The East Algarve is the less touristic part of this world-famous resort in Portugal.
The blue waters of the Atlantic, the golden sandy beaches, the Ria Formosa, the exquisite gastronomy, the friendly people, all of this is widely known. But there are still secret spots, landscapes to be uncovered, and ways and traditions unknown to many.
This tailored tour based in Tavira is designed by local residents. You’ll get a one-of-a-kind experience into the natural, human, and cultural heritage of the East Algarve.
Tavira, on the south slopes of the Serra do Caldeirão, is a quaint and picturesque town, surrounded by a landscape dotted with olive, almond, fig, carob, and palm trees.
Shaped by its historical past, Tavira has an attractive riverfront and a tranquil atmosphere. The River Gilão opens up to the Ria Formosa, a system of lagoons of great natural beauty.
This independent tour will give you an insight view of the importance of traditional fishing in the Ria Formosa, and an opportunity to taste sea delicacies prepared with expertise and simplicity.
You won’t forget the fresh oysters, the octopus stews, the razor clams, the tuna dishes, with variations exclusive to this region, where catching and cooking the fruits of the sea is a true art.
Moving eastwards, you’ll visit Cacela Velha, a charming white and blue coastal village, with the only cliff in the East Algarve, and arguably the most splendid view you’ll see on this tour.
You’ll take a closer look at Vila Real de Santo António, a city founded in 1774, under the Enlightenment principles. It was built as a replica of the central Lisbon’s street layout after the 1755 devastating earthquake.
The inland excursions, to the hills above Tavira, will uncover the appeal of sleepy villages like Cachopo, with whitewashed houses with distinctively decorated parapets in the façades. Some hide terraces (açoteias) used to dry figs and other produce, with ancestral conservation techniques. Others are purely decorative and a sign of the house owner’s wealth and prestige.
S. Bras de Alportel, another stop on our itinerary, is famous for the cork production, where the tree bark is transformed into a sustainable and ecologically product. The quality of the cork from this region is known worldwide with countless uses.
You’ll then follow the verdant hills bordering the Guadiana River to reach Alcoutim. San Lucar del Guadiana is the Spanish town on the opposite bank.
The Castle of Alcoutim was built in the 16th century, and from the gardens, which are perfectly cared for, you’ll have an excellent viewing point. There is a myriad of legends involving the castle, telling of brave knights and beautiful Moorish princesses, frustrated in their love, becoming enchanted.
To round up your experience, there is a day dedicated to the West Algarve, a real treat! You’ll see a completely different landscape, with rocky caves and cliffs following the Atlantic coast.
Visit Ferragudo, Vila do Bispo, and Sagres, the legendary promontory, from where started the epic dream of the Discoveries.
The cliffs of Cape S. Vicent, the most south-westerly point in Portugal and in Europe, are a vertiginous 60 meters high, dropping down into the furious spray of the waves.
You can see from above fierce men climbing the rocks, defying the Atlantic pounding waves to harvest goose barnacles in a very dangerous catch.
This a self-drive tour carefully crafted, where the past merges with the present, making of every moment an enduring memory: arrive as a visitor but leave as a local!
Day 1 – Arrival in Faro
Individual arrival to Faro Airport and rent-a-car vehicle pick up. Drive to Tavira.
Day 2 – Fishing Heritage
There is no certain date frame for the establishment of the fishing activity in the Algarve. There were fishing communities already established in the beginning of the 18th century, whose origins trace all the way to the peoples of southern Europe. Its importance is the base of the history, culture and tradition of the Algarve and the unique places we’ll show you.
We suggest starting the week by driving to Monte Gordo, where tradition is still what it was. It’s visible in the colourful boats lined up on the western side of the immense beach, engulfed by the translucent and warm blue waters. In the 1940s, wealthy Alentejo families began to build houses to spend the “bathing season” here.
Continue to Vila Real de Santo António, on the road that runs alongside the deep green forest of stone pines where the chameleon’s live. Its imposing lighthouse marks the beginning of the land, where the sea ends.
Separated from Spain by the strikingly beautiful Guadiana River, this modern and yet historical town benefits from a unique Pombaline style design, inspired by the rebuilding of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.
Castro Marim, located northwards of VRSA, is a haven of wildlife and has existed for millennia. It was home to a roman port and the refuge for the knights of the order of Christ. The heritage of Castro Marim is deeply connected to the richness provided by the saltpans, the exquisite gastronomy and rustic traditional handicrafts.
And because we like to save the best for last, discover Cacela Velha. Take the time and breath in. what you are seeing is probably the most beautiful view of the whole Algarve and no matter how many pictures you take, it won’t compare to what your eyes can see…
Day 3 – Life in the Hills
Away from the immense blue sea, up in the hills, there are places surrounded by heather, strawberry trees and cistus, there are fragrances of carob and lavender in the air. The hill’s people have, for decades, resisted the call of the sea.
Here, people wave when they see a stranger. They wear waistcoats and aprons, invite you to eat in their traditional restaurants and point the best the region offers.
From Tavira, drive to Cachopo. In the village, observe the rural houses with their decorated parapets – decorated façades at the top of the houses. This custom of decorating the fronts of houses comes all the way from the 1930’s. It reflected the fortunes earned in the spice trade and are still object of admiration. The bright colours where made from natural pigments and mixed with whitewash. Take the time to explore and discover the local museum that expressively illustrates the identity of the Serra.
