Many of you already read the lovely posts from Restless Jo. For those of you who don’t, our wonderful friend has written a little story about returning to one of her favorite spots.
For someone who loves blue skies and the endless lapping of sea to shore, it’s hard to imagine a finer destination than the Algarve. Quite how fate brought me to this eastern edge of Portugal and a town called Tavira, I’m not entirely certain. What I do know is that I have no regrets, and as the years go by, I find new pleasures with each successive visit.
Tavira sits quietly astride the River Gilao, with her back to the hills, looking out across the broad expanse of salt marshes to the sea. Fishing boats line the quay, and in summer the ferry chugs out to the Ilha, to catch a breeze or two on this pine scented island.
The Ponte Romana anchors the two riverbanks together, and above that your eyes are drawn to the spectacle of church and water towers. From the Praca da Republica, with its gentle fountains, cobbled steps lead up to the remains of the castle and its fragrant walled garden.
In the 8th century Tavira was occupied by the Moors. They built the castle and 2 mosques, probably on the site of a Roman fortress. Whenever I am back in town, I clamber up here. The views down onto the distinctive tessoura tiled roofs and out to sea are far reaching. In 1242 Tavira was reclaimed for Portugal and the remaining Moors were banished to the mouraria, a Moorish quarter, outside the town walls. The legacy from this time remains. The Islamic Museum, behind the tourist information office, has some intriguing links to the past, including the Tavira Vase.
To reach the castle you have probably ascended past the Galeria Palace. This beautifully restored building has glass panels in the floor, right by the entrance, through which you can gaze straight into Tavira’s history. At the back of the building, excavation slowly continues. Descending to the Praca you inevitably pass the Igreja da Misericordia, one of more than 20 churches in Tavira. The blue and white azulejo tiled panels handsomely depict the life of Christ. Above it, the Santa Maria church was built on the site of a mosque, razed when Dom Correia overthrew the Moors. The church contains his tomb and that of the seven knights he avenged.
These are but the bare bones of Tavira. The town once had a fine maritime trade in salt, fish, almonds and wine. Times change. The earthquake of 1755 caused widespread devastation. The river began to silt up. A tuna canning industry came and went. Today you have to look a little harder for those links with the past. Easier to find tourists, but it’s tourism on a gentle scale, and never too hard to avoid.
You only need to follow the river, under the bridge, where it mysteriously changes names and becomes the River Sequa. A road runs alongside, then branches off and heads into the hills. In just a few minutes orange groves and wild flowers are your companions. Villas look down from strategic high points, and signposts lead to unknown villages. This wilder Algarve always brings me peace.
Or you can journey along the coast, towards Spain. Quieter spots still exist but you have to seek them out. This winter I spent a little time at Castro Marim. Beasuris in Roman times and an important trade route with Faro and Lisbon, it has a vast stretch of salt marshes which are home to colonies of birds. I was entranced by the flamingos, winging over my head, with underbellies and wings cloaked in scarlet, trimmed with black.
At the eastern edge of the Algarve, the River Guadiana wanders northwards, keeping a sleepy eye on neighbouring Spain. The castle at Alcoutim is another huge hint that all was not always serene along this border. Today it marks a crossing point to Sanlucar de Guadiana, a pretty white Spanish village which hosts a wonderful romeria at the beginning of May.
The countryside becomes wilder as you journey north, and at Mertola the fortress looks down fiercely upon the Guadiana. You would not want to find yourself here on a baking summer day, but you have crossed the border into Alentejo, and are within striking distance of water sports and boating on the Alqueva Dam.
Are you beginning to understand yet what draws me back? I feel that I have unlimited options whenever I am here. I came to the Algarve for the beaches, but I found so much more. And speaking of those beaches, my choice is often an island beach. My favourite island is Armona, where the Ria Formosa encompasses miles of golden sand, the sandbars constantly changing. For me there is no greater pleasure than boating out to an island, and returning as the sun dissolves into the sea.
For more information about a unique artifact from Tavira, head to: