The eastern end of Portugal’s Algarve region – from Faro to the border with Spain – is an unspoilt stretch of flat coastline with a lagoon nature reserve and a lots of islands teeming with wild birds. As my parents have retired to the charming fishing town of Tavira, this winter we decided to combine a trip to see them with an exploration of this authentic Portuguese town and its surroundings.
Tavira is a pretty, working town with paved streets, fishing boats bobbing on the river and hilltop castle ruins to visit (not for the faint-hearted – the steps onto the ramparts have no safety barriers so kids must be watched with a hawk’s eye). There is a comfortable, child-friendly library with Wifi, an indoor swimming pool and several playgrounds, including one near the Largo do Carmo with an innovative hands-on water circuit.
Our seven- and nine-year-old daughters also enjoyed the children's pedal-cart track by the river and a camera obscura in the tower – a clever optical device projecting the view from outside onto a screen indoors, with a 15-minute guided session in English explaining the basics of optics to kids. But our favourite outing was an observatory in the hills above town, offering exciting night-time visits that allows you to see planets, the moon and much, much more.
We weren't surprised to discover there are no themeparks or zoos in the area, but with a little research we were able to find plenty of simple, half-day activities to interest the kids on both rainy and sunny days. They’re not well publicised, though, so it’s essential to talk to the English-speaking staff in the tourist offices.
Sunbathing was obviously out of the question, though with temperatures hovering around 15°C and generous sunlight, we couldn't resist crossing the lagoon on the rickety, floating bridge to catch the little Pedras d'el Rai train that chugs a kilometre across Barril island to the Atlantic coast. Very different from the cliffs and bays of the western Algarve, this long, deserted strip of sand and low dunes, stretching as far as the eye can see, is great for playing ball games, collecting shells and generally letting off steam. Toilets with baby-changing and a café were open in spite of the season. Information panels in English explain that this beach is one of the cleanest and safest in Portugal.
Within a half-hour drive were a tidal mill in the Ria Formosa Natural Park – good for a walk on a sunny day – the Pego do Inferno waterfall, and a small, but intriguing, hands-on science museum for children in Faro. Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze in the cork museum and circuit at Sao Bras de Alportel, the castles at Casto Marim and Alcoutim, or the Cova dos Mouros mining park – their delights will just have to wait until next time.
Read also Teresa’s feature on her family road-trip from France to the Algarve, plus our features on family holidays at the Pine Cliffs Resort and Vila Vita Parc on the Algarve.