13-19 September 2019
We had a great 7 days with our friends Trevor & Maggie who are motorhome veterans compared to us and familiar with the area. They showed us round Cabanas itself, a small town of about 1200 whose population swells considerably in the summer with tourists. Once a fishing port, it is named after the cabanas or fishing huts that lined the beach – there are still a few left. Whilst the front is a long, low strip of cafes, bars and restaurants, behind there are still plenty of traditional houses to wander between.
And Trevor nobly led us on cycle tours familiarising us with the potential of the place we will be spending a month at over Xmas. And getting us a bit fitter in the process.
The nearest town, Tavira, straddles the Gilão River which then flows through the inlets and lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park before reaching the nearby Atlantic. We liked the town’s traditional tiled buildings, attractive squares, Moorish castle and relaxed feel. And the sheer number of Indian restaurants.
The Natural Park between Tavira and the sea also contains lots of salt-pans and scrubland and is a great habitat for birds.
Trevor & Maggie patiently waited when we stopped our bikes yet again to look at another feathered object through our binoculars, although we really didn’t need them to identify the Greater Flamingo that occasionally flew overhead. We explored both sides of the Gilâo River, cycling down to the Cais das Quatro Aguas where the ferries leave for the beaches of Ilha de Tavira. They were still busy with passengers, but we opted to stay on the mainland and visited a small Italian on the riverbank for a lunch of pasta and seafood.
The Ilha de Tavira is a 10km long barrier island that protects Tavira from the worst ravages of the Atlantic. The day we visited we cycled out along the coast to Pedras de El Rei where we left our bikes and crossed the small floating bridge that connects to the island. We walked a kilometre or so across it to the white sands of Praia do Barril – we could have taken the cute miniature steam train that runs alongside the footpath but it was nice to stretch the legs and made us feel less guilty about the lunchtime beer and Portugese toasties.
Praia do Barril was once the location of a small tuna fishing community, and its remnants have been turned into tourist facilities for the beach – cafes, restaurants, boat-sheds etc. The Anchor Graveyard in the dunes is a rusting memorial to a dangerous profession that died in the 1960’s due to over-fishing.
At the easternmost part of the Ria Formosa we explored Cacela, another ex-tuna-fishing place. It is protected from the sea by the long narrow strip of sand and dunes that is the Ilha de Cabanas, serviced by a flotilla of small boats that ferry people to its beaches.
They were busy deserting it when we were there as the black clouds trolling in looked ominous. Cacela itself has a scattering of fish restaurants and an attractive church where a wedding was taking place – we assumed it to be local until we heard the Irish accents. So at least they were used to grey skies.
But Trevor’s longest tour took us all the way back into Spain. A 15-mile cycle up the coast to Vila Real de Santo Antonio where we anchored our bikes and took the ferry.
It was a short trip across the Guadiana River to the Spanish town of Ayamonte for a tapas lunch and some tasty jamon iberico.
On the cycle back Danny hit some deep soft sand and came off, grazing himself and hurting his knee. He also banged his head but because of Trevor & Maggie we were wearing our helmets and no harm was done – a lesson to us really, as we had got out of the habit of wearing them.
Being from the island of Ireland, Trevor’s Tours did, of course, include a good selection of bars and restaurants,. One evening we had a good time at an Irish music night at a local bar/restaurant where a lad from Achill Island (off the west coast of Ireland) charmed the the full house with a mix of traditional Irish, folk and some classics which went down a storm. But our favourite was a little gem that Trevor had found for us, a quiet local bar run by a little old lady. No sign outside, one side a shop, the other side the bar where we sampled cold beers and Aguardente (burning water) which despite her lack of English the owner managed to convey should be drunk with coffee in the winter months. Great little place.
The week whizzed past, and we’d just like to say a big “Thanks” to T&M for making it so enjoyable..