The East Algarve, commonly known as Sotavento, is often referred to as Portugal’s best kept secret. Stretching from Faro to the Spanish border, the Eastern Algarve is greatly influenced by the Ria Formosa Natural Reserve Park, a vast protected water lagoon that stretches for 60 kms along the Algarve coastline and is home to rare migratory birds and shellfish. It separates the mainland from long sandy islands with beautiful blue flag beaches. The climate of the Sotavento tends to be slightly warmer than the climate of the Central and windy Western Algarve.
The true beauty of the Eastern Algarve region lies in the fact that it has escaped the over-development which has occurred in some other areas of the Algarve. This is also reflected in the region having more competitively priced properties. Equally, the cost of living tends to be approximately 25% lower than in other areas of the Algarve.
With quick and easy access from the international airport in Faro, the region is perfect for many leisure outdoor activities including golf (with 6 x 18 hole golf courses in the Eastern Algarve), bird watching in the Ria Formosa, horse riding, walking and hiking, cycling, kite surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking together with numerous club activities that cover most other interests. One of the main attractions and most popular locations with the Eastern Algarve is without a doubt the coastal town Tavira.
The Lonely Plant Guide offers the following statement about this beautiful coastal town of the Algarve: “set on either side of the meandering Rio Gilão, Tavira is arguably the Algarve's most charming town”.
The once sleepy town of Tavira is nowadays home to approximately 30,000 permanent residents and provides an ideal hometown for those who seek the authentic Portuguese experience.
Over recent years Tavira has enjoyed a greater influx of Northern European residents of all nationalities, which turned Tavira into a more bustling town with restaurants and cafés staying open all year round. Luckily, however, Tavira has not succumbed to mass tourism and retains its distinctive character and heritage. Locals appreciate the winter business and the relationship between the Portuguese and foreigners is a very warm one.
Tavira enjoys a delightful mix of traditional Portuguese heritage with deep-rooted Moorish influences. There are beautiful cobble stoned streets mixed with picturesque plazas and traditionally tiled houses with the all so famous pitched “4 águas roof”.
There are also plenty of family run restaurants, a daily market offering fresh fish, fruit and vegetables as well as a myriad of decorative churches and chapels within the town (just over 30 in total).
The younger generation returning from the influences of Porto and Lisbon have opened up hip cafés and bars. Tavira is also a yearly host to the “Mediterranean Diet Festival” that celebrates the Unesco’s nomination of the diet to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The festival features cooking lessons, food seminars and workshops, as well as exhibitions focusing on Mediterranean products such as wine, olive oil and carobs. Every year, the townhall invests a large portion of its budget towards entertainment particularly on the main square adjoining the Roman Bridge with daily concerts, theatre plays and other performing artists. On New Years Eve the magnificent firework display attracts thousands to the coastal town.
If you are a lover of beaches, Tavira Island will not disappoint. To reach the beach on the island of Tavira, a 5 minute traditional ferryboat ride takes you across the waterway and lagoon of the Ria Formosa to the island, called Ilha de Tavira where you find various seafood restaurants and little bars, perfect for a lazy lunch or a glass of caipirinha.
Surrounding Tavira are the fascinating villages of Santa Luzia (known as the capital of the squid) and Cabanas as well as plenty of unspolit countryside. For golf lovers, the superb courses at Benamor, Quinta da Ria and Quinta de Cima will prove a good test for even the best of golfers.
If you are someone with an innate ability to appreciate life, then Tavira, the “Venice of the Algarve”, maybe just for you.
Meet coastal town Tavira
Cabanas and Conceição de Tavira
Peaceful Cabanas and Conceição de Tavira, together form one parish and one village and have a homely feel. They are located within a 5 minute drive just to the East of Tavira.
Picturesque Cabanas adjoins the sea front and is a favorite of retirees and expats who frequent the numerous cafes that line the water and harbour front.
