The border area between Portugal and Spain has always been one of the most iconic places in the Iberian Peninsula. For several centuries this geographical area witnessed territorial disputes and the inconspicuous movements of smugglers. With the emergence of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, which facilitates free movement of people, the southern border between Portugal and Spain has become a touristic area. Nowadays, the town of Vila Real de Santo António and the villages of Monte Gordo, Castro Marim and Ayamonte attract many curious individuals looking for the calmest beaches and the warmest waters in the Iberian Peninsula.
Where to stay?
Vila Real de Santo António – The town of Vila Real de Santo António is known for being the last Portuguese city in the Algarve before the border with Spain. This beautiful village, west of the Guadiana River, was built to help protect the Algarve coast. For many years the protection of the coast in the south of Portugal was carried out by Castro Marim, a small village positioned more to the north. However, the solo protection conferred by Castro Marim left the Portuguese frontier territories too exposed, which is why in 1773 Vila Real de Santo António was born by the hand of the minister of the king Dom Jose, Marquês de Pombal.
Castro Marim – Occupied by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans and Visigoths, Castro Marim would only be conquered to the Arabs in 1242 by the Portuguese. Nowadays, Castro Marim is a small village with about 7000 inhabitants and has an economy based mainly on fishing and agriculture. Castro Marim is also famous because of its salt flats.
Monte Gordo – Monte Gordo started as a fishing village, but it was also one of the first towns in the Algarve to develop its hotel industry, with the construction of one of the region’s first hotels in the 60’s (the famous Hotel Vasco da Gama). Monte Gordo has a calm sea and safe beaches, making this a very popular holiday destination.
Ayamonte – Ayamonte is the first Spanish town to be found just across the border from the Algarve. Situated near the mouth of the river Guadiana, Ayamonte retains its Arab roots as denoted by the whitewashed houses. In Ayamonte you will find several hostels, hotels and houses to rent.
What are the beaches like?
Santo António’s Beach (Praia de Santo António) – Santo António’s Beach, like all the other beaches in the area, has a vast sand line that allows you to play soccer, tennis or rugby without disturbing any other visitors. It is a calm beach with warm water, ideal to spend a fun day with family and friends.
Monte’s Gordo Beach (Praia de Monte Gordo) – Monte Gordo’s Beach has few waves, an impeccable trash-free sand, good access and a convenient car park. The municipality of Vila Real de Santo António is concerned every year with the quality of its beaches and that translates into the amazing conditions at Monte Gordo Beach: the beach is always clean, the supporting infrastructures re well cared for and the quality of the sea water is perfect.
Lota’s Beach (Praia da Lota) – Lota’s Beach has an incredibly blue sea and a sand of virgin whiteness. This beach passes unnoticed in the middle of Vila Real de Santo António and Manta Rota Beach, which makes it a good option to escape the hordes of tourists in the months of July and August.
Manta Rota Beach (Praia da Manta Rota) – Manta Rota Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the Algarve. During the low tide, the sea recedes, revealing an extensive beach. Also during low tide it is possible to walk or paddle for a significant distance before the water becomes deep. We strongly recommend that you visit Manta Rota Beach because it is a unique beach in the Algarve.
Isla Canela’s Beach (Playa de Isla Canela) – Also called Playa Alta, Isla Canela’s Beach is the first Spanish beach after the Guadiana river border. Known for having extremely warm water, the beach has a quiet sea where children can play safely.
Which beaches have a Blue Flag?
According to the official website of the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, the beaches of Manta Rota, Lota, Santo António and Monte Gordo all have a Blue Flag.
Isla Canela’s Beach also has a Blue Flag.
The Blue Flag symbol ensures the quality of the beach based on environmental standards such as water quality and beach cleanliness, as well as important facilities including toilets and lifeguards.
What is there to do/see in the area?
