An ancient bridge: check; the ruins of an old fortress: check; dozens of churches: check. In Tavira, you’ll find history at every corner. Enjoy the Algarve spends a day in the pretty coastal town and discovers it has the perfect combination of culture and beach action.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2015
Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez
There are usually plenty of free parking possibilities around the city centre (pictured). But if it’s a busy day and you’re on the N125 coming from the west, continue past the turnoff to the centre, over the bridge and take a left straight afterwards. Another left at the T-junction and continue along the river. You’ll find free parking at your right hand side just past the skate park. From there it’s a pleasant five minutes’ walk into the centre of Tavira.
Cross the bridge
With its seven arches, the old ‘Roman bridge’ connects the two parts of the town over the Gião river. It isn’t actually Roman and neither is it the real old bridge anymore (that one collapsed in 1655 and its successor was destroyed by the floods of 1989), but it certainly looks the part. It’s also known as the Ponte Antigua (or Ancient Bridge) and must be Tavira’s most famous landmark. With low tide, you’ll find people looking for shells and clams in the water.
Alternative – Lock your love
Visiting Tavira together with your loved one? Symbolise your unbreakable love by attaching a padlock with your names on it to the bridge.
The Ponte Antigua isn’t as popular for this as the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris (France), but still dozens of locks can be seen.
Explore the town
Some claim Tavira is the prettiest town of the Algarve; discover the city on foot to make up your own mind about this. The centre offers cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with red tiled roofs, museums and loads of churches. Glimpses of history can be seen everywhere, from archaeological excavations to Islamic decorated doors. Praça da República is a good place to start, but don’t confine yourself to the main streets: little gems -in the shape of lovely decorated ceilings and balconies- are also found outside the centre.
Alternative – Follow the hands
Many houses in Tavira have traditional door knockers in the shape of hands, these are a Moorish legacy. Discovering all of them will keep you busy for a good few hours.
Shop & stroll
Forget about those tacky ‘My big brother went to Portugal and all he got me was this lousy shirt’ t-shirts. In Anartesanatoss you’ll find the cutest little pirate t-shirts ever. The shop also sells dozens of cuddly toys, ranging from cats and dogs to octopus and chameleons. All in lovely pastel colours and all handmade by owner Ana Sofia Silva, who needs one to two hours per plush animal, depending on size and shape. Fancy having a go yourself? Ana also offers sewing and crocheting workshops.
(Rua da Liberdade, 91, 8800-399 Tavira)
Alternative 1: Good old delicacies
Stepping into Mercearia Conserveira is like stepping back in time. The grocery shop across the old market halls is beautifully restored and all furniture dates from 1948, when it first opened.
The delicacy store sells regional products such as olive oil, canned fish and of course sea salt, which comes from the saltpans between Tavira and Olhão. The different colours of the salt are due to the herbs and aromas mixed in; the pink one, with hibiscus, is especially nice with fresh cheese.
(Rua Dr. José Pires Padinha, 80-82, 8800-354 Tavira)
Alternative 2: Browse for souvenirs
Want a nice souvenir of the Algarve? Avoid the standard souvenir shops and go to Loginha instead.
Filled up with paintings, jewellery, ornaments, clothes, bags, toys, soaps and dozens of other products, this is a nice shop to browse around. Nearly all products are ‘artesanato’ (handmade) and come from the region.
(Rua da Borda d’Agua, 12, 8800-349 Tavira)
Climb the castle
Follow the signs to ‘castelo’ to get to the remains of the old fortress. The ruins of the castle are free to visit and the garden is a burst of colourful flowers. Those brave enough to climb the old walls are rewarded with amazing views over town, but take care when climbing. The stone steps are uneven, steep and slippery, and don’t have any handrails – same goes for the high walls. Parents keep an eye on your children at all times; the castle ruins might be Tavira’s most exciting ‘playground’, they’re certainly its most dangerous one.
Spy on the streets down below
Close to the castle you’ll find the Torre de Tavira. Here, English astronomer Clive Jackson has turned the old water tower into a camera obscura. By a mirror and two lenses you have a 360˚ view of the streets of Tavira, crystal clear in real time, while standing in a darkened room high up in the Torre. Ditch that street map you were carrying as Clive shows you around his city on a large screen, in at least four languages and with lots of humour. You’ll see birds fly and on a clear day, you’ll be able to spot Spain.
Go to church
Also if you aren’t religious. With over 30 churches, chapels, convents and temples, Tavira is the church capital of the Algarve. Houses of worship range from the famous and centrally located Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo (pictured) to the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (also known as Igreja de São Paulo), that can be found on a square on the other side of the river and has an interior shaped like a Latin cross.
Parade through the gardens
Walking around a city in the middle of the summer can get hot. Get some shade by strolling through the communal gardens (jardim público) and enjoying the riverside views. Join the kids in eating ice cream or keep Tavira’s older generation company by sitting on the garden benches and watching the people pass by. (Bored with relaxing? If you jump hard enough on the bridge nearby – no, not the Roman one, the one just south of it- it might wobble).
Catch a ferry
Keep on walking through the gardens and the old market halls and eventually you’ll come to the ferry departure point. Here, catch a boat to Ilha de Tavira for some beach action. Tickets are €1.90 per adult for a return trip and from arrival on the island it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the ocean.
Relax on the beach
Yes, Ilha de Tavira is pretty touristy (read: plenty of beach bars, sunloungers & umbrellas for rent, and even the possibility to get a massage in a beach hut), but it’s also pretty nice. The golden sands stretch for 11km, so walk on if you fancy some space to yourself.
Alternative 1: Go to Barril
Is Ilha de Tavira too crowded for your liking or do you already get seasick when seeing a boat? Then get in the car and drive along the N125 to the west. After a couple of kilometres you’ll get to the turnoff for Pedras Del Rei which will lead you to Barril beach.
Barril is a quieter version of Ilha de Tavira without the need to take a ferry (you get to the beach by foot or by train instead).
Alternative 2: Discover the Ria Formosa
No fan of sand? Explore the Ria Formosa nature reserve instead. (This best done by boat, but it’s also possible to discover the edge of the reserve by bike from Tavira as the town is on the Ecovia Litoral, infrastructure especially created to be used by bicycles.)
In the Ria Formosa you’ll see the extraction of salt from the sea and a lot of birds, so bring your binoculars.
Hang out in style
After a day of city exploring you could of course visit one of the bars and restaurants in Tavira. But why should you if you can also end your day on the beach? Surrounded by sand, shaded by trees and with the sounds of the sea on the background, the lounge area of the Pavilhão da Ilha makes for a good place to chill. Keep an eye on the time; you can still call for a water taxi once the ferry stops running, but it’ll be more expensive.
See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine August 2015