An undiscovered treasure, Olhao (pronounced All Yow) lies a mere 8 km east of Faro airport, so a virtual hop and skip away from the more "touristy" resorts on the Algarve, so the town definitely enjoys the best of both worlds and benefits from its great location.
Incredibly, for somewhere that is not particularly well known, Olhao is actually the largest fishing port on the entire Algarvian coast and is the centre of sardine and fish product canning industry, so that is pretty typically Portuguese! Strongly linked to the fishing community, Olhao takes its name from a natural water fountain (Olhao really means "Big Eye") and the town is situated at the end of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve.
Just around the corner from the fishing docks area, a lovely promenade stretches along the waterfront leading into attractive gardens. The busy fish markets are great fun for the visitor and provide a continuous supply of superb fresh fish and seafood to the glut of brilliant restaurants, cafes and roadside eateries that are sprinkled liberally throughout the town.
Olhao's architecture has a heavy Moorish influence, evidence of the commercial links with Africa and the old quarter has very interesting houses with box shaped chimneys and flat, terraced roofs. Atmospheric and impressive, there are the remains of very elegant merchants' homes where ornate stonework, wrought-iron balconies and highly decorative detail are visible. A Baroque church, traditional chapels, local museums and typical shops lend a distinctive air to the picturesque old quarter and make sightseeing a laid back pleasure.
Located on a lagoon system, ferries ply to various "ilhas" (islands) where clear waters are perfect for snorkelling and diving. There are several golf courses within easy reach as well, so you're never too far from a tee box! Pinheiros Altos, San Lorenzo and Colina Verde are the closest courses to Olhao.
All in all, a holiday in Olhao offers a delightfully "local" experience where tourism has not had a huge impact, so life goes on at a leisurely, very typically Portuguese pace and is all the better for it! Definitely a gem to uncover......