Natural beauty of the Algarve

The Algarve is not just about the Coastline and Beaches. There are many, many beautiful and interesting places to explore Inland too.


Whilst of course on this Page we will touch on "not to be missed" areas along the Coast, our aim is to give you as detailed as possible an outline of areas of Natural Beauty and interest in Inland Algarve

Listed in Alphabetical Order below are places we hope you will take the time to seek out and visit. We are always looking to find new areas so the list below we hope will be added to and do please get in touch if there is a particular place, particularly in the Barracol or Serra that you feel should be featured.

Alte Waterfall (Queda do Vigário)
Alte Waterfall (Queda do Vigário)

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Via Algarviana
Via Algarviana

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Seahorse Ria Formosa
Seahorse Ria Formosa

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Alte Waterfall (Queda do Vigário)
Alte Waterfall (Queda do Vigário)

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Via Algarviana

We have to start with this amazing walking route, the Via Algarviana is approximately 300 km long, and allows both hikers and MTB cyclists to explore the Algarve in a very different way. It has five new branches that add another 100 km to the main plain and twelve new complementary pedestrian routes with more than 120 km on offer. Considered the "backbone" of the regional network of pedestrian routes of the Algarve.

This trail, which starts in Alcoutim and ends at Cape St. Vincent – it can also be done in the opposite direction – crosses the whole countryside of the Algarve, from the Barrocal to the Serra, passing through villages and hamlets where many of the region’s customs and cultural traditions endure. The route is divided into 14 sections, taking into account the nature of the terrain and logistic requirements, such as lodging or meals. The stretches aren't fixed and unchangeable and can be done separately, depending on each individual’s physical ability. Along the route there is comprehensive signage to help users: marker posts, directional arrows and signposts, information boards and colours marking places of interest or cultural and natural heritage, support facilities, the way to go or the general direction of the trail.

The trail goes through all eleven Municipalities of the Algarve, and as you follow it you’ll be able to see five Natura 2000 Sites, two Classified Sites and one Natural Park, all clearly identified. 

The route crosses a number of streams and rivers with abundant riverine vegetation, as well as hilltops and viewpoints, and places of particular geological interest such as Silves with its grês-de-silves (Silves sandstone), Monchique with its subvolcanic eruptive syenite massif and the Barrocal with its Jurassic limestones.

The Via Algarviana is a trail rich in historical, archaeological and religious heritage, where many of the cultural values of the Algarve’s interior still thrive — from centuries old churches, fountains, hermitages, waterwheels, windmills, museums and communal ovens, to traditional and handicraft fairs and markets, and popular and religious festivals that take place throughout the year. You can also see crafts made with different local products such as wool, linen, cotton, cane, wicker, pottery, strawberry tree fruit, honey, among many others. All of these make this a never-to-be-forgotten route. A true way to discover the Algarve

 
Odeleite Dam

Located in the Municipality of Castro Marim, the Odeleite Dam was built on the River Odeleite, which rises in the uplands of the Serra do Caldeirão and flows into the Rio Guadiana. An aerial photograph showed that the reservoir is shaped like a blue dragon. This fact has attracted the attention of many visitors, who started to refer to it as the "River of the Blue Dragon".


Close to the dam, the small village of Odeleite has several points of interest such as the Main Church, built in 1534, some archaeological remains from the Roman era, and a number of watermills and windmills that are typical of this part of the Algarve. The natural heritage and outdoor activities such as walking and cycling, boat trips and other water sports are also good reasons to visit the region.

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Located at the foot of the Serra do Caldeirão, in the small village of Alte you will find a quiet and traditional village.  One of the great attractions of this place is the famous "Fall of the Vicar", an integrated waterfall in the Ribeira de Alte that attracts many tourists, especially in the summer months.

Alte, in the Municipality of Loule is a well maintained old town, with traditional calçada stone paths and lanes and whitewashed houses with the typical chimneys of the region. 

Cabo de São Vicente is part of the Costa Vicentina National Park. Towering cliffs drop hundreds of feet into the sea. Every day local fishermen defy the gusts of wind and stand on the small ridges to get their catch of the day.

