Tavira is a beautifully elegant town with a recently renovated and pedestrianised town centre. A lot of focus had been on the development of this part of the eastern Algarve in recent years and as a result there are a lot of holiday rentals in the form of Apartments for rent and villas to rent by owners direct.
Visitors can be forgiven for forgetting where they are, or even what year it is, as they step into this unique Algarve fishing town. Between the 8th and 13th centuries Tavira was under Arab rule until its conquest by the Knights of the Order of Santiago in 1242. It was elevated to a city in 1520 by King Manuel I and was the main trading port in the Algarve during the 16th to 18th centuries.
Today it has still managed to stave off the influence of tourism to hold on to its unique tradition and handsome character. The seven arch bridge, over the river Gilão, is reputedly Roman in origin, although its present appearance was acquired in the 17th century. Since severe floods affected the bridge in 1989 it has only been open to pedestrians.
The market hall on the river front was re-vamped a few years ago and now is 'home' to several shops, cafes and restaurants around the edge with the central space available for exhibitions and special events.
This stretch of river front along the Gilão River is a great place to sit at one of the cafes and enjoy the very picturesque setting. The Roman bridge, Ponte Romana, spans the river with low arches and creates gentle reflections on the water and at low tide there are normally people wading in the river - presumably after clams. The gardens near the bridge offer a pleasant shadey place to sit and, more often than not, somewhere for the older men to sit and chat and while away the day with a game or two of dominoes!
Tavira arguably has some of the finest churches in the Algarve and they are plentiful too, in fact there are more than 20 in and around the town! The 16th century Igreja da Misericórdia is often cited as one of the finest churches in Tavira, with its blue and white azuejos, magnificent carvings and scenes from the life of Christ. It is located up the hill just past the tourist office. Walk up the side of the church and then turn left and you will arrive at the 13th century Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo which is next to the castle. Santa Maria is famed for holding the tombs of the seven Christian knights of the Order of St. James who were killed by the Moors. There is also a plaque marking the tomb of Paio Peres Correia (a master of the Order) although there is a church in Spain also said to hold the tomb! The 13th century castle, re-built by King Dinis from Moorish fortifications, gives fantastic views across Tavira from the walls.
If you are interested in the architectural heritage of Tavira, Tavira Municipal Council has produced a fascinating booklet about some recent archaeological discoveries in Tavira about the defensive structures of Phoenician, Islamic and Portuguese Tavira and a guide to where you can see these reminders of the past. There is far too much information to write here, but the booklet should be available from the tourist office and is called 'Military Architectural Heritage of Tavira'.
Tavira is a really attractive town with some lovely, quite grand, buildings reflecting it's wealthy past particularly around the Praça da República area and then typical rows of portuguese 'town' houses with tiled fronts along narrow cobbled streets; shops to browse in; pretty gardens and squares to sit in and, of course, plenty of restaurants and cafes for refreshments!
If you enjoy shopping then don't miss the Gran-Plaza shopping mall - it has a fantastic selection of shops, places to eat and cinemas as well as a large Continente supermarket.
The beach at Tavira is a fabulous island beach, Ilha de Tavira, a 14km long offshore sandspit. Ferries cross from the town centre throughout the summer and all year round from nearby Quatro Águas.
There are lots of delightful places to explore around Tavira starting with the pretty town of Cabanas just to the east. The view across the sheltered lagoon of the Ria Formosa to the ilha beach is idyllic and there is nothing more relaxing than sitting at one of the pavement cafes along the waterfront with a glass of chilled wine!
A short distance to the east of Cabanas is another picturesque spot - the tiny village of Cacela Velha. It is just a handful of typically Algarvean whitewashed houses, a church and a fort around a cobbled square and situated on the waterfront just before Manta Rota (it is signposted from the N125). There isn't a lot to do there it has to be said, but the village and the views are truly delightful. There are a couple of restaurants if you want to linger for a while - the one on the right just as you come into the village has an upstairs terrace giving great panoramic views across the beaches of Manta Rota and Monte Gordo to Vila Real all set against a backdrop of lush green countryside. About the only sounds 'disturbing' the total peace and quiet are from the birds and a few chickens!
To the west of Tavira lies the 'Octopus Capital' of the Algarve - Santa Luzia! In latter years the fishermen of the village turned their talents wholeheartedly to catching octopus and to this end lower clay pots to the sea bed in the shallower waters to lure the octopus in. Octopus is considered quite a delicacy although it can be an acquired taste! It's worth going a little further along to Pedras D'el Rei where you can get a tourist train across to Praia do Barril, a beach in the middle of the long sandspit of Ilha de Tavira.