Guadiana River Cruise (Vila Real de Santo António) – No trip to this region would be complete without a cruise along the Guadiana River which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. The cruise which departs from Vila Real de Santo António is a great way to see some of pretty border towns and beautiful countryside which lines the route. The trip can also be combined with a jeep safari for the perfect way to explore the whole region.
Monte Gordo Casino – Hit the tables at the casino and try your luck with a wide range of games including roulette, poker and a huge number of machines. For a great way to spend an evening you can also the casino dinner and show spectacular.
Birdwatching – This countryside of this region offers great conditions for birds and other wildlife and a great way to see more of the nature is therefore with a birdwatching tour.
Sunset boat party – The sunsets are not to be missed and this sunset boat party offers amazing views and a great way to enjoy the evening with music and sangria!
Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Dores (Monte Gordo) – The Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Dores which currently stands in Monte Gordo is actually a reconstruction of the original church of the same name. Not much is known about this first temple, except that it is estimated that it was erected on a date close to the foundation of the town of Monte Gordo. The lack of vigilance led the building to being buried in sands. The current church presents a simple look from the outside, hiding in the interior a gold-cut altar and tiles with religious illustrations.
Castle of Castro Marim – The Castle of Castro Marim arose because of the need for a military fortress able to watch the entrance of the river Guadiana. Years later, during the reign of Dom Dinis, the king ordered that the castle was enlarged, which resulted in the construction of the outside wall, as a way to compensate for the loss of the territory of Ayamonte to the kingdom of Castile. At the time of the Discoveries, Castro Marim acquired a new importance because of its strategic location, which led to restoration works at the castle. The castle would still undergo more renovations, as commanded by king Dom João IV, after the Restoration of the Independence.
Megalithic Monument of Santa Rita (Vila Real de Santo António) – The Megalithic Monument of Santa Rita constitutes a tomb dating from the year 2500 BC. The whole structure was built facing east, revealing a very complex cosmic order. The Megalithic Monument of Saint Rita reveals a look at the habits of prehistoric Man that has been pivotal to the understanding of universal history.
Marquês de Pombal Square (Vila Real de Santo António) – Designed by the architect Reinaldo Manuel dos Santos, the Marquês de Pombal Square was designed to be as close as possible to the Guadiana river, which is why it is only two blocks away. It was at the Marquês de Pombal Square that the House of the Chamber, the Corps of the Guard and the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação were located, making it the civic and commercial centre of Vila Real de Santo António. At the centre of the square sits the famous Obelisk of Vila Real de Santo António.
Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação (Vila Real de Santo António) – Built between 1774 and 1776, the main facade of Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Encarnação features special stones taken from Lisbon. Its magnificent stained-glass windows date back to the 1940s. On the main altar there is an image of the patron saint of the church, Nossa Senhora da Encarnação, flanked by the image of the Sacred Heart.
Marina Isla Canela (Ayamonte) – The marina of Isla Canela is the first Spanish port to be found when entering Spain through the Algarve. With a capacity for 231 ships, between 6 and 24 meter long, the marina is a place of leisure in the south of Spain. Enjoy strolling around with your family or take the chance to embark on a boat trip along the coast.
Playing Golf at Isla Canela Golf Club (Ayamonte) – Like the neighbouring region of the Algarve, the region of Andalusia, where Ayamonte is located, has excellent conditions for golf. A lot of sun, little rain and a mild climate during most of the year make it a very popular region for playing golf. As such, do not miss the opportunity to hit some balls at the Isla Canela Golf Club.
What is the best time of the year for a visit?
Summer – Summer is perhaps the most fun time of the year to visit Vila Real de Santo António, Ayamonte, Castro Marim and Monte Gordo. During the warmer months, the towns of the Algarve (and Ayamonte too) are filled with colour and excitement to welcome the thousands of tourists passing through the region. Music, dance and theatre shows often enliven the hot summer nights, bars and restaurants are open until later, and the streets are filled with locals and tourists.
