Vila Real and Ayamonte, Spain make a great day trip from Tavira.
I have had a friend visiting for the past month and the running joke is that she is getting the grand tour of every grocery store in The Algarve. We’re mostly hanging out, doing a lot of walking and hitting restaurants. Not doing a lot of tourist things.
But we did go over to Vila Real de Santo António, which is a mouthful of a name so everyone just calls it VRSA. It’s a small city right on the Guadiana River, which separates Portugal and Spain. I had been there once before with friends and knew I wanted to go back. Having a houseguest gave me the perfect opportunity.
VRSA is a quick train trip (about 30 minutes) down the CP Algarve line. The round-trip ticket from Tavira set us back about €5.50 each. We made the short walk into the main area of town which is a lovely cobblestone plaza filled with shops and restaurants. A quick stop for cappuccinos geared us up for some heavy-duty shopping.
While there are clothing and shoe stores, you come to VRSA for the household goods: linens and towels, dishes, glassware, pots and pans. Or at least I do. We had already spotted a shop with handmade tile trivets and coasters and a quick glance inside promised lovely pottery and other fun, breakable stuff. We decided to buy anything heavy at the end of the day, so we made a mental note of the shop. We spent a leisurely hour walking in and out of shops. We found a huge linens store where my friend bought colorful kitchen towels and a bathmat and a few other items. I was happy to look. I’m in the “getting rid of stuff” stage of my life.
We made our way over to the ferry terminal and bought tickets to Ayemonte, Spain. We were just in time for the ferry which was more luck than design. It runs to and from about every half hour so really, I couldn’t be too far off. My friend thought I was exceedingly clever with my timing. I let her continue to think that.
I am a horrible tour guide
It’s a cool little ferry ride, about ten or fifteen minutes, that takes you across the Guadiana to Spain. The first place we hit was a leather goods store that had been closed the one time I was there. There is nothing like the smell of leather. (If you don’t count cake.) We looked at wallets and messenger bags, hand bags, backpacks, and jackets, gloves, and hats, and somehow managed to resist all. But I now have a very swanky red leather jacket implanted in my brain, a nice incentive for losing the next 15 pounds. (We’ll see how that goes).
I am not the type of traveler who looks up the “10 best things to do in…” Consequently, I miss a lot of things that are “must-sees” or really, “how could you have possibly missed thats?” (I spent three days in Florence and never hit the Ponte Vecchio or the Uffizi Gallery. Pretty sure that’s a mortal sin.) I like to wander around, hit the backstreets, and if I’m lucky, I may stumble across a cool shop or bakery or plaza.
We wandered through a few streets in what I knew was the general direction of the main square. My friend was once again impressed by my local knowledge and I was once again grateful for dumb luck and very small towns. We hunted for a sunny café to have lunch which is problematic since she is mostly vegetarian and I am almost exclusively carnivorous and everybody in Spain and Portugal wants to feed you fish. We ended up at a café that turned out to be an okay choice for wine and a poor choice for food. I sent my uncooked meat back and munched on the breadsticks that obviously came out of a box. My friend had a pre-made “Spanish omelet” that looked rather industrial but filled her up. Good enough. There would be more food and wine back in Portugal.
We poked around in a few shops, I snapped up an English language novel so even with the bad lunch, I was happy. (Could have been the wine.) We also ducked into a grocery store “just to see” what they had (about the same as what we could find in Portugal, just in Spanish). We bought a bottle of sparkling wine which we could have probably picked up for about the same price in Portugal. But you know, just in case…
Back on the Portugal side, we hit the coffee shop again and then went back to our tile and pottery store so my friend could pick out some tile coasters. By then, it was time to head back to the train station. But first, one more stop.
The Grand Tour of Grocery Stores
Of course, we had to hit the big grocery store there, the Intermarche. I had Googled grocery stores in VRSA and it looked like the Intermarche was a few blocks from the train station and the Aldi was much farther away. We made our way back to the train station on the side streets, thinking we would bump into the store. After a little bit, we gave up and decided just to head for the train station. And of course, the Intermarche was right next to it, just set back by a huge parking lot and screened by some large trees.
I hit a few aisles, sussing out what Intermarche might carry that my local Pingo and Lidl did not. The big search, the ongoing search, was for sour cream. We had found some at the Aldi in Tavira, but it comes in rather small containers. (Just about everything here comes in small containers compared to the US, from milk to bags of chips to rice. It tells you a lot about eating habits.) A quick reconnaissance mission assured me that Pingo and Lidl had me as well supplied as Intermarche. Alas, no sour cream.
Sitting on the train back, just a block or two west of the station, we saw an Aldi. I swear, on the map it looked like it was half a mile away. Nope. Well, that’s good to know, I guess, but not really necessary. I’m getting pretty good with the ten-minute walk from the Tavira train station to the Aldi.
If you’re in the Tavira area, VRSA and Ayemonte is a good little day trip. Tons of shops and restaurants, beaches if you and the weather are so inclined, and, as just about everywhere in Europe, you will almost assuredly stumble upon a historic church, castle, or ruin. The grocery stores, however, were a wee bit disappointing.