Carolyn Moore

Dublin City Councillor for Kimmage Rathmines

Eastern Promise, February 2015

Travel feature, Like magazine, February 2015. Click to Enlarge. Read below.

Eastern Promise

When you think of the Algarve, if you think of high-rise apartment blocks, fast food restaurants and manicured lawns, it’s time to think again. East of Faro there’s a far more authentic experience to be had.

Sun holidays usually centre around one thing: the beach, and when Portugal’s stunning southern coastline fell prey to rapid over-development, the sometimes charmless tourist resorts, with their central “strips” of English bars and takeaways, sprang up along the stretch of coast that had direct access to its endless sandy beaches.

Faro – the travel hub at the centre of the Algarve’s tourism trade – also marks the point at which these beaches become separated from the mainland by a marshy wildlife reserve called the Rio Formosa, and where there was no access to the beach, the potential for mass tourism was overlooked. This has been the saving grace for the historic, unspoiled fishing town of Tavira that sits majestically on the Rio Gilão, 40 kilometres east of Faro.

Accessible by taxi, train or bus from Faro, if you find yourself dreaming of sunshine and blue skies, consider taking a break to soak up the sun in this sleepy haven of picturesque cobbled streets and crumbling Moorish architecture.

What to do

Make the most of the laid back vibe and just relax. While away the hours enjoying coffee and wonderfully fresh Pastéis de Nata in the town square, before checking out the view from the 13th century castle walls. Wind your way back down, past some of Tavira’s 30-plus churches and the small town museum, and cross the Roman Bridge for some more people-watching in the Praça Dr. António Padinha, known to locals as the Bishop’s Square.

To feel the sand between your toes, walk down to the harbour where a water taxi will speed you past flocks of flamingos on the stunning Rio Formosa and deposit you on the unspoilt shores of the Ilha de Tavira beach. Alternatively, hire a bike and follow the cycle lane to the nearby town of Santa Lucia, where you can cross an old wooden bridge to the Praia do Barril or seek out the anchor graveyard, where hundreds of old tuna ship anchors were dropped for the very last time.

Where to eat

You won’t find fine dining in Tavira, but you will find very fine food; prepared simply and exceptionally well from the freshest local ingredients and served in a friendly, laid back manner in a laneway here or on a roof terrace there.

Avoid the tourist traps along the river – Tavira’s best restaurants can be found in the warren of streets around the Bishop’s Square. At the Brisa do Rio restaurant, recently relocated to Rua João Vaz Corte Real, the brothers Luis and Octavio will give you great food, a friendly welcome, and maybe a complimentary glass of port at the end of the night. Three courses and a bottle of Portuguese wine will set you back less than €25 per head.

Across the river, the Tavira Lounge is a nice spot for an after-dinner drink, or grab a cold beer outside one of the cafés in the town square.

Where to stay

Tavira offers options for every budget, from a vast selection of self-catering accommodation, to boutique B&Bs and hotels, and the uniquely Portugese “Pousada” experience.

The Calçada Guesthouse offers a boutique B&B experience at a reasonable price, right in the historic part of town – in fact, renovations on the building uncovered part of the city wall that dated back to the Iron Age. Six pretty en suite rooms, with balconies or terraces, from €65 per room per night. calcadaguesthouse.com

The stunning Tavira House hotel opened its doors two years ago, after a five year renovation project transformed this listed 160-year-old mansion set within the castle walls into a charmingly modern and luxurious boutique hotel. Nine luxury rooms, from €75 per room per night. tavirahousehotel.com

The Pousada Convento da Graça is a converted convent overlooking the castle walls, the gorgeous Church Santa Maria do Castelo, and it’s courtyard garden. Pousadas can be found dotted around Portugal, where the tourism authority has converted historically significant buildings into luxury hotels. pousadasofportugal.com

Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly Cork to Faro from March to October.

Flights from €45 each way. See aerlingus.com or ryanair.com for details.

The Tavira Tourist Office is at 9 Rua da Galeria.

tavira.algarvetouristguide.com