By Ben Taylor
Tavira, just 30 minutes east of Faro in the beautiful Algarve, is often described as the region's most attractive town. It certainly lives up to its reputation, and remains an authentic working town, despite now being an integral part of the area's tourist trail.
In this guide we provide you with all the information you need to make the best of a stay in the memorable city of Tavira.
The focal point of Tavira is the Praça de Republica, an attractive riverside square lined with pavement cafés and featuring a stone amphitheatre. From here, you will spot the "Roman" Bridge, a key landmark of the town, which was actually built in the 12th century.
With the river behind you, you can head up Tavira's main pedestrianised street, and explore the smaller roads that feed off from it. Once the town appears to have "come to an end," you will meet the main road heading up to the train station, and you will find a few more cafes and pretty squares beyond if you choose to explore this area.
Still on the same side of the river, you will find the castle, up some very steep steps. This is the main historical area of Tavira and provides beautiful views over the entire town and coastline. You will also find several churches, the main town museum, and an attractive convent building that's now been converted into a historical hotel (pousada).
On the other side of the river, you will find a network of narrow streets featuring artisan shops and most of the town's best restaurants. Don't visit Tavira without exploring both sides of the river, and heading up all the side streets-there's far too much you could miss.
Although Tavira appears to be a coastal town if you glance at a map, the beach is actually on an island. During the summer months, you can board a small ferry or take a water taxi directly from the riverside. The boats depart from outside a bar called the Pink Flamingo, on the castle side of the river.
Outside of peak times, ferries run from Quatro Aguas, an area about twenty minutes walk out of town along a dusty road. It's best to take a taxi here or board the tourist roadtrain that circulates the town.
If you have your own transport, an alternative way onto Tavira Island is to drive through the neighbouring village of Santa Luzia to a resort called Pedras del Rei. From there, you can reach the opposite end of Tavira island via a narrow gauge train, or by walking beside the tracks for about 15 minutes. This part of the beach is named Praia do Barril and the journey is more than worthwhile!
Tavira boasts dozens of restaurants, some far better than others. Here are a few "stand out" options:
Brisa Do Rio is so popular with locals and tourists alike that it's often full during the winter months when all the other local establishments are empty. you will find the restaurant on the opposite side of the river to the main square. Cross the Roman Bridge, and take a left when you reach pretty Bishop's Square (you will pass Kohinoor, one of our other recommendations, on the way). The squid and piri piri prawns are great choices here.
Kohinoor is one of four Indian restaurants in Tavira, providing a welcome change from Portuguese cuisine. All dishes are available in mild, medium or hot and the quality is consistent.
Vela 2 takes a little more effort to get to, as it's located just outside Tavira in a village to the north called Santa Margarida. It's worth the taxi or car journey to experience a truly rustic Portuguese experience. This is THE place to go if you are craving a fish feast, as they will keep bringing it to you until you beg them to stop.
Side dishes and service here are nothing to write home about, nor are the meat alternatives, but you won't find better fresh fish for these low prices anywhere in the area.
During the peak summer season, you will find everything from island beach parties to big-name DJ nights in the town's main nightclub, named "Ubi."
In quieter times, the nightlife takes on a rather more low-key vibe, but explore the side streets and you'll still find some atmosphere in one of the many bars, all of which stay open very late.
Monday is NOT the day to buy fish in Tavira (or indeed anywhere in the Algarve). Fishermen do not go fishing on Sundays, so any fish still lurking on a Monday is unlikely to be at its freshest
Restaurant touts operate from the cluster of restaurants opposite the summertime ferry to Tavira Island. They can be quite persistent, but check reviews before being persuaded into their restaurants - there are better choices elsewhere.
The train line from Tavira is very convenient and cheap for day trips. Faro, Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo Antonio are all good choices, and all of the stations are close to the areas you'll want to visit.