Faro in the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, isn’t (yet) a major city destination in its own right, but one which most visitors of this popular place will come through on their way in and out, via the city’s busy airport. Faro itself, though, is also well worth spending a couple of days in. One reason: the now legendary Eating Algarve Food Tours offered by Joana and her business partner, António.
I joined Joana in Faro for a tour together with a friendly family from Georgia (USA) on a sunny December morning, for what turned out to be a day full of historic, cultural and culinary delights. Curious about their story, I caught up with Joana after the tour to find out how Algarve Food Tours came about. I also asked her about Faro and its credentials as a “green” city destination, and the must do’s when visiting the Algarve.
Joana, as the co-founder of Eating Algarve Food Tours, did you always want to work in tourism? What brought you to offering cultural and culinary experiences to Algarve visitors?
I have a degree in Design. And for me design is a useful tool to improve people’s lives, otherwise it does not make sense. And with this matrix I worked on several projects of eco-design and social design. I worked on the reuse of materials, but mostly I worked with artisans from different regions in Portugal and Spain to jointly design useful products handmade by them, with traditional and ancestral techniques and local raw materials: valuing local traditions and identities, supporting the sustainability of our people and our (their) economies.
My deep concern – as designer and as volunteer – for the understanding and preservation of our region’s identities, places and people is the key element of the cultural and culinary experiences that we offer through Eating Algarve Food Tours.
I had never thought about working in tourism, but was encouraged to assume this challenge by a friend, who is now also my business partner.
António, who shares the same philosophy of valuing the specificities of each culture, and having lived in different countries and continents, felt the need to share with those who visit us what is unique and traditional here, what identifies us as people and as region.
We felt that there was a need to show to our visitors the perspective of those who live and feel emotionally attached to the region, and have the passion for its history and gastronomy.
Many of the travelers who visit us are now looking for more immersive experiences, and more contact with the local community.
Your food tours have become quite popular among travellers looking for that special experience, the combination of history, sights and bites. To your mind, what makes your tours stand out?
In Eating Algarve Food Tours we offer a unique service in the region: being able to experience history, traditions, heritage sites and the Algarve gastronomy all in one tour: a fusion of a city tour with a food tour that nobody else in this region offers.
Our experiences let visitors immerse themselves in our culture through visits to buildings of heritage value, from public to private spaces (with exclusive access) combined with visits to shops, markets, restaurants and bars for a taste of some of the most emblematic ingredients of the Algarve region.
We show our clients where and what the locals eat, and at the same share the story behind a particular altar on a church, for instance.
Can you tell us a bit about your tours – which ones do you offer and how do they differ from each other?
We are about to complete our first two years of offering those tours. We started with two different food tours in the city of Faro, but have now six food tours in five different cities in the Algarve.
The first ones, in Faro, are the most popular: the Fisherman Food Tour and the Petisco Food Tour. Then we have the Ria Food Tour in Olhão, the Med Food Tour in Loulé, the Arade Food Tour in Silves and the Discoveries Food Tours in Lagos.
Next year we will launch a new tour in another city. Our intention is to work in the entire Algarve: from the litoral, to the inland, from the east to west.
We work with intimate groups of 2 to 12 people. Our experiences last around 5 hours, during which our guests will have the privilege to visit – depending on the tour – 2 to 4 heritage sites, and to taste 10 to 15 different foods and drinks that are significant in this region.
The food tours are all different from each other, because in each city the visitors will get to know the history, the culture, the people and their main activities. Those differ from city to city, but also complement each other. You’d be surprised how much our culinary diversity we have in the Algarve, despite the region itself being quite small. That’s why some of our clients book different tours, or come back after a year for yet another of our culinary experiences.
We have clients from all over the world: Canada, US, Singapore, Malaysia, and Europe of course. From the age of 20 until the age of 80, solo travelers, couples, families or groups of friends. They all have one thing in common: they want to know the place where they are staying. They want to know where and what to eat, want to understand our traditions and get in touch with our heritage, from the point of view of a local. They want to connect with the authentic Algarve.
