Tavira is a jewel on the Algarve. An ancient Moorish town. With traditional Portuguese architecture, whitewashed walls, terracotta roof tiles and narrow cobbled streets make Tavira one of the most scenic towns of the Algarve. The town of Tavira sits on the Gilao River, and is sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Tavira Island (Ihla Tavira), a 10km long sand island. Since we were staying just across the border in Spain we were perfectly positioned to take a day trip and get our first taste of Portugal. On the recommendation of our Spanish hosts, we headed to visit Tavira Island to enjoy the beautiful beach and delicious seafood restaurants.
The River, estuary and Tavira Island make up the Ria Formosa Nature Park. The Ria Formosa Nature Park extends from the ocean front up to the mudflats where the rich sea life attracts many migratory birds. The Ria Formosa Nature Park can be explored by kayak or by organised boat tours.
We came to Tavira to visit the beaches on the Isle of Tavira but for those that want to delve more into Moorish and Portuguese history, there is ample opportunity. The historic old town of Tavira contains more than 30 churches as well as the ruins of a Moorish castle.
How to get to Tavira Island?
If you are travelling by car head to Cais das Quatro Aguas. You will find parking lots on the left and right as you approach the Pier. This Ferry to Tavira Island goes year round. The fare is less than 2 Euro for the return trip. The ferry runs every 30mins and the trip only takes 10 mins. For Summer 2017 the last ferry departs at midnight.
If you are on foot you might prefer to take a ferry from closer to the town centre. During the Summer months of July and August, another ferry runs from the river harbour near the town centre (GPS 37.12496, -7.64541), it also runs every 30 minutes and takes around 20mins for the journey down the river and across the harbour. On the 2017 timetable the last Ferry leaves the Island at 8 pm, during peak times there may be a queue.
Once you arrive at the Ferry pier on Isle Tavira it is a short 200m walk on a paved path past the entrance to a campsite and the eateries onto the Praia de Tavira beach.
With wide stretches of white sand, and crystal-clear turquoise water it reminded me a lot of the beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, a stunning backdrop to enjoy the day.
Parasols and lounge chairs are available for hire for around 15 euro, you are also free to use your own sun shades other than in the area in front of the permanent parasols.
There are a number of good restaurants on the Island and the speciality is seafood. Speaking English wasn’t a problem and menus were available in multiple languages.
Blake is a major fan of seafood and really wanted to try the crab. We chose the local speciality of Cataplana a fresh seafood stew served from a copper pan. The dish included 2 different types of crab, mussels, prawns and different types of clam, all nestled in a rich broth of fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic and olive oil. A small hammer and nut crackers were supplied to get into the hard shell of the crab pieces and extract the sweet meat from within. The restaurant we chose looked out onto the sand dunes. There were buckets and spades for the kids to play in the sand while we waited for our lunch. Not a fan of seafood? Don’t worry there were meat and vegetarian options as well as a couple of restaurants serving burgers and pizza.
After lunch we headed down to the beach, the water was cold at only around 21 degrees but since the day was hot it was nice to cool off, the kids were happy to take quick dips in between digging holes and making sand castles. There were no waves and there didn’t appear to be any rips or currents affecting those that were floating on inflatable toys. The lifeguard service walked past a few times even though we were outside of the official flagged zone. So a perfect place to visit with kids.
The Praia de Tavira beach is the busiest on the Island and also has the most amenities. There are 2 other beaches on the Island of Tavira:
- Praia do Barril and
- Praia de Terra Estreita
Praia do Barril can be accessed via a footbridge from the mainland. The bridge is 5km from Tavira. After crossing the bridge a miniature train takes tourists the 1km trip to the beach. One of the most interesting features of the Praia do Barril is the Anchor Graveyard.
Praia de Terra is the quietest section of beach on Tavira Island and can be accessed via Ferry from the small village of Santa Luiza. You can get more information on how to visit this beach here.
I really hope I can return to Tavira one day, the town was beautiful and the beach stunning. The cooler temperature of the water is a bonus to me, I could easily fill a week in this area and Blake is still talking about the challenge and satisfaction of extracting his crab meat.
Have you been to Portugal? Did you make it to Tavira? What are your other must do experiences on the Algarve?
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