As part of the Costa Vicentina National Park which extends along the coast of the Algarve and the Alentejo for over 150 kilometres. Established to protect this part of the West coast from property developers, it is a vast and impressively empty land. Development is prohibited within 1 km off the coast. The park includes 60,000 acres of land and almost 30,000 acres of sea.

It is a true paradise for bird watchers, nature lovers and photographers. The area has a semi-desert (tundra-like) environment. In springtime wildflowers emerge in an explosion of colour.

Apart from a rich diversity of plants and mammals, otters and badgers to name but a few, the bird population is especially characteristic for the area. Along the rivers you find herons, storks and kingfishers. The cliffs offer an excellent breeding ground for peregrine falcons. And most amazingly this is the only place in the world where storks nest in the rocks above the sea.

The beaches offer the best surfing location of the country with Aljezur as the centre of the action. There are an enormous variety of beaches, although many secluded beaches are less easily found they are not to be missed.

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This is the oldest Nature Reserve in Portugal, having been classed as such in 1975. Alongside the River Guadiana between Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António, and covering an area of more than 2,000 hectares, lies the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo Antonio Marshland Nature Reserve. A wetland area consisting of marshes, saltpans, inlets and rural areas of schist and red sandstone.


Extremely interesting from a biological point of view, the Castro Marim marsh provides shelter and nesting places for aquatic birds and for various species of fish, molluscs and crustaceans. Worth highlighting among the bird species found here are the black-winged stilt, symbol of the nature reserve, the pied avocet, black-tailed godwit, common flamingo, common ringed plover and white stork, to name but a few.


The characteristic vegetation of the marshes and the traditional saltpans results in a geometric patchwork landscape.


Along with fish-farming and agriculture, salt production is one of the main activities carried out in the marshes. The salt, extracted using traditional techniques, is quality-certified.


Chameleons live in the nearby coastal dunes and in the scrubland around Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo António, and in summer you may be able to spot one. Take advantage of the signposted routes and enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of a unique landscape in this area of Algarve.

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Cork Oak

Cork Oak (quercus suber ), is a noble tree with very special characteristics that grows in Mediterranean regions such as Spain, Morocco, Algeria and, most particularly, in Portugal, where there are more than 720 thousand hectares of cork forests, as well as a cork industry of considerable economic importance. You will not be able to fail to see Cork Oak trees almost everywhere you go in the Algarve.

It truly is an astonishing tree, living a long life and with amazing capacity for regeneration. Living on average 150 to 200 years, despite its bark being stripped around 16 times during its lifetime, at nine-year intervals.

So what is Cork?


This vegetable tissue which is harvested with such care, has unique qualities which no ingenious human has yet managed to imitate or improve. These qualities are:

Cork is very light and impermeable to liquids and gases, elastic and compressible, an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator, is fire retardant & has highly abrasion resistant

Above all, a material that is one hundred percent natural, recyclable and reusable: essential qualities in a more environmentally friendly and less polluted modern society.

The life cycle of cork as a raw material starts with the extraction of the bark from cork oaks, the so-called harvesting or stripping which is carried out during the most active stage in the annual growth of the cork, from mid-May or early June to the end of August.

Not many people know that it takes 25 years for cork oak trunk to start to produce cork and be profitable. Each trunk has to reach a circumference of 70 cm when measured at 1.5 metres from the ground. From then on, the cork can be harvested from the tree for on average 150 years.
 
The first stripping, which is known as "desbóia", produces cork of a very irregular structure which is too hard to be easily handled. This is the so-called virgin cork which will be used for applications other than cork stoppers (flooring, insulation etc.), since its quality is far from that necessary to manufacture stoppers.

Nine years later, the second harvest produces material with a regular structure, less hard, but still not suitable for cork stoppers - this is known as secondary cork.

It is from the third and subsequent harvests that the cork with the best properties is obtained, suitable for the production of quality corks, since its structure is regular with a smooth outside and inside. This is the so-called "amadia" or reproduction cork. From then on, the cork oak will supply good quality cork every nine years for around a century and a half, producing, on average, 15 to 16 bark strippings throughout its life.

The stripping of the cork oak is an ancient process that can only (and should only) be done by specialists, the debarkers, since much manual skill and experience is required in order not to harm the tree. 


Finally, the tree is marked, using the last number of the year in which the extraction took place.

