Algarve walks, Quinta da Rocha nature reserve: the ‘Rocha Delicada Trail’

Quinta da Rocha nature reserve: the ‘Rocha Delicada Trail’

Flamingos
Flamingos, Quinta da Rocha

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.

Practicalities

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.

Algarve walks, Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve: ‘At the whim of the tides’

Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve: ‘At the whim of the tides’

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Town and harbour from Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve

It was a typical Algarve winter day in late December, with blue skies and warm sunshine; a perfect day to do a walk around the Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve, which is described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve, as the ‘At the whim of the tides’ walk. It is an easy, circular walk, most of which is along a wooden walkway which zigzags over the salt marshes and wetlands by the estuary of the Ria de Alvor. As with most of the walks included in the Guide to Walking Trails, there are information boards around the nature reserve and we learnt that Alvor lies on a lagoon formed by a tidal estuary which is fished for razor shells and clams and due to its varied geological features the reserve attracts many species of birds, such as the cormorants and common-ringed plovers that we saw on our visit, as well as dunlins, Northern gannets, herons and terns. The boards also informed us that we would see plants such as Sarcocornia fruticosa, shrubby sea-blite and grand statice on the salt marsh and I have photographic evidence that we did indeed see Sarcocornia fruticosa, with its distinctive red and green string-of-bead-like stems.

From the walkway there are lovely views of Alvor’s harbour, the fish market and the pretty Igreja do Divino Salvador (Divine Saviour Church) at the top of the hill, and to the east are views of the nearby (rather unphotogenic) high-rise hotels and the cliffs of Praia dos Três Irmãos in the distance. At the furthest western point of the walk where the mouth of the estuary meets the sea is a manmade breakwater made of granite blocks, which leads to the lighthouse. This is another popular fishing spot. From here we walked among the sand dunes on the Praia do Alvor, where another information board noted that the sand dunes act as a barrier between the lagoon and the sea and that the area is a transitional habitat between the land and the sea, but my overriding thought was that the soft sand was much harder to walk along in sandals than it looked.

After we had meandered our way along the walkway back to the start of walk we decided to explore the pretty town of Alvor. But that is for another blog!

Practicalities

The walk is 5km and takes approximately 2 hours. It is an easy walk along a flat wooden walkway for most of the walk and along the beach for some of the walk. There are several information boards along the walk with information in Portuguese and English about the flora, fauna and geological features.

This walk complements the Quinta da Rocha nature reserve: the ‘Rocha Delicada Trail’ walk, which approaches the Alvor Estuary from the north-west.

We parked in the open-air car park on Rua da Ribeira, which is opposite the start of the walk.

Buses run to Alvor from Lagoa, Portimão and Lagos.

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Common-ringed Plover, Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve

 

A cliff walk from Vale de Centianes to Praia da Marinha, Algarve walks

A cliff walk from Vale de Centianes to Praia da Marinha

 

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Praia da Marinha

 

Earlier in the year we went on a boat trip along the section of coast between Carvoeiro and Praia da Marinha, which gave us the opportunity to see the amazing rock formations in this area and to go into the caves and see the secluded coves under the cliffs. We were pleased to discover that it is also possible to walk along the top of the cliffs and that there is a popular and well-signposted walk described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve, the ‘Seven Hanging Valleys Trail’ (Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos).

We started the walk at the top of the flight of steps to the east of Centianes beach, an impressive 45.5 metres above sea level. Due to the steep undulations of the cliffs, at certain points of the walk there are some challenging sections which involve clambering up or scrambling down the rocks. The part of the walk between Vale de Centianes and the Alfanzina lighthouse at Cabo Carvoeiro has several of these sections. The path flattens out on the approach to the lighthouse and although we could not enter the grounds of the lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1920 and standing at 23 metres can be seen for approximately 50 kilometres, it made an interesting respite.

The section between the lighthouse and Praia de Benagil is a bit more benign. It goes through an area of pine trees and leads to one of the highlights of this section, the Leixão de Ladrão (or Ladrão Stack). The pale rock, with a lace-effect on the surface, spreads into the sea resembling the surface of the moon. In a local legend set in Moorish times the lace-effect on the rock is said to have been created by the tears of a princess mourning the death of the man she loved. Nowadays a viewing platform with seats allows walkers to sit and enjoy the view and hopefully not cry over the rocks. The walk continues by Praia do Carvalho, a small cove beach which can only be accessed by climbing down a steep flight of steps and walking through a tunnel in the cliff. The beach has the English nickname of ‘Smugglers’ Cove’, and together with the Leixão de Ladrão, which translates to mean ‘Thief’s Stack’, suggests the area was rife with nefarious activities in the past. The walk doesn’t go down as far as the beach, but cuts across the car park and continues on to Benagil.

