Written By Maria Martins

Visiting Tavira isn’t only immersing yourself in the rich history of one of the most beautiful cities in Algarve. Seeing Tavira is also an opportunity to dive on some of the best beaches in the country and feel the aroma of Ria Formosa.

From the streets along the River Gilão to the castle walls from which you have the best view over the city, Tavira seduces and makes us want to discover its corners and reveal its secrets.

The juicy fruit orchards, which don’t lack the gold of oranges. Then the whitewashed houses, the lacy chimneys, the hills covered with fig and almond trees and, at the end, the vast mountain where eagles fly, birds sing and flowers bloom. The castle and the many church steeples. The river reflects the houses and gardens as a mirror. The triangles of the “scissors” roofs. Beach and sea horizons. This is a quick sketch of Tavira’s charms and its municipality. Tavira is definitely a city of art and history, and a must-visit point on the Algarve’s cultural itinerary. An invitation to discovery voyages.

There is a certain Arabic charm in this city, in its “scissors” or hipped roofs, which cut out from the sky in a peculiar way, and in the lattice doors made of interwoven wood that protect the houses, letting in air and sound, heritage of the Arabs who inhabited this region.

Tavira is distributed along the two banks of the river, in an intricate of narrow streets and white houses that you feel like walking without haste. Jardim do Coreto is near the city center and the liveliest area, where many people walk around at night enjoying an ice cream and the fresh air, especially on summer nights, when shows or other events bring even more life to this area. This is where the Ribeira Market is located, which, after abandoning its original functions, is now a space for entertainment and leisure.

Roman Influences and Tavira’s Castle

The oldest bridge, believed to have Roman origin, is a 17th century structure with walled parapets from which we can enjoy a beautiful view over the houses. Not as much as what can be seen climbing the Castle Tower, without a doubt the best viewpoint in the city, covering the undulating roofs, the domes of the churches, the river and the salt flats, to the blue line of the sea that is its limit on the horizon. Local tradition says that, in the castle, there is an enchanted Moorish woman who every year, on the night of São João (the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June), appears to mourn her fate. She would be the daughter of Aben-Fabila, the Moorish governor who, when Tavira was conquered by the Christians, disappeared by magical arts, after enchanting his daughter. It is said that he intended to return to reconquer the city and thus rescue his daughter, but he never succeeded.

Tavira’s Churches

The effort of the climb to the top of Tavira’s Castle is compensated by everything that we can admire along the way. For example, when we cross the wall gate and are surprised by the beautiful Renaissance portal of Misericórdia, one of the 37 churches in Tavira. We can also visit the Islamic Nucleus to learn more about the city’s history or the Municipal Museum, located in the Palácio da Galeria, its most remarkable building. A little further up, there is the castle and the Church of Santa Maria, which occupies the place of the former largest mosque in the city; here rests D. Paio Peres Correia and the seven knights of the Order of Santiago from the work they had to conquer Tavira from the Moors in 1242. Close by, the Church of Santiago, was also built over an old mosque, as well.

On the other side of the river, on the hill in front, there are more churches to visit, such as the Medieval Chapel of São Brás, the Church of Ordem Terceira do Carmo, one of the most sumptuous temples in the Algarve area with exuberant baroque decoration, or the Church of São Paulo (Saint Paul), simpler and more austere.

Gastronomic Specialties: fresh fish and seafood

To make up for the energy expenditure on so many tours, there’s nothing like trying out gastronomic specialties, especially fresh fish and seafood, such as octopus cooked in different ways or razor clam rice.

Tuna, in steaks, also stands out on the menus, as fishing was one of the most traditional activities in this area. We can learn more about this art at the Museum Center in Arraial Ferreira Neto, near the mouth of the river Gilão, built, in the earlier years, to house up to 150 fishermen and their families and was, in 2000,  transformed into a hotel.

Long Gold Sand Beaches

The city’s charms continue to the Ria Formosa, which we reach by following the road parallel to the River Gilão and flanked by white salt marshes where you can see birds such as the long-legged wing, the flamingo or the tailor bird. At the end, in Quatro Águas, we can take the boat that crosses it and take us to the beach on the sand “tongue”, an island that separates the estuary from the sea. There are 11 kilometers of sand, which includes the beaches of Ilha de Tavira (Tavira’s Island), Terra Estreita (Narrow Land), Barril (Barrel) and Homem Nu (Naked Men), and where we can rest from this well-filled tour.

Be sure to…

  • Enjoy the panoramic view from the castle tower
  • Walk through the ancient streets and discover the remains of the Islamic wall
  • Visit the Camera Obscura at Tavira’s Tower in the old water tank to see all the splendor of the city
  • Visit some of the 37 churches in Tavira
  • Try regional specialties such as octopus or tuna salads and puff pastries from Tavira
  • Enjoy an ice cream at Jardim do Coreto
  • Take a salt flower extracted from the salt pans in the region
  • Take a walk by the sea on the long sandy beach of Tavira’s Island
  • Be surprised by the “cemetery” of anchors at Praia do Barril
  • Visit the waterfalls of Moinhos da Rocha or Pego do Inferno, 8 km from Tavira
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