The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is a traditional Portuguese fishing town situated on the banks of the mighty Guadiana River.
The town has a peaceful and unhurried ambience but has a truly unique appearance, resembling Lisbon more than its close neighbours.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio was constructed in 1774, to resettle the plague-ravaged fishermen from Aveiro and also claim the fishing waters of the eastern Algarve from Spain. The town was constructed in just two years, and followed similar design ideas used for the reconstruction of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.
Found within the small town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio are numerous decorative Pombaline-styled buildings and a grand central plaza, reminiscent of Lisbon.
The Centro Cultural António Aleixo was originally the market of Vial Real
Vila Real de Santo Antonio overlooks the cooling waters of the Rio Guadiana and along the riverbanks is a marina, a fishing harbour and pretty riverside parks. Departing from the harbour is a ferry that crosses the Portuguese-Spanish border to the town of Ayamonte, and this ferry was the main southern border crossing until the construction of the Puente Internacional bridge in 1991.
To the south of Vila Real de Santo Antonio are the pristine pines forests of the Mata Nacional das Dunas de Vila Real de Santo António and the sandy beach of Praia da Ponta da Areia, one of the quietest beaches of the Algarve.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio is only a small town but has a surprising amount to see for your day trip. Often a day trip also includes crossing the Rio Guadiana and visiting the Spanish town Ayamonte, or visiting the town of Castro Marim with its two heavily fortified castles.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio may not be as famous as other towns in the Algarve, but it makes for an enjoyable day trip or destination as part of a touring holiday.
This guide will show you why you should visit Vila Real de Santo Antonio and how to get the most from the region.
The Praça Marquês de Pombal – The grand plaza at the heart of the small town, named 18th-century prime minister who envisaged the town and oversaw its construction.
The ferry ride from Portugal to Spain - Cross the slow-flowing waters of the Rio Guadiana, the natural border between Spain and Portugal, and visit Ayamonte – Just remember that Spain is in a different time zone, and is 1 hour ahead of Portugal!
Mata Nacional das Dunas de Vila Real de Santo António – The pristine pine forests to the south of Vila Real de Santo António, planted in the 19th century to stabilise the coastal sand dunes. Today the forest provides tranquil walks, deserted beaches and the perfect habitat for Portugal's chameleons (the Chamaeleo chamaeleon) to hide.
The scenic riverside walks – Stroll along the Rio Guadiana down to the mouth of the river at the Foz do Guadiana.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio makes for an enjoyable day trip if you're based within the eastern Algarve. The town is certainly not the largest, but the varied sights and activities can easily fill a few hours of enjoyable sightseeing.
A day trip is often extended by crossing the Guadiana River by ferry and visiting Ayamonte (in Spain).
Warning: Your passport is required to cross the Portugal-Spanish border and could be asked to be seen. Do not go into Spain without it.
An alternative is a walk through the cooling Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais pine forests, which leads to the deserted beaches at the mouth of the Rio Guadiana. If you have a car, you could visit Castro Marim with its two castles and then see the flock of flamingos in the Sapal de Castro Marim nature reserve.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio lies at the eastern end of the Algarve regional railway, and it is easy to travel to and from the major towns of the central Algarve.
The map below shows a suggested day trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, along with the main sights of the region. The green line marks the tour of the town, the yellow line displays the scenic walk to the resort town of Monte Gordo, and the purple line is a tour of Ayamonte. (Note: Zoom out to see all of the markers)
Sights of the tour: 1) Centro Cultural António Aleixo 2) Praça Marquês de Pombal 3) Nossa Senhora da Encarnação church 4) Guadiana marina 5) António Rosa Mendes museum 6) Jardim da Avenida da República 7) Lighthouse 8) Ferry terminal 9) market
Sights around Vila Real: 10) Parque Aventura (High rope tree course) 11) Mata Nacional das Dunas forests 12) Praia de Santo António 13) Praia da Ponta da Areia 14) Foz do Guadiana 15) Monte Gordo (resort town)
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 António is not a common location for a holiday, but for the right type of tourist, it can be a fantastic destination.
The town is great if you are seeking a low-key and calm destination, that has a distinctly Portuguese atmosphere. Being a town, there is a decent selection of restaurants and cafes, and during the summer, there is a social-holiday atmosphere within cafes around the Praça Marquês de Pombal.
The calm atmosphere makes Vila Real de Santo António ideal for more mature visitors looking for somewhere in the Algarve to visit during the summer.
Vila Real de Santo António has beautiful beaches, but they are 2.5km south of the Praça Marquês de Pombal. This means that the town should not really be considered as a beach destination.
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. Tavira is the best town of the eastern Algarve and can be visited as a day trip, but it is better to spend a couple of nights here.
If you are touring the Algarve in a campervan there is a basic (and inexpensive) campervan park overlooking the Rio Guadiana, just to the north of the marina (GPS: 37.199223, -7.415062).
The map below shows the best hotels and rental rooms in Vila Real de Santo António; if you adjust the dates to your holiday, it will display current prices and availability.
Vila Real de Santo António has a beautiful sandy coastline of pristine beaches. These are some of the quietest beaches of the Algarve and rarely get busy, even at the height of the summer season.
Vila Real de Santo António’s beaches are part of the 14km stretch of sandy coastline that extends from the mouth of the Rio Guadiana in the east to the village of Cacela Velha in the west.
There are two beaches in Vila Real de Santo António; the Praia da Ponta da Areia beach and the Praia de Santo António. Areia beach is to the east and at the mouth of the Guadiana river, while Santo António beach extends along the sand dunes and pines forests of the Mata Nacional das Dunas de Vila Real.
Walking through the sand dunes to the Praia de Santo António
Both are beautiful beaches surrounded by sand dunes and offer kilometres of soft sands and calm sea waters. As these are remote beaches, there are no beach cafes, shops or facilities. There is a car park for both of them at the end of a dirt track (GPS: 37.174793, -7.421141)
For somewhere a bit more exclusive is the Grand Beach Club, a trendy beach venue at the mouth of the Rio Guadiana: grandhousealgarve
To the south of Vila Real de Santo Antonio are the pine forests of the Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais de Vila Real de Santo Antonio. This is the largest forest in southern Portugal and is barely known by foreign tourists. Within the 440 hectares of sweet-smelling pine forest are deserted footpaths which lead down to the Praia de Santo António.
The forest was originally planted to stabilise the sand dunes of the region and now are one of the main habits for the Iberian chameleon (the Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Don’t expect to be seeing them though, they are masters of camouflage and are naturally shy animals.
Within the forest is “Parque Aventura”, an adventure course of high ropes, rope nets and zipwires. This is a great activity, and with three levels of difficultly it is suitable for children through to adults. www.parqueaventura
The forest walks through the Mata Nacional da Dunas Litorais de Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Monte Gordo Portugal Holiday Guide