Forming a barrier between the Ria Formosa lagoon and the open Atlantic Ocean are a number of small islands. Culatra is the favourite of Marketing Manager, Angela Viegas, who describes it as her secret refuge. It’s easily reached from Faro or Olhão by ferry or
water taxi, but remains unknown to most tourists.
Angela rents a fisherman’s cottage there for her summer holidays and loves it because it’s safe for her children, aged nine and ten. There is no traffic. Once the day-trippers have left, it’s just an established community of fishing families who have lived there all their lives. “On Culatra, my kids feel free” says Angela. “Each day we order the next day’s bread, which they like to go and collect. And at the end of the day their treat is to go and buy an ice cream. From Culatra, you can see civilisation and the bright lights of the mainland, but you can’t touch it.”
The island has two distinct sides to its personality. The northern side, where you get off the ferry, is more sheltered with calm waters and a harbour where you’ll find fishermen mending their nets, and flocks of seagulls attracted by the fish. Angela’s favourite side of the island, however, is the wilder ocean side on the south, with beautiful unspoilt scenery of dunes and marshland and pristine, empty beaches. Turn right at Rui’s Restaurant and keep going straight across the island until you come to a small beach bar with beds and umbrellas.
“My idea of holiday heaven is to go to the beach in the morning and then have a fish lunch of Peixe Aranha (spider fish)” says Angela. “Rui’s Restaurant is the only place I know that serves this hard to find speciality.”
“There’s also a local patisserie – well, actually it’s just a room in someone’s house, and it’s not open every day – that serves the most delicious Jesuites”. These sweet pastries are seen more often in the north of Portugal and are triangular flaky pastry parcels with almond cream filling. The name refers to the shape of a Jesuit’s hat. “On Culatra, you get real Portuguese food” says Angela, “and that’s the way I like it.”
So, if you want to experience a simpler Portuguese way of life, where you are surrounded by nature and its authentic beauty, head to Culatra for the day.