Vila Real de Santo António is a great example of 18th-century town planning. A long esplanade, Avenida da República, follows the river, and from its northern extremity you can view the Spanish town across the way. Gaily painted horse-drawn carriages take you sightseeing past the shipyards and the lighthouse.
A 5km (3-mile) drive north on the road to Mértola (N122) will take you to the gull-gray castle-fortress of Castro Marim. This formidable structure is a legacy of the border wars between Spain and Portugal. The ramparts and walls stand watch over the territory across the river. Afonso III, who expelled the Moors from this region, founded the original fortress, which was razed by the 1755 earthquake. Inside the walls are the ruins of the Igreja de São Tiago, dedicated to St. James.
Southwest of Vila Real is the emerging resort of Monte Gordo, which has the second-greatest concentration of hotels in the eastern Algarve (after Faro). Monte Gordo, 4km (2 1/2 miles) southwest of Vila Real at the mouth of the Guadiana River, is the last in a long line of Algarvian resorts. Its wide, steep beach, Praia de Monte Gordo, is one of the finest on Portugal's southern coast. This beach, backed by pine-studded lowlands, has the highest average water temperature in Portugal.
Sadly, what was once a sleepy little fishing village has succumbed to high-rises. Nowadays the varinas (fishermen's wives) urge their sons to work in the hotels instead of the sea, fishing for tips instead of tuna.
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