Along the Banks of the Guadiana River

The Guadiana River defines the border between Portugal and Spain for much of its roughly 830 km course. Its source is in Spain and initially separates Extramadura (Spain) from Alentejo (Portugal) and nearer its mouth, Andalucia and the Algarve. Sailors have been visiting the Guadiana with the first likely being the Phoenecians in about 1000 BC. They established a fishing port at Vila Real de Santo António and trading posts at Alcoutim and Mértola. Later the Romans, the Visgoths and the Moors all plied its waters.


Looking across the Guadiana to Spain from the N122

In addition to its value as a trade route, several important military fortifications were established on the Portuguese side of the river at Castro Marim, Alcoutim and Mértola. All of these imposing castles are open today and make a visit to the area even more enjoyable. A copper mine operating in São Domingos shipped ore through the riverside village of Pomarão but was closed in the 1960s. Today there is no commercial traffic on the river but many recreational boaters enjoy the beautiful and tranquil lower reaches of the river.

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Spain across the river from Foz de Odeleite


The river at Laranjeiras

Last fall, looking to explore a different area of the Algarve we spent three days enjoying the river and its surrounding towns beginning at Castro Marim in the estuary to Mértola which is in southeast Alentejo. In addition to the stunning natural beauty of the area we discovered peaceful villages, quaint (and quiet) towns, imposing castles and welcoming people. It is a far cry from the bustle and commercialism of some parts of the Algarve.


A pleasant park in Castro Marim celebrates Moorish influences in the area

Our first stop was Castro Marim which is located in the estuary of the Guadiana and is well-known for its castle, salt production and varied bird life. A couple of hours, a picnic lunch and some walking through the marshes provided a wonderful way to begin our Guadiana adventure.


From Castro Marim across to the Spanish town of Quebranta

North from the imposing Guadiana International Bridge which links Portugal with Spain there is a good highway, the IC27  which follows inland from the river for about 70 kms to Mértola which was our destination for the second day. We left the IC27 at Odeleite and chose the secondary roads along the river. These are all well-marked and provide some beautiful viewpoints at many spots along the way as they wind their way along the riverbank. There are several good birding opportunities along this route as well.

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These marshes provide excellent birding. Guadiana International Bridge in background.


Derelict from the past?

We were taking our time on this trip wanted to check out a local inn that was highly recommended. The Piasagem do Guadiana is located near the village of Odeleite along the shores of the river. It is a small motel with great views across the river and into Spain. One of the most common comments we saw was that it was so quiet you could hear the fish jump. This was entirely true and we enjoyed an evening cocktail on our balcony as the sun sank in the west, but sunrise the next morning was outstanding. Clean rooms, a very pleasant hostess and great food make this a wonderful choice in the area.


Sunrise across the river from our balcony


There were fabulous hilltop views along the river

The next morning we continued our drive upriver, stopping to visit Roman ruins in Laranjeiras and great viewpoints along the way to Alcoutim. An impressive 14th Century Moorish castle, quaint streets, laid back vibe and a nice river beach all made this a beautiful stopping point. We could easily have stayed there overnight. There is also a zip line across the river from the Spanish town of Sanlúcar de Guadiana which we are definitely going back to try out next time.


Roman ruins at Vila Romana do Montinho das Laranjeiras


The Spanish village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana


Praia Fluvial (river beach) at Alcoutim

In the afternoon we continued northward out of the Algarve into Alentejo to the impressive hill town of Mértola. This is an historic town dating well back into the Classical Antiquity period, inhabited by Phoenicians, Carthaginians and then the Romans. It retains part of the old city walls, the castle dates from the 13th Century, the stunning 11th Century church was originally constructed as a mosque and the town is also home to the most important museum of Islamic artifacts in Portugal.


The first view of Mértola from the N122


Igreja da Misericórdia de Mértola

We were very pleased with our choice of accommodation in Mértola. The Hotel Museu also operates a small building of rooms next door called Beira Rio at 40€ per night. We had a small room overlooking the river, but there was a nice shared kitchen and balcony available for all guests. An excellent full breakfast can also be purchased for €6 per person. To top off our experience we took a 2 hour sunset boat tour for €10 each, arranged through the motel as well. This gave us some exceptional views of the town and surrounding countryside.


