A Perfect Day Exploring Old Town Tavira

While everyone who knows Portugal’s Algarve has plenty of their own favourite places, few would disagree that Tavira is one of the region’s most attractive and inspiring cities.

Tavira is a pleasingly compact place to explore. Although it is technically a city, it’s really no larger than a medium-sized town by most standards. As such, it’s very well suited to a day of exploration on foot.

Our tour of Tavira starts at the railway station. Tavira has a station on the Algarve’s train line, making it ideal for day trips from other resorts. It’s also usually quite easy to leave the car by the station without paying for parking.

The Morning

Tavira Bandstand

The Bandstand @ Tavira Castle

With the train station behind you, head into the centre by walking down Avenida Doutor Mateus Teixeira de Azevedo, which is the left hand fork of the road. There’s not a huge amount to see on this road, but it gives a good glimpse of the real Tavira, before you hit the pedestrianized area aimed at the tourists.

There are several small shops on this road, and a pretty square on the left, where you’ll find a couple of cafes and a good bakery. Continue straight down, and within five minutes you’ll arrive in the cobbled Old Town.

You will notice some steep steps on your left. These lead up to Tavira’s castle, where there are pretty gardens. Here you can see panoramic views of Tavira and the surrounding coastline.

Climb to the top, and allow yourself to get a little lost meandering back down to town through the narrow streets. You’ll find a couple of squares, a museum and several churches, as well as a Roman excavation in progress.

Once you get back to ground level, you should see the river ahead of you, complete with Tavira’s famous “Roman Bridge” and marble amphitheater. This is the standard place to stop for a drink, but also (unsurprisingly) the most expensive.

We suggest turning right, where you can walk through some flower filled gardens with a bandstand in the middle. If you look in the water below, you may be surprised to see a family of terrapins.

After another picturesque square, lined with shops and restaurants, you will find a large covered building with two pavement cafes outside. This was once Tavira’s main market, which has now moved to a large modern building about five minutes walk further in the same direction. The old market building now houses cafes and craft shops.

The Afternoon

Tavira Castle Gardens

Tavira Castle & Gardens

Lunch is probably on the agenda now. If you decided to walk on to the new market, you will probably have noticed restaurant touts calling you in to the riverside restaurants. These are best avoided, as better restaurants are to be found on the other side of the river.

Cross the river using either the Roman Bridge, or the rather rickety looking “military bridge” by the old market building.

Now is once again the time to get lost in narrow alleyways and cobbled streets. You can’t go far wrong with the restaurants in this part of town, but Bica and Brisa do Rio are both good recommendations.

After a typically long Portuguese lunch, you can work off the calories by heading uphill from this area of town, where you will end up in the Porta Nova area of Tavira. There are attractive squares everywhere, and churches galore, though finding one open when you wish to see inside is often a challenge!

By now, you should have your bearings, and know your way around the town reasonably well, so why not spend the rest of the day revisiting something that’s caught your eye during the tour? If you’ve had enough of “old town” life, you can indulge in some retail therapy at the modern Gran Plaza shopping centre – you’ll know where it is by now as it’s visible from every elevated spot in town!

Alternatively, the Camara Obscura, back up near the castle, is a great interactive way to learn about Tavira. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to need a reviving drink in one of the many bars on the way back to the station.

Hopefully, by now, you’ll have a good feel for Tavira, and see clearly why it’s so popular with tourists and expats – but don’t assume you’ve seen it all. You’ve still got the beaches of Tavira Island to see – but that’s for another day.

Head to the mountains and explore Monchique

To add a dose of greenery to your holiday in the Algarve, Monchique is a good place to aim for.  It’s high up in the forest-covered mountain range that stretches across the south of Portugal so you’ll get great views as well as shade. I set off to explore and saw enough to make me want to go back for more.

Caldas de Monchique.

Caldas de Monchique. Photo by Julie Dawn Fox

Before you even reach the town of Monchique, you’ll see signs for Caldas de Monchique. Caldas means hot springs which is why this little village has been a popular spa resort since Roman times. The warm waters are believed to have curative and restorative properties, and the cold spring water is deliciously pure.

[Read more…]