In the narrow streets of Fuseta, where the cobblestones have been warmed by the glistening sun all day long, old people set up their folding chairs in the evenings, as if prompted by an inaudible signal. An approaching car is a major news item in their conversation. Sometimes one of them will get up and refill the plastic bowl set out for the stray dogs with tap water. That scenery in front of the tiled facades of modest homes is complemented by the sounds of crickets, the bell chimes of the nearby church on the hour and wafts of chatter and laughter from the town’s main square, the praca de republica.
That square is central meeting point, news exchange and the town’s showcase in one. A number of restaurants with good, fresh and affordable food line up here and provide a draw that brings the tourists here. The praca is full of life until deep in the evening. Children run across the square tirelessly, forming play communities that can dissolve as quickly as they were founded. A man carries a puppy, which elicits the desire to pet its head in kids and adults alike. At a table of the seafood restaurant a group of patrons erupts with laughter. It’s loud and peaceful, it’s hot and shady. On the second evening at the latest, you’ll recognize the faces of strangers you have seen around town before.
There is one large hotel in town and a handful of smaller options, vacation rentals and Bed & Breakfasts. Among international guests, the French probably form the majority, closely followed by Germans and Brits. But all in all, they mingle with domestic visitors and locals, so that the town maintains a Portuguese one primarily. How refreshing to get a brief “não” as answer when you ask the waitress in a fish grilling place down by the water if she speaks English. Ordering your food with hands and feet and not knowing exactly what it is that will be served is an authentic travel experience.
At the tip of the beach of Fuseta, a short walk from the town center, a bar caters to the needs of the hungry and the thirsty. Many beachgoers stake out their claim of the heated sand in the vicinity of that bar, but when you walk up the beach for three or four minutes, you get to a much less crowded section, providing for a private area. Umbrellas must be dug deep into the off-white sand or otherwise they will fall victim to the wind which blows steadily and thus makes the temperature at the beach very enjoyable. It’s located at a lagoon and when the tide comes, parts of it get consumed by water, enjoyably warm thank to its shallowness. The tide also forms a number of shallow natural pools, an ideal place for small kids to play in the water.
Walking the streets of Fuseta is a lesson in what Portugal is all about, at least from a romanticized perspective. The air smells of sun and ocean and a hint of seafood and all in all, the place is a traveler’s paradise, relaxed and tranquil. People are friendly, food is good and inexpensive and it’s easy to take pictures that seem to come right out of a coffee table book.
But a town like Fuseta also opens your eyes for the Portugal behind the travel catalogue images. The town has for a long time thrived on its fishing fleet, but the sardines aren’t out there in the same numbers they used to be. The glimpses into apartments that you’ll get by walking the streets don’t reveal any riches and just beyond the beach, you’ll see people in simple clothes bending their backs to harvest whatever scallops they can get before the water returns. Fuseta is a town that has been forced to turn to tourism, both by chance and by economic need. But it has not surrendered to it, it has retained its authenticity, its warmth and its kindness. It’s Portugal in a nutshell.
- Fuseta, Tavira and Olhao, Algarve, Portugal
- Traveled there: July 2017
- Stayed at: Estudios Salinas, Fuseta