The main bridge into Mértola


Absolutely stunning view as the sun begins to set

Through bad luck (or poor planning) we were in Mértola on a Monday. In Portugal many attractions are closed on Mondays. This is something to keep in mind, particularly if you have a short period for a visit in a particular area. For us retired folk living here we can work around it, but we spoke with a young Portuguese couple that were very disappointed as it was the only day they had to visit.


Looking down the Guadiana from one of the old streets in Mértola

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These surprises are what makes exploring the back streets so enjoyable

We were content to walk the old narrow streets, enjoy the views from the walls and have a coffee in the quiet squares and plan our next visit. We returned to Portimão via the smaller roads and through some of the beautiful Alentejo countryside and finally over the hills to the Algarve on the IC1 – the main non-toll road.

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Looking upriver from Mértola

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Typical southern Alentejo road – this is the N267

We brought back some very pleasant memories of a slower and less visited part of the Algarve and would highly recommend anyone with a car to make the trip along the shores of the beautiful and historic Guadiana River.


Looking upriver from our motel room balcony

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Paradise in Portugal – A Perfect Retreat

If you are in looking for a break from the tourists, beaches and busy towns of the Algarve, Paradise in Portugal makes a wonderful retreat. Quinta do Barranco da Estrada is located on the shores of the Santa Clara Reservoir in southern Alentejo. This eco-friendly, family owned and operated lodge provides peace and relaxation accompanied by great food and hospitality. The owner Frank McClintock also operates professional birdwatching tours under the name Birding in Portugal.


Signposts along the track to the Quinta.

If you are driving from the Algarve as we were, there are a number of routes to follow depending on your starting point. We chose the very winding and slow road through Monchique and across the hills on Route N266. Normally this is very scenic, however devastating forest fires in August turned much of the area into a blackened wasteland. Our drive provided us the opportunity to reflect on the devastation.

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Forest fires in the Monchique area raged for a week this past August


Already new life is returning

If you are driving it is definitely worth taking some time for a short drive along the Mira River to the Barragem Santa Clara. One of the country’s largest reservoirs, the views from the dam are beautiful and we enjoyed a picnic in the late October sunshine. The small town of Santa Clara de Velha is also worth exploring for an hour or two.


Looking north across the reservoir towards the Quinta

A few kilometres farther along is the start of dirt track into the Quinta. Winding over the hills through the cork oak forests this road provides excellent views across the surrounding area and farther to the north, the plains and hills of Alentejo. The sun was shining as we approached and the sparkling blue of the reservoir drew our attention.

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The first sight of the reservoir from the track

The Quinta has 8 double ensuite rooms as well as a Family Suite and a Honeymoon Suite. From the moment you step out of your car you are overwhelmed by absolute quiet and the verdant tranquility of the buildings and gardens perched on the hillside above the water’s edge. The rooms are all pleasant, well laid out and promote the laid back and restful nature of the Quinta.


All the rooms face the water and overlook beautiful gardens

With its well-tended and lush gardens we felt a similarity to many tropical lodges but a glance across to the nearby hillsides brought us quickly back to Portugal.


The water is extremely clean even at the end of the summer


Two of the very friendly residents of the Quinta

In addition to birdwatching there are a selection of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, stand up paddle boards (SUP) and a small sail boat free for the use of all guests. We spent most of our second day on the water, particularly enjoying the SUPs and kayaks. The temperatures climbed into the mid 20s and the water was very pleasant for swimming – probably our last for the season.


The two larger suites have their own balconies and offer additional privacy

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A recent addition is a large yoga deck overlooking the reservoir

Dinners (jantar in Portugal) at the Quinta are a group affair, and are hosted by Frank and his charming wife Daniela who does all of the cooking. Using all local ingredients the food was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed all of our meals. We particularly enjoy Alentejo wines and there was an excellent selection available. A full continental style breakfast of homemade breads and croissants, cheeses, hams, fruit, granola and yogurt is included.


The table set for “jantar”

With no televisions to be seen (or heard) the evenings and mornings were peaceful and amazing sunsets and sunrises were a perfect way to begin or end the day.


