The beautiful coastal town that you must visit in summer

Vila Real de Santo António Portugal visit the best kept secret free tourist vacation destination summer 2022 – Getty

Stand among the fragrant orange trees that line Vila Real de Santo António’s main square, surrounded by charming 18th century townhouses and a mosaic of bold black and white cobblestones at your feet and you could be forgiven for thinking of this claim to fame. small town. lies in his gaze.

In many ways you would be right, as you travel along the Algarve and you will not find a prettier, more ship-shaped city. But Vila Real de Santo António, which sits right on the Guadiana River that separates Portugal from Spain, has hidden depths.

It was just a small fishing village when it was engulfed by a tsunami in the 18th century, but due to its importance as a frontier town, it was rebuilt with some grandeur. The terrace of elegant whitewashed houses facing the river are uniform, in order, the story goes, so that the Spanish, peering through their telescopes, would think that it was actually the façade of a magnificent palace. The energetic Marquis of Pombal (for whom the main square is named) who had just rebuilt Lisbon after the same devastating 1755 earthquake and tsunami built this city in just two years using his Pombaline orthogonal grid and, at ruinous cost, ashlars transported from Lisbon.

In 1835, the city became the birthplace of canning fish, eventually having 27 canneries in the city. Look inside your kitchen cabinets today and you might see the Ramírez name on your tuna or sardines. It was that family, resident here then (now in their fifth generation running the world’s oldest canned fish business) who founded the first purpose-built hotel south of Lisbon, Hotel Guadiana, which opened here in 1926. Designed by a Swiss-born architect Ernesto Korrodi exuded Art Deco elegance, encapsulating the style of the Roaring Twenties, hoping to appeal to those traveling to the 1929 Expo in Seville, less than 100 miles away.

Then came World War II; the Ramírez family moved their production to northern Portugal to benefit from the more efficient rail network and business in the city center dried up, leaving the tall red chimneys of the canneries to the storks that nest here year after year.

But about 10 years ago, a local boy became mayor and started a serious campaign to restore the city’s deteriorating heritage and now it shines, resplendent with everything but British tourists.

Vila Real de Santo António Portugal visit the best kept secret free tourist vacation destination summer 2022 - Getty

Vila Real de Santo António Portugal visit the best kept secret free tourist vacation destination summer 2022 – Getty

The Hotel Guadiana is now the Great House, its bright rooms recreate the glamor of its past and its bar offers the best Martini in the city. Last year a Pousada opened inside four of the historic 18th-century townhouses, right on the orange-tree-lined main square, where the distinctive sloping terracotta roofs can be seen from the rooftop pool. Hot on its heels came an outpost of The Addresses, a beautifully restored three-bedroom rental with concierge services just off the main square.

Hotels have added restaurants to existing ones, which mostly serve regional Portuguese food, from chicken piri-piri to grilled octopus. Among the restaurants, shops abound, including the Soares wine shop on Calle Teófilo Braga, where you can explore the rich world of Portuguese wines.

And then there is the beach. Praia de Santo António is reached through a resin-rich pine forest and across sand dunes decorated with yellow-flowered succulents and occasional chameleons basking in the sun. The Atlantic Ocean, warmed by the nearby Mediterranean, can reach a comfortable 26 degrees, making it the Algarve’s hot spot. What could not be loved?

Visit Vila Real de Santo António in the summer of 2022

Where to stay

Grand House (00 351 281 530 290) faces the river and offers old world elegance in its 31 rooms. Doubles from €313 (£265) including breakfast.

Pousada Vila Real de Santo António (00 351 281 249 120) offers a selection of pools and a restaurant that spills out onto the town’s main square. Doubles from €75 (£64) with breakfast included. Casa Três has capacity for six people with three double rooms and a swimming pool. From €1,200 (£992) for one week.

For more places to stay, check out our guide to the best hotels in the Algarve.

what to eat

Live like a local and dine on clams from the Algarve. The best, with garlic, olive oil and cilantro, are served at the Grand Beach Club with your feet in the sand.

do not miss

Visit to the neighboring salt flats of Castro Marim. Recently restored by the artisanal salt company Sal Marim, it now supplies many of the best restaurants in Portugal. Its well-packaged salts are the perfect souvenir to take home, especially if you opt for the piri-piri.

how to get there

BA and Easyjet fly from several UK airports to Faro, which is a 50-minute drive along the coast from Vila Real de Santo António.

This article is kept up to date with the latest information.

Do you have a secret corner of Portugal that you always come back to? Comment below to join the conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.