Lush forests, pristine brooks, and a symphony of nature’s harmonies await those who venture into Algarve’s lesser-known mountains. Join us as we journey through the picturesque landscape of Monchique, a serene municipality nestled in the Serra de Monchique range. Discover the untamed beauty of this off-the-beaten-path destination and learn about the Via Algarviana, a trail weaving through Portugal’s interior that’s breathing new life into rural communities. From cork oaks with a story to tell, to rejuvenating spirits distilled from the land, our exploration uncovers the secrets of Algarve’s southern mountains.
As you tread lightly upon the earth, a world of wonders unfolds around you. The forest transforms into a playground of nature’s artistry — a babbling brook emerges from amidst dense branches, its path carpeted in white water-crowfoot flowers, serving as a haven for basking turtles and an amusement park for pond skaters. Above the verdant canopy, dragonflies and damselflies engage in a delicate aerial ballet, while the mellifluous tunes of a nightingale serenade the surroundings. With each hop across rocks, the paradise of Algarve’s hidden mountains reveals itself, leaving you in awe of the untouched beauty that unfolds before your eyes.
Your guide, the charismatic Francisco Simões, founder of AlgarvianRoots, shares his passion for these mountains as you embark on a tour around Monchique. This municipality, perched high in the western Algarve’s Serra de Monchique range, is a world away from the bustling coastal resorts that Algarve is known for. With its two towering peaks and lush woodlands, Monchique boasts a unique microclimate that nurtures its natural treasures. Francisco observes, “The Algarve’s brand is its coastline, not its mountains. There’s untapped potential here that remains undiscovered by many. While most visitors stay by the beach, this paradise works its magic in the opposite way.”
Unlocking the full potential of this hidden gem is the ambitious Via Algarviana. Stretching across 186 miles, this long-distance trail winds its way through the region’s interior, connecting the Spanish border to the Atlantic coastline. A labor of love inaugurated in 2009, the trail has evolved over time with the addition of various side trails catering to different preferences. The most recent additions, unveiled in late 2022, introduce five new paths around Monchique. Enhanced with user-friendly English-language maps and a navigation app, these trails offer a seamless experience for adventurers eager to immerse themselves in nature.
Today’s journey focuses on one such trail — a circular five-mile hike through the enchanting woodlands of Alferce. The starting point, a quaint village characterized by whitewashed houses, provides a serene backdrop for this exploration. While the heart of the village resonates with Portugal’s signature blue-and-white azulejo tiles depicting the essence of rural life, the tranquility of a Sunday morning in late April envelops the streets.
The Via Algarviana’s mission extends beyond offering memorable hikes. By diverting visitors from the coast, the trail seeks to rejuvenate rural communities like Alferce, stemming the tide of young locals leaving their homes and breathing new life into traditional ways of living. Encouraging signs of change emerge, such as the development of an information center near Alferce Castle, once a Moorish fortress now transformed into an archaeological site. The spark of interest from hikers has even ignited discussions about repurposing an old bank into a hostel, a testament to the evolving landscape of this region.
Monchique’s historical reputation was rooted in honey production and the crafting of medronho, a beloved traditional fruit brandy. However, the spotlight now shifts to the cork oaks that define the landscape. As Francisco guides you through the woodland, he shares his reverence for these trees. Though seemingly unremarkable, cork oaks have a rich tale to tell. Native to southwestern Europe and designated Portugal’s national tree since the Middle Ages, their ecological importance is profound. The vibrant moss on their branches attracts insects, which in turn beckon birds, creating a harmonious ecosystem. The russet trunks bear a treasure that supports local communities — cork, harvested sustainably and without harming the trees, contributes to the wine industry and beyond.
This tale of tradition and sustainability is juxtaposed with a note of concern. As fast-growing eucalyptus plantations replace native cork forests across the country, the cherished cork oaks face an uncertain future. The hike’s final leg presents a challenging ascent, a fitting metaphor for the uphill battle of preserving these forests. Yet, the reward is unparalleled as the vista unfurls before you — cork oaks reach for the sky, framing Alferce and the rolling Sierra de Monchique in the distance. Francisco muses optimistically, “As more people explore, they’ll understand the value of preserving this beauty. Connecting with local communities, safeguarding their way of life, and conserving the native forest — it’s an ongoing journey.”
Amidst this journey of discovery, one thing becomes clear — the land speaks, and the local community listens. The white numbers etched onto cork trunks narrate a tale of patience and resilience, of tending to the land and protecting its legacy. As you stand among the cork oaks, you’re reminded that preserving paradise is a labor of love that bridges the past and the future.