Sunrise from our patio

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Walking the roads above the Quinta

We also appreciated that the Quinta operates entirely on solar power and actively promotes eco-friendly living in all of its operations. Many of the ingredients in the meals are grown in on-site gardens and a greenhouse.


That’s Tim out there on the SUP – nobody else on the water

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A secluded pathway through the gardens

We spent two nights at the Quinta and after that short time we felt refreshed, relaxed and very appreciative of this corner of Portugal. We continue to search out opportunities to discover the more rural and laid back places in Southern and Central Portugal as short getaways from the relative bustle of the larger and more well-known towns where we spend a lot of our time.


The day was perfect for kayaking and swimming

If you are looking for a few days of relaxtion, or want to do some serious birding, we’d recommend checking out Paradise in Portugal. You’ll be treated like family, well fed and unless you crave noisy distractions you will leave with a sense of peace and contentment.


A perfect ending to a wonderful day

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Uncovering Italica, Spain

Travelling never stops reminding of us of how little we know.  Last December we visited the Archaeologcal Museum of Seville, one of the pavillions created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. As we explored the fascinating museum, we quickly noted that most of the impressive Roman exhibits were from Italica, which we soon learned was just northeast of Sevilla. Note to selves – we must visit!


Venus of Italica at the Archaeological Museum of Seville

Fast forward to June 2018, Erik was spending time with us and we hit the road for Andalucia – specifically Italica and Cordoba. Located in (and under) the modern town of Santiponce just northwest of Sevilla, this was an easy 2.5 hour drive from Portimão.


Centre of the ampitheatre


View from site towards Santiponce and Sevilla

Italica was an elaborate Roman city founded in 206 BC by Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio. Smaller than it’s neighbour Hispalis (Seville), it’s main purpose was to settle war veterans from the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Carthaginians. The city was built on the shores of the Guadalquivir River with formal streets surrounding a central public buildings and a forum.

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Italica thrived for many years, particularly under the patronage of Hadrian, as it was his birthplace. He expanded the city northward and erected several new temples and buildings. However by as early as the third Century its prominence began to dwindle due both to the shifting of the riverbed and the continued prosperity of nearby Hispalis.



Throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times the city remained a romantic site but was subject to looting, indiscrimate excavation and a quarry for building materials. In fact in 1740 the City of Seville ordered demolition of the ampitheatre walls to support building of a dam on the Gualdalquivir River. It wasn’t until 1810 that Italica recieved any protection, as well as an annual budget for excavation. In 1912 it was declared a National Monument but the final protection laws were not put in place until 2001.

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An active archaeological site

As the modern city of Santiponce was not built over the entire site, much of the original city remains intact and visble. The ampitheatre was the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire at the time and seated 25,000 people which is about half of the Collosseum in Rome. We were actually overwhelmed by the feeling of walking into the centre of the ampitheatre and its surrounding vaults and walkways. There are many parts that remain intact and you definitely get a sense of the specatcles that took place here.


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In addition to the ampitheatre several streets in the elite area of urbs nova or new town have been extensively uncovered and some very impressive mosaics from the original homes are visible. Wandering along the formal streets amongst columns, cedar trees and remains of the original homes and mosaics provides a fascinating experience and a unique insight into Roman history.


The “House of the Birds” mosaic




Getting to Italica is easy, as the signage on the highways is excellent and coming from Portugal you can avoid the busier thoroughfares as you head north in the outskirts of Sevilla. There are few overnight choices in Santiponce itself but most visitors come from Seville on a day trip or using public transportation.


We stayed at the Hotel Anfiteatro Romano which is reasonably priced and has a unique interior. The rooms were small but clean and perfectly adequate for a night. There are several restaurants within a short walk and we had an excellent meal at the attached Ventorrillo Canario.

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Entrance to the Site

The entrance to the site is directly across the street from the hotel and there is ample street parking in the area. Entrance fees are very reasonable and on the day we visited in late June there couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the whole site which is quite expansive. There are no facilities within the site other than washrooms and vending machines near the entrance. The grounds surrouding the ampitheatre contain some fascinating pieces and throughout the entire site you will find scattered remains of columns, poticos and statues. Also, keep in mind that the site is closed on Mondays.



