For our first full day in Tavira the skies were clear and the sun hot, we sought only to acclimatise and explore the town.
After our first breakfast, a supply run to Pingo Doce supermarket and some heated arguments about which roundabout was which – as we did laps of the ring road, we parked across the river (in what would become our regular parking spot – the car park always had spaces, it was easy to get to and free) and set out on foot.
In the midday heat (it took us a while to get out of the hotel), the best thing to do first is climb the biggest, steepest hill, which we climbed towards the camera obscura and castle ruins. Thankfully there’s a cafe up there too, A Ver Tavira, where we settled for milkshakes and chicken wraps.
Groups of German tourists played peekaboo with Conway as we siphoned off tasty morsels of our lunch for him to try, though apple and orange were all he really wanted.
The castle is a ruin, a large corner being most of what’s survived, it surrounds an exotic garden where jasmine and rhododendron flower. In the shade two buskers filled the air with guitar strums and folk songs, Conway danced to their music and they sung him one of their tunes, “big man, with a big house, with a big car, with big love, big man”, it went.
Our tour of Tavira continued; down the hill into the centre, along the river to where boats dock and their companies sell trips out to beaches and islands. It was touristy, but it was peaceful and quaint, a place where there’s much for tourists, but it isn’t ever hawked or thrust at you. The summer throngs haven’t yet eroded this place’s quiet charm.
A modern bar, Terraze, sits at the top of town, and while Conway napped we sat there by the river and snacked on fries. We reapplied sun lotion just in time for the clouds to turn the sky a light grey.
With so many places to eat, we didn’t want to start with a dud. Especially as we were celebrating an anniversary. An initial look at Trip Advisor and Foursquare showed mixed reviews; many places had excellent ratings, but each were potted with “this is just ok”. In hindsight everywhere we tried was excellent, but today we consulted the only reliable guide: that Michelin one. They recommended a place just out of town in Santa Luzia – Casa do Polvo, or “House of Octopus”.
Santa Luzia is the octopus capital of Europe, and most restaurants along the seafront are polvo something. We parked opposite, and we walked along the promenade while we waited for it to open.
Old men chatted on wooden benches, they smiled and cooed at Conway in the baby carrier. Boats bobbed up and down in the shallow water. In the distance sun rays broke through the clouds onto Rio Formosa national park. The air smelt of sea, and gulls circled above. Summer homes looked empty, and restaurants prepared for the evening.
Back at the restaurant and a queue was forming, there were seats outside – clearly queues are the norm here. First in the queue, a woman who’d tried on two previous occasions to eat here but it had always been full. When they opened we waltzed in first time and picked a table in the middle of it all, a few minutes later they were full. Perhaps there is some convenience in eating with a baby as soon as a restaurant opens.
Now, Casa do Polvo served us quite exquisite food, and of course we ordered octopus:
And the cephalopods were succulent, the tentacles and suckers were soft and flavourful, none of that toughness you come to expect from octopus. We offered Conway some of the best bits, but he was in no mood to eat.
Although our meal was divine, our experience was one of the more stressful dinners we’ve had. Conway, having been in a pushchair all day wasn’t going to sit quietly and eat with us, he wanted to explore and climb and shout. It wasn’t misbehaviour, more a desire for adventure. The high chair provided was a little metal thing that hangs from the table’s edge, it had no straps and once Conway had worked out he could get his legs free he wouldn’t stay in it. As the restaurant filled and grew loud, and as waitresses squeezed between the crammed in tables and chairs with large plates of tentacle done every which way, we took shifts holding baby while the other ate – an octopus statue kept his attention for a short while. At one point Sam was breastfeeding while stooped over her plate trying to eat a tentacle one handed, like spaghetti. Thankfully my stew came with a lid which kept it warm amidst this mayhem.
We shared dishes, I gobbled up mine, then took Conway outside to some exciting benches as Sam finished hers in peace. The tide was out now, and on the beach fiddler crabs scuttled around, I tried to show Conway but his attention was drawn to the lights on the fishing boats, which were all headed out for the night.
He fell asleep on the drive home, and we transferred him to the cot without him waking. Times with baby have changed, and restaurant-going will be harder. Though it is easier if you’re willing to forego all the social norms; standing during a meal, making a mess, talking to other tables, taking your time.