From the harbour, a small ferry crosses to the deserted beach on the island “Ilha de Cabanas”. Conceição is famous for the Benamor 18 hole golf course, which has a very welcoming clubhouse. Whilst Cabanas is rather seasonally influenced (busy in summer and comparably quieter in the winter month), Conceição has become increasingly popular for all year round living with apartment prices for 1 bedroom units starting from as little as €90.000. Conceição offers all amenities and is also ideal for those who do not wish to drive, as it is well connected to public transport (bus and train).
The stunning Benamor golf course
Similar to Cabanas de Tavira, Santa Luzia (the holy light) is a little fisherman’s village that is incredibly popular amongst locals and tourists for its fantastic sea food restaurants at the waterfront of the village and its laid back lifestyle. The little village is known as the capital of the squid (polvo) and enjoys a pretty church square as well as the breathtaking blue flag beach of Barril, which is connected directly to the mainland and reachable via a little train (loved by children). If you prefer a little exercise, you can also take a 10 minute walk to get to the beach of Barril. The second beach of Santa Luzia is Terra Estreita, reachable by ferry boat only. Santa Luzia is located a few km´s from Tavira and the walk from Tavira to Santa Luzia is enjoyed by many. Once a year in the month of August, there is a local festival (Festa dos Pescadores) with concerts, plenty of Portuguese street food and little for sale stands of local artists, which attracts many people from wide and far.
Moncarapacho, a typical village of the Algarve’s Barrocal, is situated among soft hills where fig trees, almond and pomegranate trees are plentiful. Moncarapacho offers many amenities yet enjoys a friendly small town character. There is plenty to do with the very active Casa do Povo (the village association) which offers different courses for residents ranging from Yoga, to painting to Portuguese lessons.
From Moncarapacho, it is a short distance to the top of the 411 metre Cerro de São Miguel which is the highest point of the Eastern Algarve and offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the whole area. The coastal town of Fuzeta, with its stunning blue flag beach and sea front restaurants, is only a 10 minute drive away. Moncarapacho is the perfect countryside retreat for those looking for a more peaceful pace of life.
Fuzeta was still an unknown village for many up to about 10 years ago, but has since become a popular destination for many Northern Europeans, who wish to wake up and smell the sea. Fuzeta adjoins the ocean, but compared to many of the other coastal towns, benefits not only from a stunning island (the Ilha da Fuzeta) but also a wider beach strip that invites to go for walks along the waterfront in wintertime without having to cross over to the islands.
Fuzeta has a great fish market, and a vibrant little town centre with bars that attract residents, tourists, surfers and water sport lovers alike. The fish restaurants offer good quality Portuguese food at fantastic prices and there is a local second hand market that is held once a month. The town has a train station whilst both Tavira and Faro are just a 15 minute drive away.
Get to know stunning Fuzeta Island and Olhão town
Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo
With its rolling hills and around 2100 permanent residents, Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo is the 3rd largest parish in the council of Tavira. Located between the towns of Tavira and São Brás de Alportel, Santa Catarina is famous for its tile and brick production. The famous Santa Catarina tile (a reddish terracotta tile) is often found in the Portuguese farmhouses and can add a traditional rustic character to any home. In addition Santa Catarina produces a fabulous olive oil.
Like most small parishes, the church sits in the centre of the village along with a bank, café, bakery, a small super market and health care centre. Both, the towns of Tavira and Olhão are an easy 15 minute drive. If you are looking for a countryside villa in a very green countryside area rich in vegetation, then Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo could be perfect.
The famous (terrracotta) Santa Catarina Floor tile
Often found in rustic quintas (farmhouses) of the Algarve region
São Brás de Alportel
São Brás de Alportel is one of the larger towns, surrounded by Tavira, Olhão, Faro and Loulé. In the 19th century, the village became an important economic centre due to its cork oak plantations. These plantations encouraged commercial development and made the village the largest producer of cork in Portugal and the world. São Brás de Alportel is in a privileged area, surrounded by woods and mountains, offering a spectacular view of the sea and the surrounding region. Property prices are, compared to the coastal towns, more competitively priced. Similar to Moncarpacho, São Brás has a very active and international community. The association of the Museum is the driving force within the town that brings residents of all nationalities together to perform music or paint.
