Set on either side of the Rio Gilão, Tavira is easy to fall in love with, having managed to retain the feel of an authentic Portuguese working town. Its location in the eastern Algarve means its popularity with tourists is growing, but it is by no means taken over by them. Unlike some of its contemporaries in the region’s central belt.
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Island beach and “secret” beach
Along with neighbouring villages Santa Luzia to the west and Cabanas to the east, it has an island beach separated from the land by the Ria Formosa natural park, and accessed via a five-minute ferry or water taxi. Tavira, however, isn’t strictly speaking “a beach town”, which has helped it keep tourism at arms length.
Tavira isn’t strictly speaking “a beach town”, which has helped it keep tourism at arms length.
However, there is another tiny strip of sand facing the Ilha de Tavira, which is a very popular spot for those who know how to find it. To relax on its white sands, head out of town towards the Gran Plaza shopping centre before turning off the roundabout towards the salt pans. A 20 minute walk from here is well worth is, as you are greeted by a beautiful seascape, complete with a ruined fort. During the off-season you will practically have the beach to yourself.
Tavira’s main focal point is it’s Roman pedestrian bridge which stretches over the Ria Formosa, where at low tide the water is shallow enough for fishermen to gather clams. On one side of the bridge you’ll find narrow cobbled streets and alleyways lined with restaurants serving traditional fare. On the other side is the main square, where you’ll find craft and gift shops aplenty.
The ruins of the town’s hilltop castle and the convent beyond – now in use as a traditional (pousada) hotel – are also surrounded by cobbled streets and provide pleasant views of the town below. Back down in the town centre is a busy covered market, open six days a week, offering an abundance of local produce, meat and fish.
Tavira does have a modern edge outside of the old town area. The Gran Plaza shopping centre features a huge Continente supermarket, a range of other chain stores, a food court and a cinema. This shiny mall provides an enjoyable shopping experience in modern surroundings.
Property in Tavira primarily consist of traditional town houses, some of which present opportunities for renovation projects. Affordable modern accommodation has sprung up on the town’s fringes, but still just a short walk from the action.