I discovered the south of Portugal a few years ago during one of my work trips.
I just fell in love! Me, as a real Frenchie, couldn’t imagine that I would ever be attracted to another country and culture then La Douce!
But I came back, and again, and again... and I wouldn’t mind growing old in this beautiful, calm and natural part of Portugal.
Tavira is located in the middle of the salt pan area of the Ria Formosa Natural Park which is in the Eastern Algarve, about thirty kilometers from Faro airport and just as far from the Spanish border.
The city is also called "The Venice of the Algarve".
Actually, "city" is a lot of honor for this village that has grown out of its strength. And that's exactly the charm! It is cosy, well-arranged, lively and beautiful in all seasons.
The habitants say that Tavira is "the city where they eat from the drawers" (os Tavirenses comem da gaveta). This story dates from the time when Tavira was a real city of merchants. At noon they did not close the doors of their shops to eat but the merchants also did not want to be seen eating through the shop window. So they slid the lunch in as unobtrusively as possible from the drawer under the counter. "Come na Gaveta" is still the name of a popular bar/restaurant in the city.
Nowadays, the small shops in the city center are often closed at lunchtime but there is certainly no shortage of restaurants.
From the main bridge you can catch the city at a glance. The old working-class district with several nice restaurants and cafes can be found on the east side, around the Largo de São Brás. Here you can relax along the quay on the terraces by the water. In the tidal river, the fishermen look for cockles and periwinkles at low tide.
When you walk into the city center from the quay, you enter the pedestrian zone with all kinds of pastellerias (pastry shops). You can’t resist the famous pastel de nata, one of the specialties of Portugal. This puff pastry is filled with a pastry cream-like filling and is truly irresistible, especially when it comes out of the oven. But also not to be missed is guardenapa (napkin), a cake triangle filled with cream. Or a caracol (snail), a kind of sweet pretzel.
The salt pans of Tavira
To get to Forte de Rato, you drive about 2 kilometers through the salt pans of Tavira. Salt has been mined around the city since Roman times. In shallow basins, seawater is let in through small locks in the spring. During the summer those basins have to dry out due to sun and wind. What remains in the fall is a salt crust. It is scraped from the bottom with human hands in the still burning autumn sun. It's an experience to go and see those hard-working performers during the extraction period.
The salt is packaged into ‘original sea salt’. This "white gold" of the Algarve comes from the Ria Formosa nature reserve. There is no industry here and therefore no environmental pollution. The Flor de Sal is a pure natural product.
Fish Market in Tavira