There are seven hanging valleys on this walk. A hanging valley is a geological feature formed by a watercourse flowing from the top of a cliff into the sea which erodes the limestone rock creating a small valley and Benagil beach is in one of these valleys. At Benagil the direction markers aren’t very clear and it’s easy to take a wrong turn, as we found out. When you arrive at the beach, walk up the hill and veer right past O Pescador restaurant until you reach O Algar restaurant. Turn right up some steps by the side of the restaurant and follow the path to the famous Algar de Benagil. The algar (‘vertical cave’) is fenced off for safety and is not as impressive from above as it is from below and to really appreciate its natural beauty you need to enter it from the sea.

The walk from Benagil to Praia da Marinha becomes challenging again in a few places. There is a steep crag which leads to a large area of trees that were destroyed by last summer’s forest fires and it was sad to see the blackened remains of what would have been impressive trees. Thankfully this was the only part of the walk that had been affected by the fire and on the rest of the walk we were able to enjoy, if not always recognise and name, plants that have adapted to grow in dry, salty conditions, such as juniper, dwarf palm, beach daisy, ice plant, goosefoot, thyme and rock samphire. We weren’t so lucky at sighting the birds which come to the area to shelter on the side of the cliffs. The information board promised us rock doves, alpine swifts, kestrels and peregrine falcons, but all we saw was a large group of herring gulls sitting near the edge of the path completely unfazed by the number of people walking by.

As we approached Praia da Marinha the stunning rock formations, arches and stacks came into view. After stopping for some time to take photos of these natural sculptures we reached the end of the walk in Praia da Marinha car park.

Practicalities

The walk is 5.7km and can be done from Vale de Centianes to Praia da Marinha or vice versa. It takes approximately 3 hours one way. There is a car park at both beaches, but the walk is not a circular one so you will need to get back to your car either on foot or by taxi. There is no bus between Vale de Centianes and Praia da Marinha. The walk can be broken up into sections: Vale de Centianes to the Alfanzina lighthouse (1 hour); the Alfanzina lighthouse to Benagil (1 hour); Benagil to Praia da Marinha (50 minutes).

The walk is challenging in places. Shoes with a good grip are essential. The entire walk is very clearly marked and the path is well-trodden, so it is hard to get lost. All direction markers have red and yellow lines: a red arrow to the left or right with a yellow line above it indicates a left or right turn; horizontal yellow and red lines indicate straight on; and crossed yellow and red lines indicate no entry. Sometimes the markers are painted on stones or are a bit faded, but they appear at regular intervals. There are several information boards along the walk with information in Portuguese and English about the flora, fauna and geological features.

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Direction marker

 

 

A walk around Praia Grande de Pêra

A walk around Praia Grande de Pêra

 

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A grey heron on the Lagoa dos Salgados

On a sunny afternoon in late December we decided to try one of the walks described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve. We chose the ‘Praia Grande Interpretation Trail’, as it combined the wetland lagoon of Lagoa dos Salgados, famous for the variety of birdlife, with sand dunes and a pine forest.

Starting from the large car park to the west of the lagoon we joined the wooden walkway, which allows visitors to easily walk above the reed beds and sand dunes. Following the directions on the map we turned left and came to one of the highlights of the walk, the Lagoa dos Salgados, a lagoon separated from the sea by a sandbar. As its name suggests (salgado means salty) it contains salt water, but it also contains fresh water from two streams that feed into it and it acts as a transitional ecosystem between the land and the sea. The reeds, bulrushes and sedges that grow there make it an important resting and feeding place for a number of bird species, including flamingos, shovelers, mallards, little grebes, kingfishers, coots, spoonbills, avocets, purple gallinules and the three we were excited to see during our walk, black-winged stilts, grey herons and cormorants. The lagoon is popular with birdwatchers and there is even a birdwatching station with an information board. Further along the walkway we came to the first of the two rivers that we saw on our walk that cross the beach and feed into the sea, the Ribeira de Espiche. We left the walkway here, making a U-turn and walking back along the beach towards the car park, passing by an area of sand dunes and noticing the plants that grow on these ridges. An information board listed the plants we might see, including beach grass, sand couch grass, rock samphire, sea rocket, sea daffodil, sand restharrow, spiny thrift, sea medick and curry plant. Unfortunately, in late December the vegetation was not at its best.

