At the beginning of September I found myself in Portugal again, this time on holiday with my friend Julian. I struggled to find an island to visit but then I found Ilha da Barreta (or Ilha Deserta as it is also known), one of the sandbar islands of the Rio Formosa situated just off the coast of the Central Algarve (where I was for the beginning of this project back in January! This little uninhabited island is accessible by boat from either Faro or Olhão. The journey takes about half an hour – the island is not very far offshore but the boat must wind its way carefully through the shipping channels lest it run aground on one of the many sandbars not far below the surface.
There are no permanent residents on the island and, apart from a few fishermen’s shacks, the only building on the whole island is the large (and quite ugly) O Estamine Restaurant. Sadly, we didn’t eat there as my companion was not a seafood fan but the food is apparently excellent and the restaurant’s kitchen is solar-powered!
Ilha da Barreta is long and thin – around 7 kms long and only 600 metres wide at its widest point. One side of it faces onto the waters of the Ria Formosa lagoon with its maze of channels, tiny sandbar islands and varied wildlife including (allegedly) a large colony of flamingos which we were not fortunate enough to see but we did see a heron! On the other side is the Atlantic ocean – Cabo de Santa Maria at the south eastern end of the island is the most southerly point in continental Portugal. A lighthouse marks the eastern end of Ilha da Barreta.
There is nothing much to do on the island but swim, sunbathe, wander the shores, watch birds and boats, and eat in the restaurant but it is a stunning place to do nothing much in! Stroll along long stretches of untouched white sandy beach lapped by delicious crystal clear waves. Some enterprising souls have brought some sun-loungers and parasols and you can hire these on the first part of the beach but if you prefer a less populated beach experience then you need only wander along a bit further and you are sure to find more space and probably some nudists! We didn’t stay long as we’d parked the car on a meter in Faro and didn’t have much time! (But we went there and we set foot on the island so it counts!)
The boat trip to and from Ilha da Barreta is part of the fun – a lovely, relaxing journey gliding smoothly over calm, blue waters past the tiny marsh islands and colourful buoys of the Ria Formosa. We spotted birds and solo fishermen in little boats hidden in the reeds and other, faster tourist boats heading for the beaches. You can watch the planes take off and land too – Faro airport is right there on the mainland. Even though we didn’t see much of the island, we loved the boat trip and on the way back we had the whole boat to ourselves!
High Speed catamarans leave from Faro’s Porto Novo just outside the old city walls. Cross over the single track railway line and get the boat from the wooden jetty below. You can’t miss it – it’s painted in blue and white zebra stripes. Tickets costs €10 return and you can buy a ticket from the kiosks in front of the little harbour in the pleasure port or at the kiosks in the Porto Novo. The journey takes about 30 minutes each way. Pack a good book, water, sun tan cream and a picnic or go with a rich, seafood-loving friend and treat yourselves to O Estamine. A lovely boat trip with an island stop in the middle!
NEXT ISLAND: For the next few islands, I’m off to the Kvarner Gulf Islands of Croatia!