Tavira itself is a picturesque, relaxed, peaceful town with everything to hand and is a perfect holiday spot for couples and families and there are also lots of great places to visit if you want to venture a little further afield
Tavira - History
Tavira along with Lagos is one of the most architecturally attractive towns in the Algarve and its origin seems to date back to around 2.000 BC. In about the 7th Century BC the inhabitants of this area prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians were the fabled Tartessus that were possibly of a Celtic origin. The location was of considerable importance during the Roman period and a large area of some 45 hectares to the east of the present position of Tavira is being excavated on which there is evidence of a very large Roman settlement. During the occupation of the Algarve by the Moors this town was given considered importance due to its fishing industry. Dom Paio Peres Correia took the town from the Moors in anger in 1242 after seven of his principal Knights were killed during a period of supposed truce. During the 17th Century the port in its river was of was shipping produce such as salt, dried fish and wine. Like most of the Algarve towns, mainly all the major buildings including its castle were virtually destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. )
Tavira - Description
The town has since been rebuilt with many fine 18th Century buildings along with its 37 churches - in fact it is referred to as the town of churches! The town church of Misericórdia dates back to 1541 and Palácio de Galeria is a location of historical interest besies being a cultural centre. A Roman bridge links the two parts of the town across the River Gilão. The church of Santa Maria do Castelo is built on the site of a Mosque and in it are the tombs of Dom Paio Peres Correia and his seven faithful Knights. Its original economic reliance on the fishing industry has now been surpassed due to the change in the migration patterns of the tuna fish. The population are mainly involved in the servicing a military base whilst the surrounding area is still very rural and undeveloped. This is now changing due to the demands of the tourist industry and opening of golf courses in the near vicinity. The immediate beach for this town lies past the salt pans and is reached by a ferryboat that takes the visitor to the long attractive sandy-bar island known as Ilha de Tavira.
Tavira - Nearby Locations
Near to Tavira is the areas Cabanas and Pedras del Rey, both originally very small beachfront villages. Tourism has now become the main source of income for many of the fishermen as there fishing has declined. It is in the latter place that there exists an olive tree that is said to date from the 17th Century and probably the oldest one of its type in Portugal. It stands 7.70 metres high and its girth is 11.80 metres. In the small village of Luz de Tavira there is one of the finest examples of Manueline art and craftsmanship around the southern door of the Parish Church. Santa Luzia is a very small un-spoilt village with a fort and has its name from an Italian effigy of the Virgin Mary that was recovered from a shipwrecked. Near to the Torre de Aves there are the remains of a Roman villa. To the east of Tavira and overlooking the sea can be found the original traditional village of Cacela-a-Velha used by the Phoenicians and later becoming the possession of the Knights of Santiago in 1240
Tavira - Algarve - Portugal
More Information On Tavira
The scenic location of Tavira, protected by its natural lagoon makes it 'the prettiest town' in Portugal say the Portuguese, and it is one of the most historic cities of modern Portugal. Located 25kms from Faro and 20kms from Spain, it is a firm favourite for discerning visitors. Tavira is an ancient town with a Phoenician, Roman and Moorish past. It has a castle, over 35 churches (many neglected), a superb seven arch Roman bridge and a magnificent Roman amphitheatre style Praça da Republica(See below). It is a city divided, but not separated by the River Gilão, there are three bridges linking the two parts of the city.See Map of Tavira area below.
Whether you are a first time visitor, a regular visitor or a resident, there are always surprises around the next corner. Something you haven’t noticed before, something new, or even a particular favourite that has returned. The Moorish occupation of Tavira between the 8th and 13th centuries left its mark on the agriculture, architecture and culture of the area. That influence can still be seen today with its whitewashed buildings, Moorish style Reixa doors, and unusual oriental style roofs.
On both sides of the River Gilão you can find good shopping with local produce, including fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, basket ware, pottery, ceramic tiles, wrought iron work, and cork and shell handicrafts. Friendly locals welcome you; important whether you are just browsing or wining and dining in the many bars and restaurants, on the riverfront or in the fascinating cobbled side streets.
Information courtesy of general internet research and algarveuncovered.com, portugal-info.net, tripadvisor.com, algarve-guides.com and many more sources
Villa Rentals in Tavira and holiday rentals in the Algarve Portugal in general are big business so you should expect to be treated with professionalism and with courtesy.