One day a gurgling waterfall surrounded by luxuriant oleanders,the next an endless sweep of golden sand. Countryside and beach co-exist beautifully here and you're absolutely spoilt for choice
The Eastern Algarve is not so well manicured as its sophisticated western neighbour, but that is very much a part of its charm. It's every bit as beautiful and the variety might surprise you. It's also extremely good value for money. This guide features two highly contrasting areas a short distance apart. Many, equally inviting others await exploration, so why not head east from Faro airport?
Tavira is one of the Eastern Algarve's loveliest towns, with a beautiful riverside location. A surprise to many is that you only need to follow the winding river out of town a short way to be in idyllic countryside. Pego do Inferno (Hell's Pool) used to be a popular spot with the locals. Sadly the bridge and boardwalks were burnt out by forest fires in an unusually hot Summer a couple of years ago. Don't let this put you off exploring the area. You can still take a lovely walk and it's surprising how swiftly nature has restored the landscape.
How to get there
From Tavira the road to Cachopo (N397) follows the River Sequa, winding past a sea of bamboo canes and orange groves. This is ideal cycling terrain. Keep a sharp eye open for a left turn after 4km, signed Moinhos da Rocha. Following this you will cross over a bridge down at water level. Turn right and continue till you come to a small pumping station on a right hand junction. Right here will bring you to a parking area. Now for the fun! Retrace your steps along the road and at the corner head up the red earth track, with lemon groves on your right. After a good kilometre you will pass Quinta Bonita on your right. At the next junction, take the track bearing left downhill and the cascades are on your right. If you're lucky and the oleanders are in bloom, it's a lovely place to linger, or have a picnic. After a paddle you can return the same way or carry on across the ford. A left on the tarmac road and another at the next crossroads will bring you back to the car park, 2.5km overall.
And now, as they say, for something completely different. 5km to the east of Tavira lies former fishing village Cabanas. Part of the Ria Formosa nature reserve, Cabanas is also blessed with a glorious beach. With its new boardwalk making the most of the views across the lagoon, and backed by numerous bars and restaurants, Cabanas is becoming a stylish place to be. Reaching the beach can be an adventure- you need to take to the water. Small 9 or 10 person ferries zip backwards and forwards to the island. The boatman will help you in, but you might still get your feet a tiny bit wet- just one of those endearing rough edges I so love about this part of the world.
Once on the island you follow the boardwalk out past a well-positioned beach café, with great views back to the mainland or out to sea. The beach disappears off into the distance so no problems finding a quiet spot. If you enjoy a good walk, turn left and you will eventually be rewarded by the sight of the village of Fabrica, far away across the lagoon. High on the hill, the church and fortress of Cacela Velha- a tempting venue for another day. Low tide sees the locals wading in the lagoon, collecting shell life for supper or for sale.
O Monte- Quinta Velha Village- a fine dining experience
Cabanas is situated off the coast road, E125. After passing through Conceicao and over the railway tracks you come to one of the older developments, Quinta Velha Village, a former olive tree farm. Recently given a new lease of life by young architect Claudia and her partner Tito, it is home to a special restaurant, O Monte. The décor and old stone walls are beautiful, attention to detail is paramount and the food is beautifully presented. I love the pasta and fish dishes, from 12 euros, and the wine selection is superb. (Qt Old Cabanas, Cabanas de Tavira 8800-591 tel 915 384 220)
Where to stay
In the small and friendly category, Calcada Guesthouse (Calcada D. Ana 12, Tavira 8800-803) is beautifully situated alongside the Iron Age city walls of Tavira. There are just six immaculate en-suite bedrooms, from around 70 euros, and a lovely roof terrace, where you are eye to eye with the characteristic tessoura-tiled rooftops. Andy and Tamsin will give you all the assistance you need in finding your way around, and free WiFi is included, of course.
Along the coast road E125, about 7km from Tavira, you come to Luz de Tavira and luxurious Villa Campina. (Sitio da Campina, Luz de Tavira) A boutique style hotel, each room has a private terrace overlooking the gardens. There is a saltwater pool with wonderful surrounds, and bicycles are available for you to explore the area. It comes highly recommended.
Nearer to Cabanas, Hotel Casa Vale del Rei (Almargem,8800-053 Tavira, tel 281 323 3099) is another hotel with the personal touch. It's a "come again" kind of place, perfect for relaxation, barbecue and microwave being provided in the lovely grounds. The images on the website are extremely seductive and no breakfast comes more highly recommended. 7 ensuite doubles cost from 80 euros per night.If you're not familiar with Tavira, my guide http://www.simonseeks.com/travel-guides/tempting-tavira-algarve-gem__116072 will give you plenty of food for thought.
Numerous budget airways fly into Faro, including Easyjet, Jet 2 and Ryanair.