Tavira in Portugal combines relaxation away from hoards of tourists with a picturesque setting, a rare feat for the Algarve. Perhaps this is because Tavira is 30km away from the stretch of coast between Faro and Lagos that is teeming with apartment-hotels and self-catering villas and general tourist traps. This town lies further towards Spain and seems once removed from resorts further west. However, recent developments in the town, such as converting the old market into a restaurant and shopping mall, or building two new golf courses, suggest that Tavira will not be off the beaten track for much longer.
During the Age of Discoveries, when Prince Henry the Navigator was busy discovering and exploring abroad, Tavira served as the base for Portuguese forays into Morocco and kept the soldiers in supply of medicine and food. It grew through trade and by 1520 it was a fully-fledged city, with the houses and churches to prove it. Unfortunately the 1645 plague and 1755 earthquake did much to ravage this success, though testaments to a golden age can be found in the Igreja da Miscericórdia, Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo, and the Castelo itself. Indeed the Igreja da Miscericórdia is one of the most important Renaissance buildings in the Algarve and has a beautifully carved doorway.
When you've had your fill of azulejos and views of the terracotta rooftops, wander back down to the leafy riverfront and find a quiet spot for a drink. It is here that the mercado velho (old market) building can be found, with its cafés, boutiques and temporary exhibitions. Fishing is still a mainstay of the local economy and the fishing boats are moored just beyond the old market. This also means that restaurants are supplied with fresh fish every day.
For accommodation, the general 'Algarve principal' applies if you have not booked ahead: get a room from a tout at least for a night and continue your search for a room the next day as space is at a premium here. The tourist office (turismo) at Rua da Galeria 9 will be able to help find private rooms.
Another reason for going to Tavira is the Ilha de Tavira, southwest of the town, which has a wonderful beach on its eastern edge. The beach's popularity has encouraged a small amount of development on the island so that there are now some café-restaurants, water sports facilities, and a niche of chalets, but nothing that does not contribute to the good atmosphere at the beach. You can reach the island in high season by taking a boat from the quayside in Tavira. Out of season, ferries leave from Quatro Águas 2km to the east of town.
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