Portugal’s Algarve region is famous for its long, sandy beaches, dramatic coastal rock formations, and tasty food. Best yet, all of this can be enjoyed at a fraction of the price of nearby Spain, and certainly of France and Italy. The region has largely been developed for and caters to package tourism, especially from northern Europe, and this no doubt detracts from the area’s cultural appeal, but there is enough to see and experience for the Algarve to serve as a relatively inexpensive destination combining lazy beach days with stimulating nature and city adventures. We spent 9 days in the region and will cover our trip in two parts—first, the eastern half (dubbed Sotavento), then the western half (dubbed Barlavento).
We flew into Faro, picked up a car (which we had for the whole trip), and made our way to Tavira where we stayed at an apartment (Casa do Postigo) for two nights. Tavira is a low-key town best explored on foot. The town is split in two by the Gilão River and linked by the attractive Ponte Romana, anchored on the southern side by Praça da República, Tavira’s main square.
The best way to orient yourself is heading up to Tavira Castle—don’t expect too much from the “castle” itself, but the view is beautiful, especially of Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo. The town has a couple of other churches worth a visit (Igreja de Santiago and Igreja da Misericórdia), but our favorite thing to do in Tavira was just wandering around, appreciating the whitewashed architecture punctuated with colorful tile.
For only a couple of days in town, we had a lot of good meals! Mandala (savory wraps and juice) has a hip (but accessible) vibe and doubles as a record shop. Our small-plates dinner at Pausa (spicy potatoes; hummus; chicken, mango, and orange salad; apple, cream cheese, and almond bruschetta; and a brownie sundae) still makes us drool when we think about it. Small plates made another experience at our dinner at Nó de Gosto (cod toast, chorizo, pork sausage, fries, and a ham and fig salad). And we satisfied our sweet tooth with dessert at Pastelería Tavirense (lemon meringue pie, chocolate truffle) and ice cream at Delizia.
Vila Real de Santo António, the Algarve’s easternmost coastal town, is worth a couple of hours for its grid-based streets lined with white homes and pops of tile. Praça do Marquês de Pombal, the main square, sports a stunning alternating black and gray cobblestone pattern and is lined with pretty homes and storefronts. After wandering the streets, we walked the riverfront (Spain is just across the Guadiana River) and grabbed lunch on the terrace at Sem Espinhas (vegetable tagliatelle and chicken and pineapple salad).
On the final day of our trip, we stopped in Faro before heading to the airport, taking advantage of plentiful parking outside the walled old town. The wandering theme continued here; you can walk every street in the old town in a couple of hours and that we did! There aren’t many notable sights, but there are lots of attractive views and stunning architecture. We finished our time here with a delicious lunch in a picturesque square at Vila Adentro (lamb, baked potato, veggies).
Stay tuned for our recap of the Algarve’s more popular Barlavento, where we spent time in Albufeira, Lagos, Silves, and more!