Talking about Tavira

Having made the comparison in my last blog between Tavira in the Eastern Algarve and the lovely city of Durham, it must be time to introduce you properly to Tavira.  At this time of year we rush towards Christmas but, when the cold nips and the nights are dark, I can’t help longing for the skyline that I love.

Ponte Romana and the skyline

Ponte Romana and that compelling skyline

I first arrived in Tavira on an October day when the streets were full of puddles.  Blue sky peeped around the fluffy white clouds, but I had eyes only for the buildings.  Rainbow coloured tiles washed their faces, and I had my first introduction to the azulejo- a blue and white tile used throughout Portugal for telling a story.  And I do love a good story.

Carmo church

Igreja do Carmo

Parking and the one way system wasn’t easy for a newcomer but we found a space by the Igreja do Carmo, the mother church, and happily abandoned the car.  The cobbled streets wander erratically down to the river.  Gardens line both riverbanks, and across the River Gilao a tempting panorama of churches and castle walls awaits.  Two bridges provide easy access- one to admire the other from, with Ponte Romana effortlessly winning the beauty contest.

Rio Gilao and Ponte Romana

Rio Gilao and Ponte Romana

Ponte Romana

Ponte Romana

From the riverside cafe

From the riverside cafe

The river bank and Military Bridge

The river bank and Military Bridge

Off the main square, Praca da Republica, steps lead up to Igreja da Misericordia (Church of Mercy).  Here I was to discover the power of the azulejo.  The life of Christ and Works of Mercy are depicted in blue and white panels on the walls.  Our Lady of Mercy looks down from above the imposing main entrance.

Igreja da Misericordia

Igreja de Misericordia-copyright Wikipedia

On up the steep steps, I pause to admire the fine building that is the Palacio da Galeria.  Stepping inside I am entranced to discover that I can see through glass plates, down to the foundations.  To the rear, excavation continues slowly into Tavira’s history.  Restoration has created a beautiful museum, with sloping wooden ceilings.

View from the Castle Walls

View from the Castle Walls

Gardens and Santa Maria

Santa Maria through the castle gardens

Castle walls

Castle gate and walls

Just a little further up and you can rest in the gardens within the remains of the Castle walls.  A peaceful spot, the views from here out over the river mouth and the salt marshes are lovely.  The traditionally styled tessoura roofs are everywhere below.  Opposite the gardens another church, Santa Maria, contains the tomb of Dom Paio Peres Correia and the seven knights for whom he took back the town from the Moors in 1242.  The town had been ruled from Moorish Cordoba since 711 but the treacherous murder of his knights during a time of truce provoked Dom Paio.  Much of the town was destroyed during the conflict, and the church of Santa Maria was built on the site of the razed Mosque.

The name Tavira is thought to be derived from Arabic tabira, “the hidden”, but its history is long, dating back to the Late Bronze Age.  It was one of the first Phoenician settlements on the Iberian Peninsula and later the Romans built a port nearby.  The 17th century was a boom time for trade; salt, dried fish and wine were shipped.  The massive earthquake of 1755 destroyed much of the town, which was largely rebuilt in the 18th century, including the Misericordia church.

Bus station

The grand looking bus station with Santa Maria and the water tower(Camera Obscura) behind

Behind the Santa Maria, the landmark water tower has been converted for use as a Camera obscura.  On sunny days it is quite amusing to look up at the ceiling to view all of Tavira reflected there.  The charge is small and refreshments can be taken while you wait your turn.  Much grander refreshment is available at nearby restaurant A Ver, “the view”.  Outside tables provide one of Tavira’s finest, but at a cost.  The lunchtime menu is more reasonable, if you can’t resist the experience.

Conversion of fine buildings is almost a compulsion in Tavira and I watched with immense pride the reconstruction of the Convento de Graca, now a pousada– a state owned hotel.  The cloisters are stunning and it’s a place I would love to stay if I didn’t have a home here.

I can wander for hours in the back streets, noticing the detail on different buildings and choosing from the endless supply of pastelaria, the cafes the Portuguese love so much.  Almost all of the cakes are almond based and sticky sweet, delicious with a bica, the small strong hit of coffee.  My favourite remains the traditional pastel de nata, the custard tart- I was hooked from that very first bite.


