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Sep 2009

Tavira Coat of Arms

With the mercury nudging 40℃ in the shade on the balcony of your barracks, you're going nowhere in this heat, that layer under the t-shirt unable to provide the most basic form of prevention against 'man-spotting'.

You'll spend the best part of your first afternoon on the Eastern Algarve in an air-conditioned shopping 'mall' the size of the  Metrocentre.

You won't be tempted down to the 'traditional' town of Tavira until sundown and although the bridge over the Rio Gilão is reportedly Roman, recent repairs mean it's more MCMLXXXIX.

  Tavira Garden (Estrada Nacional)

Self-catering accommodation with a balcony that's way too big and way too hot. Twenty minutes from town but you're more likely to be staying in with some Madagascan prawns.

  Tavira Gran-Plaza (Rua Almirante Cândido)

Shopping 'mall' with a cinema in it and a supermarket where you can gawp at giant prawns. They're Madagascan, mind you, so don't be taken in by  Rick Stein banging on about how good the local seafood is.

Yes, it's known that link links to Lisbon but you get the general Portuguese point? Oh! Don't forget to take advantage of some very competitively priced stationery.

Acclimatisation complete, the Praça da República looks like this in the daytime. As does most of the town with a lot of decorative tiles on display both sides of the river.

The guide books describe Tavira as 'traditional' because, well, it doesn't really cater for British boozehounds of an evening.

Most of the attractions are old and architectural with what remains of a castle and churches ranking highly.

It's the kind of place to do a day trip to, be intimidated by some religion[1] then return to your 'all inclusive' to gorge on platefuls of Piri-Piri.

[1] 'Sssh!' and cover up those shoulders, will you!

  Restaurante Imperial (Largo Dr. José Pires Padinha)

There's a traditional Portuguese recipe porco à alentejana or pork and clams if you'd rather where it's claimed that roaming pigs had access to the shoreline.

This an attempt to disguise the fishy-tasting meat and while that bit is being bought, the contents of these clams were the size of a lentil and it would have taken two hours to consume the fiddly lot.

If it's the beach you're after, Tavira's ranks as one of the best along the Algarve but there's a bit of a palaver involving a boat across to an offshore island spit.

Don't leave it too late coming home, however, or you'll find yourselves barging with the other bathers to bag a seat back.

Alternatively, you could head for the far end of Santa Luzia, three miles south-west of town, where a mini choo-choo, not shown, will chug you the mile or so over the salt marsh to the  Praia do Barril.

It's the same bit of sand as the Praia da Ilha de Tavira but either way, it's an awful lot of effort just to get your ankles wet.

As for the mini choo-choo, what's that you ask? Obviously!

It's not known if these rusty anchors have been arranged as artwork or some kind of diminishing dune prevention but they were left abandoned on the beach when all the tuna disappeared in the 1960s.

Six or so miles east, Cacela Velha is an old fishing village that's managed to remain free of any redevelopment.

There's not a great deal apart from some blinding work on the whitewashing and most of the cars are here for the beach only this expedition involves a cliff path as well as a boat before bathing.

What this place does provide is a sense of the scale of the Ria Formosa National Park.

It just about starts here and stretches 30 miles south-west to Faro. Mostly marsh and wetland it's all protected by the offshore barriers that serve as the local beach providers.

This is being understated a bit and they're said to be some of the best beaches in the world. Careful though if you've come here as a naturalist, keep an eye out for the naturists.

Now, that's enough to put anyone off their Piri-Piri!