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.
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.
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.
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.
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.