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Discover the best of Cacela Velha village, a gem in the Ria Formosa Natural Park (Algarve) full of beauty, poetry, history and an amazing beach.

Cacela Velha is a picturesque village on the coast of the Algarve (between Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António), from where you have one of the best views of the Ria Formosa (Natural Park) and with a wonderful beach.

This place full of history and poets was invited by UNESCO to join the indicative list of candidates for World Heritage.

Vista aérea de Cacela Velha e Ria Formosa. Aerial view of Cacela Velha, at Ria Formosa
Aerial view of Cacela Velha and Ria Formosa

From the well preserved historic centre, you can see the water mirror with the boats anchored in Ria Formosa. The calm waters allow the collection of molluscs and bivalves at low tide.

In the background you can see the long sandy beach of Cacela Velha (or Fábrica), considered one of the best in Europe and the world!

CACELA VELHA MAP

The numbers (#) on the Map and in the Text identify the places to visit:

Following our visit, we share what to see and do in Cacela Velha village (and surroundings), so that you can also fully appreciate it!

Getting to know the Cacela Velha Fortress

(1) The Cacela Velha Fortress was originally a Arabic castle, which served to protect the village and to control the entry of boats in the Ria Formosa towards the cities of Tavira and Faro. It thus played an important role in the defense of the Algarve coast.

The trapezoidal fortress, with two bastions and guardhouses, was successively improved, having been rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake.

Since the nineteenth century, in the fortress are located the premises of the Fiscal Brigade, currently the GNR (National Republican Guard). Therefore, for security reasons we do not have access to its interior.

Vista aérea de Cacela Velha. Aerial view of Cacela Velha
Aerial view of Cacela Velha

In the yard in front of the fortress, several archaeological excavations were carried out in the 20th century, which uncovered objects for everyday use by the population in the arabic and medieval periods.

As an example, bowls, tureens, pots and lamps were discovered, with glazes. Excavations have since then been protected and covered.

Terreiro da Fortaleza de Cacela Velha. Cacela Velha Fortress yard.
Cacela Velha Fortress yard

Photograph the Mother Church

(2) The Mother Church (or Nossa Senhora da Assunção) was rebuilt over time and underwent conservation work, especially after the 1755 earthquake.

From the original medieval church, a small late-Gothic portal can be seen on the side.

The current building, from the 16th century, has three naves with arches and ogives based on columns, with large windows on the walls of the naves and includes a chapel in the Renaissance style.

Igreja de Cacela Velha. Cacela Velha Curch
Cacela Velha Curch

Outside, the bell tower stands out on the side and, on the main facade, the large Renaissance portal, with two pilasters decorated with mythological creatures and human busts.

Next to the Church, you may have the best view of the Ria Formosa and also to Cacela Velha beach!

Vista para a Ria Formosa de Cacela Velha. View to Ria Formosa from Cacela Velha
View to Ria Formosa from Cacela Velha

Observe the Cistern

(3) The cistern was used to supply water to the population and was built after the 1755 earthquake at the site of the old pillory. In fact, you can see the hand pump to remove the water from the cistern.  

Cisterna com bomba manual e igreja ao fundo, em Cacela Velha. Cistern with a hand pump in Cacela Velha
Cistern with a hand pump in Cacela Velha, with Church in the background

Take a peek inside the Casa do Pároco

(4) The Casa do Pároco (Priest House) building is currently a tourist information center. Previously, the house served as a home for the parish priests of Cacela.

The Casa do Pároco was built in the 16th century, in rammed earth technique and based on masonry. It has a gable roof, with Portuguese tile and double eaves. The buttresses support the building and above all gave it strength to face the great earthquake of the 18th century.

Biblioteca na Cabine Telefónica junto à Casa do Pároco, em Cacela Velha. Library in a telephone booth, next to Casa do Pároco, Cacela Velha
Library in a telephone booth, next to Casa do Pároco, Cacela Velha

Next to the Casa do Pároco there is an old white telephone booth with a red door, which unexpectedly serves as a book exchange place (library).

