A charming town steeped in history
Tavira is a beautifully elegant town. Visitors can be forgiven for forgetting where they are, or even what year it is, as they step into this unique Algarve fishing town.
Between the 8th and 13th centuries Tavira was under Arab rule until its conquest by the Knights of the Order of Santiago in 1242. It was elevated to a city in 1520 by King Manuel I and was the main trading port in the Algarve during the 16th to 18th centuries.
Today it has still managed to stave off the influence of tourism to hold onto its unique tradition and handsome character.
The seven arch bridge, over the river Gilão, is reputedly Roman in origin, although its present appearance was acquired in the 17th century. Since severe floods affected the bridge in 1989 it has only been open to pedestrians.
The market hall on the river front was re-vamped a few years ago and now is home to several shops, cafes and restaurants around the edge with the central space available for exhibitions and special events.
This stretch of river front along the Gilão River is a great place to sit at one of the cafes and enjoy the very picturesque setting.
The Roman bridge, Ponte Romana, spans the river with low arches and creates gentle reflections on the water and at low tide there are normally people wading in the river, presumably after clams. The gardens near the bridge offer a pleasant shadey place to sit and more often than not, somewhere for the older men to sit and chat and while away the day with a game or two of dominoes!
Tavira arguably has some of
the finest churches in the Algarve and they are plentiful too,
in fact there are more than 20 in and around the town! The
16th century Igreja da Misericórdia is often cited as one of
the finest churches in Tavira, with its blue and white
azuejos, magnificent carvings and scenes from the life of
Christ. It is located up the hill just past the tourist office.
Walk up the side of the church and then turn left and you will
arrive at the 13th century Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo
which is next to the castle. Santa Maria is famed for holding
the tombs of the seven Christian knights of the
of St. James who were killed by the Moors. There is also a plaque marking the tomb of Paio Peres Correia (a master of the Order) although there is a church in Spain also said to hold the tomb! The 13th century castle, re-built by King Dinis from Moorish fortifications, gives fantastic views across Tavira from the walls.
If you are interested in the architectural heritage of Tavira, Tavira Municipal Council has produced a fascinating booklet about some recent archaeological discoveries in Tavira about the defensive structures of Phoenician, Islamic and Portuguese Tavira and a guide to where you can see these reminders of the past. There is far too much information to write here, but the booklet should be available from the tourist office and is called 'Military Architectural Heritage of Tavira'.
Tavira is a really attractive town with some lovely, quite grand, buildings reflecting it's wealthy past particularly around the Praça da República area and then typical rows of Portuguese 'town' houses with tiled fronts along narrow cobbled streets; shops to browse in pretty gardens and squares to sit in and, of course, plenty of restaurants and cafes for refreshments!
If you enjoy shopping then don't miss the Gran-Plaza shopping mall, it has a fantastic selection of shops, places to eat and cinemas as well as a large Continente supermarket.
The beach at Tavira is a fabulous island beach, Ilha de Tavira, a 14km long offshore sandspit. Ferries cross from the town centre throughout the summer and all year round from nearby Quatro Águas.
There are lots of delightful places to explore around Tavira starting with the pretty town of Cabanas just to the East. The view across the sheltered lagoon of the Ria Formosa to the ilha beach is idyllic and there is nothing more relaxing than sitting at one of the pavement cafes along the waterfront with a glass of chilled wine!
A short distance to the east
of Cabanas is another picturesque spot, the tiny village of
Cacela Velha. It is just a handful of typically Algarvean
whitewashed houses, a church and a fort around a cobbled
square and situated on the waterfront just before Manta Rota
(it is signposted from the N125). There isn't a lot to do
there it has to be said, but the village and the views are
truly delightful. There are a couple of restaurants if you
want to linger for a while. The one on the right just as you
come into the village has an upstairs terrace
giving great panoramic views across the beaches of Manta Rota and Monte Gordo to Vila Real all set against a backdrop of lush green countryside. About the only ounds 'disturbing' the total peace and quiet are from the birds and a few chickens!
To the west of Tavira lies the 'Octopus Capital' of the Algarve, Santa Luzia! In latter years the fishermen of the village turned their talents wholeheartedly to catching octopus and to this end lower clay pots to the sea bed in the shallower waters to lure the octopus in. Octopus is considered quite a delicacy although it can be an acquired taste! It's worth going a little further along to Pedras D'el Rei where you can get a tourist train across to Praia do Barril, a beach in the middle of the long sandspit of Ilha de Tavira.
Tavira itself is a picturesque, relaxed, peaceful town with everything to hand and is a perfect holiday spot for couples and families and there are also lots of great places to visit if you want to venture a little further afield.