A morning or an afternoon of about 2-3 hours should be sufficient to see the entire site, although this depends on the level of interest you have in this type of attraction. For us it was a unique, enriching and very memorable visit.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles!

We have been doing a lot of traveling the past two months and although we didn’t have the problems encountered by Steve Martin and the gang from that classic movie, we are glad of some down time now. In April we headed to Porto by train, then to Canada in May, and in June we were off to Spain and Central Portugal on road trips. This post is a summary of our recent travels, but we have plenty of material from our road trips to share in separate upcoming posts.


Catching the early train to Lisbon in Portimão

Where to start? It has been quite a while since our last post so there has been a lot of water under the bridge – especially in April. We have all of our paperwork completed and no Portuguese language classes until September so things haven’t seemed quite so hectic. Our futebol (soccer) team – Portimonense qualified for the Premeira Liga next season. March and April were wetter and cooler than Portugal has experienced in a long time. The weather has now turned and is more of what is expected for this time of year so our activities are now shifting to a slower pace and exploring close to home.

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The goldfinches loved the abundant seeds of spring


A wonderful mixed flock of sheep and goats


Returning from a hike in the Serra de Monchique


An open house at Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate in Estombar


Quinta dos Vales Wine Estate blends great wines with art

In late April we took our first trip to Porto (by train) with friends from Nova Scotia and we loved it (a separate post to follow). Coincidentally we were in Porto at the same time as our friends Kemkem and Federico from Nextbiteoflife. We had a wonderful evening with them over a great meal and a few glasses of wine.


The start of a great meal at a small restaurant in Porto. A Nigerian, an Italian, a Costa Rican, a Nova Scotian and two Newfoundlanders meet in a tavern in Porto – there has to be a punch line!

After another relaxing train ride across Portugal back to Portimão, we spent a week showing them some of our favorite areas and restaurants. While it wasn’t hot and sunny the cooler weather was very comfortable for walking and sightseeing.


We never tired of the beautiful spring blooms, especially near the coast

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Under the sardine baskets at the Museu de Portimão

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Magnificent coastline at Praia da Marinha


The setting and the food at Jony’s Restaurante in Armação de Pêra were both perfect

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Arrival of the French frigate Hermione in Portimão

No sooner had our friends left and it was time for us to travel back to Canada (by plane) for Erik’s graduation from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. At our age we know how quickly time passes, but 4 years sure flew by as it seemed like only yesterday we said goodbye to him on the steps of one of the dorms. The convocation ceremonies were uplifting and we felt so proud as we watched him and his friends accept their degrees and awards.

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Mount Allison’s Convocation Hall in Sackville, New Brunswick

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The big moment!


Very happy grads – Erik with Anna Jamieson


Regular readers of our blog may recognize these two great guys from our travels – Keeghan (Costa Rica) and Xave (Lisbon).

Of course some time with families and friends was in order and we did our usual driving (and now the automobile) from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, through the Annapolis Valley with stops in Halifax. Good food and even some good weather along with lots of smiles ensured that our week passed very quickly.


Steamed Nova Scotian lobsters and white wine – how could you not smile? Anne with Tim’s Mom and sister.

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Watch for this site in the upcoming movie “The Lighthouse” – filmed in Yarmouth, NS.


No this isn’t a truck dealership. Lower West Pubnico is one of the most lucrative landing sites for lobster in Atlantic Canada. Also the site of the excellent Dennis Point Cafe.

In what has been a great opportunity, Erik came back to Portugal with us to spend two months before he embarks on the next stage of his life. After recovering from a (very) long twenty seven hours of flights, airports, lounges and lines we decided to do a couple of road trips before the weather got too hot, the crowds too big and summer prices came into effect.


A long layover at Gatwick Airport gave us the opportunity to have a great pub lunch in nearby Crawley.


Time for a couple last hikes before the heat of summer. We wanted to see how much water was in Barragem da Bravura and were pleased to see it nearly full.

Our first was back to Andalucia, by road this time which gave us the opportunity to see much more of this part of Spain. We will share some of the highlights from Santiponce (Italica) and Cordoba in a future post.


Enjoying the fields and hills between Sevilla and Cordoba, Clio’s first journey to Spain.