Bandstand in riverside gardens,complete with terrapin

Blue tile building

One of many beautifully tiled buildings

Military Quarter

Military Quarter

Mercado-fish exhibition

Tavira repays wandering, with many peaceful small squares and unpredictable buildings: the Military Quarter on Rua do Poeta, with its soldiers reclining on the roof and the immaculate parade ground within; the new library with its designer-look corten steel wall; the old Mercado beside the river, now home to restaurants and shops and quirky exhibitions.  Most of all, the numerous churches, each so different in character.  These days I regard it a personal triumph if I can find open a church that I have not been inside.  The opening hours are somewhat unpredictable.  Another lovely place to linger with a book, or just to sit – the gardens of the Igreja de Sao Francisco, off Praca Zacarias Guerreiro.

Weir at sunset

Sunset Ponte Romano

Sun sets on the Ponte Romano

Shoreline at sunset

That view again!

Always, as evening descends, I’m drawn back to the waterfront, stilled from the bustle of the day.  Seated outside our old friend, café Anazu, many evenings have come and gone, watching the swifts dart about, and sipping at a port wine.  It isn’t easy to do justice to this place, and the calm I feel on my return.  Nor have I yet mentioned Tavira Island and our numerous boat trips, for they are the subject of a different blog. To be fair, I suspect that the more northerly Tomar with its winding river and Convento, of which I have already written in Festa dos Tabuleiros, is a better comparison with Durham.  Nao faz mal as they say in Portugal- it doesn’t really matter.


    1. Where did you find this one, Gilly? I had to skim back through to see what I’d written. 🙂 Our approaches are a little different but I guess we both love the place. I so hoped you would.

  1. Wow! I love your post, Jo! I popped over here from the Sept. “Morning” post for Jake’s Printer. This is a beautiful spot. I love the colors…it seems like such a serene place. I can see why you like going here! Your photos are just awesome!

  2. I’ve been visiting Tavira for 14 years and your blogs have made me smile. I love the town and call it my second home; the feeling I get when I arrive back every year is the best feeling in the world. Think I may have a look at flights now! Thank you!

  3. great description and lovely photos – one of my absolute favourite places!
    (we love the restaurant A Ver – even if just for a lunch it’s a real treat!!)
    and how do you get into the Cloisters – is it open to the public – it looks magical! ??
    Tavira is reputed to be called the Venice of the Algarve – and with good cause 🙂
    thanks for a lovely post

    1. Thanks a load Alyson. Looking forward to seeing your Tavira photos too.

      I’ve been into the pousada for a drink occasionally (ouch, don’t do it!) and into the restaurant once for a special celebration. The food was every bit as good as A Ver and certainly no more expensive (just don’t drink!) The restaurant is just off the cloisters and some of the tables are placed under the arches. You can just walk through, though the reception may raise their eyebrows at you. I just pretend to be posh!

    1. Thank you kind sir- being truthful, the husband is more skilful with the camera than me. I’m a “wordie” but I love beautiful photos. We use the same camera and then argue afterwards about who took which shot!

  4. A great account and some lovely pictures. I haven’t been to the Alargve for a long time but I have visited Porto and the far north of Portugal and there are some stunning places there too. I especially liked Caminha on the border with Galicia and the world heritage city of Guimares which is next year’s European Capital of Culture. I look forward to the next story! – Andrew.

    1. Many thanks Andrew. We usually fly into the Algarve and explore north (east and west too- not south yet but a cruise from Portimao to Madeira is on the cards one day. We spent a week on Madeira a few years ago and I thought it stunning). Tomar and Obidos are our most northerly so far, but I have definite plans for Guimaraes and Porto next year- fingers crossed.

  5. Such beautiful writing, you make me want to visit immediately. It all sounds so heavenly. Being more of a photo person myself, I love your photo of the Cloisters in the pousada, Convento da Graca, excellent composition and wonderful colours. Another excellent post.

    1. Oh David- you’ve found me out! This is the only shot that either myself or my husband didn’t take. The pousada is very special to us but I couldn’t find a good photo in our collection. After I’d loaded all the others onto the site I felt that I really did want a pousada photo so I Googled it. I think this shot is part of the publicity portfolio but I couldn’t find a name to credit it to- sorry! Apologies to anybody out there who may have taken this photo and I will surely add a credit if anyone knows the source.

  6. A Romantic, serene, and totally breathtaking place to be. Wonderful photos. thanks for sharing and for the visit. This words lingers….”At this time of year we rush towards Christmas but, when the cold nips and the nights are dark, I can’t help longing for the skyline that I love.” I wish someday I can places like this in person, for now, I have these photos to admire….

    1. Thank you so much! It’s freezing here in the North East this morning. Could be worse though- I could be in the Orkneys! Hope your travelling dreams come true. Thanks for following.

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