The drive from Luz to Tavira is a quick 1 hour and 15 minutes, so we arrive well before the check-in time for our Airbnb, eat lunch, and explore the town for a couple of hours before meeting our host. Lucky for us, we find a convenient parking space close to the center of town, and as a bonus, it’s free on Sunday’s. Most visitor attractions and many shops are closed today, but we have no difficulty keeping ourselves occupied.
In mid-afternoon, we meet our Airbnb hosts, Vaughan and Domenic, who offer a warm welcome as well as an in-person, thorough orientation to the condo and the area. The condo is large and nicely equipped, and we greatly appreciate their accessibility and hospitality.
Tavira is a small city with approximately 27,000 residents. Though located on the coast, Tavira is not a beach town in the traditional sense, because the actual beach is found on the Isle of Tavira located just offshore. The coastal area that includes Tavira Island is part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, an expansive network of barrier islands and protected wetlands that provide critical habitat for an impressive diversity of flora and fauna, including seahorses, shellfish, and migratory birds. Various companies offer boat tours of the Ria Formosa, but I’m sorry to report that they don’t have availability on short notice. So we decide to spend one full day further exploring Tavira and our other full day visiting two towns just a short drive away that were recommended by Vaughan and Domenic – Cacela Velha and Manta Rota.
Fado com História (5 stars on Trip Advisor)
We stumble onto this gem purely by luck, and it turns out to be a highlight of our visit to Tavira. Fado is a type of highly expressive Portuguese folk music characterized by lyrics of mournfulness and longing for a better life. Traditional instruments used in fado include the Portuguese guitar, one or more classical guitars, and a singer. With its origin in the working class neighborhoods of Lisbon in the 1820s, fado is wildly popular today with live performances in many Lisbon restaurants. While in Lisbon, we enjoyed our visit to the Museu do Fado but didn’t make it to a live performance.
Today on our stroll through the historic section of Tavira, we happen to walk by the small Fado com História about 10 minutes before the first of two scheduled performances for the day. The small venue offers visitors the opportunity to learn about fado from a 10-minute introductory video, followed by a 35-minute live performance that includes a verbal introduction (in multiple languages) to each song. The talented and skilled musicians are fully engaged with the small but enthusiastic audience, and we give this attraction two thumbs up.
Camera Obscura in the Tower of Tavira (4.5 stars on Trip Advisor)
A little further up the hill we encounter a camera obscura that has been installed in an old water tower and is available for tours. Having heard the term but clueless about what it does and how it works, we sign up on the spot. After a short wait, our multilingual guide escorts us and six other visitors to the top of the tower and into a dark room.
Magic happens within a few seconds, and a live, detailed panorama of the town appears.
According to Wikipedia, camera obscura “technology” has been around for a thousand years, but it’s fascinating to see it in action. For the next 15 minutes, our guide manipulates the view to point out historical and other significant sites and reminds us several times that the camera is live action. The images have a high degree of resolution, which he illustrates by zooming in on individuals who are out and about with no idea that we are watching. Our guide shares a couple of instances in which visitors inadvertently witnessed “interesting” behaviors. Unlike video cameras, no images are recorded for later viewing, so perhaps that alleviates potential concerns about unauthorized surveillance?
More Tavira Pics
Tavira is an approachable city that attracts retirees from the U.K. and other European countries due to its moderate climate and coastal living at a reasonable cost. Here are additional photos from our brief visit to the town.
Cacela Velha and Manta Rota Beach
A popular daytrip destination with tourists, Cacela Velha is a small coastal village (estimated population 127) that lies a few kilometers east of Tavira. The town overlooks Cacela Island, which apparently formed relatively recently (2010) due to a storm that cut off this section of the coast from the mainland peninsula. During low tide, people trek across on foot to the sandy beach. We don’t see anyone walking back during our visit, but it appears that operators of small boats are standing by to transport people during high tide.
The views are stunning!
It doesn’t take long to tour the town of Cacela Velha, as it’s tiny (but picturesque).
We spend the better part of an hour in the local cemetery, fascinated by its size and structure. It’s huge, particularly when considered relative to the size of the town. The cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds and hundreds of people, most who passed within the past 20 years or so – and we’re curious about that. Where did they live, and why are so many people interred here? After our visit, we search for more information about this particular cemetery but come up empty.
Another interesting aspect is that each inhabitant is memorialized in a shrine-like manner, which appears to be a tradition throughout Spain, at least for Roman Catholics.
After a nice lunch at a local restaurant, we do a quick tour of the adjacent Jardim Representativo da Flora do Algarve, then head for Manta Rota, where we go for a long walk and relax on the beautiful sandy beach. On the trip back to Tavira, we opt for Google’s “alternate route” to avoid a lengthy construction delay on the highway. It turns out to be a good decision, because the drive through the countryside is delightful, and we’re in no hurry.
Our visit to Tavira comes to an end the next morning when we return our rental car in Faro. Next stop – Spain!
Observations from Our Visit to the Algarve
Tourism is big business in this part of Portugal. Even though we intentionally avoided the high end resort towns, both Luz and Tavira are hugely popular with tourists. We heard a lot of English in Luz – it’s a frequent spring destination for people from the U.K. In Tavira, we heard English but also a lot of Spanish for the first time on our trip. French and German are prevalent in both towns.
Google works better for navigating a town’s old sections on foot than by car. The short and winding streets have very long names, are poorly labelled and often one way only. By the time Google finishes saying “turn left at blah, blah, blah,” we are well past the intersection, and it’s impossible to just go around the block like we can do at home. Furthermore, once we find our desired destination, chances of finding parking are slim and none. That said, there is no Uber in either Luz or Tavira, so having a rental car is a must for accessing the places we wanted to visit. It’s a dilemma.
Restaurants are usually very busy at lunchtime (from 1-3 p.m. or so) with few servers, so service is tortuously slow, especially when it comes time to get the check and pay the bill. We have resorted to taking our cash or credit card to the server instead of waiting for him (always male, for some reason) to come back. We much appreciate that servers never disappear with your credit card – they complete the transaction by bringing the portable machine to you. Wouldn’t it be great if U.S. restaurants adopted that as standard practice?
And that’s it for now – next post from Spain . . .