We have been wanting to visit much more of Portugal so for our next trip we headed north to Coimbra, Porto, Aveiro and Nazaré. Each of these areas impressed us in a different way, and reminded us of the diversity of Portugal while retaining the friendliness, history and unique aspects of this little corner of Europe.


The site of the colossal winter waves of Nazaré

Now we are taking the time to catch our breath and will settle into summer here in Portimão and enjoy the many activities taking place as well as some time at the beach and by the pool. Retirement is just so tough! Also just in time for the World Cup which promises to be an exciting few weeks.

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Futebol Park Alameda, the site of the World Cup in Portimão

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Hiking the Algarve – Percurso do Lagoão


São Marcos da Serra

Aptly named the Percurso do Lagoão trail, (roughly translated “the course of the lagoon”) follows the floodplain of the Ribeira da Odelouca near the small hill town of São Marcos da Serra. Located in the northern portion of the Algarve this trail will introduce you to a rural side of living as well as a mix of natural habitats.

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Shepherds are a common sight in many rural areas

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Ruins and old walls abound

Just off of the IC1, the start of the trail is easy to locate near the futebol pitch and fire station and there is ample parking. We walked the trail in early April and encountered no other hikers along the entire 10 km distance.


A common sight throughout the Algarve

You begin following the small river and will encounter a mixture of riparian habitats as well as mixed plantings on the hillside. Throughout the entire area were cork oaks which are actively harvested. The dirt road is open and affords great views across the river valley and to the hills beyond. We heard several birds in this area but they were mostly hidden in the thick vegetation along the banks of the river.

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What species was that?


A cork oak that has been stripped

We reached a crossing point in the river which the guide mentioned may be impassable during periods of heavy rain. The water level was just over the concrete roadway across the river so we had no problem and really enjoyed this area and delighted in the sound of water running and the play of the sunlight on the surface.


March brought 4x the usual rainfall in Portugal


Small multipurpose farms are common in this area


A small reservoir


Spring is wonderful with wild flowers everywhere

There are many modest homes and farms on this walk and we exchanged friendly greetings with the few people we encountered. These were not prosperous farms by any extent and it seemed from the mixture of activities that people made a living from a  variety of sources. Mixed livestock, geese, small plantings and orchards, and cork oak harvest would contribute to income of the families living here. Not surprisingly we saw no younger people and it is likely that the way of life has not changed much in the past 50 years or more.


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A pastoral scene in the hills

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Cork drying on the hillsides

As we have seen more and more of rural Algarve by foot we are really beginning to appreciate the different perspective this mode of travel provides. You absorb so much more of the natural surroundings as well as the way of life that is slowly disappearing. It also provides plenty of time for introspection.


Pines are common throughout the Algarve


No shepherd with this flock


I wonder what is around the next corner?


There were several small olive groves along this section

Leaving the hills behind the trail begins to wind its way back towards São Marco da Serra through more farmland and past small vineyards. In this open area we saw several species of birds feeding on insects and seeds. As always the people we encountered had time for a friendly wave and greeting.


The vines were just starting to show their leaves


A stretch along the highway looking back towards the hills we walked through


Entering São Marcos da Serra

This is a circular trail which brings you through the town and back across the river. These small towns feel quite different than the coastal towns. There is relatively no English spoken, no billboards, no tourist cafes just local pastelarias, shops and small squares with mostly older residents.


No fanfare as you enter town


Enjoying the warmth of the April sun

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Nearing the end of the trail you recross the river

This is a great trail to explore the rural side of the Algarve and apart from the occasional traffic noise from the nearby IC1 it is easy to peel away the years and enjoy the laid back understated beauty and ambiance of the Algarve hills.

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Hiking the Algarve – Pedra do Galo


Barão de São Jão

We found this trail listed under two different names – Pedra do Galo and Discovering the Forest (Lilac Trail). Located in the hills behind the charming village of Barão de São Jão, finding the parking lot can be a lot of fun as well. At the western end of the village you follow the signs for the Centro Cultural and wind your way through a series of very narrow two way streets. There are a series of 4 mirrors to allow you to see if any vehicles are coming the other way as you cannot squeeze two cars through the narrow lanes.