Seasoning period. After the harvest, the cork planks are stacked in piles either in the forest or in yards at a factory. There they remain exposed to sun, wind and rain. All these piles are constructed taking into account strict specific rules, so as to allow the cork to stabilise. The piles should be stacked on materials that do not contaminate the cork and prevent contact with soil. Wood, for example, is expressly prohibited because it can transmit fungi. During this seasoning period which should never be less than six months, the raw material matures and the cork stabilises. 

The process then moves onto boiling the planks. This is the process of immersion of cork planks in clean boiling water. They should be boiled for at least one hour. The objectives of the boiling are: to clean the cork, to extract water-soluble substances, to increase thickness and thus reduce density and to improve flexibility and elasticity.

Before boiling the cork cells are collapsed and wrinkled, but during this process the gas in the cells expands. As a result, the structure of the cork becomes more regular and its volume increases by around 20 per cent. The boiling is an operation prescribed by the International Code of Cork Stopper Manufacturing Practice. An operation which, besides improving the internal structure of the cork, also ensures that the microflora is significantly reduced. 

After the boiling, a period of stabilisation of the cork takes place. Only after this period, which lasts for two to three weeks, are the planks selected. Stabilisation serves to flatten the planks and to allow them to rest, in order to reach the necessary consistency for their transformation into cork stoppers.

Slicing. After the stabilisation period, the cork planks are cut into strips slightly wider than the length of the cork stoppers to be produced.

Punching. Punching is the name of the manual or semi-automatic process of perforating the strips of cork with a drill. A cylindrical stopper is thus obtained within the dimensional limits prescribed.

All the waste from the punching stage are used for cork granulate. Cork that is not directly used for top-of-the-range natural cork stoppers will be processed to make granulate for technical stoppers (stoppers designed for bottled wines to be consumed within 2 to 3 years). Or also to manufacture cork agglomerate products which are used as insulation and construction materials.

Rectification. After the punching, rectification is designed to obtain previously specified final dimensions and to regularise the surface of the stopper.

Selection is the operation designed to separate the finished stoppers into different grades, which are determined by automatic scanning of their surface. In some cases, the selection is done by visual inspection. During this stage, besides the definition of grades, defective stoppers are also eliminated.

Washing. After rectification, the stoppers are washed using either hydrogen peroxide or paracetic acid. This cleans and disinfects the stoppers, but there are other methods also used such as microwaves or ozone.
After washing/disinfection, the moisture level is stabilised, thus maximising stopper performance as a seal and simultaneously reducing microbiological contamination.

The cork stoppers may also be colmated. Colmation seals the surface pores of stoppers (lenticels) with a mixture of cork powder produced by the rectification of natural cork stoppers. Colmation improves the presentation of stoppers that have many lenticels and helps to obtain a better seal.

Printing or Branding. This operation is carried out according to customers' specifications as to the type of marking to be applied. The methods used are ink printing (with food quality ink) or traditional heat branding.

After branding, they are given a paraffin or silicon surface treatment to make them easier to insert and extract from the bottles.

Transport. Once their production is finished, the stoppers are packed in plastic bags with SO2 (sulphur dioxide), a gas that blocks microbiological proliferation. Only then will they be delivered to wine or spirits bottlers.

 
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Located in the hills just above Loule, you will find the charming village of Querenca and Fonte Benemola - this is a wonderful place to take a gentle walk through an area of lush vegetation and wildlife. This protected Nature Conservation area was created to protect and treasure the area's ecosystem and wildlife. Enjoy the diverse range of plant and animal life by walking along the natural spring which flows all year round. You are sure to see insects, including a beautiful array of butterflies, fish, reptiles, and water birds. Enjoy nature without any distractions. 

Megalitic Monument of Lavajo Menhir

Located about 1.5 km from the village of Afonso Vicente, the Megalithic set of Lavajo consists on sites, Lavajo I and II Lavajo). Mutually visible and distanced about 250m they date back to the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic Period (3,500 / 2,800 BC) and are interpreted as marks of territories and /or sacred spaces. They are the only Megalithic complex known throughout the Eastern Algarve and one of the most important in the whole of the Algarve. Well worth visiting.

