Tavira, the base for this self-drive road trip, is a peaceful coastal town on the East Algarve.
From here, you’ll discover magnificent coastal sceneries, unexpected inland landscapes and ways of life, and charming historic cities.
Designed by local residents, this tailored tour offers a one-of-a-kind experience into this region’s natural, human, and cultural heritage.
The blue waters of the Atlantic, the golden sandy beaches, the Ria Formosa, the exquisite gastronomy, the friendly people, all of these features of the Algarve are widely known.
But there are still secret spots, landscapes to be uncovered, and ways and traditions unknown to many.
Tavira, on the south slopes of the Serra do Caldeirão, is a quaint and picturesque town, surrounded by a landscape dotted with olive, almond, fig, carob, and palm trees.
Shaped by its historical past, Tavira has an attractive riverfront and a tranquil atmosphere. The River Gilão opens up to the Ria Formosa, a system of lagoons of great natural beauty.
This independent tour will give you an insight view of the importance of traditional fishing in the Ria Formosa, and an opportunity to taste sea delicacies prepared with expertise and simplicity.
You won’t forget the fresh oysters, the octopus stews, the razor clams, the tuna dishes, with variations exclusive to this region, where catching and cooking the fruits of the sea is a true art.
Moving eastwards, you’ll visit Cacela Velha, a charming white and blue coastal village, with the only cliff in the East Algarve, and arguably the most splendid view you’ll see on this tour.
You’ll take a closer look at Vila Real de Santo António, a city founded in 1774, under the Enlightenment principles. It was built as a replica of the central Lisbon’s street layout after the 1755 devastating earthquake.
The inland excursions, to the hills above Tavira, will uncover the appeal of sleepy villages like Cachopo, with whitewashed houses with distinctively decorated parapets in the façades. Some hide terraces (açoteias) used to dry figs and other produce, with ancestral conservation techniques. Others are purely decorative and a sign of the house owner’s wealth and prestige.
S. Bras de Alportel, another stop on our itinerary, is famous for the cork production, where the tree bark is transformed into a sustainable and ecologically product. The quality of the cork from this region is known worldwide with countless uses.
You’ll then follow the verdant hills bordering the Guadiana River to reach Alcoutim. San Lucar del Guadiana is the Spanish town on the opposite bank.
The Castle of Alcoutim was built in the 16th century, and from the gardens, which are perfectly cared for, you’ll have an excellent viewing point. There is a myriad of legends involving the castle, telling of brave knights and beautiful Moorish princesses, frustrated in their love, becoming enchanted.
This a self-drive tour carefully crafted, where the past merges with the present, making of every moment an enduring memory: arrive as a visitor but leave as a local!
Day 1 – Arrival in Faro
Individual arrival to Faro Airport and rent-a-car vehicle pick up. Drive to Tavira.
Day 2 – A Day Dedicated to the Sea
Today we’ll take you to see the seaside, the golden beaches, the green pine forests, the Ria Formosa saltpans, and the fishing communities.
We suggest starting the day in Tavira, your home base for this tour. During the period of Islamic rule, it was one of the main settlements in the Algarve.
The town shows an alluring Portuguese appeal, with crisp white walls, fine azulejo tiles, and waves of triangular roofs.
Along the quiet streets, layers of history can be witnessed, from doorways decorated with Islamic motifs to Baroque flourishes.
From the ruins of the Castle, surrounded by oleanders, jacarandas, and bougainvillea, you get a privileged view of the town’s typical roofs and its over 30 churches.
Just a short drive away, hidden in the Ria Formosa, you’ll find Cabanas de Tavira worth visiting for its beautiful beach that is only accessible by boat. Initially, there were only fishermen’s huts there, fragile dwellings occupied temporarily during the tuna fishing season. This was replaced by octopus fishing, when a local man, discovered the technique of using the “clay pot”. This is still used along the whole coast.
And because we like to share what we’re proud of, you cannot miss Cacela Velha, a lovely blue and white gem, from where you’ll probably get one of the most beautiful views in the Algarve!
