Whether you are staying in Tavira or just heading there for a day trip, you cannot help but fall in love with this relaxed and picturesque town. Its name comes from the Arabic word “Tabira”, “the hidden”.
Only 18 miles from the Spanish border, Tavira was once the Algarve’s main trading port, shipping produce such as salt, dried fish and wine. Being under Arab rule between the 8th and 13th centuries the Moorish influence can still be seen today – whitewashed buildings, Moorish style doors and rooftops and two mosques.
The impressive seven-arched bridge linking the two parts of the town across the river Gilão was believed to be Roman, however a recent archaeological survey showed it actually originates from a 12th Moorish bridge.
Most of Tavira’s buildings were destroyed during an earthquake in 1755, also referred to as the “Lisbon Earthquake” because of the damages it had caused in the capital. Tavira’s medieval castle, dating back to 8th century BC, was also affected and today only some wall towers and the castle still remain. You will find a beautiful garden within the castle’s walls which provides a welcome reatreat on a hot day. If you are not afraid of heights you can climb on the wall remains and the three towers to enjoy a fabulous view of Tavira.
Beside the castle is the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo and its clock tower, a 13th century building built on the site of the former mosque. Inside the master chapel is the tomb of seven Knights of Santiago and several beautifully carved altarpieces.
Located near the castle, in the former water tower, is the Camera Obscura projecting stunning 360º views of Tavira onto a large screen using a rotating mirror and magnifying glasses. On a clear day the “camera” can see up to 30 miles away.
Tavira has very few big hotels and has so far managed to retained the feel of a traditional Algarve fishing town. Its cobbled streets, white mansions with hipped roofs and wrought-iron balconies and over 20 churches all add to Tavira’s unique charm.
Nearby at the riverside you find Mercado da Ribeira, the former main market, now housing cafes, boutiques, restaurants and exhibitions of local artists.
This was also the location where we had a lovely dinner, sitting just outside the Mercado with a view of the beautiful public gardens (Jardim Publico de Tavira).
I had the seabass (a must in Portugal) and it was very tasty. My partner’s swordfish was amazing, too. Our friends shared a fish and seafood platter and it was huuuge! They really liked it. This was all washed down with glass of crisp and refreshing Vinho Verde, Portugal’s most famous white wine 🙂
Don’t be surprised if the waiter brings bread or rolls, butter, cheese, and olives to the table at the start of the meal. This is Portuguese custom and known as the couvert. You will only be charged for what you consume. So you can either politely decline the dishes when the waiter brings them to you or you just leave them on the table and they will get taken away once your ordered food arrives.
The hop-on-hop-off Tavira Tourist Train is a great way to get around the city as it stops at various locations. It runs around the whole of Tavira, rattling and shaking over the cobbled streets, driving past rows of salt pans (which produce the finest table salt in Portugal) until it stops at its final destination at Quatro Aquas where the water taxis to Tavira island depart from. Afterwards it returns back to the city and stops at the castle.
Here are more photos of lovely Tavira 🙂