Photograph the street of the old Casas da Câmara

(5) On this street are located the Casas da Câmara (town hall buildings), 16th century houses, which will have served for the use of the services of the Municipality, Jail and Stables, when Cacela Velha was the municipal seat (until 1774).

Rua das antigas Casas da Câmara, em Cacela Velha. The street where the old Casas da Câmara are located in Cacela Velha.
The street where the old Casas da Câmara are located, in Cacela Velha

Strolling through Poetic Streets

(6) Cacela Velha undoubtedly invites you to take a walk through the streets, with Arab and medieval influences.

Along the small urban center admire the traditional houses of white colour and with blue or yellow notes. On the roofs, there are typical algarvian ‘platibandas’ (a decorated small wall in the highest part of a façade), as well as the typical Algarve chimneys, which inspire popular crafts in the region.

Rua Eugénio de Andrade, em Cacela Velha. Eugénio de Andrade Street, Cacela Velha
Eugénio de Andrade Street, Cacela Velha

The streets have diplayed the names (and poetry excerpts) of poets who were inspired by Cacela Velha village.

Here, we highlight Eugénio de Andrade, Gastão Cruz and Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli (of Berber origin, born in 958 in Cacela). As well as, the poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (one of the most respected in Portugal in the 20th century).

As praças fortes foram conquistadas (The bastions were conquered)

por seu poder e foram sitiadas (for their power and were besieged)

as cidades do mar pela riqueza (the cities of the sea for the wealth)

Porém Cacela (But Cacela)

foi desejada só pela beleza (was desired only for its beauty)

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919-2004)

Observe the Cemetery Portal

(7) The current Cemetery in Cacela replaced the old one in 1918, when it failed to respond to the large number of burials caused by pneumonic flu (or Spanish flu).

Portal de entrada do Cemitério de Cacela Velha. Cacela Velha cemetery portal entrance.
Cacela Velha cemetery portal entrance

Built in the old Quinta do Muro, the cemetery presents details of the Algarve architecture of the time, with emphasis on the large stone portal with a perfect arch and the pediment resting on the cymatium of colored cement.

Discover the Rammed earth Wall

(8) Next to the Cacela Fortress you can see a section of the rampart built in Rammed earth, from the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century, in a place that delimited the town.

Muralha em taipa em Cacela Velha. Rammed earth Wall, Cacela Velha
Rammed earth Wall, Cacela Velha


In effect, Rammed earth was a construction technique with clay, lime and small stones, widely used in the Algarve in the construction of castles, walls and other buildings.

Discover the Garden of native Algarve plant species

(9) On the este side of the housing nucleus, in Várzea de Cacela, is located the Garden of native Algarve plant species.

As its name suggests, this is a garden of native Algarve plants. For the construction of this garden a fire protection was built, as well as a slope for the retention of water. To support the slope, centuries-old olive trees and carob trees from Silves were also replanted.

Jardim Representativo da Flora do Algarve em Cacela Velha, com detalhe do hotel de insectos. Garden of native Algarve plant species, with a insect hotel
Garden of native Algarve plant species, with a bug hotel

In addition, there is a curious insect hotel there, which allows us to observe them in action.

The ADRIP (Association for the Defense, Rehabilitation, Research and Promotion of the Natural and Cultural Heritage of Cacela) has additionally promoted the planting of a non-irrigated orchard in the adjacent area to the garden.

Relax at Cacela Velha Beach – one of the best!

(10) The Algarve has some of the best Portuguese dream beaches of magnificent natural beauty. Inserted in the Natural Park of Ria Formosa, Fábrica Beach (also known as Cacela Velha Beach) is undeniably one of them!

Praia de Cacela Velha (ou da Fábrica) na maré baixa. Cacela Velha beach (or Fábrica Beach) at low tide
Cacela Velha beach (or Fábrica Beach) at low tide

Cacela Velha Beach was considered the 7th best beach in the world, according to the Spanish magazine Conde Nast Traveler, as well as one of the 10 best beaches in Europe for hiking, according to the English newspaper The Guardian!

