Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pretty Ports & Portuguese Charm: Faro, Portugal

Once regarded as something of a haven for retired Brits, the Algarve and its capital Faro have long since outgrown this stifling image. Whether it was the gorgeous year-round sunshine, the glorious beaches and landscapes or the ever-expanding activities on offer, the region is now a firm favourite with both young and old. One group in particular who’re realising what Faro has to offer are backpackers, and it’s not hard to see why when you get passed the glossy veneer of the resort-style tourism.

This unassuming destination may have slipped your attention in the past, but since the tourist invasion of the 1960’s first introduced us to its delights the area has slowly developed its offerings. Indeed, it’s not just new developments that have had people flocking here the past 50 years, as the Algarve is home to a plethora of cultural and historic attractions, not to mention the stunning natural beauty both in and out of the water.

Faro Cove

With flights to Faro not only widely available but also very reasonably priced, arriving by plane is by far the most convenient of ways to get here. Frequent transfers will also help ease you into your backpacking experience, but be sure to book these ahead of time to save a few crucial Euro’s.

Though there isn’t the abundance of hostels you’d find in backpacking hotspots such as Amsterdam or Prague, the centre is home to a healthy selection. There’s nothing worse than finding there’s no room at the inn though, so again we’d recommend a little forethought and forward-planning to ensure you don’t have to resort to a hotel reservation.

Faro Castle

Buying local produce and steering clear of tourist locations will help you stretch your budget, but that’s not to say some of these locations aren’t without merit. So here’s our little run-down of five things you won’t want to miss.

5 Things Not to Miss in Faro:

  • Faro’s Golden Beaches – You can’t beat a good old fashioned freebie, and when it comes in the form of a beautiful sun-kissed beach it’s an absolute must! Whether you’re just soaking up the rays or testing your water-wings, the shoreline of Faro is about as good as beach-life gets.
  • Old Town – As we touched on earlier, Faro’s Old Town is home to an absolute world of remnants from yester-year. Its 13th-Century cathedral is a great snapshot of many different architectural styles and houses its own mini-museum of historical relics, whilst The Chapel of Bones has an eerie allure many find hard to resist.
  • Sea Safari – Though you’ll for the most part be walking the path of the backpacker, it doesn’t hurt to every once in a while join the more mainstream tourist crowds. One such endeavour we’d recommend if you’ve got the money is the sea safari, on offer all along Faro’s coastline. Prices will vary, so make sure you get a few prices before stepping aboard.
  • Eat Locally – With a climate perfect for crops and a coastline alive with sea-life it’s no surprise that the food and drink of the Algarve is some of the finest in the world. Spending a few minutes chatting with locals will hopefully point you in the right direction for what to avoid and look out for.
  • Back To Nature – Another fantastic freebie is Faro’s Ria Formosa natural park, an incredibly diverse and at times quite stark escape from the tourist masses. Spread across the park you’ll find Roman and pre-Roman remains, the haunting fishing fleet memorial as well as some truly unique landscapes.

Check out more fantastic European destinations here on Top Backpacking Destinations

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Aegina: A Small Island with a Lot to Discover – Aegina, Greece

For a backpacking destination that’s both far from the crowds and also has plenty to see and do, the Greek island of Aegina is well worth considering. Situated in the dead centre of the Saronic Gulf, Aegina has a rich ancient history and once challenged even mighty Athens for dominance of the sea, but today it’s a relatively sleepy spot that’s a favourite summer getaway for Greeks. It’s also often overlooked by foreign tourists in favour of more lively locations like Santorini and Mykonos, making it an ideal place to relax and unwind for a few days.

The best way to reach Aegina is by ferry from Piraeus, near Athens. If you’re looking to get some use out of your professional sailing waterproofs, the island’s main port town (also called Aegina) has its own sailing school that will be glad to offer lessons for all levels of experience and daily cruise trips. Spend a couple of days snorkelling and swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Saronic Gulf, and be sure to visit the nearby island of Moni – an uninhabited natural haven with a secluded sandy beach and wildlife ranging from seals to goats and peacocks.

Aegina Marina, Greece

The town of Aegina, on the west coast of the island, is a great place to use as a base for your stay. Its quintessentially Greek open-fronted cafés and tavernas offer fantastic seafood in a tranquil setting, and stay open late into the night. There are also three outdoor cinemas in and around the town that provide evening entertainment – just the thing to wind down after a hard day of exploring. A bus station affords easy access to the other parts of the island.

Aegina rewards keen explorers with a wealth of historical structures, religious architecture and natural beauty. Among the best-known is the Temple of Aphaea, built around 500 BC as the sole site of worship for the eponymous goddess. According to Greek mythology, Aphaea was a Cretan woman of great beauty who ascended to divinity through the favour of Artemis, goddess of hunting and wild animals. Today, the temple is among the most well-preserved you’ll find outside of Athens, and the on-site museum includes some remarkable sculptural fragments – although you’d have to travel to the Glyphothek in Munich to see the temple’s complete sculptures.

Aegina Ruins, Greece

The island’s protector saint is venerated at Aegina’s largest religious building, the modern church of Agios Nektarios. One of the most visited spots on the island, the church features two bell towers and a connected monastery that is tended by a small community of nuns. A little further on is the mediaeval village of Paleachora, where the remains of 33 churches, linked by winding stone paths and in various states of repair, can be found. The oldest of these churches date back to the 13th century, and some have ancient frescoes and sculptures.

Naturally, you’ll want to spend at least some of your time in Aegina relaxing on the beaches, and the most popular ones are located on the north and west coasts – although the longest, the beautiful Agia Marina, is on the east coast. The beaches tend to be small but well-served by local cafés, restaurants and other tourist facilities – Marathonas, Souvala and Perdika are all great spots for a lazy day.

Aegina BuildingFive things not to miss in Aegina:

  • The Temple of Aphaea, around 10km east of the port town, is the perfect destination for a day’s hiking
  • The church of Agios Nektarios, one of the largest in Greece
  • Paleachora, the ancient hillside village that was once home to 70 churches
  • The Christos Kapralos museum, celebrating one of Greece’s most prolific modern sculptors
  • The island of Moni, a great spot for nature lovers
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