 
 
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The Mata de Barão de São João is the main natural area inland in the Lagos region. It is classified as a protected forest area that covers several thousand hectares. Here is the original Iberian forest with its pines, acacia, eucalyptus trees, cork oaks and tree strawberry trees, still intact.

There are 6 hiking trails, some of which are also suitable for mountain bike tours, a picnic area with barbecue facilities, a fitness trail with 14 exercise stations, as well as a public toilet and a children's playground.

Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel
Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel

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Fonte Ferrea - Sao Bras de Alportel
Fonte Ferrea - Sao Bras de Alportel

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Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel
Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel

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Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel
Fonte Ferrea, Sao Bras de Alportel

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The beautiful Parque da Fonte Férrea is situated just outside Sao Bras de Alportel and hidden on the edge of the Serra do Caldeirão.

After the village of Alportel, head North and next to the EN2, Heritage Road, you see the sign for Parque da Fonte Férrea.  Follow the road down and you will find this hidden gem popular with families, walkers and BTT Cyclists. The routes for both walkers and BTT cyclists are marked out on two excellent displayed signs in the car park and there is an excellent Caffe (Avalanche Caffe) that offers an ideal place for a refreshing stop over in full nature. Be sure to taste the railway waters, known for their qualities for centuries.

With excellent access, the Park has visitor support equipment, and hosts several events annually.

An ideal place for nature observation offering a very diverse array of wildlife being close to the aquatic ecosystem of Ribeira do Alportel. 

 
Rocha da Pena

Rocha da Pena or "The Feather Rock" is a remarkable rocky outcrop of the Barrocal. It could be considered the Algarve’s "Table Mountain" and is 479 metres high. Its particular topography promotes the existence of a remarkable diversity of fauna and flora in a relatively small area. This "sítio classificado" is spectacular to look at and the panoramic views from the top should not be missed.


Mixed forests of zambujeiro (wild olive) and holm oak line the slopes of the outcrop and at each turn on the winding track upwards are small grassy areas which are full of the wildflowers that make this such a beautiful and famous place.


In the immediate vicinity is the impressive cave "Algar dos Mouros".

 
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For anyone looking for a wildlife walk take a trip to the River Algibre Valley. One of the prettiest river valleys in the Algarve.

Rivers with significant water flow are an unusual sight in the Algarve because of the amount of water abstracted for farming purposes. By Summer very little water drains from the rivers into the sea, but in early Spring it is possible to see high enough levels of water to support aquatic plants and to attract the birds and animals that depend on rivers for their survival. The Algibre Valley is one of the best places to visit in the Spring to see some of the very special birds, plants and insects that live in and around rivers. It is exceptionally good for seeing many of the wild orchids of the region.

To best enjoy the plant life growing in this valley then we recommend you visit between February and May. The bird and insect life though will still be considerable until the real heat of the Algarve Summer arrives in July and August.

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The beach of Praia da Amoreira is within the Vicentine Coast Natural Park and is at the mouth of the Aljezur River. A gem considered to be “off the beaten track”, the beach has a wide expanse of golden fine sand which is backed by deep and widespread sand dunes. At the southern end of the beach is the mouth of the river Aljezur. There are many rock pools to explore and when the tide is out a shallow lagoon is left on the beach. The beach is also popular with surfers.


Inland from the lagoon, wildlife such as otters and birds such as the kingfisher, nightingale and the grey heron, as well as the bee-eater between March and September. To the south, the green slopes of a large fossilized dune shelters a variety of unique plant species; to the north, the sands are slowly replaced by extensive dunes and by dark, very jagged cliffs. Along the top of the cliff offers beautiful views over the ocean. Not only that, the area coincides with a ‘Biodiversity Station’ promoted by an NGO dedicated to the preservation of butterflies’ natural habitats.

Depending on the season, here you’ll be able to see several species of butterflies: The Spanish Marbled White, Mazarine Blue, Green-striped White and two species of Zygaena. The best month to see butterflies is probably April, when a variety of rare plants (like the Camphor Thyme) are in bloom. 

Further on there is a sparsely wooded area populated by pines that serve as a crucial line of protection against the winds and salty spray coming from the ocean. Here you’ll find a healthy population of a plant (Teucrium vicentinum) that only exists along these rough shores. Several species of wild orchids can be seen between February and April. 

