A heartfelt thanks to everyone for their lovely comments! It was like turning on the light in what I thought was an empty room, only to find it full of friends! 😉 I love that many of you said you were enjoying the tour through Portugal, as like-minded travel companions, arm-chair or otherwise, are a treasure. Only a couple of “unsubscribers” hopped off the train at the last stop, so off we go back to Portugal…
When doing research on “don’t miss” places along the Portuguese coast, Tavira, along with the expanse of barrier islands off her coast, comes up consistently as a recommended stop. Reputed to be one of the most charming towns of the Algarve region, Tavira is billed as offering a completely different ambiance than some of the more heavily touristed party towns along the coast like Albuferia and Faro. Since its six mile stretch of beaches lie offshore, accessible only by ferry, it feels a bit more pristine than other towns where the beach buts right up against heavily trafficked roadways, condos, and golf courses.
The main old town of Tavira, made up of cobblestone streets and whitewashed Moorish architecture, straddles the Rio Gilão, with most of the outdoor restaurants and bars centered around the Ponte Romana, or Roman Bridge built in 1667. Billed as a coastal destination with more understated ambiance and more “day life” than nightlife, Tavira sounded like my kinda place. I booked a week in the lovely Varandas Guest House to explore the area.
By now, I have settled into guesthouses as my preferred accommodation rather than more expensive hotels. Guesthouses are prolific in Portugal, as owners have converted entire apartments or condos into rentable bedrooms, often offering both shared and private bath, typically with a shared kitchen area. Some like Varandas even offer continental breakfast. These accommodations are easily booked through on online booking sites. I prefer to use booking.com, because they have a check box that allows me to select private rooms only, rather than weed through dozens of dorm rooms. There one can view photos of the rooms, view the property on a map, and read travelers reviews. And there is a “Booking Assistant” that once booked, enables you to exchange information with the property about easiest method of arrival, special requests, etc. Booking onward accommodations could not be easier in Portugal. (If you are new to booking.com, use this link and we both get twenty bucks back after your first stay!)
Praia da Ilha de Tavira, the main beach off of Tavira, is accessed by a 20 minute ferry which leaves from the river inlet downtown. It costs €2 round trip, or €1.30 one way, and runs every half hour until noon, at which time it runs once per hour. The roadless barrier island beaches run parallel to the mainland for a total of six miles.
While on walkabout around my guesthouse, I discover an alternative access to the beach without having to be governed by the ferry schedules…WALK! As the barrier island tapers west, the gap filled by the wetlands and bird sanctuary, Rio Formosa Nature Park, narrows enough to make the island accessible by footbridge. I found a lovely 3 mile gravel path from Tavira to Santa Luzia that cuts through orange, lemon, apricot, and fig orchards, which on a dry sunny day reminds me of the final scene in the Godfather where Vito Corleone falls out of his chair, dead, with an orange peel in this teeth. The walk through the orchards is part of the “Ecovia do Litoral,” or the Algarve Cycle Path, which “T’s” into a beachside bike path connecting the small villages.
Once you reach Pedras de El-Rei, a footbridge leads to the depot of a small mini-train that will take you the remaining mile to Barril Beach, or that stretch you can also walk. It’s a little over a five mile walk in total from Tavira to Barril Beach, but there are also buses that run from Pedras de El-Rei and Santa Luzia to Tavira main bus station for €2.30, making a one way walk possible. (Note, as is often the case in Portugal which seems contrary to tourism, there are no buses on the weekends. Only M-F.) And if you plan your timing early enough in the day, you can return via the beach and take the ferry back to Tavira. Or better yet, rent a bike!
Along my walk, I visit nearby Santa Luzia, a tiny Portuguese fishing village known for its traditional octopus fishing (polvo in Portuguese.) Competition is tough along the main street lined with family-owned restaurants featuring an octopus-dominated menu. They know how to do octopus right in Portugal. While always somewhat tough and rubbery in my past experience, I never sampled an order of octopus in Portugal, whether grilled, fried, stewed that wasn’t succulent. (I don’t typically eat octopus, as being a scuba diver, I have come to know it is one of the most intelligent creatures in the sea, a master of disguise, and an intrepid hunter. However, I gotta say it; ”When in Portugal…”)
Yet another ferry goes from Santa Luzia to yet another beach, Praia da Terra Estreita. But I keep walking….
Just a bit further west from Santa Luzia is the tiny hamlet of Pedras de El-Rei, which consists of little more than a resort complex and a bus stop. Here, the footbridge leads to Praia de Barril, or Barril Beach, my ultimate destination for the day, as I want to visit the Cemitério das Âncoras, or Anchor Cemetery. Barril Beach was once the location of a small tuna fishing community. The former fishermen huts have been converted into a few small cafes and shops, while the rusting anchors have been laid out in an artful grid to serve as a memorial to the bygone blue fin tuna industry. Traditional tuna techniques involved stringing giant nets, anchored by these giant rusting relics. The industry was not sustainable, and no blue fin tuna remain in the area today.
Tavira certainly offers lots of options for dining, live music, outdoor bars along the river, and beautiful beaches. While one must work a little harder to reach the Atlantic Ocean here, the effort results in a less crowded, pristine locale one often finds on barrier islands. I think it’s worth the effort to get there.