Located just 10 kms East of Faro, is a coastal town in the Algarve which grew out of the fishing industry in the 17th century. Even today, Olhão is still regarded as one of Algarve's main ports. It was here that the first canning factory was established in 1882, sparking a trend that was to spread in both directions along the coast, with canned tuna and sardines quickly becoming the Algarve's main source of income.
The fish market on the waterfront is still Olhão's main draw. A quaint and energetic place, the market sells local produce such as fruit, vegetables and honey as well as a huge variety of locally caught fresh fish.
The old quarter of Olhão has a distinctly Moorish feel, with square whitewashed houses, flat terraced roofs and box-shaped chimneys.
Some of the quietest and most beautiful beaches in the Algarve are located a short ferry ride from Olhão, on the sandbank islands of “Ilha da Culatra” and “Ilha da Armona”. A true paradise.
Every year during the second week of August, Olhão hosts the Festival do Marisco, a festival of food and folk music.
Perched on a cliff facing the estuary, the historical village of Cacela Velha reminds us of an Algarve of half a century ago. This quiet village enjoys architectural beauty, as you can see in the typical whitewashed houses. The village boasts a traditional church and the remains of an 18th century fort. Every second year there is a Moorish festival held within the village. We mention Cacela Velha in our guide as it is offers fantastic views of the Eastern Algarve.
Paradisiac Cacela Velha
Vila Nova de Cacela and Manta Rota
About 10 kms from Tavira, is the parish and town of Vila Nova de Cacela, which has become popular in recent years for its beautiful beaches at Manta Rota and Praia da Lota. Traditionally a fishing village, properties are very attractively priced compared to many other coastal towns in the Eastern Algarve. The village of Manta Rota is a holiday village with plenty of restaurants and cafés, which are obviously busier in the holiday seasons. The parish is also home to the prestigious Monte Rei, a Jack Nicolaus designed championship golf course.
Monte Gordo and Altura
Altura, with is flagship development of Praia da Alagoa, is situated on the coast of the Eastern Algarve in the bay of Monte Gordo between the town of Monte Gordo and the village of Manta Rota. Like many of the smaller beach resorts, Altura tends to attract more people during the warmer months between April and October.
Monte Gordo gained popularity during the 1970´s and the 1980´s due to the large campsite which is still very well visited even today. Monte Gordo also offers the only casino in the Eastern Algarve.
Vila Real de St Antonio and Castro Marim
The villages of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo Antonio are situated on the Guadiana River, the river that separates Spain and Portugal. Because both towns are border towns near the ocean, historically both Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo Antonio have of been militarily high strategic importance.
The natural beauty of Castro Marim has created a village which seems a little detached from the rest of the Algarve, where people enjoy a slower pace of life. Properties tend to be mostly residential. The proximity to the golf courses of Quinta do Vale and Castrom Marim golf makes it an interesting location for golf lovers. The fabulous blue flag beach of Praia Verde with its´various quality restaurants is within a 5 miniute drive. Access to the A22 is quick and easy and therefore offers a good opportunity to visit shops, restaurants and life just over the border into Spain. Visiting the salt flats of Castro Marim is an excellent opportunity to get to know more about the customs of this Mediterranean village.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is known for its pretty cobble stone streets, the marina and a great sports centre and tennis school.
Faro, the capital of the Algarve, is a character rich, historical city that lends itself more to a cultural city break than a conventional summer holiday beach resort destination. Within Faro there is a delightful old quarter, a pretty fishing harbour and numerous shopping streets.
Faro opens out on the mud flats and lagoons of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, which are sheltered from the sea by three sand bar islands. The beaches of Faro are located on a stunning sand bar island with restaurants, shops set against the ocean on the south side and the lagoon on the northern side. Properties are mostly residential. Click here to see Faro on the map