Passeio descida das escadas Cacela Velha com vista para a Ria Formosa. Entry Stairs from Cacela Velha to Ria Formosa.
Entry stairs from Cacela Velha to Ria Formosa

To get to the beach, you should preferably take a boat at the Fábrica site, in order to preserve the Ria’s fragile natural system.

However, there are those who access the beach, from Cacela Velha, taking a boat next to the Ria, or at low tide cross on foot.

Praia de Cacela Velha Fabrica.  Fábrica Beach  (also known as Cacela Velha Beach)
Fábrica Beach (also known as Cacela Velha Beach)

In the fine string of fine, clear sand at Cacela Velha Beach, you can go for a swim either on the sea side (with support structures) or on the Ria side (with calmer waters)!

However, note that we are in the middle of the Natural Park, so we recommend a exemplary behaviour.

What to do near Cacela Velha

A) VISIT FÁBRICA

In Cacela Velha village, in front of the church façade, go down the cobbled staircase, surrounded by vegetation. Along the descent, there is a breathtaking view not only of the Ria, but also of the Sea. Then, continue on the right side, along the bank and you’ll arrive at the Fábrica site.

You can also reach Fábrica, by municipal road, following the signs at the entrance to Cacela Velha

Caminho de Cacela Velha para a Fábrica. Walk from Cacela Velha to Fábrica
Walk from Cacela Velha to Fábrica

Indeed, this place owes its name to an old ceramic factory “Companhia Algarviense” that existed here – factory means fábrica in Portuguese. This factory was fully operational from 1892 to 1940 and produced bricks, ceiling tiles and floor tiles, which were transported by boat through the Ria Formosa.

Vista do mar de Fábrica e Cacela Velha. View from Ria Formosa to Fábrica, with Cacela Velha in the background
View from Ria Formosa to Fábrica, with Cacela Velha in the background

Today, the Fábrica site has several summer houses and a grilled fish and seafood restaurant.

Next to the pier you can take a boat to the beach or a walk along the Ria. We opted for the Passeios Barco Ria Formosa and really enjoyed the experience.

A boat trip in the Ria Formosa is above all a very relaxing experience and the chance to see all its natural beauty .

Barco para a Praia de Cacela Velha (ou da Fábrica). Cacela Velha (ou da Fábrica). Boat to Cacela Velha Beach (or Fábrica)
Boat to Cacela Velha Beach (or Fábrica)

B) MEET THE VILLAGE OF SANTA RITA

The small village of Santa Rita, it’s very close to Cacela Velha and with a long tradition of pottery and lime production .

At the Cacela Velha N125 road exit, turn left. Further ahead, turn right to Santa Rita. Continue straight ahead passing through orange groves. Cross the train line in Areias and arrive at Santa Rita.

Centro de Investigação e Informação do Património de Cacela Cacela

The Centro de Investigação e Informação do Património de Cacela (CIIPC) – Research and Information Centre of the Cacela Heritage – is located in the building of the old primary school of Santa Rita. It has a Museological Center, which contains elements from different eras and civilizations that lived in the Cacela settlement.

Centro de Investigação e Informação do Património de Cacela 
The Cacela Heritage Research and Information Center (CIIPC)
Centro de Investigação e Informação do Património de Cacela, at Santa Rita village


CIIPC organizes and disseminates various activities, namely, the Passos Contados (which are interpretation of the landscape walking trails), guided tours, thematic workshops, small markets in Cacela Velha and “walking poetry”.

Fountain and Old Well

The old Fontain is a square building, with a dome on the top, which supplied the Santa Rita village with water. Later, this building was given a religious nature: First Sanctuary of Santa Rita.

Fonte e Poço de Santa Rita. Fountain and Old Well at Santa Rita
Fountain and Old Well at Santa Rita

Near the Fountain you can see a well that, when built, drew water from the Fountain. This Old Well was used to supply water to its inhabitants and to animals (in stone sinks). There you can also see the big stone washboards as well as tanks used to wash clothes.

Megalithic Tomb of Santa Rita

Located on a hill near Santa Rita, right after the Fountain and the Well, and overlooking the sea in the background is the Megalithic Tomb of Santa Rita (Túmulo Megalítico de Santa Rita). This monument was discovered in 2001, is about 4500 years old and is well maintained.

