It is said that life is a series of trade-offs and I understand that very well. Prior to the pandemic, I was already, shall we say, a tad overweight. Then I gained the COVID 19, and my clothes were uncomfortably tight. Fortunately, we were all living in sweatpants for a year.
But now that we’re out and about, albeit cautiously, it is time to shed a few of those pounds or at least stop gaining. So, of course I choose an apartment next door to the best bakery in town. With fantastic croissants. Which is where the trade-off comes in.
Fortunately, my new digs are also well-placed for taking a daily walk. I can walk out my front door, turn left, and follow the sidewalk all the way into Tavira. Or I can turn right and follow the sidewalk all the way to Praia do Barril. Most days I turn right. It’s almost exactly 5,000 steps to the entrance of the beach and back to my place. I.e., I earn that croissant, damn it!
Friday, as I stood at the entrance of Praia do Barril I thought, it’s time to check out that beach. Praia do Barril is one of three beaches on the Ilha de Tavira, part of the Ria Formosa National Park. To get there, you cross a bridge and follow a boardwalk out and over the dunes. There’s a series of signs with information on the ecology of the area—sealife, birds, flora. They are also handy if you need to stop and rest but don’t want anyone to know that you are DYING.
It’s a Hike
Little did I know that the walk from the entrance to the actual beach would add another four or five thousand steps to my walk. There is a set of trains that runs people back and forth from the entrance to the beach (about €3 round trip), but I was there early in the day and they hadn’t started running yet. Optimist that I am, I would have opted to walk anyway. For the record, optimism isn’t always well-placed.
Be prepared: It’s a bit of a hike. (1.3 km each way) But well worth it.
The beach itself is a gorgeous stretch of soft, white sand that even in the summer tourist season provides enough space to relax and if you walk a bit, have some privacy. Praia do Barril is a Blue Flag beach, a designation that is awarded yearly by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Blue Flag beaches must meet international standards for environmental management, facilities, water quality, and safety. I’m pretty sure Barril exceeds those standards.
Praia do Barril has more options and facilities than Terra Estreita (a little to the east on Ilha de Tavira). There’s a full service restaurant, Museu do Atum, which is actually a restaurant and museum combined. There’s also the Barril Beach Café and Blue Beach Bar. You can rent a sunbed with an umbrella for the day or bring your own chair, mat, or towel. There are restrooms and showers. In the summer, there are lifeguards on duty. You can also rent kayaks, paddleboards, and go sailing.
I was there before things really opened up, which made it very private and quiet, so I took the opportunity to poke around a bit. From about 1840 to 1967, Praia do Barril’s economy revolved around blue fin tuna and it was home to about 80 tuna fishermen and their families during season. The buildings on the beach today are the original “fishermen’s huts” but don’t let the word “hut” fool you. These are permanent structures. This was a thriving community from April through October, with living facilities, warehouses, offices, a canteen, and a school house. The blue fin tuna moved to other waters about mid-20th century and the tuna industry gradually died out.
Which brings us to…
Cemiterio das Ancoras
On one section of the dunes is the Cemetery of Anchors, over 100 anchors placed in rows. Anchors were actually used as gear in the tuna fishing industry. The anchors were part of a complex fishing system along with floats and nets. They were lowered into the sea or placed along the beaches and were used to keep the nets in place.
It took 8 to 12 people to lift the smaller anchors and up to 20 for the larger anchors. When the blue fin tuna’s migratory pattern changed, the anchors were left behind.
The area’s economy turned to tourism and Praia do Barril has transformed the fishermen’s huts into the facilities that make this one of the top beaches in the Algarve. My next walk out there will be a bit later in the day so I can sit out, have lunch, and gather my strength for the hike back to town. Which is, of course, how I am working off all those croissants.
PSA: Don’t Be Surprised
If you walk a couple of kilometers to the west, you will find the official nude beach: Praia do Homem Nu. What can I say? Use strong sunblock. Actually, I didn’t go that far though I’m pretty sure the beach would have been empty at that time of day. But, it’s there if you want it. I’m afraid my nude beach days are behind me.