Vila Real de Santo Antonio Tourist Attractions
The little frontier town of Vila Real de Santo António (altitude: sea level) lies on the right bank of the Guadiana which is navigable as far as Mértola. There are regular ferries to Ayamonte, the Spanish port on the other side, although these have been used less since a expressway bridge was built across the river a few miles to the north.However, river excursions from Vila Real de Santo António are most enjoyable. The many visitors to the town come for the day to take advantage of the bargains in the shops. Until the 1960s there were a number of fish canning factories here, especially for tuna and sardines, but now there are only two.TownscapeThe town was founded in 1774 by the Marquês de Pombal on the site of Santo António da Avenilha which had been destroyed by a tidal wave at the beginning of the 17th C. He had it laid out like a chessboard, and settled it with fisherfolk from Aveiro.The town center is the Praça do Marquês de Pombal, paved with a black and white mosaic radiating from the obelisk (1775) that is a monument to José I, and lined with inviting street cafes.
Castro Marim, which overlooks the Guadiana plain about 4km/2.5mi northwest of Vila Real de Santo António, gets its name from the closeness of its castle to the sea. It was the seat of the Order of the Knights of Christ, founded in 1319, until this was transferred to Tomar in 1356.The castle ruins, which tower over the village to the north, date from this brief and glorious period in its history. The castle was probably originally late 13th century and then extended by the Knights of Christ in 1319. From its towers and ramparts there is a lovely view of the village and Castelo Novo, a 17th century fortification. The Igreja da Misericórdia inside the castle walls has an attractive Renaissance door.Another building in the castle complex houses the information office of the Sapal Nature Park (Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marimi). The park stretches from south of Castro Marim to Vila Real de Santo António. Many species of birds breed here; guided tours are available at times.
Alcoutim, 40km/25mi north of Vila Real de Santo António, is also on the Guadiana. It is a charmingly modest little town, with relatively few visitors during the week although sometimes coach parties arrive at weekends. When river conditions are suitable excursion ships from Vila Real de Santo António call here. Its situation made Alcoutim strategically important at one time. The present castle forms part of a Moorish fort of the 11th C.; Dinis I ordered that the castle walls should be rebuilt in 130. Inside the restored walls is an exhibition of archeological finds.