The advert in the Sunday paper sold it to us. The sun beat down on the whitened hull of an upturned boat lying in the sand by the shore. The beach was deserted and stretched away into the distance.
On reading the article we discovered that this was the island of Armona, a tiny island off the Portuguese coast near Faro.
We had to go.
Reading about the island was an eye-opener. It is is a mere 9km long by 0.1km wide and can easily be walked around in a few hours. No cars are allowed on the island and there are no hotels so your stay will not be interrupted by the screams and splashes of children in a hotel pool, instead, the ferry which runs every 20 minutes from Olhao disgorges its passengers at regular intervals throughout the day, for them to trudge across the island and along a huge wooden walkway to the beaches or the inland lake.
There are five restaurants on the island. When we holidayed there, it was in May, so only two of the restaurants were open.
Did that matter? Not a bit.
The food was typically simple Portuguese fare. Fresh fish every day, new potatoes with salt and olive oil and tomatoes, lettuce and garlic. When you go out of season you very quickly make friends with restaurant staff and more often than not, despite the fact that they were practically empty, we would find a ‘Reserved’ sign on our table each night. Who knows, there could have been a mid-May rush.
In the absence of hotels, you stay in rented villas dotted around the island in what you can only imagine is an order that once made sense but has been forgotten long ago.
The villa we stayed in was not grand by any means. It had three bedrooms, a cosy kitchen, a bathroom and an upstairs TV room that doubled up as a bedroom. It also had a sun terrace on the roof which we inhabited virtually all day, every day for the whole week.
There was no swimming pool. As far as we could see none of the villas had pools, so this is not some sort of millionaires playground. It is quite simply a quaint island that, because of geography, has acquired some sort of kudos for holidaymakers looking to get away from it all.
If you choose not to frequent one of Armona’s restaurants then you can cook for yourself. You can buy whatever you need from Armona’s only supermarket. Not for them the competition of The Big Four, here it is simple. This is our supermarket. If what you want isn’t here then either do without or get the ferry to Olhao.
Armona has no internet signal either. So if you are at all addicted to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, then this is definitely not for you. However, if you want to get away from everything, including news and contact with the outside world then give this place a try. I sent a semi-tongue-in-cheek message before leaving that people should try to avoid posting anything important for the next week. As it was, it wasn’t missed a bit.
So what did we do?
We chatted, we read books and we went for walks around the island, we sunbathed and we enjoyed the calmness and lack of noise and bother.
We did, on one occasion, get the ferry across the water to Olhao, but had lunch, a walk around the deserted streets and quickly got the next available ferry back, not enjoying our trip back into civilisation.
Armona is a curious place. An island for tourists that remains steadfastly unchanged and unaffected by life on the Portuguese mainland. If you are born there and live there your whole life it must be idyllic indeed, but for those of us who visit, to metaphorically dip a toe into the Armona lifestyle, a week is probably enough.