The plan was to walk the Percurso ao Sabore da Mare at Alvor, the only problem being that at just 4.7km in length the waymarked route was not going to fill our entire day … or even our morning. No problem, Harri thought we’d park out of town, then add the entire length of Alvor beach to our route, then head up onto the cliffs. We’d aim for the breakwater at Portimão before turning back, though if we didn’t get that far it wouldn’t matter.
Harri’s online searching had revealed an intriguing little path from Montes de Alvor which would keep us off the main road into Alvor (whatever did he do before Google Earth?); however, neither of us was prepared for the beauty of the headland or the incredible and far-reaching views of Alvor lagoon and the pretty whitewashed villages of Mexilhoeira Grande and Figueira. Beyond them, the high peaks of Foia and Picota looked almost within touching distance.(although we know there are many foothills between the coast and the Algarve’s highest hills).
It was clear from the overgrown roads underfoot and occasional Privado sign that the headland had been earmarked for development, but that work had been halted a long time ago. It’s such a beautiful area – at this time of year covered with flowering Bermuda buttercups – and, judging from the various little footpaths crisscrossing the land, it’s extremely well-walked. It would be criminal if it was closed off to anyone who couldn’t afford to live or holiday there.
Despite its name, Portimao airport is closer to Alvor. This small but municipal airport appears to be the centre of all things air-related in the Algarve and, as we drove past, we could already see hoards of would-be skydivers and hang gliders gathering around the hangars for their pre-flight briefings. Others were already in the air and it was fun to crane our necks and watch the overhead spectacle. I went micro-lighting regularly in my late twenties, but I seem to have lost my adrenaline-seeking passion as I’ve got older. These days, nothing would induce me to jump out of a light aircraft … nothing!
We were soon joining a tiled promenade into Alvor (presumably constructed to take holidaymakers to and from the aborted development). One of the things I love most about Alvor is that it still manages to feel authentic, despite its popularity with tourists (and the piped jazz music playing). The tide was low, meaning the fishing boats and yachts were temporarily grounded. We watched, fascinated, as an old man sitting at a table with a bucket of fish on the ground next to him (and presumably gutting them), tossed scraps to the seagulls.
The Ria de Alvor is one of the prettiest places we have visited in the Algarve and there is plenty of competition. This very special habitat has been included in the Natura 2000 (‘a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species’). These sites are considered worthy of protection at European level. The ria (or estuary) covers 1700 hectares and includes habitats as diverse as the Alvor and Odiaxere estuaries, salt pans, marshes and dunes, not to mention the surrounding forestry and agricultural land. There is lots of information about the wildlife on the wonderful Algarve Wildlife website.
From the waterfront at Alvor, you can’t see beyond the peninsular which separates the two estuaries and the only way to reach the waterfront on the western side of the Ria de Alvor (where the Odiaxere meets the sea) is to drive inland to Mexilhoeira Grande and then follow a track back towards the sea.
The waymarked Percurso ao Sabore da Mare begins just past the waterfront with its delightful restaurants. We have walked this way before, when I’d noted that it would make a great parkrun route should Portugal ever manage to bring the popular 5km run to its shores. This is walking at its easiest and the boardwalks are very popular with local families, cyclists and yes … the occasional runner (we saw two today).
Back in Wales, we regularly have to run through mud but here on the Algarve coast the biggest obstacle to a smooth run is sand. At one point there was so much piled onto the boardwalks that a small boy, ambitiously attempting to pedal through it, tumbled from his cycle.
The boardwalks gave way to a wide, sandy track. There is an optional detour along the rocky breakwater to the harbour marker. You really do have to watch where you’re putting your feet here as there are some very large (and deep) gaps between the massive boulders. I don’t think I’d risk walking along here with a dog (or a small child). We reached the far end of the breakwater and looked across the narrow channel to an identical breakwater on the far side. From here, Lagos and the beautiful Meia Praia look alluringly close, but sadly, there is no way of crossing the channel unless you have a boat.
On the vast, mostly deserted, Praia de Alvor, there was barely the hint of a breeze and we stripped off our shoes and socks. Harri braved the waves for his first Atlantic dip of the winter, while I just enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my limbs.
After elevenses, we strolled along the water’s edge towards the built-up part of Alvor. Despite the sunshine, the long beach was almost empty. I could make out around a dozen people strolling along the beach, the rest were just distant dots.
As we approached the end of the beach, what had looked like an ugly sprawl of concrete blocks from a distance revealed itself to be well-spaced apartments interspersed with low-level beach bars and lots of palm trees and vegetation. Even the touristy part of Alvor is lovely.
We left the beach and followed a dusty trail through an idyllic and beautifully landscaped holiday village with an abundance of red hot pokers, and on to the gorgeous wooded clifftops beyond. Here, there were sandy footpaths darting off in all directions, many crisscrossing, others luring unwary walkers dangerously close to the cliffs. We’ve walked this way previously and thought some of the fencing keeping people away from edge was new, suggesting the erosion was progressing fast. Keeping that in mind, we stayed on the higher paths. On more than one occasion, however, we found ourselves looking down at well-defined footpaths that had simply disappeared over the cliff-edge.
We veered a bend and could see the high-rise skyline of Portimao ahead. The city itself may be ugly but the resort boasts several beautiful beaches. We made our way down to Praia do Barranco das Canas and, choosing a spot well away from the cliffs (rockfalls are not uncommon), lazed around for a while, reading and eating our picnic.
Eventually, it was time to retrace our steps. Despite the glorious weather, it was the middle of winter with sunset due at 5.23pm. It was difficult navigating those footpaths in daylight, let alone trying to find our way back in the dark.
Alvor’s waterfront was buzzing when we returned, with people everywhere and the restaurants busy. It was tempting to stop for a beer, but Harri wanted to get home before it was dark. This morning’s peaceful headland had become a place of activity too, and we passed walkers, a mountain biker and a large herd of goats (where were they this morning?).
For a popular resort, Alvor has somehow managed to retain its traditional feel. It’s a place we will return to time and time again..
Huge amounts of sand had blown across the path (PIC).