Europe

Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal. Information on a day trip and the ferry to Spain.

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I hope you’re enjoying your day even though most of us are on lockdown while we wait out the global COVID-19 Pandemic. I’m sending you a virtual postcard from my corner of the world along with cheerful messages to “find the beauty in our own backyard”. Read below for a fun day trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio and the ferry to Spain. Hopefully, we will all be traveling soon.

In the postcard above is the view of Vila Real de Santo Antonio from my terrace (top photo) and then the views from Portugal looking across the Guadiana River to Spain. The Spanish town you see across the river in the distance is Ayamonte. A ferry (bottom right) connects the two towns (when we are not in quarantine). For only 1.90 euros each way and a 10-minute ride on the water you can enjoy both towns easily in one day.

If you’re staying in the Algarve and want to enjoy our town just hop the train heading East. Vila Real de Santo Antonio (VRSA) is the last stop the train makes, so relax and enjoy the ride.

I love taking the train through the Algarve and Faro to VRSA is a perfect ride. It takes about an hour and the scenery begins with the Rio Formosa preserves and then the ocean appears on your right (facing the direction of travel).  The regional train chugs through the beautiful countryside of the East Algarve. The trains are older but still climate controlled and enjoyable. You can see vineyards, olive groves, cork trees, and if you’re lucky you will spot flamingos in the preserves near Castro Marim.

Hop off the train when you reach the end of the line and head straight out of the train station. Walk about 5 blocks (this is south) and then turn left (East) for a few blocks until you reach the river. Look up and ta da you’ll be at the marina and entrance to the ferry station.

Ferry boats leave every 30 minutes in the summer season and every hour in the off-season (they leave on the 30-minute mark from VRSA and return from Ayamonte, Spain on the hour).

The fee is 1.90 euros each way and you need to buy the ticket just a few minutes before boarding on each side of the river. Portugal doesn’t sell the Spanish tickets and Spain doesn’t sell the Portuguese tickets.  Sometimes the ticket window is closed until just before boarding so don’t worry if the window isn’t open.  Do be on time as they leave on time to the exact minute, but if you miss it just go to the cafe to the right (my favorite) and enjoy some people watching next to the marina. There will be another one in 30 minutes in summer and in another hour in winter. 

I buy my Spain ticket as soon as I get off the ferry in Ayamonte so that I don’t have to add extra time before I board the ferry back to VRSA (in case there is a line etc).  The ticket office should be open as you leave the ferry since they will be boarding the return visitors as soon as you get off the boat. 

There is something special about being on the water which is freeing and refreshing. I find the 10 minute ride a perfect amount of time to enjoy the ride and arrive in town.  Look over the rail and sometimes you can see colorful orange-toned jellyfish. 

In Ayamonte, enjoy the shops, grab some tapas and sangria and wander the sweet little town. Don’t forget to try some regional Jamon and Spanish wines.

Be sure to walk directly into town from the ferry.  Walk straight off the boat and make a little left turn (or hit the building in front of you) and then quick right to go around the building in front of the ferry. Walk straight one block and you’ll see a large square lined with cafes and restaurants.

I recommend a few photos here as the cafes are super touristy and I haven’t found a favorite yet (need to keep trying I guess).  Look to your right and follow the small pedestrian street to see the local church (great tapas and gelato in front of the church too). As you can see the cafes in the street are busy, there is a reason why…

After passing the church turn left when the street ends and you’ll see a cute second-hand shop to your right. Continue on until that street ends and make a right. Get lost in these little streets and shops and when they dead end turn left to find the next little square. There is a marina river walk near the square and more shops and spots to grab tapas. Everything is on a grid so you really won’t get lost.  Between the square and the marina, you will see a small parking lot, if you’re looking at the marina from the square you’ll notice a shop with spices and Morrocan items.  This is one of my favorite stores for spices and olives, snacks, and unique gifts.  The owner/manager is always friendly and actually remembers us when we visit. 

When you hop the ferry back to VRSA take note if you are on the Spanish boat or the Portuguese one. It’s nice to try each one to get a feel for how each country runs their operation. 

The Spanish one has an upper deck with amazing views and benches facing out to the water. Access the stairs from the back of the boat for a better view of the river and two towns. If it is too windy there are places inside to sit and both boats have a small bathroom (small and basic).