Getting Ready for Your Own Adventure:
For those intrigued by the allure of Algarve’s hidden mountains, AlgarvianRoots offers guided hiking excursions that promise to unveil the region’s wonders. Additionally, the Pure Monchique hotel, a charming accommodation nestled within the Villa Termal das Caldas de Monchique Spa Resort, provides a cozy haven for weary adventurers. With doubles starting from €101 (£87), inclusive of breakfast, your stay promises to be as comforting as it is invigorating.
Navigating the Journey:
Reaching this enchanting corner of the world is made accessible through several airlines including British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet, and TAP Air Portugal. Frequent flights connect major UK cities like London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Edinburgh to Lisbon, Porto, and Faro. With an average flight time of 2.5 to 3 hours, planning your journey is a breeze.
Exploring the Region:
As you venture between cities, consider traversing the scenic train routes that connect destinations like Lisbon and Faro (3 hours) or Porto and Lisbon (3 hours). The distances are manageable, and the train services are reliable, regular, and budget-friendly. While regional buses connect to gateway hubs leading to national parks and nature reserves, be prepared for sporadic services, especially during the off-season. For those eager to explore beyond, having your own transportation is recommended.
Timing Your Visit:
Spring and early autumn present the perfect window to experience the region’s natural beauty, with wildflowers painting the landscape and mild temperatures (ranging from 20°C to 25°C) ideal for outdoor pursuits. The southern regions boast warmer and drier conditions, while the summers bring the heat with temperatures nearing 30°C and occasionally touching 35°C in Algarve. July and August are peak holiday periods, accompanied by bustling crowds and peak room rates. Winters are cooler, with average highs around 15°C in the south and 12°C in the north, potentially dropping further along the coast due to Atlantic winds and rain. Don’t be surprised if you encounter snow in the mountains during this season.
For more information about planning your visit to Portugal, consider exploring Visit Portugal’s resources. If you’re eager to delve deeper into the country’s treasures, consider delving into guides like “Lonely Planet Portugal” or “Walking in Portugal” by Cicerone, offering valuable insights for your adventure.
Embark on a journey to Algarve’s hidden mountains, where nature’s beauty and local traditions intertwine in a harmonious dance. This article, published in the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK), invites you to experience the magic of Algarve’s serene mountainscape and be a part of its evolving narrative.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Exploration
How long is the Via Algarviana trail?
The Via Algarviana trail stretches for 186 miles across the interior of the Algarve region, connecting the Spanish border to the Atlantic coastline.
What is the aim of the Via Algarviana trail?
The aim of the Via Algarviana trail is to unlock the potential of Algarve’s mountains, diverting visitors from the coast to rural areas like Monchique, fostering sustainable tourism, and preserving local ways of life.
What are the latest additions to the Via Algarviana?
The latest additions to the Via Algarviana are five new paths around Monchique, launched in late 2022. These paths provide fresh opportunities for exploration and are accompanied by user-friendly maps and navigation apps.
How does cork harvesting support local communities?
Cork oaks, the national trees of Portugal, provide a sustainable source of income for local communities through cork harvesting. The bark can be harvested without harming the tree, offering materials primarily used in the wine industry and supporting rural livelihoods.
Spring and early autumn are ideal times to visit, with mild temperatures, clear skies, and vibrant wildflowers. Summers can be hot, while winters offer cooler temperatures, especially in the south. Summers attract crowds, while winters bring the possibility of snow in the mountains.
More about Exploration
- AlgarvianRoots – Discover guided hiking excursions to explore the beauty of Algarve’s hidden mountains.
- Pure Monchique Hotel – Experience comfort and rejuvenation at Pure Monchique Hotel, a serene accommodation option nestled within Villa Termal das Caldas de Monchique Spa Resort.
- British Airways – Find flights from major UK cities to Lisbon, Porto, and Faro for an exciting Algarve adventure.
- Ryanair – Explore flights connecting the UK to various Portuguese cities, including Faro.
- EasyJet – Discover convenient flight options between UK cities and Portugal’s popular destinations.
- TAP Air Portugal – Experience air travel to Portugal with TAP Air Portugal’s frequent flights from the UK.
- Visit Portugal – Explore comprehensive information about planning your visit to Portugal and uncover its diverse attractions.
- Lonely Planet Portugal – Dive into detailed insights about Portugal with the help of the Lonely Planet guidebook.
- Walking in Portugal by Cicerone – Get prepared for your hiking adventure in Portugal with valuable tips from the “Walking in Portugal” guide by Cicerone.
- National Geographic Traveller (UK) – Delve into the world of travel with the National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine.