(To see more photos and highlights of our trip, please visit our Instagram account: @sylsteveeurope.)
As I write, the days are dwindling to our last week in Tavira which has been our home since Feb. 1. Tavira is a lovely, quaint, picturesque village on the eastern Algarve, on the south coast of Portugal just 30 minutes west of the Spanish border. It is everything we had hoped for and more. The weather has been absolutely beautiful, averaging 18 – 20C and sunny almost every day. Tavira is the perfect size: not too big but not too small. A little sleepy but with many good restaurants and cafés. It is easy to get around on a bicycle with a beautiful countryside to explore on two wheels. The only time we used a car was when we rented one for three days to explore more of the Algarve.
There is a nice, friendly, easy-going vibe here: a perfect mix of Portuguese locals, short and long term tourists from everywhere around the world (mostly European), and expats smitten with their adopted home. All of the expats who have settled here deem it to be the best place on the Algarve because it is inexpensive, not too commercialized, not too over run with tourists, and the beaches are gorgeous and free of atrocious development (unlike many beaches on the Algarve, unfortunately).
There are three golf courses within cycling distance to Tavira: Benamor, Quinta de Cima, and Quinta da Ria. Steve prefers the driving range at Benamor and the golf course at Quinta da Ria. He has had a lot of fun working on his game and meeting fellow golf fanatics!
Beaches in this area of the Algarve are stunning but accessible only by boat because of the Ria Formosa Natural Park: a system of barrier islands which create a lagoon separating the mainland from the beaches. The Ria Formosa stretches for 60 km along the coast of the eastern Algarve, from the municipality of Loulé to Vila Nova de Cacela. It is the most important wetland zone in southern Portugal and features a wide variety of habitats, wildlife and birds. The greatest thing about this park is that development is not allowed, so the beaches are as pristine as you will ever find anywhere in the world. I have spent many hours walking on the beaches, often without running into a soul!
To get to the Tavira beach you must take a 15 minute ferry ride which departs hourly from the west side of the river (just south of the public garden: map). Note that the 15 minute trip includes a 5 minute stop at the Tavira port (Quatro Águas). The cost is 2 euros (return). Click here for the schedule.
Tavira beach is stunning but my favourite beach is Cabanas beach which is a 15 minute bike ride east of Tavira, in Cabanas (map). It is less busy and has really good, flat sand to walk on. You still have to cross the Ria Formosa lagoon by boat but it’s much shorter ride: only about 2 minutes. You will find the boat launch right across the street from the pink house on Av. Ria Formosa (map). Carlos runs the small motorboat for 2 euros (return). Once on the beach you can walk east as far as you like: it goes on for miles and miles. I usually walk east to Casela Velha (1 hr), or west to the breakwater at Tavira (45 minutes). If you climb the dunes at the breakwater you will have an excellent view of Tavira.
Cabanas (map) is a gorgeous fishing village lined with restaurants and cafés. The boardwalk is lovely and when you reach the east end of it, you can continue walking along the shoreline along walking trails. Our favourite restaurant is Pedros (map). O Monteiro is also good and Noélia e Jerónim is wonderful but fancier and pricier. Note that most restaurants in the Algarve close for lunch at 3 and reopen for dinner 6:00ish. Because of its southern exposure, Cabanas has sun all day long and it is a great spot to sip on a cocktail while watching the sunset.
Biking in Tavira
Biking in Tavira is effortless. The traffic in town is minimal and the drivers are very careful and respectful towards cyclists. You can cycle along relatively flat country roads for miles without seeing any traffic. The roads are a combination of pavement, cobblestones and gravel. Our favourite route is going east and stopping in Cabanas, Fábrica, or Cacela Velha for lunch at fabulous restaurants. Or, you can cycle west to Santa Luzia (famous for grilled octopus) and further west to Praia (beach) do Barril where you can cycle across a causeway to get to the beautiful, popular Do Barril beach. If you are more ambitious, continue cycling west to Fuseta which is a cute town with more nice waterfront restaurants (we had a great meal at Casa Corvo). I highly recommend you download the free Komoot app on your phone for help in finding bicycle routes (no need to purchase if you do not use the “Navigation” feature). We rented “Comfort” bikes from Abilio Bikes (15eu/day, or 11 eu/day for 3 days) which offers great courtesy roadside service: Steve once got a flat tire and they drove out a new bike to him within minutes!
There are many Airbnb’s in Tavira. Try to find one with a rooftop terrace to maximize your outdoor enjoyment (preferably with all-day sun exposure). We stayed in a lovely, traditional house on a small, quiet street (click here), which was okay but it was really small; the rooms were cut up (no “flow”) and the terrace lost sun around 3pm. Click here for some other Airbnbs that look really nice.
If you would rather stay in a hotel, the Pousada Convento de Tavira and Sao Paulo Boutique Hotel look amazing. For a lower budget, try the Formosa Guest House, which has an ideal location (right above our favourite café, overlooking the river). Book the Poupa or Sardine rooms which have private bathrooms (I’ve seen the Poupa room and it is beautiful). The Authentic Tavira Hotel is another lower budget option.
Alternatively, if you are staying for a longer duration (more than a month) I would recommend contacting one of the many real estate agencies in Tavira. We have met many expats who have extraordinary deals for long-term rentals at a fraction of the price of Airbnbs (I actually regret not doing that for our month long rental: I believe we could have got a much better deal.)
