The beautiful seaside town you must visit in summer

The beautiful seaside town you must visit in summer

Vila Real de Santo António portugal best kept secret visit free holiday tourist destination 2022 summer - Getty

Vila Real de Santo António portugal best kept secret visit free holiday tourist destination 2022 summer – Getty

Stand among the fragrant orange trees that flank Vila Real de Santo António’s main square, surrounded by charming 18th-century houses and a black and white cobblestone mosaic at your feet and you might be forgiven for thinking this small town lays claim to fame. in your appearance.

In many ways you would be right, for touring the Algarve and not finding a prettier city, more in the shape of a ship. But Vila Real de Santo António, which is right on the Guadiana River, which separates Portugal from Spain, has hidden depths.

It was just a small fishing village when engulfed by a tsunami in the 18th century, but due to its importance as a frontier town, it has been rebuilt with some grandeur. The terraces of the elegant whitewashed houses facing the river are uniform, in order, the story goes, of making the Spaniards, peering through their telescopes, think that it was actually the facade of a magnificent palace. The energetic Marquês de Pombal (after which the main square is named) who had just rebuilt Lisbon after the same devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1755 built this village in just two years using his Pombaline orthogonal grid and, at ruinous costs, ashlar transported from Lisbon. .

In 1835 the city became the birthplace of canned fish, with 27 canning factories in the city. Look inside your kitchen cabinets today and you might see the name Ramirez on your tuna or sardines. It was this family, then resident here (now in the fifth generation to manage the oldest canned fish business in the world) that founded the first hotel specifically built south of Lisbon, the Hotel Guadiana, which opened here in 1926. Designed by Swiss architect Ernesto Korrodi, oozed with Art Deco elegance, encapsulating roaring 1920s style, hoping to appeal to those traveling to the 1929 Expo in Seville, less than 100 miles away.

Then came World War II; the Ramirez family moved their production to northern Portugal to benefit from a more efficient rail network and downtown businesses dried up, leaving the tall red chimneys of the canning factories to the storks that nest here year after year.

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

Vila Real de Santo António portugal best kept secret visit free holiday tourist destination 2022 summer - Getty

Vila Real de Santo António portugal best kept secret visit free holiday tourist destination 2022 summer – Getty

The Hotel Guadiana is now the Grande Casa, its light-filled rooms recreate the glamor of its past and its bar offers the best Martini in town. Last year, a Pousada was opened inside four historic houses from the 18th century, right on the main square lined with orange trees, where from the rooftop pool you can see the characteristic sloping terracotta roofs. Following on his heels came an outpost of The Addresses, a beautifully restored three-bedroom home for rent with concierge services near the main square.

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

And then there’s the beach. Praia de Santo António is reached through a pine forest rich in the scent of resin and through sand dunes decorated by succulent plants with yellow flowers and the occasional basking chameleon. The Atlantic Ocean, warmed by the nearby Mediterranean, can reach a minus 26 degrees, making it the Algarve’s hot spot. What’s not to love?

Visit Vila Real de Santo António in the summer of 2022

Where to stay

The Grand House (00 351 281 530 290) is on the riverfront 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 several swimming pools and a restaurant that extends to the city’s main square. Doubles from €75 (£64) including breakfast. House Three sleeps six with three double bedrooms and a pool. From €1,200 (£992) for a 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 eat Algarve clams. The best ones, with garlic, olive oil and coriander, are at the Grand Beach Club with their feet in the sand.

do not miss

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

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