Winter – Winter offers a different look at the towns at the border in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. Somehow the cold makes them more intimate, calmer and ideal places for a romantic getaway. Stroll along the beach, board a cruise on the Guadiana River or enjoy some tapas in Ayamonte.
Autumn / Spring – A good alternative for those who want to escape the intense heat and hordes of summer tourists is to visit the border area in the autumn or spring months. During those months, the mild climate that is felt invites you for long walks on the beach and to enjoy a beer on a terrace. As many of the typical summer attractions are already (or are still) working, this is a great time to enjoy them away from crowds.
What is the weather like?
The climate in Vila Real de Santo António, Monte Gordo, Castro Marim and Ayamonte is warm and temperate.
If we look at the particular case of Vila Real de Santo António, we can observe that it has an average temperature of 17.5ºC during the year, with August being the warmest month with an average temperature of 24.4ºC.
In the case of Ayamonte, in August there was an average temperature of 24.5ºC, a temperature very similar to that of Vila Real de Santo António.
The following graph shows the monthly average temperatures and the monthly rainfall, in Vila Real de Santo António, for 2017.
Where to eat?
Delicatessen Merkajamon (Ayamonte) – This fabulous restaurant with a rustic look will enchant you with its prosciutto. We recommend that you also try the ham and see for yourself how tasty it is. The wine list is also marvellous.
Wow Sushi Bar (Monte Gordo) – The Wow Sushi Bar in Monte Gordo is undoubtedly one of the best sushi restaurants in the country. With creative chefs aiming to revolutionize traditional sushi preparation techniques, mixing for example infusion sushi with a simple salmon nagiri, this restaurant’s food is absolutely divine.
Dom Petisco (Vila Real de Santo António) – Dom Petisco is a typical Algarvian restaurant that offers superb seafood dishes prepared with ingredients cultivated in the local area.
Where to go out at night?
Families – The ideal place for families wanting to take a stroll in the evening is the Isla Canela Marina (in Ayamonte). In the marina there are plenty of ice-cream parlours, terraces, cafes and restaurants, making this a favourite place for children.
Groups of friends – For groups of friends, we also recommend Marina de Isla Canela, as well as the Boozy the Elephant bar (also in Ayamonte).
Couples – For couples, we recommend visiting the restaurants Sem Espinhas Guadiana (Vila Real de Santo António) and the LPA The Culinary Bar (Ayamonte). These delicious restaurants feature an exotic menu filled with aphrodisiacs.
How far is the border from…?
Faro Airport – 63 km (approx. 40 min drive)
Albufeira – 92 km (approx. 1hr drive)
Lagos – 137 km (approx. 1hr20 drive)
Portimão – 115 km (approx. 1hr10 drive)
Sagres – 160 km (approx. 1hr40 drive)
Tavira – 35 km (approx. 22 min drive)
Lisbon – 320 km (approx. 3hr drive)
Seville – 145 km (approx. 1hr30 drive)
All distances are rounded and are calculated from the border.
Where are the bus station and the train station?
The Vila Real de Santo António train station is located at the following address: Rua da Estação Velha, 8900-263, Vila Real de Santo António.
Vila Real de Santo António also has a bus station located at: 19, Av. Da República 18, 8900-201 Vila Real de Santo António.
Ayamonte has two bus stations located at: Av. Cayetano Feu, 2, 21400 Ayamonte, Huelva, Spain and Avenida Cayetano Feu, 0 S / N, 21400 Ayamonte, Huelva, Spain.
How much is a taxi to and from Faro Airport?
A taxi for two people from Faro Airport to Vila Real de Santo António costs about 55€ (110€ round trip). For Ayamonte the price of the same taxi will be around 75€ (150€ round trip).
We recommend, however, that you take a taxi (10€) or a bus (5€) from Faro airport to Faro train station, and then take a train to Vila Real de Santo António (5.25 €) or to the station of Ayamonte (around 13€).