 
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Praia Fluvial do Pego do Fundo is a river beach is situated on the Ribeira de Cadavais, very close to the mouth of the Guadiana River and is equipped with various infrastructures and services.

The water that supplies the beach comes from the Alcoutim Reservoir, being renewed daily and reaching, during the summer season, temperatures in the order of 28º C.

In addition to the beach support, with bar, toilets, showers, parking and access adapted for people with reduced mobility, the beach has a picnic park, with cover and wooden tables, a geriatric park, volleyball court and an area for recreational and sports activities. 

 

An unusual but nevertheless fascinating place to visit, The Rock Salt Mine at Loule offers its own kind of beauty.  Discovered almost by chance during a period of drought in the 1950's when the locals started to dig new wells for water but the water began to come out saltier and more salty. Until people eventually gave up, because no one sank the wells, the water continued to come out unfit for consumption. The population then decided that it would be best to call specialists to the region to understand what was going on. When the geologists reached the depth of 100 meters, they discovered the first layer of salt and then realized that there was a salt deposit there. But it was only when they reached 230 meters deep that experts realized that it was not only a thin layer of salt, but a larger deposit than previously thought.

Now it is possible for visitors to go down and see where the salt is mined and go on a tour.

 
 
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Picota is the second highest point in the Serra de Monchique, mowing the 750 m altitude. The landscape observed from this point is, all of it, stunning, showing all the versatility of the Algarve region. Picota is mainly rich in its natural heritage, particularly in terms of flora, with an interesting forest of holm oaks, with good conditions for the observation of different species.


The viewpoint has access by tarmac road up to about 50 metres, where after the parking is followed on foot to the summit.

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The Ria Formosa is located on the Algarve Coast and this beautiful and stunning Nature Reserve is connected to the South by two peninsulas, and includes five other islands further from shore. It’s hard to ignore the richness of life, which includes countless species of mollusca, crustaceans, reptiles, fish and water birds. Trails, tours and boat rides are available in order to properly enjoy the enormous diversity of wildlife and the stunning beauty of the Nature Reserve. Visit the website

 
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You may be unaware that seahorses are in fact fish. They have evolved interesting adaptations to life in the sea. The combination of a horse-like snout, for sneaking up on small crustaceans, bony plates that protect them against predators, and a prehensile tail that allows them to cling to seagrasses, corals, and other holdfasts in ocean currents. These characteristics have enabled these slow-swimming animals to survive for millions of years.


Long-snouted and short-snouted seahorses were found in record-breaking numbers in the Ria Formosa until the early 2000's. Sadly, since then, their numbers have been declining sharply. However, on 16 November 2021, a group of 60 seahorses (most of them born in captivity) were released into the Ria Formosa. This is part of a repopulation project called ‘Seahorse’. 

The animals were released in one of the two sanctuary areas recently created in the estuary, between Faro and Olhão where artificial structures have been placed to recreate their natural habitat so that they can settle there. Most of these seahorses were born in the tanks of the Ramalhete Marine Station in Faro, but their parents are specimens that lived in the wild and were taken there in order to breed, thus contributing to the conservation of the species.


The project, "only makes sense because the introduction is made in a protected area, otherwise they would be exposed to negative effects that may still exist in the estuary", stressed Jorge Palma, researcher at the Centre for Marine Sciences told reporters (CCMAR) of the University of the Algarve (UAlg), noting that the objective is that the animals stay in the sanctuary. The seahorses were transported by boat in two tanks to a protected area, about half a mile off the coast, where sailing is prohibited. They were then carefully placed in small cages to be taken into the water by divers. The team of divers took the cages to the bottom, at a depth of about four meters, to then release the animals next to the artificial reefs that will become their habitat. Although most of the animals released were only between seven months and a year old, they were already adults and during their short life in captivity their ability to survive in the wild has been preserved. The initiative to repopulate seahorses in the Ria Formosa was carried out by CCMAR under the 'Seahorse' project, with funding from the Belmiro de Azevedo Foundation.


The Ria Formosa Natural Park an area recently elected as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, this is one of three protected areas. It is a unique coastal lagoon which is constantly changing due to the continuous movement of winds, currents and tides.