As we entered Armação de Pêra our hearts sank. ‘Is this the right place?’ we asked ourselves. Unfortunately the seaside resort of Armação de Pêra was a victim of overzealous property development in the later decades of the twentieth century, when the Algarve was becoming a popular package-tourist destination and a lot of the architecture is quite frankly ugly, with characterless high-rise apartment blocks lining the streets. The main street in the centre of the town, Via Dorsal, is more reminiscent of a financial district than a holiday resort and even the pedestrianized seafront hasn’t escaped this building trend. However, after the Holiday Inn and the Water Dog pub (with the photogenic sign of the famous Portuguese aquatic poodle) the promenade opens outs onto some pretty gardens that look out over the sea, at the end of which is an incongruous terracotta-coloured villa, that looks like it came from a pre-package tour era, and we could see the appeal of the place.
There is a long expanse of sandy beach which goes all the way from Praia dos Beijinhos eastwards to Praia da Galé and it marks the end of the imposing cliffs and cove beaches of the western Algarve. Looking to the west, the pretty little white chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha sitting atop a cliff is visible, alongside some of the most spectacular rock formations along this coast. Looking to the east the beaches of Praia de Armação de Pêra, Praia Grande de Pêra, Praia dos Salgados and Praia da Galé extend along the coast for as far as the eye can see. The beaches to the east of the town are wilder, with sand dunes and a wetland lagoon that I have described in A walk around Praia Grande de Pêra.
Truth be told there isn’t a lot to see in the town, but the parish church of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of Mariners), dating from 1960, is charming with pretty stained-glass windows, statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus and wonderful wood carvings on the wall depicting the stations of the cross.
A little further along the promenade is a small section of the former sixteenth-century fort and the tiny chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos (Our Lady of the Afflicted Ones, also known as the Chapel of Santo António) dating from 1720 when Armação de Pêra was a small fishing community built up around the beach that is now known as Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen’s Beach).
The word armação means ‘fishing net’ and this beach was where the fishermen from the nearby village of Pêra came to fish, hence the place being named Armação de Pêra. Praia dos Pescadores is still a working fishing beach with rows of fishermen’s huts, nets and boats.
Some of the boats are used for trips along the coast to see the cliffs of Senhora da Rocha, Albandeira, Praia da Marinha and Benagil. The streets around Praia dos Pescadores give a sense of what the village looked like before tourist development with traditional two-storey whitewashed houses along narrow cobbled streets. There were a few other small surprises during our walk around the back streets of Armação de Pêra which made me like the place more, including spotting a pretty circular bench covered in traditional tiles on Rua Bartolomeu Dias, just after stopping to admire a large mural entitled ‘Homo Sapien Space Captain’ painted on the exterior wall of a primary school.
Having taken part in the annual Christmas Day Santa Swim before looking around the town we were ready for lunch and decided to try the Olival Mar Beach Café overlooking the beach. We had a wonderful selection of freshly prepared tapas (smoked ham with melon, squid rings, octopus, garlic mushrooms and grilled pork slices) all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice. The food was delicious and the portions were good and we were happy to pay the over-inflated €37 bill. It was Christmas Day after all!
Buses run to Armação de Pêra from many parts of the Algarve, including Albufeira, Lagoa, Portimão, Silves, Lagos and Faro. The Lisbon bus also stops here.
Olival Mar Beach Café, Praia Vale do Olival, Armação de Pêra (next to the car park at the western end of Armação de Pêra)