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.