The trail is located within a National Forest (Mata Nacional) from which timber for shipbuilding was supplied during the Age of Discovery. There is also a well known local picnic site Parque de Merenda. Apparently there is also a Paleolithic menhir (standing stone) in the area called Pedra do Galo but we were never able to find it.


You will find a large parking lot overlooking the village across from the Centro Cultural and there is a map of the trail at the starting point. Some lovely engravings sit aside the road and give you a little hint of what you can expect.


The 1st km is along a well used dirt road to the parking lot at a picnic area. The road winds through many eucalyptus trees and we spotted several bird species along this section. It was a bit busy and dusty so you could easily drive to the park, leave your car there and do a 4 km walk through the wooded portion of the path.

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The work of German stencil artist Tona on the abandoned guard house.

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Parque de Merenda picnic site

The next stage of the trail follows a small dirt road on the hillsides with a small brook and eucalyptus trees lining it. In the background on this day we could hear the fairly loud whooshing of the several windmills that are in the immediate vicinity which at times sounded like an airplane landing. There were many older growth trees in this area as well.





After about 1 km you emerge into an area of newer plantings of pine with a few olive trees, strawberry trees and many small bushes with which we were unfamiliar. The open areas were perfect for the many bright and varied wild flowers.


Emerging onto a dirt road at the highest point of elevation, we were dwarfed by the huge windmills. It was in this area of heavy pine plantings and windmills that we saw the greatest diversity of birds including our first crested tit and rock bunting. The roads lead gradually downhill until you pass close to the picnic area and rejoin the original uphill dirt road.

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The total distance for this hike was 7.5 km and including a short picnic lunch we spent about 3 hours on this diverse and pleasant trail.


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Hiking the Algarve – A Rocha Delicada

The Viaalgarviana is a long distance trail that runs 300 km across the Algarve from Alcoutim on the Guadiana River at the Spanish border to Cabo de São Vincente in the west. One the main goals of the system is to introduce people to the interior of the Algarve, away from the beaches and resort towns and to show the natural, cultural and historic charms of another side of the Algarve. In addition to the long distance path an additional group of 12 Rotas Pequenas (small routes) have been established in several parts of the Algarve. A Rocha Delicada is one of these trails.


Train crossing at the starting point of the trail

Between Lagos and Portimao, and beginning at the Estação (train station) Mexilhoeira Grande the trail runs along several dirt roads passing small rural homes, farms and some larger villas. A multitude of spring flowers were in bloom and the late March sun was brilliant on the day we walked this trail. All around the fields and farms swallows and martins were swooping everywhere we looked. Warblers, blackbirds, cisticolas, crested larks, magpies, goldfinch and greenfinch added their songs to the pleasant soundtrack of the morning.


As with so much of rural Portugal, the properties range from rustic ruins to modest dwellings to expansive (and expensive) villas all existing side by side. It makes for interesting contrasts set against the backdrop of the fields, cacti, orchards and vineyards which are characteristic of this area.



Gradually the road leaves the houses behind and winds along the extensive wetlands of the Rio Alvor. In days past productive salt pans were developed in many of the estuaries, creating a series of ponds, streams and ditches. In addition to the natural salt marsh habitats this is a very productive area for both migrating and resident shore birds and many other species.


Flamingos at rest


Eurasian Linnet

The trail branches off the dirt road and follows the salt marsh out to the tidal edge of the estuary. This is an even and easy walk along the tops of small dykes that have been built to control the ingress of water to this part of the wetland. It also provides excellent viewing and photography opportunities across the marshes. On the day we were there we spotted flamingos, spoonbills, egrets, dunlin, plovers, stilts and sandpipers all within a short distance of the path.




Returning to the road the trail passes a small sandy beach that looked very inviting in the relatively hot sun. In fact there was a family enjoying the day while the children frolicked at the water’s edge. Stopping for a small picnic lunch this was also the area where we encountered our first mosquitoes of the spring.



The last leg of the trail is quite different as the road leads uphill through expansive fields providing pastoral backdrops for the vibrant flowers, enigmatic ruins and occasional hawks and egrets. Long time readers of our blog will know that we really enjoy walking these small country roads and discovering the amazing little scenes that open up around each corner or from the crest of each hill.



