The best independent guide to Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The best independent guide to Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is a delightful Portuguese town, which is situated on the mighty Rio Guadiana, at the very eastern edge of the Algarve.
The town has a peaceful, unhurried ambience but has a truly unique appearance, resembling more Lisbon than its close neighbours, with a grand central plaza and decorative Pombaline architecture.
The Praca Marquis of Pombal, the centre of Vila Real
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is located in a very scenic region of the Algarve. The town overlooks the cooling waters of the Rio Guadiana, to the north are the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro Marim, while to the south are the pristine beaches of the eastern Monte Gordo coastline.
A day trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio has a surprising amount to see, especially considering the relatively small size of the town. At the heart of the town is the impressive Praca Marquis of Pombal plaza, there is the charming marina and following the Rio Guadiana is a pleasant walk to the beautiful beaches.
For a relaxing holiday destination, there is a lot to love about Vila Real de Santo Antonio; there are many great restaurants, the beaches are simply wonderful and there are numerous enjoyable day trips to the surrounding region.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio may not be as famous as other Algarve resort towns, but it makes both an enjoyable day trip or alternative holiday destination. This guide will provide an introduction to Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
1) The grand Praça Marquês de Pombal, the heart of the small town
2) The relaxed ferry ride between Portugal and Spain along the Rio Guadiana
The ferry crossing the Guadiana river
3) The pine forests of the and almost deserted beaches of Ponta da Areia
The shaded paths of the Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais
Vila Real is small town with a grand appearance but a pleasant relaxed ambience. The town is ideal for visitors who are wishing to experience the traditional slow pace of life of southern Portugal.
Tourists can relax in the open air cafes that surround the Praça Marquês de Pombal or gently stroll around the large marina and banks of the slow flowing Rio Guadiana.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio makes for an enjoyable day trip if you’re on holiday within the eastern Algarve. The town is certainly not the largest, but the varied sights and activities could easily fill a day of sightseeing.
Often a day trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio is combined with Ayamonte (in Spain) and crosses the Guadiana River by the ferry. An alternative is a walk through the cooling Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais pine forests which leads to the deserted beaches south of Vila Real. From here it is possible to walk to the modern resort town of Monte Gordo or the mouth of the Guadiana River.
Below is a suggested tour of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. The green line marks the tour of the tour, the yellow line shows the pine forests and beach walk to Monte Gordo, while the purple line is the ferry and Ayamonte (Spain) section. The pretty centre of Vila Real is highlighted in yellow.
Sights: 1) Praça Marquês de Pombal 2) Harbour 3) Ferry to Ayamonte 4) Market 5) Mata Nacional das Dunas Pine forests 6) Parque Aventura (High rope tree assault course) 7) Lighthouse 8) Vila Real Church 9) Ponta da Areia beach
Note: The train station is to the north of the town but sadly the area around it is very industrial and shabby in appearance.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is situated on the banks of the Guadiana River and there are no beaches close to the town. The Praia da Ponta da Areia is nearest beach and is 2.5km (30min walk) from the centre of Vial Real.
The beaches of the Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais de Vila Real
The Praia da Ponta da Areia is the eastern edge of vast sandy beach that stretches for almost 10km passed the resort towns of Monte Gordo, Altura and Manta Rota.
The Praia da Ponta da Areia is very scenic, as it is backed the sand dune forests of the Mata Nacional das Dunas Litorais Natural Park. There is almost no tourist development here and it is one of the quietest beaches of the Algarve.
The best, unique activity of Vila Real is the ferry ride across the Guadiana River to the town of Ayamonte and Spain. This ferry crosses the huge, slow flowing river and provides wonderful views of both towns and surrounding countryside.
The ferry is a wide car transporting boat, as before 1994 this was the only means of crossing the river. The pleasant journey takes about 15 minutes and a single ticket costs €1.80.
The harbour of Vila Real
To the south west of Vila Real is the largest forest of the Algarve, the Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais de Vila Real de Santo Antonio. This natural park has a unique ecosystem of pine forests that cover the sand dunes of the region.
The forest is the perfect place to escape the summer crowds and there are pleasant shaded footpaths across the 440 hectares of forest.
The forest walks of the sand dunes
Both Tavira and Vila Real are traditional towns that exude Portuguese charm. Tavira is a much and has significantly more sight and historical monuments than Vial Real. In our opinion Tavira should be visited before Vila Real as a day trip and Tavira makes the better holiday destination.
Monte Gordo is a large soulless resort town that is situated on one of the best beaches of the eastern Algarve. Monte Gordo is great for a hectic beach and nightlife holiday but Vila Real is more scenic and relaxed.
The beach front of Monte Gordo
Vila Real can make for an enjoyable alternative holiday destination, which is ideal for the more mature or intrepid visitor, who wishes to escape the summer crowds.
From Vila Real the entire region can be explored and there are a range of excellent day trips, which can be easily reached by the inexpensive public transport.
Day trips from Vila Real include; the fortified town of Castro Marim, the Spanish border town of Ayamonte, the beach resorts of Monte Gordo and Altura.
The height of the summer season for Vila Real de Santo Antonio is from July through to August, during this season the hotels are full, restaurants are busy and there is a great atmosphere around the town.
Weather is suitable for spending time on the beach from May until the end of September and outside of the summer season hotel bargains can be found but the town will feel much quieter.
The average weather of Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Vila Real de Santo Antonio closes down for the winter and the weather of this season is mild with an equal number of wet days as bright sunny days. For a winter holiday to the Algarve head to the towns which have a large permanent population such as Lagos, Praia da Rocha or Albufeira.
The average hours of sunshine per day for Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The main international airport of the Algarve is Faro airport which is centrally located along the southern coastline. Vila Real is located 65km to the east of Faro and it is advisable to organise a pre-arranged pick up from the airport due to the limited public transport connections. Never get a taxi from the airport to Vila Real as this will be very expensive.
The main terminal building of Faro Airport
Monte Gordo has limited bus and train services from Faro. Faro town centre is a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport (€ 12-15) and the train and bus station are only 200m apart.
The train is the more relaxing method of travel (€5 single ticket) but there are only 6 daily departures. From the train station it is a 1km walk to the town centre.
If there are no suitable train departures head to Faro bus station and catch the bus. Bus and train travel is safe even on the late night services.
The Algarve regional train
For a holiday to Vila Real there is no need to rent a car as all day trips can be easily reached using public transport. The advantage of a car is it makes the transfer from the airport much easier and does open up more of the surrounding area.
When renting a car always be aware of the high excess for insurance, which is usually around €1,000. Further insurance can be purchased to remove the excess (€10-15 a day) but it is a sneaky additional cost which is paid locally Portugal – all Portuguese rental companies apply this excess. If you wish to cross the border into Spain always check with your rental company that you are insured.
Everyone who works in the tourist trade can speak English fluently. English is used as the second language and no visitor will experience any difficulties communicating. All restaurants will have English menus and home cuisine can be easily found.
Monte Gordo Portugal Holiday Guide