Fronted by lovely long beaches that are separated by an arm of the Ria Formosa estuary and framed by gentle hills covered with sweet-smelling orchards, Tavira is one of the most delightful and architecturally-attractive cities in the Algarve.
It is an enchanting blend of beautiful houses, cobbled streets and airy squares that has retained the feel of a traditional Algarve fishing town. The river Gilão that runs through the centre of the city adds to the general charm. It is lined with elegant houses displaying the distinctive Tavira pyramidal roofs and is straddled by an ancient bridge, allegedly of Roman origin, that can best be observed from the central Praça da República square. Home to the Town Hall and surrounded by various impressive buildings, the square and gardens adjacent to the bridge are perfect for a leisurely stroll around the quaint city centre.
The nearby riverside Mercado da Ribeira, the 19th century wrought-iron building that housed the former main market, is another pleasant area in which to browse around the shops or enjoy a meal or drink in one of its various restaurants and bars – a perfect opportunity to sit down and enjoy the local specialities, namely razor clam bean stew, octopus with rice or tuna cooked in a tomato and onion sauce.
Immediately outside Tavira, be ready to be dazzled by the brightness of the neat rows of salt pans that constitute an age-old tradition in the area and that produce the finest table salt in Portugal. Beyond these, you can appreciate the natural beauty of the Ria Formosa estuary, a wide expanse of canals, marshlands and sand banks that provide shelter to numerous species of migrating birds. Boats departing from Tavira provide scenic trips around these peaceful waters.
Beyond the waters of the estuary, lie a beach lover’s paradise. Two sand spits, separated by canals and accessible by boat, form two islands consisting of long stretches of sand dunes. Ilha de Tavira, the beach closest to the city, is situated on the busiest eastern side of Ilha de Tavira island and offers plenty of amenities, including bars, restaurants and water sports. The beautiful and more secluded beach of Praia do Barril lies westwards and can be reached by means of a picturesque open-air train that crosses the mud banks and marshlands of the estuary. This short scenic journey provides a wonderful opportunity to admire the natural landscape and observe the thousands of local crabs that scurry across the mud banks. More isolated beaches lie to the west of Ilha de Tavira island or eastwards on the neighbouring Ilha de Cabanas island.
Golfers will be happy to learn that there are four 18-hole golf courses nearby. Benamor Golf is just outside Tavira while the Quinta de Cima, Quinta da Ria and Monte Rei Golf & Country Club courses lie a short distance eastwards.
Places to See
The ruins of this former Moorish stronghold were rebuilt after the Christian conquest of the Algarve in the 13th century. Its towers provide beautiful panoramic views of Tavira and the surrounding countryside while the delightful garden inside, with its shaded benches, provides a welcome retreat on a hot day.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo (Church of Saint Mary of the Castle)
Allegedly built on the site of a former mosque, this 13th century church was partially rebuilt after the devastation wrought by the 1755 earthquake and features various architectural styles. Gothic elements include the porch and ogival window while other distinguishing features are its 17th and 18th century tiles and several beautifully carved altarpieces. It also houses the tombs of seven knights of the Order of Sant’Iago and claims to house the tomb of the Grand Master of the Order, Dom Paio Peres Correia.
Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Our Lady of Mercy)
This 16th century church is considered the finest example of Renaissance architecture in the Algarve. Its fabulous gilt retables and 18th century tiles are especially noteworthy.
Torre de Tavira (Tavira tower)
Located near the castle, a camera obscura in this former water tower projects stunning 360º views of Tavira and its environs onto a large screen using a rotating mirror and magnifying glasses.