Portugal City Travel Guide: Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Vila Real de Santo António
Vila Real de Santo Antonio, in the Algarve, 50km east of Faro and 20km east of Tavira, is situated on the border with Spain formed by the River Guadiana. Just across the river is the Spanish town of Ayamonte.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio has a population of around 20,000 people and is the main transit point between Spain and Portugal on the southern Mediterranean coast across the 666m-long Guadiana International Bridge, which was built in 1991.
The nearest tourist beach to the town is at Monte Gordo, a resort popular with Spanish holiday-makers, situated a couple of kilometers west of the center. Closer to town at the mouth of the river is the Praia de Santo António, more favoured by locals.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is a relatively modern settlement that was rebuilt in 1774 after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami by the Marquês de Pombal. The grid plan of the city center is similar to the layout of the Baixa district in Lisbon. Vila Real's central, 18th century, tree-lined square is named Praça Marquês de Pombal after the great man. The square contains the Câmara Municipal (Town Hall) and the box-like Parish Church with a Rococo-style altar within.
The square is a gathering place especially at night during the summer when table football and other children's games are in evidence. Visitors wander the surrounding streets of Rua Dr. Teofilo Braga and Rua 5 Outubro viewing the many restaurants or wander down to the river bank for the breeze.
Previously the main settlements in this area of the Algarve close to the Spanish border were Castro Marim and Cacela Velha.
The area's economy was built on tuna and sardine fishing which continues to a lesser extent today. Tourism is now the main earner from the high rise hotels, discos, bars and casino at Monte Gordo.
Vila Real de Santo António is a pleasant enough place to break your journey onwards to Seville on the bus from Faro. It is fun to take a frequent ferry across the Guadiana to Ayamonte or wander the tranquil streets of Vila Real and experience the local produce and fish market.
The Centro Cultural António Aleixo is the former market building and now an arts center named after a local poet. There are temporary exhibits on show throughout the year showing local crafts and photography.
Easy side trips from Vila Real including visiting the historic hill town of Castro Marim which has both Phoenician and Moorish antecedents before the town became the headquarters in 1319 of the Order of Christ, the reconstituted former Knights Templar. The now, mostly ruined castle, in Castro Marim was built in the 13th century by King Afonso III and has views over to Spain and the salt marshlands below, which constitute the Reserva do Sapal nature reserve - a home to storks, black-winged stilts and occasionally flamingos.
The castle hosts a small museum with archeological finds and exhibits of the town's history and agriculture. The chapel within the castle was visited by Henry the Navigator. The small fortress of São Sebastião dates from the 16th century.
Regular local buses shuttle out to the modern resort of Monte Gordo which has a wide stretch of beautiful beach and the warmest waters in the Algarve. The town is a popular holiday spot for families who can enjoy water sports, tennis, beach volleyball and of course the casino. A large campsite - Parque Municipal de Campismo - is set among the pines behind the beach, providing a budget alternative to the large hotels on the sea front.
Further west Cacela Velha has a castle, closed to the public, and pretty white-washed houses. The beach is reached by a short boat ride in season and receives few visitors.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio Tourist Offices
Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Centro Cultural, Rua Teofilo Braga (Tel: 281 542 100)
Rua Jose Alves Moreira 2/4 (Tel: 281 531 232)
Rua Infante Dom Henrique (Tel: 281 544 495)
Getting to Vila Real de Santo Antonio
There are abundant scheduled, charter and no-frills flights to Faro from all over Europe. Faro is the nearest airport to Vila Real de Santo Antonio about 60km away. Portugalia and TAP Fly from both Porto (via Lisbon) and Lisbon. There are TAP flights to Lisbon and Frankfurt and Easy Jet and Ryanair flights to multiple destinations throughout Europe.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio Station is north of the town center. There are local trains west to Albufeira, Almancil, Loule, Lagos and Portimão via a change in Faro (40 minutes). Trains from Vila Real de Santo Antonio run to Monte Gordo (5 minutes), Tavira (30 minutes) and Olhao (55 minutes).
From the west, take Route 125. From Spain, get onto N125 going west.
There are buses to Vila Real de Santo Antonio from Lisbon and Sevilla in Spain. The bus to Faro passes through Olhao. The EVA bus service to Sevilla passes through Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Ayamonte and Huelva. There is presently one bus a day leaving from Vila Real de Santo Antonio's bus station on Avenida da República at 9.35am arriving at Sevilla's main bus station in Plaza de Armas at 1pm (Spanish time).
Alcazar Hotel & Spa
Located close to the beach in Monte Gordo, the Alcazar Hotel & Spa offers two outdoor swimming pools, a fitness centre and spa.
Other recommended places to stay in Vila Real de Santo Antonio and Monte Gordo include the Hotel Apolo, Coracao de Cidade and Villa Marquez in Vila Real and the Quinta Da Rosa Linda, Hotel Alba and the 3-star Hotel Navegadores in Monte Gordo.
The grandiose Hotel Guadiana on the river front is now being redeveloped and should be an exciting new location when it reopens. Built in the first quarter of the 20th century by Swiss-born architect Ernesto Korrodi (1870-1944) for Manuel Ramirez, a tinned food producer, the hotel is a mix of styles redolent of its age.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Caves do Guardiana
Avenida da Republica 80
Tel: 281 544 498
Rua Cândido dos Reis, 89
Tel: 281 544 038
There are many restaurants bars and cafes in the main square of Praça Marquês de Pombal and along the riverfront on Avenida da Republica.
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The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.
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