Vila Real de Santo António (aka VRSA), on the coastal area close to the Spanish border, is a great base for a not too touristy daytrip. Visiting Ayamonte (Spain), Fábrica, Cacela Velha, Castro Marim, and not to forget VRSA itself – Enjoy the Algarve has a busy day discovering the southeast of Portugal.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez


Get there

Vila Real de Santo António is located on the southeast corner of the Algarve so getting there is simple. Just drive along the N125 all the way to the east. Follow the signs for ‘centre’ and you’ll eventually end up at the roundabout with the statue of António Aleixo, the famous poet who was born here in 1899. This roundabout is also close to where the market hall is located.


Visit the market

Unlike the gourmet delicacy affair of Loulé the mercado municipal of Vila Real de Santo António is more of a local place. The big square building doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but inside you’ll find loads of fresh produce, ranging from peaches to pumpkins and from flowers to fish. Especially worth a look are the handmade reed baskets, a speciality of this region. Market opening times are 7am to 1pm, Monday to Saturday.


Explore the town

The centre of Vila Real de Santo António is unlike most other town centres in the Algarve: here you won’t find any winding roads or small steep alleyways. Instead the wide streets are laid in a grid-pattern, which makes it easy to find your way around town. Exploring the pedestrianised centre is made even easier by the blue signs hanging outside every shop. Definitely visit this place if you’re looking for pillowcases, tea towels or bibs: there are 47 (yes, forty-seven) shops selling textiles.


Alternative – Toss your trash

Throw your trash in the most stylish bins of the Algarve.

The white trash cans on the streets of the town centre look a little bit like R2D2 (at least that’s what we think).

Fact is: they look cool.


Have a coffee at the main square

Lined with orange trees, wooden benches and small restaurants, the Praça Marquês de Pombal (named after the man who rebuilt the city after the 1755 earthquake) makes for a pleasant place to stop for coffee. Right in the middle of the square there’s an obelisk and on the side you’ll find a black interactive device that looks like a giant smartphone, called Tomi, which displays info about the things to do in this region.


Shop & stroll

Six plates for only 5 euros. It’s a bargain. Every day, Maria João sells plates, cups, bowls, saucers and other tableware at her stand on the main plaza (she can be found in front of the Câmara Municipal building). At the time of visiting in October she was already prepared for Christmas with reindeer cups and Father Christmas bowls.


Alternative – Casa Lusitana

Next to –surprise- all kind of textiles, you’ll also find lots of delicacies at Casa Lusitana on the harbour front.

From pretty packaged tins of sardines to herbs for spicing up your gin and from typical Algarve chocolates to orange liquor. Don’t visit if you’re feeling hungry or you’ll buy half the shop.

Av da Republica, 100, 8900-206 VRSA



Head to the harbour

Dozens of sailing boats and motor yachts are gathered in the harbour of Vila Real de Santo António. Spain (the city of Ayamonte to be precise) can be seen on the other side of the Guadiana river. Have a stroll over the fittingly themed mosaic floor (with lobsters, anchors and fish) of the palm tree lined promenade or feed the fish in the river if you’ve got some spare bread. Warning: the seagulls will probably steal the bread.


Alternative – Cross over to Spain

Either by ferry or by crossing the Guadiana international bridge (via the A22 which is a toll road, but the last exit is free).

With plazas filled with palm trees and decorated couches Ayamonte makes for a nice afternoon trip.

Have some tapas, but beware of the time difference (it’s an hour later in Spain) and thus the later siesta times when all shops close.


Learn about fishing history

In the 17th century, Vila Real de Santo António specialised in canning and conserving tuna and sardines. The Arquivo histórico Municipal António Rosa Mendes is a must-see if you’re interested in this fishing heritage. It offers explanation of the fishing methods (also in English), there are old packing stations set up and scale models of fishing boats on display. Especially interesting is the process of printing on a tin plate with old lithographic stones.

Entrance is free, opening times 9.30-13.00 and 14.00-16.45, Monday to Friday.


Go inland to Castro Marim

A few kilometres inland from Vila Real de Santo António you’ll find Castro Marim. Go there to climb the castle, play some golf, see traditional crafts, watch the birds in the nature reserve or float in the salt ponds. Or just walk around the village, admire the nice houses and enjoy the laid-back atmospthere.


Alternative – Go for a walk on the beach of Monte Gordo

Forget about the ugly collection of apartments and hotels that make up Monte Gordo – the beach is where it’s at.

Drive from Vila Real de Santo António 4km to the seaside and have a stroll on the sand.

With the wind blowing waves in the sand it’s virtually deserted in winter time; seagulls are your only companions.


Step back in time in Cacela Velha

Some call it the most beautiful place of the whole of the Algarve. The whitewashed tiny village situated on the top of a hill offers great views over the Ria Formosa lagoon and the nearby Praia da Fábrica has been voted one of the best beaches in the world by The Traveler’s magazine this summer. Cacela Velha itself lacks tourist facilities and is little more than a church, the remains of a fort and some houses: pretty & peaceful.


Hang out with a view

One of the best places in the area to have a sundowner? Fábrica. Although the main restaurant is closed in winter, the nearby kiosk is still open. Don’t expect any fancy stuff here; wine comes in plastic glasses as this place is all about the view. Even though you’re basically on a public parking, you’re sitting directly at the Ria Formosa lagoon, underneath palm trees, literally one step away from the beach. It’s not touristy or particularly stylish, but it’s charming in a typically Portuguese way.



See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015

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