We returned to the starting point of the walk in the car park and turned left heading west on an inland path through a shrubby area. There wasn’t much of interest in this area, except the fact that there were absolutely no other walkers around; a complete contrast to the heavy number of walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers we met on the wooden walkway in the first half of the walk. Another curious thing I noticed in this shrubby area was the number of cars and vans, each with just one man in them, parked surreptitiously among the bushes. My imagination starting running a bit wild and I may have the start of a short story! We rejoined the beach, where there were more sand dunes and continued along the beach to the second river that crosses the beach, the Ribeira de Alcantarilha. Here we turned right and walked through a saltmarsh, which led into a pine forest on a fossil cliff. Here we spotted a row of square boxes on the ground, which we discovered were simple but effective beehives. This led into an area of farmland with almond trees. Turning right towards the road we had driven in on, we came across a number of disused mills and granaries. We turned right onto the road and walked back to the car park. This was the least interesting part of the walk, but the road was fairly quiet, as it only leads to and from the car park.

Practicalities

The walk is 5.5km and takes approximately 2 hours. It is moderately easy.

The start of the walk is in the Praia Grande de Pêra car park, south of the village of Pêra. There is no public transport.

 

A road walk from Carvoeiro to Benagil

A road walk from Carvoeiro to Benagil

A walk from the centre of Carvoeiro to Benagil beach. The walk goes along quiet roads and is an alternative to the more famous, but also more challenging cliff walk which is part of the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. There are a few hills, including the very steep descent down to  Benagil (and back up again on your return) but on the whole it is moderately easy. The walk is approximately 5 km and takes 1 hour 10 minutes each way.

See a map of the route.

From the centre of Carvoeiro (with the Carvoeiro Sol Hotel on your right and Smiler’s Bar on your left) walk up the Estrada do Farol. At the top of the hill continue straight on. Walk past the Tivoli Hotel on the right and then the Pestana Palm Gardens and Baia Cristal Hotel on the right.

Walk past the entrance to Centianes beach on the right, which has a signpost to the O Stop restaurant.0001 (788)

Walk past the turning to Vale Centianes on the right.0001 (789)

Walk past the turning to the Vale de Milho golf course on the left.

Walk past Julio’s restaurant on the left. Walk past Rafaiol’s restaurant on the right.0001 (792)

After Rafaiol’s restaurant take the next turning on the left, following the sign to Benagil (at the Rocha Mar restaurant).0001 (793)

Walk past Clube Golfemar, with the sea on your right in the distance. You will see the Alfanzina lighthouse on the right from here.lighthouse_3

At the fork in the road take the road on the right.

At the junction turn right, following the sign to Benagil.

Walk on with the sea in front of you in the distance.

On the way you will walk past the Sul Mar restaurant on the left. You will also walk past a lot of impressive villas.

At the mini-roundabout just after the sign telling you that you have arrived in Benagil turn left, following signs to Albandeira and Marinha.

Walk down the very steep hill to the beach.

The bigger beach is to the left of where the boats are moored via a wooden walkway. From here you can take boat trips into the caves. The highlight is a trip to the Algar de Benagil, which you can read more about in our blog Carvoeiro boat trip to the caves.

There is a café and a couple of restaurants near the beach.

If you prefer not to walk back to Carvoeiro there are two buses a day between Lagoa and Benagil (departing from Benagil at 09:40 and 15:20, Monday to Friday only). A taxi is a better option, but be prepared to pay 10 euros one way.

 

 

A walk from Carvoeiro to Ferragudo

A walk from Carvoeiro to Ferragudo

A walk from the centre of Carvoeiro to Ferragudo via Monte Carvoeiro resort, Quinta do Paraíso resort, Sesmarias, Presa da Moura resort and Colina da Lapa resort. The walk is along quiet roads and for some of it there are views of the sea. There are a few hills, but it is moderately easy. The walk from Carvoeiro to the centre of Ferragudo is approximately 10km. Allow 2 hours each way.

