Faro, the capital of the Algarve, is often overlooked by the hoardes of tourists who disembark at the airport and head straight for their beach resorts.
However it has a wealth of beautiful buildings, a quaint old town and some macabre secrets to share with anyone who takes the time to explore it.
I hopped on a local bus from Praia D’Oura but I must have picked a route that literally went around the houses as it took nearly two hours for me to arrive!
First up I headed for the main square in the old town. This peaceful, orange tree lined open space is also home to Faro cathedral.
The cathedral, with its family of storks nesting on the roof, has a wealth of ornate details waiting to be uncovered. From gilded cherubs to the ubiquitous white and blue tiling that is a feature of the region.
You can also get a marvellous panoramic view over the old town and out towards the marsh flats from the roof top of this venerable old building.
The old town itself is a maze of whitewashed houses, punctuated with vivid splashes of colour from Bougainvillea and ornate tiling.
Grafitti, deep red walls and endless tiles all via for my attention.
However the main attraction of Faro for me is to be found behind this facade of the Baroque Igreja do Carmo.
The Igreja do Carmo originally dates from 1719 with the money for its construction financed with Brazilian gold from Portugal’s colony in South America.
It has some wonderful features including these serene figures of Jesus and Mary. However, they are not the reason I am visiting.
The reason is a little more macabre . . . it is the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones) set within a small walled garden within the church grounds.
The bones and skulls that can be seen are those of over 1200 Carmelite monks that were exhumed from the nearby church cemetery when the ossuary was built in 1816.
An inscription over the entrance reads: “Stop here and consider the fate that will befall you.” A fitting thought as you examine the skulls and femurs that “decorate” the interior.
It’s not the first bone chapel I have visited. The Capuchin bone crypt, a larger, multi roomed, version can be found in Rome, complete with chandeliers made from pelvic bones!
But each one is a fascinating way of emphasising the brevity of human existence and giving us pause to consider our own mortality in the empty eye sockets of those that have gone before us.
I personally found it very serene and peaceful, not at all creepy. Indeed I think it shows a healthy respect for, and embracing of, death.
Back amongst the living, out on the streets there’s always time to pause and appreciate some street art before heading back to the bus station to head for home.
Next we’ve taking a trip to the pretty town of Silves and the highest point of the Algarve!