The Megalithic Tomb has a burial chamber (rectangular 5 by 2 meters), which is accessed by a corridor of 5 meters, with its entrance facing east. The entire structure was covered by large blocks of stone, covered with earth, and was delimited by smaller stone slabs – all in red sandstone from Silves.

Túmulo megalítico de Santa Rita. Megalithic Tomb of Santa Rita
Megalithic Tomb of Santa Rita

Inside the chamber were found in layers: at the lowest level, about 20 people buried and offerings (ceramic and shale objects); at the top level, eight people buried. Since the tomb is in the process of conservation and recovery, it is partially covered.

Ermida de Santa Rita

Inside the village, you will find the Ermida de Santa Rita, from the 18th century. This chapel has a nave, a chancel with a dome cover and a high choir. Next to it is a small sacristy.

Ermida de Santa Rita
Ermida de Santa Rita

Lime Kiln

A recovered lime kiln, built in shale masonry, can be seen north of Santa Rita, a village that once had several lime kilns in operation.

Santa Rita lime was previously famous for its whiteness and quality for stucco and for whitewashing houses. In effect, white lime identified the exterior of houses in the Algarve and Alentejo.

Forno de Cal em Santa Rita. Lime Kiln at Santa Rita
Lime Kiln at Santa Rita

The lime production process, by transforming the white limestone, was undeniably lengthy and arduous. Thus, for one week, between six and eight men, in shifts, tried to keep the fire burning in the oven.

However, the emergence of new materials and industrial ovens has led artisanal lime production to decline.

C) ENJOY THE Mata da CONCEIçÃO Leisure Park

After passing the village of Santa Rita, follow the road signs of “Parque de Lazer” to Mata da Conceição.

Parque de Lazer na Mata da Conceição. Mata da Conceição Leisure Park
Mata da Conceição Leisure Park

The Mata da Conceição Leisure Park covers approximately 40 hectares, with a lake, stream, children’s playground and picnic area.

There you can find several animals, such as: fallow deer, wild boar, partridges and other birds. The flora of the Park are pines, eucalyptus, rockrose, rosemary and gorse.

Here there are four circular walking routes (with difficulty levels from easy to moderate). In fact, along the routes you can smell nature. If you want to walk your dog, let him in!

D) Play GOLF AT QUINTA DA RIA

In the Ria Formosa Natural Park is the Quinta da Ria development, where you can enjoy a spectacular view around the Ria Formosa, the sea and the surrounding beaches.

Golfe na Quinta da Ria. Quinta da Ria Golf
Quinta da Ria Golf

This resort contains two 18-hole golf courses (Quinta da Ria and Quinta de Cima) and an Academy Course for learning and improvement. Next to the golf courses is the renowned hotel Robinson Club Quinta da Ria.

More about Cacela …

Rise AND FALL OF Cacela Velha village

Cacela Velha village is the result of centuries of occupation by various peoples who passed through there and left important archaeological remains, such as Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs.

In the 13th century, Cacela was conquered from the Moors by the Order of Santiago. However, the Charter of 1283 provided the basis to form the municipality, which existed until 1776, the year in which it integrated the newly born Vila Real de Santo António.

Vista de Cacela Velha para a Ria Formosa.  View from Cacela Velha to the Ria Formosa
View from Cacela Velha to the Ria Formosa


Since the beginning of the 20th century, as a result of the construction of the railway and the development of the Estrada Nacional (national road) 125, a new urban agglomeration has been developed – Vila Nova de Cacela .

Thus, the main infrastructures were transferred to Vila Nova de Cacela, although the religious activities of the Church and Cemetery are still performed in Cacela Velha.


ISLAMIC district AND CHRISTIAN NECROPOLIS IN CACELA VELHA

The archaeological excavations to the east of the Cacela Velha Fortress have uncovered a residential district from the Almohad period (from the 13th century).