See a map of the route.

From the centre of Carvoeiro walk up Estrada do Paraíso (behind the back of Jan’s Bar and Martin’s Grill) until you reach the Monte Carvoeiro resort. When you come to Mama Mia restaurant turn left.0001 (669)

Follows signs to Sesmarias.

Turn left into Rua de Angola at the Quinta do Paraíso sign.0001 (670)

Pass Trattoria Oliveira on the left and a mini-market on the right and follow the road round to the left going uphill.

Turn left at the T-junction with the stop sign, just past the Casa de Pasto Escondidinho on the left.0001 (673)

At the next stop sign turn right. Go past the Restaurant Branco on the left.

At the T-junction turn left, following the sign to Sesmarias (the water tower is visible directly in front).

At the roundabout immediately after the junction turn right following the sign to Ferragudo.0001 (675)

Go past Vale da Lapa resort on the left. A signpost showing you have arrived in Sesmarias is directly in front. At the Sesmarias sign turn right, heading towards the water tower.

When you reach the water tower (at the restaurant Da Donato) turn left. Continue along the road until you come to the entrance to Presa da Moura resort and the Hexagone restaurant. Turn right.0001 (680)

Walk past Colina da Lapa resort on the right. You will see the distinctive Portimão Bridge in the distance on the right.

At the roundabout turn left, following the sign to Ferragudo.0001 (683)

Go straight on (past a turning on the right). Keep walking with the sea on your left and exclusive villas on your right.0001 (684)

Follow the road round to the right heading downhill and then uphill. (The road to Caneiros beach is at the bottom of the hill on the left. A bit further along is a turning on the left to Molho beach and Pintadinho beach.)

When you reach a T-junction (with a car park on your left) you have reached the outskirts of Ferragudo. Turn left following signs to ‘Miradouro‘ (viewpoint) and ‘Igreja‘ (church).

Take the first dirt track turning on the left, which leads to a fishing beach (Praia da Angrinha). You will see a castle, the Castelo de São João de Arade, on the left and Praia da Rocha harbour directly in front across the water. The Castelo de São João de Arade was a fortress built in mediaeval  times to protect the River Arade. In the early twentieth century it was turned into a private home and the renowned Algarvean writer Joaquim José Coelho de Carvalho Júnior lived there until his death in 1934. It is still privately owned and not open to the public.

Walk past some fishermen’s huts on the beach.

Walk past the lifeboat station (Socorros a Naufragos) on your left and through a passageway behind it to take you to the quay where you can get the water taxi to Praia da Rocha and Portimão.

From the quay you will come to Praça Rainha Dona Leonor, a riverside square of bars and restaurants in the centre of Ferragudo.

Once you have had a refreshing cold drink make sure you spend some time wandering around the pretty fishing village of Ferragudo before returning to Carvoeiro following the same route that you came by. If you prefer not to walk back to Carvoeiro, unfortunately there aren’t any direct buses between Ferragudo and Carvoeiro. There is a bus from Ferragudo to Portimão and from there you can get a bus to Lagoa or, occassionally, directly to Carvoeiro. A taxi is a better option, but be prepared to pay approximately 15 euros one way.

Ferragudo is still a working fishing village, made evident by the rows of fishing nets lining the small harbour. There is also a small monument by the harbour with azulejos (traditional blue tiles) showing village scenes, along with a statue of a fisherwomen proudly positioned on the top. The small river, which starts at the estuary of the River Arade is surrounded by attractive gardens and pretty wooden bridges. As you would expect from a fishing village there are several fish restaurants near the harbour. From the riverfront the narrow streets of traditional whitewashed fishermen’s houses  climb the hill to the photogenic church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição at the top. There are some good views of Portimão and Praia da Rocha across the water from here. Near the church is an incongruous mural of Baden-Powell, the founder of the scout movement, created by the local sea-scout group in memory of their founder.  The castle, Castelo de São João do Arade  that you will have passed on the way into Ferragudo, is actually a former fort, built in the sixteenth century to protect Portimão. It is now privately owned and not open to the public. If you are interested in forts, the one on the opposite side of the estuary in Praia da Rocha is open to the public. Although there is a beach near the centre of the town, the best beaches are a little way from the centre. The nearest, Praia Grande, is on the other side of the castle.