As we neared the end of the trail, we both commented how hot this particular trail would be in the middle of the summer as there is little shade anywhere along the way. The back of our necks were sunburned as it was. So best to walk in the early morning or on cloudy days. That is case however for most hiking here in the Algarve and the guide books will warn you to avoid them in the summer altogether.

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Protecting their territory

At 6 km this trail was very pleasant and traversed a range of scenery and habitats. Probably the biggest drawback is that the road did seem that it could be busy (and dusty) at times. Also for anyone wanting to just do some birding, you can easily drive to the section of the trail that winds around the saltmarsh. This would make a very nice 2 km walk on its own and we saw several people doing just that. On the remainder of the trail we only saw one other group of hikers and one group of cyclists.


We chuckled at the shepherd who trundled along with a flock of tourists

You can follow this link to a great online brochure entitled Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by Tourismo de Portugal. It lists this, as well as dozens of other trails throughout the region. Another good resource is Algarve Hiking Trails by Walk Algarve. We are now working our way through the lists and will publish a little summary of them as we go.

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Birding in the Algarve – Ria de Alvor

From the picturesque town of Alvor in the Western Algarve a boardwalk winds its way through salt marshes, dunes, mud flats and salt pans to the mouth of the Ria de Alvor. In addition to the simple natural beauty of this area, the extensive marshes and tidal estuary make it an excellent birding site. As both a Special Area of Conservation (Natura 2000) and a Ramsar site it is well worth a casual walk or dedicated birding stop in the area.


The view from the starting point of the boardwalk


Via Algarviana trail marker

The variety of productive habitats attract a wide variety of species throughout the year as well as during the spring and fall migration periods. Wading birds feed along the edges of the marsh, terns dive for the plentiful fish and many small songbirds are attracted to the low bushes and plants of the marsh and dune systems.


Eurasian spoonbills feeding


Zitting Cisticolas are common along the boardwalk

There are many small pools and creeks that can be viewed from the boardwalk so with careful observation you can spot several species at close range as well as the larger birds farther out in the river and on the flats. The boardwalk is in great condition and this part of the walk is very accessible to anyone. Every time we have visited there have been plenty of people enjoying the walk.


Spring blooms


The boardwalk is well maintained

At the end of the boardwalk, which runs for about 2 km, a well maintained path runs along the shoreline which gives great views across the estuary. Numerous sandbars provide resting and feeding areas for terns, gulls, cormorants, herons, egrets and ducks.


Extensive sandbanks emerge at low tide




Discarded pieces of marble repurposed

The final piece of the trail takes you along the breakwater which protects the mouth of the river. The views west to Lagos are breathtaking and equally stunning back along the beach towards Portimão. From the end of the trail you can retrace your steps or walk back along the beach to the car park.


The final part of the trail leading to the breakwater

This is another of those areas that regardless if you are interested in birding, nature or just looking for a pleasant walk you won’t be disappointed.


Fish can be spotted from the breakwater


A nice catch!

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A small picnic in the lee of the dunes

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Wet and Windy in Portimão – March 2018

Spring has just arrived and compared to other parts of the world we have spent the winter in, this has been pretty nice. The last few weeks have been the wettest and windiest we have seen in Portugal, but in spite of this you can enjoy outdoor activities year round. For North Americans seeking swimming weather at the beaches and tropical temperatures in January and February you had better stick to the Caribbean however.


Across the Arade River to Ferragudo

There have been a series of low pressure systems develop in the Eastern Atlantic and this has been causing significant wind and precipitation not only in Portugal but throughout Europe. There has been some damage along the coastline of the Algarve, particularly in the Faro area where small tornadoes were generated. The following pictures give a sense of the ferocity of the wind and waves in the Portimão area.


Praia de Três Castelos


Praia da Rocha on a very windy day


The waves broke through and the breakwater and destroyed one restaurant


Flooding in the Tivoli Marina area

We have upped our game a little at the gym and have been following a training regimen recommended by the great trainers at the Ginasio Amaryllis where we go 2-4 times a week. We love that they also have tennis courts and an indoor spa which is included in the monthly price. A swim in the heated pool followed by a sauna or Turkish steam room feels really good.


