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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.