The ‘Rocha Delicada (Elegant Rock) Trail’ is one of the walks described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve. It is a circular walk along well-trodden dirt paths, which in the main are flat. The walk starts (and finishes) at the Mexilhoeira Grande railway station between Portimão and Lagos and covers a diverse expanse of salt marsh at Espargueira, salt pans, mudflats, sand dunes, farmland (with sad signs of abandonment in some places), orchards of almond, fig and orange trees, and pine and Mediterranean scrub forest.
The Quinta da Rocha nature reserve is on a peninsula between the River Alvor and the Odiáxere Brook and offers a range of habitats for plants and animals, including amphibians, such as fire salamander, marbled newt and natterjack toad and many species of migratory bird, for whom it is an important feeding and rest stop, such as avocet, black-winged stilt, common kestrel, flamingo, little owl, osprey, oystercatcher, peregrine falcon, redshank, ringed plover, spoonbill and stone-curlew. During our walk in late December we were lucky enough to see a large number of flamingos, although not as pink we were expecting. We also saw quite a few curlew sandpipers which proved hard to photograph, as they seemed to sense when we were pointing the camera at them and repeatedly flew off. I also managed to capture a ringer plover on camera and what I think was a little egret, but it was a bit too far away to identify properly. During the walk I was also lucky enough to get my first sighting of a lapwing in a field.
The nearby Alvor Estuary is a coastal lagoon of great biodiversity due to the presence of fresh water from the rivers that feed into it and salt water from the sea. It is a popular area for local fishermen to fish for clams and cockles and we observed a small group of men fishing for molluscs in the traditional way.
On the return leg of the walk we passed the A Rocha Association environmental field study centre which also, as A Rocha Life, organizes birdwatching tours around the Algarve using the field study centre as a base. The walk complements the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve: ‘At the whim of the tides’ walk that we had done the previous year, which approaches the estuary from Alvor and gives a different perspective of this environmentally diverse area.
The walk is 8km and takes approximately 2 hours. It is an easy walk along well-trodden dirt paths, although it is a bit potholed and rocky in places. It is well sign-posted and there are two information boards along the walk, one at Mexilhoeira Grande station and the other at Quinta da Rocha, with information in Portuguese and English about the flora, fauna and geological features. Be aware that there is very little shade on the walk and nowhere to buy a drink or go to the toilet.
Mexilhoeira Grande station is just off the N125 road between Portimão and Lagos.
Buses run to Mexilhoeira Grande from Portimão and Lagos and trains on the Algarve line stop here.