Feasting with friends in Ferragudo
Ferragudo is a traditional Portuguese fishing village with buckets of charm. Located on the southern coast in an area of the most spectacular natural beauty, it's a far cry from the hellish resort towns (not naming any names...) associated with the Algarve. Here you'll find a slower pace and a relaxed attitude to life. But that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had. The people we met were unbelievably hospitable and friendly and we felt at home straight away - the perfect place to celebrate one of your best friend's birthdays. I couldn't recommend it more highly for a short weekend break or to mark a special occasion.
Ferragudo is made for aimless rambling. The maze of cobbled streets are picture-perfect with brightly-coloured facades, overhanging flowers in the most sumptuous shades of pink and red, intricate Moorish-style tiles and street art everywhere. The church, Igreja de Ferragudo, stands at one of the highest points of the town and has fantastic views across the Arada river at the point in which it flows into the sea. It's an extremely hilly town so make sure to pack your flats.
There are lots of cafés and restaurants to be found around the central square, Praça Rainha Dona Leonor, so you won't be stuck for places to eat and there is excellent value for money to be had here. More on that below.
REASONS TO VISIT
Stunning beaches, striking landscapes, cliff walks, a day of pampering, two unforgettable meals, a Christmas fair, travelling by water taxi, dancing til 1am in a local bar and, of course, the Portuguese wine... These are my favourite memories and a pretty impressive offering for a small fishing village. And they're all yours for the taking.
CULINARY DELIGHTS WITH A VIEW
If you are looking for somewhere special to celebrate an anniversary or just want to treat yourself, then there are two places that should be on your hit list: Quinta Dos Santos and Rei das Praias. Here's why:
Quinta Dos Santos - for tapas and wine in a vineyard setting
You can tell it was a good lunch. We arrived at 2:30 and were still there when night fell. We never wanted to leave. What a place. Located high in the hills in the beautiful countryside between Ferragudo and Carvoeiro, Quinta Dos Santos is a family-run establishment overlooking their vineyard. On site you'll find a restaurant, winery and craft brewery. A short taxi ride from Ferragudo and you’re in heaven.
White-washed buildings circle a central tiled courtyard and are very much in keeping with a traditional style though the decor is chic and modern - the perfect blend of both. The immediate feeling is one of peace and tranquility - a place to pause, drink in the views and enjoy a meal with friends and family. There were audible gasps of delight from our gang as we stepped out onto the terrace to be seated for lunch. Without wanting to sound clichéd, this really is a special place. They pride themselves on their customer service and this was evident from the moment we arrived. The staff were fabulous; effortlessly warm and friendly, and went out of their way to make sure our birthday girl had a wonderful day. Blankets were brought when the temperature dropped in late afternoon, and when we eventually moved indoors, we were seated beside the open fire to get cosy with yet another glass of wine.
Now let's talk about the food. Oh my! For such a unique place, I was expecting it to come at a cost. Not so - this is special treat territory without the price tag. They offer a menu of 'petiscos', or sharing plates ranging from about €3.50 to €16. Much as I love my friends, there was was no way I was sharing that mushroom risotto - perfectly creamy with Sao Miguel cheese and a hint of lemon. Just sublime. We ordered a broad selection of plates including baked sheep's cheese with honey and almonds, and baked cod but one of the winners had to be those prawns - huge, juicy and so fresh.
Wines available are from the Escolhido brand, harvested from carefully chosen grapes from local vineyards, and offering a red, white or rosé option by the glass (€6) or bottle (€20). It's that simple. All I can say is, you won't be disappointed. The red was a stunner - light to medium-bodied, full of flavour and way too drinkable. By all accounts the white wine drinkers were very impressed too. The owners take their wine very seriously and it shows.
We moved indoors for dessert when the evening got cooler and cosied up by the fire, chatting to some of the local residents and staff. I can honestly say that this was one of the greatest dining experiences of my life. Simple and fuss-free but with extraordinary care for all the important elements: setting, ingredients, great wine and excellent service. It will be one of those days that my friends and I will talk about forever. Just one thing to note if you're travelling out of season - they close from December to January.
Quinta Dos Santos, Rua do Pestana Golf, n.1, Sesmarias, Carvoeiro, 8400 Lagoa
Rei das Praias - for dinner and drinks with a spectacular view...
