Back in November, Harri and I finished a walk from Lagoa with a short stretch of levada walking. Though we decided to abort our planned 30-kilometre hike due to an unexpected downpour and only walked 23.4 kilometres, we were excited to discover a walkable stretch of levada so close to home.
This success got Harri wondering how much of Lagoa’s levada it was possible to follow on foot without encountering private land, fencing or unfriendly dogs. The answer, hiking friends, is a fair few kilometres.
We encountered our first levada on Madeira in 2007. The island boasts around 200 of these manmade irrigation channels, dating back centuries and stretching over 2500 kilometres. The extensive network of water channels is mostly accompanied by footpaths which provide access for maintenance. And it is these footpaths which enable thousands of hikers to explore the island’s extremely mountainous terrain each year.
Here in the Algarve, there is a very popular and gentle walk along a levada near Silves – we’ve taken several of our visitors along this pretty route which offers some fantastic views across the Arade river and, if there’s time, lunch at the delightful Clube Nautico.
But back to the levada of Lagoa. Our short section of levada walking in November had roused Harri’s curiosity. Not one to be put off by our limoncello-fuelled exploration of a levada south of Silves – which landed us in an orchard with towering fencing and ended with us creeping through a farmyard in the dark – Harri knew he was onto something with Lagoa’s levada.
In fact, he was so confident about our local levada’s potential that he has incorporated its footpaths into a 42-kilometre route we hope to put on for Hiking Algarve members in the spring. We’re still building up to 30+ kilometre hikes, so today’s plan was to recce the first half of the hike: a mere 22 kilometres.
We walked from home, passing the familiar sights and joining the coast at the much visited (and photographed) chapel of Nossa Senhora da Rocha. We’ve been really surprised how devoid of tourists the Central Algarve has been this Christmas: Lagoa’s iconic landmark was no different, with just two people wandering out onto the headland. Not that we’re complaining – it was wonderful to have the clifftops to ourselves.
We stopped for elevenses at Praia da Albandeira. Here, I was a little unnerved when a Portuguese man allowed his small daughter to duck under the boundary fence and wander very close to the cliff edge. Thankfully, she survived his reckless parenting but, goodness, those fences are there for a reason.
Then there was some rural walking in one of the most unspoilt parts of the coast – an area where a labyrinth of trails weaves through thick vegetation and tastefully ‘planted’ villas. While the main purpose of today’s hike was to check out the viability of following the levada, Harri had another surprise up his sleeve.
We have walked the ecovia (long-distance cycle route) between Porches and Lagoa on many occasions and have always been curious about a historic path which veers left off the main track. Until now, we’d never explored this path simply because we were generally heading towards Lagoa (the wrong direction). We weren’t even sure it was passable beyond the first hundred metres or so. Thus, I was delighted to discover today’s route was going to join this path at the other end. If this wasn’t exciting enough, when we got to the start of the path, I realised we were standing at the gates of the Quinta Nossa Senhora da Luz, a ruined estate with sweeping grounds which run parallel to the ecovia. Until today, we’d only ever passed the higher-level ground, where the stone wall is crumbling, and the pines grow tall and dense. I’d always wondered if anything remained of the old quinta, but it’s impossible to tell from up there. I was so excited to see the remains of the property hidden below the pines, though it’s sad that the place has been neglected for so long that little remains of the stonework. A potential renovation for Grand Designs?
We left the ecovia just south of Lagoa and joined the orange tree-lined levada. Sadly, the irrigation channel was empty at this time of year, however, unlike Madeira where there are slopes and steep steps along the levada footpaths, our way ahead was completely level. There were a few places where we had to duck to avoid the branches of fig trees or lift our feet to avoid tripping over stray brambles and branches. We also got wet feet due to an abundance of winter growth, but the walking was pretty straightforward overall.
The only downside was there was nowhere to stop and eat our sandwiches – where the levada crosses tracks, the low-level walls are far too narrow for adult-sized bottoms to perch comfortably. After a few kilometres, we left the levada of Lagoa north-west of Porches and close to the motorway.
All in all, it was a very successful day. We have confirmed the levada of Lagoa is walkable and can be included in future walking routes – it’ll be even easier in the summer when the vegetation dies back. I have fallen even more in love with Quinta Nossa Senhora da Luz and we remembered to pack beer. All that remains is to recce the rest of that very long 42-kilometre route that Harri has planned – and then to persuade other Hiking Algarve members to join us on our epic hike.
If you’re interested in following the levada of Lagoa, click here.