We’re very happy with our nearby gym

Unfortunately however our Portuguese learning has slacked off as we are waiting for summer to enroll in the second level classes. We continue to practice whenever possible at the grocery stores, restaurants and markets, which helps in the maintenance of the basics but we need to be pushed harder. Watching Portuguese subtitles at the movies, on television and on the radio also helps. All of our services and accounts are in Portuguese.


Packed stadium for FC Porto but we ended up sitting on the wrong side

We are still getting through all of the paperwork, even though most of the heavy lifting is done. We turned in our Canadian Driver’s Licences back in January and were given temporary ones until March 13. They didn’t arrive so we returned to Faro and after a relatively simple process were given extensions until mid-September. Hopefully they will be here by then! The same thing happened with the change of address on our vehicle registration. So we were given another month extension on that as well.


Typical dark clouds for the past month

The final piece is the changing of address on our Residencia card. After a wait of three months our appointment with SEF was on March 19 and that was a relatively easy process to get a new one. Another €40 euro fee however.


There are many stork nests along the roadside in Odiáxere


A pleasant street near our apartment


Portimão from the Igreja de Ferragudo

We have just filed our taxes for the first time as Canadian Non-residents. The Non-Resident section of CRA has actually been very helpful in navigating the emigration process. We think we have it figured out and the next few weeks will tell the story. With the Tax Treaty between Canada and Portugal, and the Portuguese Non Habitual Resident (NHR) program it actually works to our financial advantage filing from here.


The ever popular “Hippie Market”

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Just one of many inviting scenes in Silves

We haven’t been able to get outside exploring as much as we’d like over the past month, but have managed a few short trips in the vicinity. Friends from Nova Scotia were in town for a week so we enjoyed having a chance to share some of the great views, good food and local experiences. Unfortunately most of the time was very windy, but we did try a couple of new restaurants and a couple old favorites.

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An avid researcher – Paul was so happy to visit the prehistoric site of Alcalar!


One of the few days when there was a clear view from the Foia. Very windy though.

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The “Luar de Foia” in Monchique is highly recommended for grilled meat lovers

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One of our local favorites – “Peixarada” in Portimão

We are looking forward to starting some day hikes, doing more birding and spending more time outdoors in the next couple of weeks. We hope to head farther north as well and beginning to expand our knowledge of the rest of the country. In the mean time we continue to enjoy our small corner of the Algarve and the the little things that make it home.


Along the shore of the River Arade

Nesting storks, arrivals of spring birds from Africa, wildflowers, rivers with water and lush green grounds are all new to us as we enter our first Spring season. Bring it on!

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On the summit of the Foia


It is fascinating to see where the storks will build their nests



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Birding in the Algarve – Lagoa dos Salgados

Just south of Pêra you can find one of the better sites for bird watching in the Algarve. Lagoa dos Salgados is a typical coastal lagoon separated from the sea by the extensive Praia Grande dune system. Covering an area of about 50 hectares there are several good viewing points for the extensive variety of waterfowl in particular which can be found here.


Listed in the national list of Important Bird Areas, over 200 species have been recorded here. It is also known as a good area to spot rarities and other less common species such as the Ferruginous Duck and the Squacco Heron. Other interesting species like the Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Golden Plover, Pied Avocet, Ruff and Eurasian Spoonbill are spotted regularly.


Access is easy from the N125 at Alcantarilha and following the N269-1 and then the M526 from which you can see the marsh and spot the turn off. The best approach is from the north side of the lagoon where there are easy parking areas, open trails and good viewing points across the marsh. Tourismo de Portugal has produced a terrific online “Birdwatching Guide to the Algarve” that shows this and many other sites in detail.


Between the lagoon and the dune system is a band of fields and scrub which provide good viewing areas for a number of birds. We enjoyed a picnic amongst the bushes this winter and had several nice sightings while eating our lunch. To finish your visit a short walk across the dunes will bring you to beautiful Priai Grande de Pêra.




As we are still relatively new to European birding we added several “lifers” to our list on our first two visits here. Whether you are a serious birder, a casual observer or just want an accessible and pleasant walk you won’t be disappointed spending a couple hours here.


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