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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunrise across the river from our balcony

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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.

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Roman ruins at Vila Romana do Montinho das Laranjeiras

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The Spanish village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana

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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.

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The first view of Mértola from the N122

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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.

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The main bridge into Mértola

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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.

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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.

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Looking upriver from our motel room balcony

About Tim & Anne Hall

We sold almost all of our belongings and left our home in Nova Scotia in April 2016 to experience as much of the world as we could. We spent over a year slow traveling in Latin America and Europe, and are now living happily in the Portuguese Algarve, Portimao to be specific. We are gradually chnging the focus of our site to feature images of Portugal. Stay tuned - its a work in progress.
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8 Responses to Along the Banks of the Guadiana River

  1. Wayne says:

    Thank you for the very pleasant. Congratulations on following your dream.

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  2. Gilda Baxter says:

    Lovely post, it is great to read about something a bit different from the usual Algarve posts. We are travelling by motorhome and just about to enter Portugal tomorrow. We are looking forward to explore the cost and inland 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Hi Gilda (and Brian). We just read your post on Granada and were sorry that you missed out on the Alhambra but it looks like you enjoyed your time there regardless and it gives you a reason to return. We’re sure that you will enjoy Portugal – do you have any set lans in mind? Cheers, Tim & Anne

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  3. Sounds like an idyllic trip. Lovely photos.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michelle Holt says:

    Hi Tim & Anne
    We are a family of 3 from Calgary, Alberta. We visited Portugal 2 summers ago now, and we fell in love with the SE Algarve. Tavira was our furthest east that we made and we loved our time there and have been looking forward to returning and exploring more of the Algarve. I have been following your Blog, as well as Gail at Large, as I am following our dream to retire there just as you have accomplished! Congratulations! On Monday, I was planning a trip to take during our next visit to Tavira and had been looking east, to the border of Spain focusing on the Guadiana River and Mertola. I was so happily surprised to see your post, and it just seemed too surreal that within days of my google mapping, picture viewing and reading up, that you posted your trip! I had to write and say hello and say thank you for sharing your photos and the continuing story of your adventure in Portugal!! It truly is inspiring! Thank you again! Michelle.

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    • timannehall says:

      Hi Michelle. Thanks for the feedback and great to hear that it coincided with your searches. That area is very pleasant and would make a nice change from the beaches and more crowded areas of the Algarve, especially in the summer. It will be hot though. If you’re looking for more resources you should check out Julie Dawn Fix in Portugal (a great blog) and Becky in Portugal Alagrve focused walking and history). They will provide with you with lots of ideas. All the best, Tim & Anne

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  5. Joe says:

    Hi Tim & Anne, The pictures and narrative of your Guadiana River adventure inspire me to visit like a great guidebook. As you might remember, we had planned to visit the Algarve this fall. We were looking forward to meeting you and traveling to the interesting, naturally-preserved, and less-traveled places you write about. Instead, we have changed our plan, and will be visiting Esther’s homeland of the Netherlands. Of course, I will continue to enjoy your postings and dream of the day we can return to explore the amazing Algarve.

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    • timannehall says:

      Hi Joe and Esther. We really enjoyed following your latest Spanish explorations. Great work on the blog! We have bookmarked them for our next trip(s) to our eastern neighbour. We’re putting together ideas for more Portuguese exploration for the next couple of months – there is so much here to see that we haven’t even begun yet. Too bad that you won’t get back here in the fall, however we’re sure that you both will have a great time in Netherlands. All the best, Tim & Anne

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