São João da Barra
Having just left Tavira and still somewhat shell-shocked by the not exactly “chic” apartment blocks by the roadside, we suddenly come face to face with a stone wall barely a metre high. It is obviously very old and the vagaries of time have taken out individual chunks - and yet it still remains standing. Directly in front of us is an opening. For a moment we’re not sure if this is the right place but we satisfy ourselves this is the correct location and so carry on ahead.
We follow a sandy trail that leads through a charming olive grove and then, suddenly, there it is right in front of us, a centuries old battlement partly covered by a row of bushes. Still in a state of anticipation, we pass through the large wooden gate and first impressions are one of a pirate movie film set in the Caribbean. Yet here we are, in a barely recognisable Algarve only a few kilometres away from the picturesque fishing town of Tavira.
And this, to be more precise, is the Forte de São João da Barra, the only family-owned fortress converted into a Bed & Breakfast in the whole of Portugal. Even before we venture inside we instinctively know this place is special. Located right in the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Reserve, the fort goes back to the 17th century when it was built to defend the port of Tavira from attack. That era is now long gone, but even now, its imposing stone walls act as a line of defence to more modern aggressors of high speed living and stress.
It is pure peace here and the austere yet sophisticated decoration with period pieces and numerous contemporary paintings and sculptures, just add to the feeling of tranquillity. Much of its beautiful past also remains, including the square of arms, well and stone water tank. We stayed the night here and learnt another lesson. That taking breakfast on the terrace of the Forte São João da Barra, watching the birds and witnessing the incoming tide turning the local dunes into a huge lake is something special. Truly special and that alone would be well worth a stay here. We concluded that this must surely be one of our favourite places in the south of Portugal.
The only possible downside was that rooms did not have views or a terrace, a legacy of its original incarnation as a defensive fort. Yet this was not really a problem as we spent as much of time as possible taking in the charm of the public areas and main terrace of the fort. And with only a few rooms for such a large building, space is something there is plenty of here.
Out and About in Tavira
If you want to eat out and enjoy the freshest ingredients, just follow the locals.
Vela 2 (freshly caught fish at a fixed price - inexpensive)
Campo Martires da Republica 1, Tavira, tel +351 281 323 661
Restaurante Beira Rio (excellent seafood)
Rua Borda d'Água da Assêca 44/46, Tavira, Tel: 351 281 323 165
Marisqueira Fialho (Typical Portuguese fish restaurant on the Ria Formosa)EN 1339 - Luz, Tel +351 281 961 222
A Ver Tavira (beautiful views and excellent Portuguese "nouvelle cuisine)
Calçada da Galeria 13, Old Town Tel +351 281 381 363
Meia Pipa de Santa Luzia (great bar to relax once properly)
Marchal Rua Gomes da Costa 15, Santa Luzia Tel +351 281 381 149
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