When you’re back in VRSA turn left out of the ferry building and you’ll find one of my favorite cafes in town to your left, Snack Bar do Puerto Recreio de Guadiana. It has great views of the Marina and palm tree-lined “Royal Road” of Vila Real. 

The prices are great considering the views. A few beers, some coffee, and olives with torradas (toasts) is under 10 euros. Beers average 1-2 euros throughout town. A large or “cannectka” is a great deal and you’ll get the local Portuguese beer, Super Bock, which is tasty. They have super clean bathrooms and friendly staff.  They are not pushy so sometimes you’ll need to flag down a server (especially when busy).  It’s just an awesome spot and I can’t say enough good things about it.  There is also a small kiosk on the street in front of the ferry entrance where you can buy newspapers etc.  I grab my local English language newspapers here (yes, I still need to learn Portuguese). They are the Algarve Resident and The Portugal News. 

Head down the river walk alongside the marina to the end to enjoy stretching your legs on the artistic Portuguese tiles. Notice the pattern as they are unique to each city in Portugal. Flip back around at the end of the cobblestones and when you see a large marble statue of Lutegarda Guimarães de Caires (a famous local poet) away from the marina in the direction she is looking. She looks straight to the town square and church just two tiny shopping blocks ahead. Tada, now you’re in my favorite city square in the Algarve.

My favorite cafe here is Puro (in the corner) but find your own as this is part of the fun. The street in the photo above (where Lutgardia is looking) is known as the “shopping street”. You’ll find all types of linen shops, cork product shops, kitchen shops, clothing shops, and three of my favorite Carvala brand shops. Wander through the grid to the left of these streets to find more uniques shops sprinkled with cafes and restaurants between them.

Make sure to stop and enjoy the city square. Grab a bench or sit at a cafe. I love at the cafes while I watch children play around the monument in the center and friends greet each other. Many evenings there are bands or music, a little DJ playing fun music as families, tourists and children dance the night away. 

Here is where some of the magic of VRSA is felt so try not to miss it.  There are some kiosks with items to buy here on the square.  I love the ceramic lady and her cups, bowls, and plates are beautiful and ridiculously low cost. 1-2 euros for cups and bowls and 4-8 euros for beautiful platters and large bowls. Take a look at the cork kiosk also, great purses and bags for a low price. If you don’t live here and need to fly the cork items are great gifts and don’t weigh much. I haven’t found cork purses or bags in the states yet. 

Enjoy your day and let me know what you found on your journey. 

Coming soon: Read my article on Vila Real de Santo Antonio for more about our sweet town.

Except below:

Welcome to the Most southeasterly corner of portugal. A small town and also a county surrounded by national preserves, sand dunes and pine forests. The town of Vila Real de Santo antonio is a hidden gem to outsiders but a well known secret of the Spanish and the Portuguese form the “North”.

This “Royal” town is Bordered by the river to Spain, the Atlantic Ocean and miles of preserves. With over 300 sunny days a year this hidden paradise includes everything the soul needs to be happy, but without the high tourist prices.

Those in the “know” enjoy the beauty and local vibe of this elegant royal town. Just big enough without being “too big”. The weekend and package tourists visiting the Algarve tend to stay in the more well known party towns of Albufera and Faro so you’ll be pleasantly surprised with a more local vibe. If you are staying in one of the more well known towns you can take a day trip to VRSA as getting here is just an easy train ride away. It’s just under an hour from Faro and a direct ride across the East Algarve.

There is something special about the air here as it blows from the ocean through the pine preserves and settles into the charming town square. Breath deeply to refresh your lungs and soul as you soak up the sun and some drinks from one of the many cafes lining the center of town. Come when the orange trees surrounding the city square are in bloom for an even more magical sensory experience.

Explore miles of trails by bike or by foot right along the ocean and sand dunes. The location is so healthy that athletes from all around Europe travel here for training. A large stadium and sports center as well as the sun and healthy air attracts athletes from all over Europe.

2 Comments

  1. Billy Sanderson

    June 16, 2020 at 9:42 am

    I am enjoying the blog and the lovely pictures. My wife and I live in the village of Sao Bartolomeu which is close to Vila Real de San Antonio so know the area quite well. Looking forward to being able to take the ferry over to Ayamonte again soon.

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