Click here for more accommodation suggestions from Julie Dawn Fox who has a great website about travelling in Portugal. Before you book your accommodation, be sure to do a Google maps streetview look (drag the peg man onto the blue line on the map just in front of the accommodation) and take a good look to check if the road looks busy. There’s nothing worse than not being able to sleep because of street noise (yes, even in Tavira there are busy streets).
Here are some of our favourite restaurants in Tavira:
- Artefact – French, but fantastic!
- Terraze – Gorgeous food and location right by the river.
- O Tonel – Simple and delicious Portuguese food.
- Tres Palmeiras – Roadside fish grill, lunch only. No menu, they will bring your food and drinks as soon as you sit down. Be sure to ask for beer or wine as it is included in the price!
- Veneze Caffe – Our favourite café right by the main square. Fresh baked pastries with the best Pastel de Nata in town.
- La Baguette – French bakery with the best croissants in town.
- Franganario Grill – Best Churrasco chicken take-out in Tavira.
- The Black Anchor and CafeBar 22– Great bars to sit in the late afternoon sun with a beer or cocktail.
A special gastronomical experience
If you want a spectacular, unique and bespoke experience, consider having lunch or dinner at Monte Do Alamo, a farm and guesthouse just outside Tavira with an amazing view of the town and ocean. They also offer a full market excursion and cooking class. It’s hard to tell what they offer on their website so it’s best to email Mariana at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Inês at +351 919 401 899 to ask. The day we had lunch there, we were the only guests and Chef Inês and her team made us feel like celebrities. It was one of our favourite experiences on the Algarve.
The Tavira Market is open from Monday – Saturday, 7am to 1pm and is located near the western end of the big bridge on the south end of town (map). It is a great place to shop for freshly caught fish and local produce. On Saturday there is also a flea market with antiques and curios.
Groceries and shopping
As in Madeira, there are two main grocery stores in Tavira: Pingo Doce and Continente. The Continente is in a shopping mall just on the edge of town (map) with many other stores, like Vodaphone if you need a SIM card for your phone, clothing and electronic stores, etc.
Other places to visit in the Algarve
We rented a car for three days to explore other parts of the Algarve and it definitely was not enough time for us to get to know it well. However, some highlights included:
- Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (hike) – This is a MUST-DO!! It is a 12k (round trip) coastal walk with jaw-dropping views of red and toffee-coloured cliffs, golden beaches and azure blue waters. The east end of the trail starts at Praia de Marinha which is the most beautiful beach of the hike so if you don’t have time for a long hike, start here. Be sure to use the Komoot app to avoid wrong turns because it is not a well-marked trail. We started at Praia (beach) de Marinha and extended our hike past the official end point (Praia do Vale de Centeanes) to finish at Plaia de Carvoeiro. We then took a taxi back to our car at the start of the hike (there is a taxi stand right in front of Hotel Carvoeiro Plaza).
- Carvoeiro is a picturesque town with a small square next to the beach and we loved it so much that we decided to spend the night there. We stayed at the Hotel Carvoeiro Plaza which was very reasonably priced and our balcony overlooked the main square. We had cocktails at Levels Beach Bar: the Porn Star passionfruit martini (hate the name, love the drink) is exquisite! Followed by dinner at Restaurante Donna Maria, which is an Italian restaurant with fantastic food (get the black spaghetti seafood pasta). Be sure to go for a walk along the Carvoeiro boardwalk while you are there and descend the stone steps to see the magnificent caves.
- Two great beachside restaurants that we ate at are BJ’s Oceanside (on Praia do Almargem, near Quarteira) and Bar Quim (on Meia Praia just outside of Lagos): Get the garlic shrimp.
- One of the nicest Bed and Breakfasts we have ever stayed at was Villa Zawaia, right in Old Town Lagos. The room was exquisite and the breakfast was incredible. We had cocktails at the adorable Bora Café (best Sangria in the world) and wonderful seafood at Casinha do Petisco (get the garlic shrimp). We loved Lagos and wish we had more time to spend there but alas, we only stayed for one night.
More tips about the Algarve
- Before you head out to explore the Algarve by car, try to plan ahead and do not drive around aimlessly. We did not find driving on the Algarve roads particulary appealing and unfortunately, there is no coastal road that you can drive along to see the ocean views and best beaches. Getting off the highway to drive down to the coast can be very time consuming and some beaches are ghastly due to the over development of condos. I recommend that you plan ahead and drive as much as you can along the four-lane A22, get off it to get to your destination, then return to the A22 to get to your next destination. The N125, which runs parallel to the A22 is a smaller highway, only two lanes, and if you are stuck behind a slow vehicle, it can be excruciating. You can google lists like 13 places to see in the Algarve, The best beaches in the Algarve, and The best beach restaurants in the Algarve with a sea view to plan your itinerary.
- Apparently the crowds and heat on the Algarve can be overwhelming in the summer, so try to avoid coming during the high season. The weather and lack of crowds right now are perfect (less expensive, too)!
- Interested in buying property in Portugal? Read this > International Guide to Real Estate in Portugal: Buying a House in Portugal
Have you been to the Algarve? What are some of your favourite spots? Please add to the comments below!