Vila Real Vila Real, Eastern Algarve, Portugal

River, beach and the gateway to Spain...

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Normally known locally more simply as Vila Real (not be confused with the town in the north of Portugal), the eastern- most town of the Algarve sits at the mouth of the river Guardiana, which, upstream as far as Pomerão, also forms the border between Portugal and Spain. The long waterfront features gardens, a marina, the nautical club, and a ferry across the river to Ayamonte in Spain. Behind the waterfront, the 18th century town is laid out in a grid system, centred on the attractive square. Vila Real's most ubiquitous and attractive architectural feature is its patterned calçada (cobble)pavements, a tradition that the present town council has enthusiastically upheld; so look where you are walking. Otherwise, the most remarkable thing about the town centre is the incredible number of textile shops; if you want to buy towels, table clothes, sheets, blankets or examples of the fine lacework still made in the town, this is the place to come. The town centre also features the old market, now rehabilitated as an exhibition centre and performance space for music, theatre and film. Vila Real also has its own beach, which is accessed along a very long breakwater that stops all the nice golden sand washing over to Spain. Near-by Monte Gordo is to Vila Real what Brighton is to London and features a high rise sea front full of hotels, a casino, and more excellent beach.


In the 16th century, the original town of Vila de Santo António de Arenilha, stood closer to the sea, to which it was lost over the next two centuries. Thus, for a time, Portugal lacked a town at the mouth of the Guardiana river to control the important trade in mineral ores from the interior and to provide a bastion against Spain - with whom a war was fought in 1762/63. Thus, a royal charter founding the town was signed on December 30th, 1773. Overseen by Portugal's great Prime minister - the Marquis de Pombal - the town was built rapidly. The street grid was marked out in March 1774 and by August, the principle buildings in the main square - still there today - were completed. The town flourished at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, both with the through trade in ores from inland and as a centre of the tuna and sardine canning industry. However, with the ores worked out and the decline in the tuna and sardine stocks, Vila Real fell into decline. With the rise of tourism, the development of Monte Gordo, and as a border town within the EU, Vila Real is currently under going something of a renaissance..

Facility Comment
tourist office YES
train station YES - end of the line
bus station YES - end of the line
ferry service YES - to Ayamonte, Spain
internet cafe YES
foreign language newspapers YES
post office YES
cash machine (ATM) YES
Facility Comment
supermarket YES - Lidl
food market YES
cinema YES
theatre YES - in old market
health centre YES
chemist / pharmacy YES
art gallery YES - in old market
marina YES

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