Vila Real de Santo António

Travel advice for Vila Real de Santo António on the estuary of the river Guadiana, the border of the Algarve in Portugal with Andalusia in Spain: seaside resort Monte Gordo with endless sandy beaches & casino, accommodation, gastronomy, boat tours, golf courses, ferry to Ayamonte, points of interest, …
Vila Real de Santo António
  • District: Faro > Municipality: Vila Real de Santo António > Parish:
  • Population: 11.900
  • Distances: Faro Airport 66 km, Lisbon Airport 325 km
  • Tourist Info: Posto de Turismo de Monte Gordo

Vila Real de Santo António is a city (cidade) and municipality (concelho) in the district of Faro (Algarve), the most southern region of Portugal, on the border to Spain.


Vila Real de Santo António location and access

Vila Real de Santo António on the river Guadiana, the border to Spain

The city is situated at the mouth of the river Guadiana, the border between the Algarve and Spain. The A22 motorway, which leads from Lagos in the west to the border with Spain in the east, terminates near Castro Marim. After a short drive from exit 18 you reach Vila Real. The national road EN125 and the single track railway Linha do Algarve terminate in the city. The bus terminal of EVA Transportes, offering the most convenient public transport, is situated at the promenade on the shore of the Guadiana.

Coming from Seville in Spain you get to the city via highway A49/E1,crossing the International Guadiana Bridge near Castro Marim. Traffic on the border stretch of the A22 motorway is not subject to tolls. There is also a direct link between Vila Real and Ayamonte on the Spanish bank of the Guadiana by ferry boat.


Vila Real de Santo António sports and leisure

Endless sandy beaches, boat tours, golf courses

Wonderful wide and flat sandy beaches stretch for almost 10 kilometres from the mouth of the Guadiana River to the shores of the Ria Formosa. Here, the water is shallow and warmer than in the western Algarve, creating an excellent environment for beach holidays for families with small children.

The Praça Marquês de Pombal is the central square in the city, named after the Prime Minister who ordered the rebuilding of the city after the devastating earthquake of 1755.  The church, situated on the outskirts of the square, is flanked by a set of buildings identical in construction. This type of structure ensured the reconstruction of the city in just five months. The obelisk in the center of the square is dedicated to King Joseph I.

The promenade Avenida da Republica, fringed by palm trees, is characterized by buildings of Art Nouveau architecture overlooking the river, among them the Hotel Guadiana, the first hotel that opened its doors in the Algarve. A small marina is on the north side of the promenade. The pier next door is the starting point for boat trips up the river. The ferry boat to Ayamonte on the Spanish side of the river also departs from here.

Golf  is a relative newcomer to the eastern Algarve. But even so there are already six excellent golf courses within a radius of 15 kilometers from Vila Real. Three others are on the opposite bank of the river in Spain.


Shopping in Vila Real de Santo António

Where to buy in Vila Real de Santo António

Price levels and also the rate of VAT can differ significantly between Portugal and Spain. This encourages many people to go shopping in neighbouring Spain. On the other bank of the Guadiana, in the commercial center and business park of Ayamonte, there are many shops and supermarkets that sell equipment for the home, electrical appliances and tires, among other things, at significantly lower prices than in similar stores in Portugal.  It is also cheaper to fill your car with fuel in Spain.


Surroundings of Vila Real de Santo António

The surroundings of Vila Real de Santo António: Ayamonte, Monte Gordo and Castro Marim

The nearby Monte Gordo on the coast has become one of the most important holiday destinations in the eastern Algarve, mainly due to the extensive and beautiful sandy beaches and its proximity to Spain. Lovers of gambling can find one of the 3 Algarve casinos in Monte Gordo; the two others, also operated by Solverde Group are in Vilamoura and in Praia da Rocha. In the middle of a pine forest, on the eastern outskirts of Monte Gordo, there is a large campsite.

North of Vila Real is the village of Castro Marim, which owes its name to the massive Moorish castle, which was later extended and strengthened by the knights of Christian Orders. Every year in August there is a Medieval Festival held here, aiming to recreate a medieval environment with tournaments, shows, music and much more.

The castle houses an archaeological museum which is worth a visit. The walls and battlements of the Castle afford a spectacular panoramic view over the village at the foot of Forte de São Sebastião on the opposite hill and the nature reserve Sapal de Castro Marim on the Guadiana River.

Sea salt (Sal Tradicional) is traditionally harvested in the salt pans of the protected marshland. This area is a fascinating and worthwhile biotope, particularly in spring and autumn, because it offers refuge to a wide variety of birds.

The hilly landscape north of Castro Marim is a good terrain for hiking, offering great views to the river Guadiana. The nearby large water reservoirs Barragem de Odeleite and Barragem de Beliche are of  great importance for the water supply to the eastern Algarve.


History of Vila Real de Santo António

Vila Real de Santo António and the Marques de Pombal

The predecessor of Vila Real de Santo António was just a small fishing village at the mouth of the Guadiana River, called Santo António de Avenilha. The village was completely destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of 1755.  Shortly after, the Prime Minister Marquis de Pombal decided to build a new village as a demonstration of power towards Spain. The techniques used had already successfully been applied in the reconstruction of Lisbon, which had also been damaged by the earthquake.  In record time, i.e. in just five months a new village, structured like a chess board, was born. In honor of King José I it was named "Vila Real", and the village which had tragically vanished was acknowledged with name of its patron Santo António.

During the nineteenth century, Vila Real de Santo António was an important center for tuna and sardine fishing, and also an essential port for the mining industry. In 1886, Vila Real was the first city in the Algarve to have a gas lighting system, a historical detail that emphasizes its importance in the past.

Since the decline of fishing and the associated industry in the 1960s, tourism now plays a leading role in the economy of the eastern Algarve.


Municipality of Vila Real de Santo António

The municipality of Vila Real de Santo António has an area of ​​58km2 and 19,156 inhabitants. Beyond the town itself, the municipality covers the coastal parishes of Monte Gordo and Vila Nova de Cacela. The quiet village Cacela Velha on the east bank of the Ria Formosa is closed to through traffic. Visitors can park their cars in the spacious car park at the entrance of the village and visit on foot. The few houses in Cacela Velha are dominated by a small church and an impressive fortress which in past centuries formed part of the border fortifications.


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