Ilha da Armona is the third of the Ria Formosa islands that I was lucky enough to visit in January. I actually went to this one twice -once at sunset and once first thing in the morning! At first sight it looks like Culatra – with its tiny fishermen’s houses and little narrow paths in place of streets – but a winter visit reveals that a lot of the houses here are now owned by people who live elsewhere and who like to lock them up and leave them in winter. Lots of the houses have obviously been renovated and have had money spent on their upkeep. Like the other islands, there are no cars here – just quad bikes, bicycles and lots of boats!
Armona is 9kms long and between 100 ms and 1 km wide. Like its sister islands, it’s south-facing coast is made up of paradisiacal white sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear, shallow water. In summer, visitors queue to get on and off the ferries here and the handful of bars and restaurants are overflowing with tourists sipping cold beer and waiting for the ferry. The little harbour is busy all day with ferries, water taxis and private boats and the narrow and shady pathways are full of sun-worshippers heading, like lemmings, for the fantastic beaches on the south side of the island. In winter, there is a very different – and much smaller – crowd.
WHAT TO DO ON ARMONA
Do the same on Armona as on the other islands, take the ferry (Olhão is closest and only 10-15 minutes away), have a beer or a coffee at the harbour and then walk through the miniature high street to the south side. Spend time on the beach – on a sunbed in summer, walking in winter. Eat fish, drink cold beer and watch the world go by – there’s a nice restaurant at the beach. Visit the duck lake and observe the ducks and other birdlife. In summer, miss the last ferry back and treat yourself to a water taxi so you can sit on the beach or in a bar and enjoy watching the sun setting over the sea. In winter, you can catch that view from the last ferry back.
WHAT I DID ON ARMONA
I have been to Armona before but made two separate trips this time – the first one on the last ferry at 5pm which comes straight back – it’s a great place to catch the winter sunset and is full of local residents returning to Armona with their wheely trollies full of market produce. The second time was the following morning on the first ferry at 8.30 am – this time populated only by municipal gardeners and others tradesmen going over to do some work for the day.
I walked through the centre of town on the path that passes for the high street, admiring the tiny houses and the imaginative gardens. I walked down to the beach and turned east, walking along the beach. I followed the only other footprints in the sand – one barefoot human and one dog! I walked for over 2 hours along the deserted beach and didn’t see a living soul except for some sea birds and some passing fishing boats navigating between the islands in the distance. After walking through the backstreets to see more of the town, I emerged on the north-side beach and picked my way through buoys, upturned boats and seaweed back to the harbour where I joined the locals for a 10 am beer in the harbourside bar! I felt a bit out of place but no-one bothered me.
There is something quite sad about out-of-season Armona. The solitary beach walk was lovely but there is a sense that everyone is just waiting for summer to come around again. The only action seems to be from tradesmen and gardeners keeping the little holiday homes looking good. I was here for 4 hours and it felt like a very long time!
For my next trip, I am flying off to Venice to visit some islands in the Laguna.