Not far from here, take a small detour to Fábrica, which is right beside the water and gets its name from an old fish processing factory, since the Portuguese word “fábrica” means “factory”. The area is rich in breeding grounds for oysters and clams, which can be savoured in nearby restaurants.
From this area to the east until you reach the Guadiana River, that separates Portugal from Spain, there’s almost 12kms of uninterrupted golden sandy for you to choose from.
Day 3 – A Day Dedicated to Life in the Hills
From Tavira, you’ll be driving along the roads that cross the undulating hills of the Barrocal – the area between the coast and the hills of the Serra, which stretches from the Costa Vicentina to the west as far as the Guadiana River in the east.
Here, in the villages where people smile and wave at strangers, the air is fresh, blessed with thyme and lavender scents. Everywhere you look there are carob and almond trees. The “noises” around come from the tranquil sounds of the streams and the energetic life of birds.
On the hills of Serra do Caldeirão there are unique places like Cortelha, a small cluster of houses famous for the local hams, the cultivated terraces and the imposing eucalyptus trees. In the past there was a thermal spa here, sought after for its cool waters.
As you continue to drive north and you cross the Ribeira do Vascão, the landscape remains quiet, hesitating somewhere between the Alentejo and the Algarve.
Here, miles away from the sea, some of the people say: “The Algarve is over there”, when they vaguely point to the south.
Everywhere you look, the majestic cork oaks covers the hills. This is where the best cork in the world comes from. Here, black pigs only feed on the acorns.
In São Brás de Alportel, the unmistakable importance of the town as a centre of the cork-growing area comes across clearly and the local Costume Museum is an experience not to be missed.
Day 4 – A Day Dedicated to the Guadiana Valley
Today will be dedicated to the inland valley that harbours the great river of the south – the Guadiana River. Here, you can enjoy the three different Algarve landscapes, from the extensive salt marsh guarded by the castle and the whitewashed houses of Castro Marim to the extensive group of aquifers providing water to half the Algarve.
From Tavira, drive eastwards towards Castro Marim, one of the oldest places in the Algarve, with evidence of an ancient settlement here. Archaeological findings revealed evidences of different people’s over the millennia. Metal resources that date as far as 5000 B.C and an ancient roman road that passed through Alcoutim, Mértola and Beja. It is from here that trade flowed from the Mediterranean.
As you drive northwards, along landscapes of low shrubs, tended by man and dark figures in the distance you’ll be able to experience secluded places like Azinhal. This enchanting village, whose name means “a grove of holm oaks”. This enchanting small place is home to an unusual church cupola design that resembles a lighthouse. In the village, we invite to discover its museum “O Saber das Mulheres” (The Expertise of Women), in the Azinhal Cultural Centre.
This area of the Algarve is unique in many ways. In terms of the local gastronomy, the highlights are honey, bread, sausages, regional sweets made of carob, honey and figs.
Today is also the day to discover the Alcarias – the tiny villages, known or founded by the Arabs, during the Arab occupation of Al-Andaluz – like Alcaria Queimada, Alcaria Cova de Cima and Alcaria de Baixo. These are old hills, which have kept their Arabic place names and stretch along the Foupana Stream.
Day 5 – Individual departure or extra days
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Hotel, Tavira
Maria Nova Hotel (4****) or similar
Located a 5-minute walk from Tavira’s bustling town centre, Maria Nova Lounge Hotel – Adults Only enjoys a quiet hillside location. Its modern rooms feature a private balcony with panoramic views. Facilities include indoor and outdoor pools.
Maria Nova Hotel’s rooms are decorated with tiled floors, wooden furniture, and large windows. All rooms have a minibar, satellite TV, and an en suite bathroom.
The Bar Panorâmico offers an extensive list of cocktails and stunning views over Tavira.
You must be adequately insured to join our Guided and Self-Guided holidays. We do not insist that you insure with us but we require that you are adequately insured for the nature of your holiday.
BeCool Travel has partnered with WorldNomads.com to keep you travelling safely. WorldNomads.com Travel Insurance is designed for independent and adventurous travellers, with coverage for overseas medical expenses, cancellation, baggage, and other expenses.
Please consult our Travel Insurance page, where you’ll be able to get more detailed info about insurance requirements and an immediate quote for your trip.