Despite its inland position, TAVIRA, 30km east of Faro, is the most interesting and attractive of the eastern Algarve’s towns. It straddles both sides of the broad Rio Gilão, the old town made up of white mansions with hipped roofs and wrought-iron balconies. Many visitors stay longer than planned – particularly after a visit to the superb island beach of the Ilha de Tavira, which lies within easy reach of the town by year-round ferry. There are also several quieter spots in the area, such as the holiday village of Pedras d’el Rei and nearby beach at Barril and, for some excellent seafood, the tiny fishing village of Santa Luzia.
Founded as long ago as 400 BC, Tavira was a powerful port trading with North Africa until the river began to silt up in the seventeenth century. It was also an important religious centre, with most of the town’s 21 churches built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Following the Great Earthquake of 1755, Tavira was largely rebuilt with the graceful eighteenth-century townhouses and mansions that you see today. The old bridge was mostly built in 1667 on the foundations of a Roman structure; the other central bridge was put up by the army in 1989 as a temporary measure, but has held firm ever since. In the old-town streets on both sides of the river, numerous houses retain fine old doorways with traditional knockers in the shape of hands.