Vila Real de Santo António certainly plays its part when it comes to the fact that Portugal is renowned worldwide for its fresh fish. This town is known in particular for its first-class tuna, as well as mussels, clams and oysters from the nearby Ria Formosa Natural Park, so expect a unique fresh seafood experience, straight from the ocean to your table.
There are many local specialities, which visitors to the region must try, such as Cataplana (which is the name of both the delicious fish casserole and the dish in which it is cooked), sautéed salicórnia from the coast and hearty meat specialities from the northern part of this rich region. These dishes are composed of the finest ingredients grown by farmers in the area and seasoned with fresh local herbs.
To round off any truly authentic Portuguese meal, sample the variety of delicious pastries at which this region excels, made using Algarvian citrus fruits, figs, carob and honey.
Whether you know a little or a great deal about the country, you may well have come across the amazing wines that Portugal produces – there are, not only in the northern region but also in the Algarve and the lower Alentejo, exceptional vineyards where visitors can sample the delicious local wines.
Less famous but not to be missed is traditional fruit brandy made from the so-called ‘strawberry tree’ (Medronho), which grows wild throughout this region. Some locals mix it with honey, which they procure from farmers nearby.
A large area of land – some 2000 hectares – between Castro Marim, Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo António is the Reserva Natural do Sapal (the Salt Marsh Nature Reserve), which is home to some 153 species of birds, including storks, avocets, sandpipers and flocks of flamingos. The main activity of the wetland of the Natural Reserve established itself already since 1960 as a strong economical part. Thanks to its high quality, this salt is used liberally in local cuisine, often combined with lemon or herbs, and for skincare.
Vila Real de Santo António and the surrounding area have long been well known for their art and handmade items, and you still can find these today in the small shops of Vila Real de Santo António or in the picturesque towns of Castro Marim and Caçela Velha nearby. Handmade baskets, pottery, high quality towels, traditional wooden chairs and inventive souvenirs made from cork are just some of the treasures you will discover.