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Walk into a tropical-looking river valley and watch turtles

We are often in the Algarve, enjoying the excellent beaches in the west with their cliffs and grottos, and we also love the fantastic beaches of the islands of the Ria Formosa in the east, where you can almost feel the warmth of the nearby Mediterranean Sea. In recent years, however, we have been increasingly drawn to the lovely, hilly hinterlands, which have hardly been developed for tourism yet and where you can find both relaxed little villages nestled in beautiful landscapes and cosy valleys with amazingly large colonies of breeding storks. 

This year, we finally followed a tip that I had read and heard about many times before and yet, as it turned out, had paid too little attention to – a hike into the lush, almost tropical-looking and protected Fonte da Benémola river valley, which is about 10 kilometres north of Loulé.

Querenca

As so often is the case, our departure in Lagos was delayed, and so we did not arrive in Querença, the nearest town, until around noon. Querença has retained some of its charm despite the a bit rough renovation of the town centre, so we immediately sat down for lunch in the central, surprisingly peaceful Restaurante de Querença and had a delicious lunch while we watched our children play in the central square.

Time in Portugal follows a different logic. When we finally set off to begin our walk to the Fonte da Benémola, we were sure that we would only have a short walk ahead of us, but this would turn out to be a mistake. We walked from the car park by the road along a pretty sandy path, where our children enthusiastically found and collected “crystals”. After a few hundred metres, we reached the last possible car park and had almost reached the river valley.

Directly along the path, we found a densely overgrown natural paradise, with an unusual variety of flowering shrubs and trees, orchids and a magnificent river that gushed out of impressively powerful springs (e.g. the Olho de água) and formed some beautiful water basins, which were also home to newts, salamanders, frogs, marsh, stream turtles and even the shy otters. A variety of bird species fluttered across the river, including yellow orioles, hoopoes and nightingales.

There are several pretty bridges and dams, an attractive picnic area, and if you follow the beautiful path a little further on, you will suddenly find yourself above an unexpectedly lonely river valley. The path becomes more arduous and climbs up the slope, where we searched almost in vain for the caves where long-winged bats are said to live.

Only after a long search did we discover the caves on the hillside high above the valley, which were secured with bars. Apparently, they had often fallen victim to the vandalism of the many visitors and had to be closed, which we really regretted. Unfortunately, even down by the river, there were an unusually large number of hygienic items left behind, which took away a little of the charm of paradise and confirmed our suspicions that this pretty spot in the Algarve hinterlands is visited far too often after all. We therefore recommend avoiding a visit at weekends and in the high season. In addition, there should be comparatively little water in high summer.

GPS (Car park): 37.1984749,-8.0045248 Short circular hike: 4.5 km (Starts at the car park) Long circular walk: 9 km (Can be started from Querença) Refreshment: Restaurante de Querença (Can also prepare vegetarian dishes on request) Picnic in the river valley (Tables available) Bring along: A picnic and sufficient water for the journey are highly recommended, as is sunscreen and sun protection on hot days. An all-terrain pram is suitable for the path to the river valley, but not for one of the circular walks, for which you should definitely bring sturdy shoes.

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