Vila Real de Santo António - Algarve - Portugal
Welcome to Vila Real Uncovered! Your Vila Real de Santo António holiday guide!
Welcome to Vila Real Uncovered! This is your tourist guide to holidays in Vila Real de Santo António in eastern Algarve, Portugal. Get all you need to know about the town, its beaches, accommodation, restaurants, things to do and in fact, all things Vila Real Uncovered!
About Vila Real de Santo António
Vila Real de Santo António is situated on the Rio Guadiana, which is the river that divides the Algarve from Spain. If you stand on the far eastern edge of Vila Real you can easily see the Spanish coastline and the bridge over the river that connects the town to Ayamonte in Spain. The bridge was built in the early 1990s and has made a big difference to the congestion in and around the town because people can now drive straight there instead of waiting for a ferry.
Vila Real is very easy to find your way around, because it is laid out on a grid system. The town was designed that way by the Marquês de Pombal who was keen to apply the latest concept of town planning after the sea had eroded all of the original settlements in the area at the beginning of the 17th century. The Royal charter founding the town, was signed on December 30th 1773, the marking out of the street plan was started on March 2nd 1774 and by August 6th, the Town Hall, Customs House and barracks had already been completed!
At the end of the 19th century the town was a major canning centre for sardines and tuna, and the port was busy with the ships that sailed the Guadiana. It was also the first place in the Algarve to have gas lighting (1886). It is still a thriving community based on fishing, agriculture and tourism.
The main road runs straight from Monte Gordo to Vila Real, and the Avenida da República runs along the front of the town, adjacent to the Rio Guadiana. The riverfront is attractively laid out with trees and water features and there is also a marina where you can watch the boats.
Vila Real has a large town square, 'Praça Marquês de Pombal', which is edged with orange trees and populated with low white buildings, shops, cafes and restaurants. Just behind the square there is a space called the Centro Cultural António Aleixo, which used to be the old market. Today it is used for temporary exhibits and events. There is also a museum, Museu de Manuel Cabanas, where you can go to see the works of a local painter and wood engraver.
In essence, Vila Real is a relaxed and peaceful town and ideal for anyone who likes the quieter side of life, or to escape the stresses from home. It’s beautifully quaint, with lots to see and do, particularly for those who like to potter around and absorb the local culture. Like Monte Gordo, Vila Real is also very flat, so is ideal for walking and cycling.
Vila Real has a lovely open sandy beach, which stretches for several kilometres uninterrupted towards Manta Rota, near to Tavira. At the river end access to the beach is along a narrow road, with some rather large speed bumps in it and very little space to manoeuvre, although there is a small parking area near the end. The better route to follow is signposted through the pine forest between Monte Gordo and Vila Real with plenty of parking right behind the beach.
Vila Real de Santo António is one of three municipalities that make up the 'Baixo Guadiana' region. Vila Real, Castro Marim and Alcoutim, are the three Algarvean Sotavento (eastern Algarve) municipalities that have been collectively coined 'Baixo Guadiana'. Linked by the Guadiana River, these places, with a total area measuring 940km², have become recognised for their beautiful environment, where sun, sea, river, mountain and friendly people coexist. There are two protected areas within the region - the Ria Formosa Natural Park and the Natural Marsh Reserve of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santa António which are home to hundreds of different species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles and plants.
A relaxing way to see this eastern end of the Algarve (and the western end of Spain) is to take a boat trip along the Guadiana to Alcoutim. It passes through some beautiful countryside and changes from the very flat scenery around Vila Real to a backdrop of rounded hills with lush vegetation and a few houses here and there until you arrive at Alcoutim. Here you can see castles on hilltops on both banks of the river as reminders of the past.
If you haven't visited this area before do give it a try. The water is a few degrees warmer, the beaches are lovely and they certainly can't get crowded! It's probably best for couples or families with younger children as teenagers may find it too quiet, although if they are into water sports there are plenty of activities here for them. It's certainly very popular with older visitors during the 'off season' months - a good dose of sunshine, plenty of places for walking and cycling and lots of restaurants to choose from. It's also only about half an hour from Faro, straight down the A22 motorway.
There are lots of places to explore around Vila Real but one to make top of your agenda is Cacela Velha. It is a very small village with a handful of typically Algarvean whitewashed houses around a Church and a fort situated on the waterfront just past Manta Rota (heading west from Vila Real - it is signposted from the N125). There isn't a lot to do there it has to be said, but the village and the views are truly delightful. There are a couple of restaurants if you want to linger for a while - the one on the right just as you come into the village has an upstairs terrace giving great panoramic views across the beaches of Manta Rota and Monte Gordo to Vila Real all set against a backdrop of lush green countryside. About the only sounds 'disturbing' the total peace and quiet are from the birds and a few chickens!
The pretty Spanish town of Ayamonte, on the opposite bank of the Guadiana is fun to visit for a tapas lunch and maybe a spot of shopping! To save driving, a ferry regularly crosses between the two towns - the journey takes around 15 minutes. Just remember that Spain is an hour ahead of Portugal!