Portugal – the edge of the Algarve

We finally managed to persuade ourselves to leave Spain and promptly fell in love with Portugal.  We’re staying in Tavira which is magical.  Although there are tourists, it still feels like a thriving fishing village and while it is really quite a large town it has the feel of a village with its cobbled streets, many flower filled squares, Roman bridge over the river which provides a harbour to the fishing boats, beautifully tiled houses, numerous churches and overlooked by a ruined castle.

From here we’ve explored the route of forts along the Rio Guardiana (which forms the border with Spain) built initially by the Phoenicians as a main line of defence and also gone inland into a world of rolling dry hills, cork trees and emptiness.  Just north of Faro we visited the ruins of a grand Roman villa dating from the 1st century AD, complete with baths, temple and beautiful mosaics as well as the remains of wine and olive presses.  Nearby is a magnificent church, the Igreja de Sao Lourenco de Matos built in the 16-1700s: plain from the outside, the interior is completely covered in azulejos, blue and white hand-painted tiles.  Also close by is the crazily rococo baroque mansion, the 18th century Palacio de Estoi, now partly derelict and partly restored into a posh hotel.

We’ve also explored the Rio Formosa natural park, a marshland lagoon system which includes salt pans and islands, through which meanders a cycle route (which in fact continues the length of the Algarve); a route which also takes in enchanting fishing villages filled with white-washed cottages and cobbled streets and olive and orange groves.