on the Algarve resorts every year, in fact Trip Advisor doesn't even list it in the top 10 places to visit there but despite this, it remains bustling with some of the best seafood restaurants and genuine, friendly residents, which provide an air of authenticity about it.
Typical narrow cobbled lane
As we continue along the marina we arrive at the two distinct red brick buildings which are the famous fish markets of Olhao, designed by Gustav Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel tower. We walk through the bustling first building which, the fruit and vegetable market followed by the ever busy fish market.
The iconic fish market, built in 1915 and designed by Gustav Eiffel
As we walk through it the plethora of seafood available is astounding, from giant snappers to eels and sardines as well as all the crustaceans imaginable. My heart starts to beat faster and the possibilities of dishes to cook rush through my mind, as the fish mongers shout the daily specials like they're proclaiming the end time. By mid afternoon, most of the fish on sale had vanished and most mongers seemed to be winding down for the day, a testament to how seafood was a staple and a way of life in Olhao so much so that there's an annual seafood festival, Festival do Marisco, which has grown over the years to feature live music and an array of the local cuisine including caldeirada (fish stew) and cataplana (seafood stew).
After leaving the fish market, we cross the busy main street of Avenida 5 de Outubro. The restaurants and cafes along this busy street are buzzing, each with their own display of fresh seafood in display fridges luring passers-by in to their inviting establishments. After looking into some of the top restaurants, we find that a lot of them are traditional and serve up the freshest produce, which is ideal for travellers unable to buy and cook their own produce from the market.
Off the main street, Avenida 5 de Outubro
We continue to make our way to one of the quiet streets which just seem to go on here and just when you think it's leading to a dead-end, a lane full of activity appears.
As we keep going into another quiet lane and the theme of beautiful traditional buildings with rustic and ornate doors continues and what seems like 'just for extra effect and realness', we see a man sitting in one of the door ways, gutting and cleaning fresh mackerel to string out and dry.
We keep walking until we reach an open square to the side of which seem to be an abandoned building, though despite its dilapidated condition is equally appealing and I couldn't help but capture the beauty of its rawness and white & bold colours, an appeal I see constantly being uttered in several pictures of Havana, Cuba.
If you love rustic, traditional buildings then Olhao will be sure to please as the remnants of the Moorish style houses with hand shaped door handles and entire traditional tiled facades are prevalent all through the town as are the whitewashed buildings and box shaped chimneys.
Traditional doors and handles, remnants of the Moors
We finally get to the chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos which is on the back of the church that was previously used by the wives of fishermen, who prayed for their safe return on inclement days at sea.
The chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos
The final highlight in Olhao, the one thing that V and I both anticipated since Lisbon was the grilled sardines and potatoes. We looked up the most traditional and well rated spot to try out Olhao's freshest fish and found a hidden gem called Vai e Volta nestled deep in the town.
As we arrived there, we were seated outside by a woman with 'Boss' on the back of her t-shirt and where a busy man in the 'Staff' t-shirt, commanded the large outdoor grill, which was loaded with at least 6 varieties of fish and next to the grill were stacks of plastic tubs full of fresh fish awaiting their turn on the grill. As soon as we were seated, whilst expecting menus, we received our drinks followed by a trio of side dished which included a tomato salad, a bread, olive and garlic mash and some boiled potatoes. Shortly after, the woman in the 'Boss' t-shirt, Maria João, comes over with a plate full of just grilled fish and with a motherly demeanour, she starts loading our plates with fish. As soon as we were half way through the fish, Maria was back with another tray of fish fresh off the grill, edging us to eat more and all this for the mere fixed price of €10.
Vai e Volta was without a doubt one of the most authentic, fresh and no nonsense restaurants I have been to, which opted to provide a true culinary experience of the region rather than beautifying its establishment and compromising its food for the sake of luring in tourists.
We spent the rest of the day walking around Olhao, soaking up all the beauty and culture it had to offer, after all this place had something, an unpretentious appeal and an almost unapologetic pride.
If you are planning to travel to Olhao, due to being a port, it doesn't have its own shoreline though there are cheap and frequent short ferry trips to the nearby islands and lagoons which provide long stretches of beaches with clean white sands. I'll soon be bringing more information on the beaches and islands nearby as well as the ever changing Ria Formosa Natural Park, a coastal lagoon and natural wonder of Portugal.
The train station at Olhao also offers travel to other nearby coastal towns which equally provide a similar experience to that of Olhao, one town which I'll be writing about, is the historic old town of Tavira.
We hope you've enjoyed this article and until next time Citizens, here's wishing you the best version of you.
We’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts on travel to Portugal or any tips and suggestions other readers might find useful so don't be shy, Citizens & leave a comment!
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November 02, 2017
Absolutely need to check it out Jemma. Everything it has to offer will leave you wanting to go back :)
September 20, 2017
This place sounds amazing! Somewhere off the beaten track definitely appeals to me.
Liking your style Kochiba! X
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