Tavira & more days in Albufeira
The beaches of Albufeira have been calling to us - but not the crowds who occupy them. Detemined to find somewhere we could have "elbow-room," we scoured the length of the beach...... from high above on the the cliff tops we looked for some potential spaces below - eventually choosing an area of the beach about 15 mins walk from our apartment. Although the walk takes us through some busy streets and the main square of the Old Town, it's not a difficult one - we do have trusty "Bluey" to carry all our beach paraphernalia! By going up & over some cliffs and then down the other side, we reach a lovely stretch of beach - where a front-line position by the ocean, and space to enjoy it, is usually available.
We've done this "beach-excursion" a few times - the first time getting so excited at the thought of having such a spot, we forgot our beach-chairs......not a big deal for most Europeans who (whatever their age) happily lounge around on towels spread out over the sand.....for us it proved very uncomfortable.....our old bones could only manage it for an hour!
If events follow the calendar in the same way as last year, more space on the main town-beaches should be available after Labour Day weekend, when families return home for the children to start the school year.
The beaches in town are also used as a good gathering spot at night, when they are very well lit - making views from both public areas and restaurant terraces very attractive. The small cafés, some right on the beach, are great places to spend time in the evening - especially for families. Parents can relax in comfort, enjoying a coffee or a drink while their children can play, safely, close by. While holidaying here, other nationalities adopt the pattern of Europeans, by eating much later in the evening and allowing "the kids to stay up."
Many restaurants are still full, and often have people waiting for tables, when we're meandering home around 11 p.m. Dining establishments usually have someone out in front to present their menus to anyone passing by - quite often this is an attractive young man or woman, who have the ability to charm potential customers. One of these guys assured me (when he confirmed that I was Canadian) that Diana Krall had played piano in his restaurant.....and.......asked if we'd like to book a table for the following night.....all this as he took my hand and started to sing a love song!
After enjoying some "beach-days," we decided to revisit Tavira for our next day-trip - a place that was a favourite of ours last year. The regional railway passes through Tavira, and with the local station only a short walk from the town centre, it makes for an easily accessible destination. Situated on the eastern side of the Algarve, this region attracts fewer tourists than either the Central or Western parts, providing a great location for a calmer and more authentic Portuguese experience.
With our usual walk to the bus terminal to get the bus to the train-station, we were on our way - and - due to some quick connections, we actually caught an earlier train than expected. After changing trains in Faro, we travelled along the edge of the Ria Formosa Nature Park - a huge area that is protected from the ocean by 5 barrier-islands & 2 peninsulas. This unique coastal lagoon, which is constantly changing due to winds, currents and tides, is a paradise for both bird-watchers and nature lovers.
Arriving in Tavira earlier than expected, we walked down the main street of Avenida da Liberdade and into town - in search of breakfast. We found a pretty little café, with a couple of outside tables, that turned out to be a good choice. The coffees were hot, milky & strong and the home-made goat cheese & roasted tomato tart was delicious. Trevor opted for his favourite - a Tosta Mista - which he claims is the best toasted ham & cheese sandwich he's ever had!
The town extends along the banks of the Gilão River and is a mix of Portuguese and Moorish architecture - a lovely place with plenty of historic buildings and churches to explore - which we did last year. This year one of the reasons for our visit was to see another side of Tavira - the beaches - which are located on the Ilha de Tavira, just south of town.
By walking through the town and along the side of the river, we found the place to board the ferry, which runs every 1/2 hour. This inexpensive ferry-ride along the calm waters, provides access to some of the least developed beaches in the Algarve. Protected by the Ria Formosa Nature Park, this pristine stretch of sandy shoreline stretches for over 7km, and is - we found - simply stunning!
The ferry dropped us off at the Praia de Tavira - the main beach - which we reached by walking along a boardwalk and a short distance away from the dock. Along the way is a small "village" consisting of a few shops, plenty of open-air restaurants and entrance to a campground. Once on the beach, we could immediately see its attraction - it's certainly worth the time needed to get there.....however, It is late-August, so the central part was busy. We did find, though, that as we walked away from the busy area, the number of people quickly thinned out, and there was only empty sand & sea stretching as far as we could see.
After a lovely walk along the shore, we headed back towards the ferry dock - stopping at the campground's mini-market to buy a couple of cold ones. Close to the ferry dock, there is a park, where under the shade of pine-trees we sat and drank our beers - enjoying the view of more sandy stretches, which run on either the river.
The ferry-ride back to town (10-15 minutes) was again, calm and relaxing, allowing time to watch other boaters and wildlife pass by - and to take a few photos!
Back on land we crossed over the river, by a pedestrian bridge, to explore the north side of town, which we'd only seen, briefly, a year ago......another reason for our return visit. This part of Tavira is filled with old, narrow streets which also reflect the ancient Moorish heritage. With a couple of cafés and restaurants placed along the riverside, the back streets have a further selection of places to eat & drink - all jumbled together - along with churches and small squares, it gives this area a unique & charming character.
We did revisit a couple of favourite places from last year.....who could resist walking the Ponte Romana bridge across the Giläo, or walking up the steep hill to the ruined Castelo? .......just to see the gardens there are worth the climb! Although this time we didn't go inside, we did once again, admire the Gothic Portico and outside beauty of the Santa Maria church along with its huge clock-face tower.
In Tavira, there's always something to take you from a planned route - it's something that should be experienced slowly. We stopped and changed course many times - on one occasion to see a vivid blue door with the Moorish legacy of door knockers/handles made in the shape of hands. We also paused to sit on a bench in a small square and enjoy the shade of its trees and, of course, we stopped at a tiny, unimposing café - located on a small back street - where we shared a piece of delicious cake.
One of the most interesting discoveries of the day was stumbling upon the on-going excavation of a medieval residence, thought to be the manor house of the Corte-Real family during the 15th & 16th centuries. In addition to the remains of this Portuguese maritime family, a Phoenician wall from the end of the 8th century BC has also been found along with an altar from the 4th century BC. A museum dedicated to the Phoenician & Islamic periods of Tavira is planned for this site.
As in many other Portuguese towns that we've visited, all around Tavira we observed on-going renovations - a sign of increasing tourism. As we boarded the train to go home and leave what was once Algarve's main port, we felt like we were leaving behind the Algarve of old......before big hotels, golf courses & crowds became the norm......hopefully Tavira will enjoy the economic boost of tourism, but still retain its authentic & unique Portuguese charm.