With more and more travellers now seeking “authentic” and transformational experiences, how do you prepare your tours – for example in terms of which restaurants to include?
Our main goal is to value and share the authenticity of the region, what is diferent, what is unique, where does that come from, the history and the stories.
We are ambassadors of our own culture, history and gastronomy.
And for that we surround ourselves with a great regional network of partners. History researchers, public and private entities, regional institutions and associations. And of course the biggest network we have is with local producers, vendors and restaurants, many of whom are small family businesses.
The main element for choosing the right partners to work with in the gastronomic field for us is that they know and respect the traditional Algarve cuisine. Even if they bring it to the table in a more contemporary style, the starting point must always be our ancient cuisine, based on local and seasonal ingredients, the respect for the Algarve’s authentic diversity. And then the sympathy, the warmth, the availability to join us at some point at the table, even if it’s just to ask “did you enjoy?”
Which aspects of offering those tours and working with small local businesses do you find the most rewarding – and which are the challenges?
The possibility to help every partner to understand the importance of what they do, to make them value their work, leading to the improvement of the local economy, is deeply gratifying.
We always wanted to work as part of a network, allowing everyone to earn their fair part.
We don’t say that we (in the Algarve) cook better than others. What we want is to share what we do, knowing that it is worth to be spread and that we should be proud of it. Understand that our work makes a difference.
Being part of a network of enthusiastic locals, entrepreneurs, rather than just running a business, for me is the biggest reward of managing Eating Algarve Food Tours.
The main challenge is to make the local citizens, authorities and politicians understand and value our local identity, instead of destroying and replacing it.
We believe that the richness of our gastronomy and our heritage must be shared and recognized.
Your thoughts on Faro’s potential as a sustainable destination? And the Algarve in general?
There is still a lot of work to do in the region in order to boost its many qualities as a sustainable destination.
But it is completely possible to do it, respecting the traditions, the history, the landscape, the climate, the native natural species and other important elements of the Algarve.
In this tiny little region we have a wonderful climate, different soils. Half of the region touches the ociean, while the other half is inland. For these reasons we can have clean energies to supply our energetic needs.We can grow anything from tropical fruits to wild berries and all kinds of vegetables. We have a great variety of fish and seafood species to provide food to the residents and the visitors. We have our own culture, traditions, activities, crafts and gastronomy that – if properly valued and shared – can bring a sustainable income to the region.
But we need to understand the entire territory and its diversity to share it all, instead of just a part.
In particular, we need to highlight the magnificent countryside areas, their people and activities – in the same way we do for the coastline. Those stand out for their craftmanship, gastronomy and other traditional activities commonly practiced in autumn and winter time, just like we promote the sun and golf during spring and summer time.
In the Algarve we need to distribute tourism activities and visitors better across the territory, all year round, by sharing the best kept secrets that this region has to offer.
Your five bits of advice for visitors who want to experience and discover the genuine Algarve – what to do (and what to avoid)?
Discover the magnificent inland territory. Don’t just focus on the coastline areas and big cities. You will be amazed by the diversity.
Speak with the locals. Ask them for suggestions around the place where you are staying. You will be surprised by our sympathy and hospitality.
Visit different coastal and inland markets (if you’re here on a Saturday, it’s a must do).
Search for traditional dishes in restaurants, fish and seafood, rice or beans, Açorda (bread soup) or Cataplanas in coastal areas. Vegetables stews, meat and cured meat in countryside areas. Almonds and fig desserts combined with Medronho (our traditional berry spirit).
If you’re in the mood for beach, don’t miss the two coastline areas, south and west, with different types of beaches that we have in the region. The islands beaches (in Ria Formosa area, from Tavira until Faro), the coves, cliffs, caves and rocky beaches between Albufeira and Sagres and the beautiful wild ones on the west coast, from Sagres until Odeceixe.
Thank you, Joana!