This Islamic district contained both housing and streets and plumbing systems. A Christian necropolis was also found, from the 14th to the 16th centuries, with about 50 graves

Relevant FOSSIL site of cacela river

On the banks of the Ribeira de Cacela (east of the village) is the ‘Jazida Fossilífera da Ribeira de Cacela’. There it can be found sedimentary rocks, from 7 to 9 million years old, with fossils of mollusks, bivalves and gastropods.

We have been told that the excellent state of conservation of the fossils is largely due to the waters of Cacela being very similar to those of the tropical regions.

NOITES D’ENCANTO FESTIVAL

The Noites d’Encanto Festival usually takes place in the summer in Cacela Velha village. At that time you can see a diverse cultural animation, with music and oriental dance workshops, games and concerts of Arab music, Islamic games, exhibitions and much more.

In fact, the streets of Cacela Velha are transformed into a “souk”, a recreation of a traditional North African market, with Portuguese and foreign artisans.

Restaurants of Cacela Velha

In Cacela Velha village we tried the Casa Velha Restaurant:

Casa Velha RESTAURANT

At the beginning of Rua Sophia de Mello Breyner is Casa Velha. The restaurant’s entrance is through a quiet courtyard, where the yellow of the lemons contrasts with the green of the lemon leaves.

We sat under a pleasant shed, overlooking the horizon, where you can feel a slight sea breeze and the smell of the fig tree next door.

As a starter, we tried a fresh cheese and the usual bread, olives and sardine pate from Olhão, which always taste good.

Restaurante Casa Velha em Cacela Velha
Casa Velha Restaurant

The main dishes were a grilled red seabream and very fresh and well-prepared tuna belly, with a good boiled potato. The red fruit sangria (aromatized drink obtained from champagne, red or white wine, flavoured mainly with cinnamon and/or cloves and fruits ) refreshed the meal.

Finally, the “Três Delícias“ (three delights) dessert lived up to its name, with typical products from the Algarve: almond, fig and carob.

With good food and fast and careful service, the Casa Velha Restaurant is a pleasant place to repeat!

Accommodation near Cacela Velha

Conversas de alpendre

In Santa Rita there is Conversas de Alpendre which is a country house, located in an old Algarve farm.

The place is peaceful, relaxing and well decorated, where we feel comfortable. We were welcomed by the owner, João Carlos, with whom we had a good ‘Porch Conversation’ (exactly the meaning of the name of the property) !

Gathered with family members who, like us, left their jobs in the capital, they form a very attentive, friendly team that takes care of this rural tourism with love.

Our room (one of the 11 existing) had great design, with small details of refinement, using some objects from the travels of the owners. The bed, immaculate white, was large and comfortable.

The view from the room overlooked the nearby orange grove. On our terrace we had a bubbling jacuzzi.

LikedPlaces Conversas de Alpendre Quarto e Exterior
Conversas de Alpendre

Leaving the terrace, there was the large porch, in front of the huge wooden deck, sun loungers and swimming pool (heated in summer and winter)!

As we stroll through the farm, we find inviting nooks and crannies with interesting decorative elements. Among which we highlight the corner of the massages, the area with fire and the Tree House.

In this fairytale tree house, perched on an ancient carob tree, you can enjoy a stunning view over the orange groves and the horizon, with the sea in the background.

Meals at Conversas de Alpendre

The meals were very pleasant, made with refinement, with fresh products from the region and with the sound of good music. They were taken on the porch (of course), where next to a table there was a romantic rocking chair!

Breakfast had the uniqueness of having a starting time, but not an end time. In addition, the dinner provided us with a gourmet experience, without having to leave the accommodation.

At the end of dinner, the Chef comes to the table to unveil the surprises of the meal and to know our opinion about what we have eaten.

Conversas de Alpendre comida Santa Rita

Due to the tranquility and beauty of the place, and because of the friendliness and professionalism of the family, which provided us with the “luxury of simple things”, without a doubt it will be worthwile returning to Conversas de Alpendre!

Pin this post to enjoy Cacela Velha village and beach to the fullest and whenever you want.

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Other Places to Visit in Algarve

To learn more about other LikedPlaces, go to our Destinations in Portugal page.

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