In November/December, when life was crazy with work and holiday parties, the Doc and I recognized our growing Vitamin D deficiency and knew we would a want a low-key weekend away in January. There aren’t many places in Western Europe that are sunny, much less warm, at this time of year, but we found a cheap flight to the Portuguese coast and crossed our fingers for blue skies.
We arrived into the Faro airport late Friday night, rented a car, and drove to the Tavira, about 30km east. Despite having minimal directions, and driving through rain (not a good sign), we made it to our hotel in one piece.
Tavira is in the Eastern Algarve, just 18 miles from the Spanish border, and is arguably one of the prettiest towns in a region that has been overcome with large chain resorts, golf packages, and Irish pubs. It retains a Portuguese authenticity that has been lost in many of the other coastal towns.
We awoke Saturday to partly cloudy skies and warm (ish) weather. It was a perfect day to explore the town where, as the Telegraph so aptly describes, “big hotels are few, churches are many, fishing boats crowd the river and everyone has time to dawdle.”
After exploring the town, we hopped on a small ferry to take us out the to beach on Tavira Island, part of the Ria Formosa nature preserve. It is very much the off-season right now, and we essentially had the island to ourselves. I can only imagine how crowded, and fun, it would be in the summer.
A sea-side lunch, walk along the beach, and afternoon nap rounded out our relaxing day. We had to all but drag ourselves out of the hotel to get a late dinner in town.
Having seen most of Tavira on Saturday, we decided to spend our Sunday driving along the coast, exploring the small towns and beautiful beaches of the Algarve. There were plenty of moments where we thought about pushing our flight back and staying for another day, especially after finding Praia da Marinha beach…
Overall, it was a great weekend escape from dreary and cold London and super wallet friendly. I’d love to go back when it’s warmer and actually get in the ocean!
Sleep: We stayed at the fantastic, four-room, Casa Beleza do Sol, a fully renovated house hotel right along the river in the center of town. Our room, at €30 a night, was a complete steal. High ceilings, comfortable bed, large and new kitchenette, and modern bathroom. There is no restaurant, but there is a large roof terrace, which would be very enjoyable in warmer weather. I’d highly recommend this spot.
Eat: Seafood, seafood, seafood. As a small fishing town along the Atlantic ocean, going for the fresh fish option is always a winner. We had no bookings or plans for meals before we arrived but ended up having a delicious lunch at Quatro Aguas (authentic Portuguese) and dinner at Aquasul (modern, but casual and arty Portuguese/Italian), both in Tavira.
Do: Tavira is a great town to wander. It’s easy to get lost along beautiful cobble-stoned streets observing the Moorish architecture, white-washed walls, and tilework. The Mercado Muncipal, on the edge of town, is worth a visit as well. Though not as charming as many markets we’ve seen, it is filled with locals doing their weekly shopping and fisherman selling their daily catch. Catch the hourly ferry to Tavira Island and spend some time walking along the beach and through the preserve.
-Flights into Faro are frequent, and there are plenty of rental car agencies to use. Drive 4 Fun came highly recommended (there are a number of agencies to avoid), and we found them straightforward and easy to use. A car for the weekend was about £50.
-A car is recommended unless you are going to a large resort and don’t really plan to leave. We found the roads easy to navigate and enjoyed the flexibility of having a car.
-January is very much the off-season and a lot of restaurants are closed for the month. Definitely call ahead to make sure places are open (as we learned the hard way).
-The ferry to Tavira Island departs hourly but only leaves from Quatro Aguas pier in the winter months. It’s a 2km walk from town or quick drive. Ticket are 3euro round trip and the ferry trip takes about 10 minutes.
-Allow extra time for your return flight, especially if its in the early evening. A lot of flights depart at this time and with so many people checking golf bags, it took a really long time to go through check-in and security.
-It is very quiet in January, which was fine for us, but may not suit those looking for more action and nightlife.
-The Algarve is split into Western (Lagos/Sagres), Central (Albufeira), and Eastern (Tavira) areas. Most say to head far East or West to get better beaches, friendlier hotels, and less crowds.