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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2018-02-26 10:35:45





Breakfast in the sky, exploring deserted islands and
taking up residence in a stunning villa. This is where
travel writers go for a well earned holiday and they
don’t get much better than this writes Norah Casey.

T he islands of the Rio Fermosa are pretty averse to spending time
Portugal’s best kept secret. I’ve with people I live with year round
been visiting the Algarve for some there is quite a difference between
years now and it’s taken this long the acquaintances I nod to in the
to finally get to explore them. Even some supermarket on a dull drizzly day
of the Portuguese have yet to venture out in Dublin and the smiling bronzed
into the ocean to visit these stunning little carefree fellow countrymen I
outposts. I can promise, the Atlantic ocean encounter on the Algarve. We travel
has never looked less like the version we well perhaps.
get crashing on to our beaches and cliffs in
Ireland. I spend a lot of time on intrepid
My love affair with Portugal began only adventures, they’re exhilarating
a few years ago when some good friends and magical. But when I want to
invited me and Dara to join them for a few chill I love familiarity and I have
days. Being intrepid wanderlust travellers always returned from this corner of
Richard and I had always ventured to Portugal relaxed and transformed.
more remote and exotic locations given This time, however we were
the chance so apart from a conference spending ten days and I wanted to
speech in Lisbon I had never explored explore what else the Algarve has
Portugal. With only a few days to spare to offer.
from work and the advantage of a short
flight, sunshine and great company we We headed out one morning
headed off to our first visit to the Algarve. with Paulo Gonçalves, owner of
And we have been back two or three times Algarve WOW, and our skipper
since for easy downtime. Quinta do Lago for a day’s exploration of the Ria
and the surrounding area ranks among my Fermosa. Top of my list was a visit to the
top stress-free destinations. Everything is so remote islands in this protected wildlife
effortless. The beaches are great, the sun is park. Over the years I had heard about
almost always shining, driving is easy and Deserta (the Deserted Island also called Ilha
the restaurants range from hipster casual da Barreta) and remote settled islands such
to gourmet. It’s hard to beat when all you as Culatra and Armona rarely visited by
want to do is spend lazy days lying by the tourists or even locals.
pool buried in a book and fun nights with
great company. Irish people have been The Ria Fermosa is one of the great
colonising Quinta and the surrounding wonders of Portugal, a 60 kilometre stretch
area for some time and although I am from Quinta do Lago round through Faro
and Olhão to Vila Real de Santo António.
It is one of the most important preserved
wetlands for wildlife particularly birds,
marine life and fauna. The islands and



“ilhas” (sandspits) dotted along the This was a magical sea safari with
Ria Fermosa are mostly deserted the expanse of these magnificent
but closer to the mainland local and surreal wetlands stretching out
fishermen have made islands such on either side. Impossibly turquoise
as Culatra home. The surrounding waters and vivid blue skies more
waters are rich in oysters, muscles, reminiscence of the Grenadines of
clams and octopus. Farming and the Caribbean than the Atlantic.
traditional fishing methods ensures The sundrenched sea and sandspits
the fragile ecosystem is preserved relieved occasionally by small fishing
and respected. boats drifting lazily in the shallow
waters or the bowed silhouettes of
We boarded an eight-seater men with a lifetime of clam picking
pristine white speedboat The etched on their weathered faces. I
Whistler at Faro Island –a stretch was mesmerized by the beauty of the
of beach and marina next to Faro panorama surrounding us even more
airport. Paulo is a passionate so because in all the times I had
advocate for the protected visited the Algarve I never taken the
wetlands, a knowledgeable guide time to visit this incredible paradise.
to the bird and marine life and,
as his website will testify, a great Further along the coast from
photographer. Faro is the less frequented town of
Olhão the largest fishing port in the
Algarve. Paulo docked at the busy
waterfront in the late morning so
we could enjoy some coffee and
Portuguese cake with the locals at
the pavement cafes. At the marina
stands two large market halls, one
is home to the best locally caught
seafood and the other is packed with
locally grown fruit and vegetables.
We wandered around the market
with the late morning bargain
hunters who took advantage of
cheaper prices towards closing time.
You could lose a few hours sitting
at the dock sipping coffee with


the beautiful vista of the islands of beautiful colour palette. I loved it Local boys were kicking a ball around while old men
Culatra and Armona in the distance and wanted to hang around long smoked peacefully under a makeshift sun shelter,
while the everyday hustle and bustle enough for the inhabitants to come women took a break from the heat and sat gossiping
of this characterful place settles home from a long day’s fishing to in doorways and children in swimsuits raced around
around you. enjoy a cold beer in the no longer playing their own imaginary game. I remember
deserted tin shack bar. summers like that. Culatra has its own pace and way
Eventually though we were of life and I hope it doesn’t change any time soon.
persuaded to get back on board So far we had passed Deserta and On our return journey we watched local men tend
and continue our journey towards Armona, stopped off at Hangares to the clam farms and as the tide ebbed we saw
Ilha de Culatra. Our first stop was one of three settlements on the more and more of the shorebirds that rely on this
the colourful village of Hangares. Culatra Islands and for lunch we protected park. As wells as the gulls, sandpipers and
This impossibly picturesque village were headed to the traditional oystercatchers there are over 200 species that visit the
was eerily quiet as we wandered fisherman’s village of the same name. Ria Formosa every year including herons, egrets, gulls,
along the one street. A brightly As we docked at the harbour a spoonbills and flamingos. I know I will return again to
painted bar and café with makeshift local oyster farmer and his son were the barrier islands of the Rio Fermosa. Our day with
corrugated roof gave a hint of night- cleaning the days catch and right our expert guide Paulo was a fantastic introduction to
time banter when the locals were there on the spot we enjoyed the this unique wetland park but there is so much more to
left to themselves. This secluded freshest oysters ever. Paulo opened a be discovered.
fishing village, untainted by outside bottle of Vinho Verde (Green Wine) To follow in my footsteps you can book Paulo
influences is an amazing sight to and we washed down the freshly Gonçalves via his company, email:
behold. Time and technology has shucked shellfish in the midday [email protected], telephone: (+351) 289 397
hardly touched Hangares and despite sun at our makeshift oyster bar
the searing sun there were elements on the wooden deck between the
that reminded me of summer days fishing boats. It was an unmissable
in the Ireland of my childhood. experience. After our impromptu
What immediately struck was the aperitif we headed inland to Culatra
cacophony of colour and tradition village for a traditional lunch at
packed into this small collection of Zarica one of the local cafes. The
houses. The whitewashed low rise menu is mostly the day’s catch
Moorish houses boasted brightly displayed in a variety of fridges.
painted windows and doors with We dined on huge portions of fresh
bold red and yellow flowers bursting tuna, shrimp, grilled sea bream and
out of old ceramic octopus pots cataplana (steamed clams). The bill
adding to the colour palette. It was for five of us including drinks was
as though each home owner had just E64. Wandering the streets of
deliberately chosen a clashing colour Culatra afterwards was like stepping
scheme to neighbouring dwellings so back in time – you won’t find cars
that purples, blues, reds and oranges or supermarkets or WiFi here.
melded into a chaotic but strangely



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