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Through the enchanted valley to the holy spring

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An easy but adventurous hike between Algarve beaches and Serra de Monchique

The Fonte Santa da Fornalha is a thermal spring, which has been known since the Middle Ages, on the slopes of the Serra de Monchique. It still transports water at a temperature of 27 degrees Celsius into old bathing pools, which are now slowly decaying into ruins at the end of a small valley. The water is said to be good for treating rheumatism and skin problems, and in the 13th and 14th century even the Portuguese kings are said to have bathed here. Even today, the spring is still visited by locals, and the district of Monchique bought back houses and land in 2012. However, so far even the council has not been able to stop the decay. The tourist potential has been recognised and hiking trails have been created, but tourists only come to this secluded area every now and then. But maybe that’s what makes this such an enchanted valley, through which this little hike would like to guide you.

In a puddle on the path a frog croaks.
Not far away, a pretty river rushes through the quiet valley.
In the trees, there are a few bird voices,
and here and there a cricket chirps.
And in the middle of it all,
the children’s voices are enthusiastic.

We did this hike in spring in mild weather shortly after a few rainy days, which is why the river that flows through the valley, the Ribeira de Monchique, carried a lot of water. At that moment, there were no bridges, and therefore we had to wade through the river barefoot several times. What at first seemed to be a problem developed into an important adventure during this hike, both for us and our children. And so, our two daughters finally waded through the cool water independently and with great joy.

Unfortunately, I heard that the river could be dirty because of a pig farm near Alface, so you should refrain from doing any real bathing in the water. We observed frogs and turtles in the river. The latter were sunbathing contentedly on rocks and tree trunks that rose out of the water.

The path led us along the river for half an hour, and then followed the small stream into the Fonte Santa Valley. We passed a small waterfall, where the Fonte das Chagas flows out of a grey plastic pipe. This source of the wounds is supposed to contribute to the healing of the wounds, with the water that contains a lot of hydrogen sulphide and is therefore good for skin diseases.

A little later, the small path leads us to the old buildings of the Fonte Santa, first to a well-preserved oven, then to a stable for the donkeys of the travellers and to former hostel houses, and then and finally over a small bridge to the actual bathing rooms, which are still in good condition. Instead of taking a bath in the holy spring, we decided to have a picnic there before heading back in the evening sun.

Indeed, we had expected a little more from our destination and were quite disappointed by the condition of the bathing complexes, but the nice little hike really charmed us. It is also easy to manage with smaller children, especially if you bring a carrying frame. Should the buildings be reconstructed one day, this hike will surely become much more attractive, but this could also damage the wonderful seclusion of the valley.

Getting there:
From the A22, near Portimão, you can take exit 5 (N124) and continue north (Monchique, Silves) at the roundabout. At Porto de Lagos, turn left onto the N266 towards Caldas da Monchique. Just before entering the town of Rasmalho, you should take the road to Alferce on the right. Then, you should follow the signs to Barragem de Odelouca until shortly before the reservoir, where the path turns left to Fonte Santa.

GPS (parking lot): 37.288588, -8.485621

A wooden signpost marked ‘Fonte Santa’ points the way to a driveway. Here, it is best to find a parking space right away and start hiking.

The hike:
At the beginning, there is a sand path, which leads through the river several times. In the meantime, wooden footbridges are supposed to be available, but it can also be the case that a river crossing is necessary. After three crossings, a small white-red marked path climbs up to the left, which leads to the Fonte Santa after a few hundred metres.
A carrying frame for small hikers is surely an advantage, as a pram is rather unsuitable. The hiking tour itself is not very long, but it can easily fill a whole afternoon. Immediately after rainy days, the hiking tour is probably not recommendable.

Stop for a break:
There are no restaurants or cafes in the vicinity of the hike, so you should take a picnic and enough water with you.

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