Escape the tourist trail on your holiday to the Algarve by booking a trip to the charming seaside town of Olhao. This is not the packed beaches and Piri-Piri chicken restaurants that you imagine for a holiday to the Algarve. Olhao really is off the beaten track. Think of cute winding streets, ancient Moorish architecture, grand catholic cathedrals and a thriving fishing port. When you first arrive in Olhao, the waterfront area will quickly catch your eye. There’s a pleasant promenade to have a stroll along and public gardens where you can escape the heat of the sun. A couple of 17th century chapels are nearby, where fishermen prayed to keep them safe from the dangers of the sea. The fishing industry is still thriving today and you can see the results in Olhao’s market. It’s the largest fish market in the Algarve and is full of life.
Olhao is at the eastern end of the Algarve’s beautiful Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. This area of marshland and lagoons stretches for some 40 miles and is crammed with wildlife, particularly shellfish and rare birds. If you’ve still got some energy left after exploring Ria Formosa, pick one of the trails leading up the Serra de Monte Figo mountain. The views are brilliant from the top of the mountain, lying just five miles outside of Olhao. There are no beaches in Olhao itself, but you can catch a ferry to the sands of one of the islets lying just off the coast.
History buffs should make sure that a trip to Tavira is on the agenda during a holiday to Olhao. Tavira is a really cute town, with cobbled streets, a riverside harbour and Roman bridges. It’s perfect for admiring the scenery over a coffee. But if you’re keen to learn, there’s more than 20 churches found in Tavira. One of the most notable is the Santa Maria do Castelo. It contains the tombs of Christian knights killed by the Moors in the 13th century.
Found further along the Ria Formosa, the small town of Fuseta is a lively spot during the summer months. Formerly a fishing village, there’s a small sandy beach in Fuseta which is ideal for kids to play on. But many holidaymakers visit Fuseta for nothing more than a nosey. There’s a nice promenade with several restaurants and cafés, a decent market hall and several shops. Near the harbour, there’s a regular flea market and often live music.
There’s far more to Faro than its busy airport. If you make the effort to visit Faro’s walled old town, then you’ll find a peaceful area with good souvenir shops. There are open-air cafes where you can watch the locals go about their shopping. You can also hop aboard a boat in Faro and take a tour of the Rio Formosa park.
A kilo of prawns is not much good as a souvenir from your holiday to Olhao. But you’ll soon see why Olhao’s fish market is one of the town’s best attractions. It’s fascinating to see the quantity and range of the fresh fish and seafood on sale here. If you haven’t got anywhere to cook the fish, head to one of the nearby cafes. They’ll grill the fish to perfection while you enjoy the views of the boats moored in the harbour.
Storks, purple herons and shellfish all call the Ria Formosa Park home. This protected area is a fascinating maze of lagoons and marshes. There’s also Roman ruins to have a peek at. If you want to learn more about the area, visit the park’s headquarters on the outskirts of Olhao in the village of Quinta de Marim.
Serra de Monte Figo Mountain
It’s not necessary to be an experienced mountain biker or fighting-fit hiker to reach the summit of Serra de Monte Figo. The mountain is more than 1,300ft tall, yet it’s a realistic challenge to get to the top and take in the views over Olhao. You’ll wander or cycle through orange orchards and past allotments on your way to the top. One of the highlights en route is passing through the traditional market town of Moncarapacho and its cute cobbled square.
Beaches in Olhao
It only takes a couple of minutes on one of the ferries which leave regularly from Olhao’s port to reach the sandy beaches on the islets of Fuzeta and Armona. These islands feature long stretches of secluded golden sands. You can even take part in watersports such as kayaking, windsurfing and scuba diving.
The smell of sardines grilling slowly over charcoal will never be far away on your holiday to the Algarve. It’s a foodie paradise of fish, prawns and clams. Sardines are one of the favourites of the locals and are usually accompanied by a fresh tomato salad. You can also try tuna, octopus, squid and cuttlefish here. There’s local twists on each of them. Order a glass of chilled locally-made white wine to go with your meal.
Restaurants in Olhao
Olhao has developed a reputation for some of the best seafood restaurants in the country. Stick to some of the restaurants close to the fish market, where they specialise in sardines, herring and tuna.
If the idea of a touristy Algarve holiday doesn’t appeal, then why not try somewhere a little bit different. When you book a trip to Olhao, you’ll be heading to a traditional Portuguese town where you can learn about its history and taste the delicious local grub. Book with easyJet holidays for the hassle-free way of visiting Olhao. You can even save some cash when you book a hotel and flight together with easyJet holidays. Take a look at our other Algarve destination guides if you don’t fancy Olhao.