As you drive by Barranco do Velho, you’re as high as the hills will bring you. The crossroads here, linked the coast and the interior. Here, merchants carried honey, medronho, firewood and news from the distant villages. All around, there are the round houses of Celtic origin, used nowadays as barns. Their thick walls are made from carefully assembled pieces of schist while their roofs are conical and thatched.
Heading south, you reach S. Brás de Alportel, and the unmistakable importance of the town as a centre of the cork-growing area comes across clearly, widely present in the town’s long history and its unique museum.
It’s also visible in Grand houses with iron verandas and façades clad in tiles that alternate with humble houses in the popular style.
Day 4 – Free Day
This is the day to take the time to rest or wander around Tavira and explore the local traditions. There are numerous monuments to discover, whether your preference is related to the historical background of the town or just exquisite architecture.
The lovely beach at Tavira Island and a boat tour or a birdwatching trip in the Ria Formosa are excellent ways to have a relaxing holidays day.
Day 5 – Guadiana Valley
Divided by the river but united by the culture, the Guadiana valley marks the eastern border of Portugal. The program for today takes you along this great river of the south.
We suggest a magnificent drive northwards, to discover Foz de Odeleite, a tiny village, perched above a ravine near the spot where the river flows into the Guadiana River. This is a natural paradise with houses on the highest slopes of the bank of the Guadiana River, and vegetable plots and vineyards sloping down to the river.
Not far from here, in Guerreiros do Rio (Warriors of the River) you’ll find a small but important museum that tells of the history of the Guadiana River and the fishing activity since the time of the Carthaginians.
After a sharp bend in the road, on a hillside over the river, Alcoutim appears. With its carefully tended 16th century castle observing us from above, you’ll discover some of the secrets about smuggling among the rocky banks of the Guadiana River, which ended up forging close ties with the Andalusian people on the opposite bank.
As you drive south towards Santa Rita, you find yourself driving on one of the most beautiful roads in the Algarve.
This is a transitional area between the coast and the hills where the waters of the watercourses are extremely important, criss-crossing the valley allowing the so needed irrigation. Topped by typical chimneys, the houses exude hospitality and friendliness with their open doors.
Day 6 – A Day Around Tavira
For its natural characteristics, the area in which the town of Tavira is settled has always aroused the auspicious curiosity of the European’s people. Phoenicians, Celts, Carthaginian, romans and Moors have all found a new home in this area. In secret corners of the town of Tavira, this past heritage is visible. Moorish chimneys, medieval bridges and archaeological findings are nowadays are a reminder of the fabric that constitutes our past.
From Tavira, continue to Santa Luzia, where the white washed houses face the beautiful Ria Formosa. Its placid waters harbour a collection of boats that lay in the sand waiting for their turn to go out into the open waters. In this fishing village that defends fiercely to cook the best octopus dishes in the whole south, time goes by gently, sitting on a bench immersed in tranquil thoughts.
Not far from here, the Barril Beach stands quietly on the Tavira Island that stretches for nearly 11km of uninterrupted and fine golden sands, calm blue waters and centuries of history, associated with the tuna fishing trade. Its anchor’s graveyard is a picture perfect postcard in itself.
Day 7 – Escapade to the West Algarve
Today we drive westwards, to uncover the Algarve of the cliffs, rocks and caves, sandy retreats and hidden gullies.
From Tavira, head to Faro, the capital of the Algarve and a city of ancient origin. The city’s history is written in every monument you discover. The old city walls hide fabulous secrets from churches decorated in blue and white tiles to the stork nests, perfectly balanced over the clock on an arched alley.
On your way westwards, stop at Senhora da Rocha, a chapel with Visigoth capitals at the top of a promontory with fine looking views. There is nothing more serene than its enormous beach with calm seas and immense blue, lapping repeatedly on the fine golden sand reflecting the sun.
Continuing west, follow the signs and you will easily find your way to Ferragudo, on the left bank of the Arade River. The name explains the origin of the village: on the coast there was a ferro agudo (pointed iron) used for pulling the nets full of fish out of the sea. The bay of Ferragudo ends in a small, gracious castle, nowadays a private house.
When you reach Vila do Bispo, you are entering a different Algarve. The colours change, the scent of the atlantic minerals start lingering as you breathe, you can feel those winds coming off the Atlantic.
Reach Sagres, near the legendary promontory, the most south-westerly point in Portugal and in Europe. In Cape St. Vincent, the lighthouse stands 60 metres above the sea, where the furious spray of the waves is felt and the cliffs hide tiny, almost empty beaches whose beauty, only our imagination can grasp.
Day 8 – Individual departure or extra days
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Hotel (4****) or similar
Located a 5-minute walk from Tavira’s bustling town centre, Maria Nova Lounge Hotel – Adults Only enjoys a quiet hillside location. Its modern rooms feature a private balcony with panoramic views. Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools.
Maria Nova Hotel’s rooms are decorated with tiled floors, wooden furniture, and large windows. All rooms have a minibar, satellite TV, and an en suite bathroom.
The Bar Panorâmico offers an extensive list of cocktails and stunning views over Tavira.
You must be adequately insured to join our Guided and Self-Guided holidays. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.
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