Olhão - Portugal holiday guide

Olhão roof tops

Olhao is a coastal town in the Algarve which grew out of the fishing industry in the seventeenth century. Olhão, located just ten kilometers east of Faro, is still one of the Algarve's main ports. It was here that the first canning factory was established in 1882, sparking a trend that was to spread in both directions along the coast, with canned tuna and sardines quickly becoming the Algarve's main source of income.

Olhão achieved its status as a town in 1808 after a group of seventeen Olhaneses sailed to Brazil in the Bom Successo, a sixty five foot fishing boat. They made the journey (without the benefit of navigation charts) in order to tell the exiled Dom João IV that the French had been defeated leaving the way clear for him to return to Portugal.

The fishmarket on the waterfront is still Olhão's main draw. A quaint and energetic place, the market sells local produce such as fruit, honey and live chickens as well as a huge variety of fresh local fish.

The old quarter of Olhão has a distinctly Moorish feel, with square whitewashed houses, flat terraced roofs and box-chaped chimneys. The church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dates back to the seventeenth century, while the chapel behind it, dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Afelitos, is still the place where the wives of fishermen gather during stormy weather to pray for the lives of their husbands.

Ilha da Cultura beach - Faro

Ilha da Cultura beach - Faro

Can Stock Photo Inc/Transocean007

Some of the quietest and biggest beaches in the Algarve are located a short ferry ride from Olhão, on the sandbank islands of Ilha da Cultura and Ilha da Armona. Cultura and Armona form part of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, a vast protected lagoon system that stretches for sixty kilometers along the Algarve coastline and is home to rare migratory birds and shellfish. The park headquarters are located three kilometers inland from Olhao in a village called Quinta de Marim. Ferries leave from the pier just east of the Jardim Patrao Joaquim Lopes.

Every year during the second week of August the Jardim Patrao Joaquim Lopes plays host to the Festival do Marisco, a festival of food and folk music.