And this is your view - the unbelievably beautiful Praia dos Caneiros beach, nestled in a cove circled by cliffs. The restaurant sits on stilts over the sand with full-sized windows to allow for the best possible vista. The best time to go is at sunset - the pinky hues of the sky as the sun sank behind the clouds was something quite special. The height of the cliffs means that the view of the sea is slowly revealed to you only as you walk down the steps beside the restaurant - the first thing you'll see is the iconic Seagull's Rock which rises majestically from the turquoise waters.
Aside from the amazing views and natural beauty of the area, the restaurant itself is excellent, specialising in some of the freshest and best seafood I've ever tasted. In fact, the manager brings the fish-of-the-day to the table to show you what's on offer. We opted for sea bass, monkfish and prawns. The prawns were almost the size of my hand and perfectly juicy with a bit of bite. The monkfish was succulent and perfectly cooked but it was the sea bass that was the knock-out for me - it literally fell away as you cut it and melted on your tongue. Washed down with rosé bubbles, and topped off with their famous 'chocolate soup', this is the type of restaurant that makes an occasion of any visit.
I should also mention the outstanding hospitality afforded us by the manager and staff who looked after us so well and offered a digestif on the house as we were leaving. For such high standards and that incredible view, I was expecting to pay more. It's more expensive than your average restaurant in Ferragudo but by no means extortionate. We paid just over €55 each which included Champagne, two desserts and wine.
Again if you're travelling out of season, check their website for winter closing.
If you're looking for more low-key options, there are plenty to choose from in Ferragudo. We loved this little café and pasteleria and it ended up being our first port of call for breakfast. The traditional pastries with a cinnamon and chickpea filling (sounds weird but totally works) are delicious and their coffee is great. They also make a mean omelette. Coffee, a pastry and an omelette costs less than €10.
Pasteleria Quente Quentinho, Rua 25 de Abril 2, Ferragudo 8400-202 Portugal
Another good spot is Zona J Café off the main square which also makes fantastic (and huge) omelettes. The cheese and ham option is excellent and comes with salad or chips. Coffee is only average but the location is great for people-watching on the square. Again it was less than €10 each for breakfast.
Zona J Cafe Cervejaria e Bar, Largo Rainha Dona Leonor Nr4, 8400-234, Ferragudo
For a more casual and rustic dinner experience, this is a really popular little spot with locals and visitors alike. In fact, on a slightly chilly November's night, the place was so full that we had to take a table outside. I suggest you book ahead if you fancy trying it. Pizzas are inexpensive - the spinach one was really good - and for a mere €10 you can enjoy a really decent bottle of Portuguese red. The Montevelho is excellent. Friendly staff too.
Pizzeria Delizia, Rua Vasco da Gama 25, Ferragudo 8400-253 Portugal
NON-FOOD RELATED REASONS TO VISIT...
Cliff walk - from Ferragudo to Carvoeiro
The full walk is six kilometres but bear in mind this is not a circular route so you'll have to double-back or take public transport. We didn't do the full length as we were short on time but the parts we walked were beautiful. You start from Molhe beach, marked by two jetties coming together with a lighthouse at each end. It's such an unusual landscape - the terracotta-coloured rock gives off a warm glow, especially from above, and sea erosion has created a series of caves, arches and sea stacks to explore en-route. It's not too taxing a walk, though the path can be rocky with loose stones. A good way to blow off the cobwebs.
An afternoon of complete relaxation
A short trip by water taxi will take you straight to heaven, and by heaven I mean Bela Vista Hotel and Spa. Obviously I don't have any photos of the interior - it is a spa after all - so you'll just have to take my word for it. The hotel itself is high-end with a Michelin star restaurant but you don't have to be a resident to use the spa facilities. We were welcomed like we were old friends by Pedro, the fabulous receptionist, and were able to make use of the thermal suite for an hour before we had our individual treatments. The sauna and steam room ensured all toxins were eliminated in no time and the ice-shower brought me not-so-gently back to life. Both hot and cold herbal teas and water were freely available throughout. I cannot rate more highly my l'Occitane facial and the therapist was excellent. It was incredibly relaxing and I could have happily nodded off afterwards. I'd go so far as to say it was the best facial treatment I've ever had, with a strong emphasis on oils and massage, and my skin was absolutely glowing afterwards. The massages were equally excellent, according to my friends. Would highly recommend. Link to their brochure and prices here:
Fly to Faro with Aer Lingus or Ryanair - Ferragudo is approximately 66 kms away. Public transport isn't really an option so most people hire cars or use Airport Transfer services. Cost for private transfer / taxi is about €60-70 and takes about 45 mins to an hour. It worked out cheaply for us as we were five in total.