We love the beautiful unspoilt places in and around the Rio de Alvor. It’s perfect for walkers, not least because the area around Rio de Alvor is mostly level and the views are pretty spectacular. There are two waymarked walks in the vicinity:
It’s not often we undertake two walks in one day. The last time we did it was probably when Harri was researching and writing Day Walks on the Pembrokeshire Coast for Vertebrate Publishing. Then, we were very much at the mercies of the Welsh weather and our limited time in Pembrokeshire. Sometimes it was almost dark when we returned to our car. I regret not blogging about our Pembrokeshire adventures. The landscape is varied and dramatic, plus I took some splendid twilight photographs. I guess I was just too weary to write notes most of the time.
Here in the Algarve, the weather is mostly perfect for walking, except perhaps in July and August when even local groups take a break. We’re not mad dogs (or Englishmen); however, we figured that if we managed to keep walking in the Alpujarras last summer, we can certainly cope with the Algarve’s temperatures and much easier terrain.
Today’s walks will eventually appear on Walkingworld.com, a UK-based website which has only recently extended its walking database to include the Algarve. Most of my routes are original; however, I occasionally feel obliged to slip in a promoted walk, if only because the local municipalities put so much effort into waymarking them. These promoted walks tend to be relatively short and easy, which makes them ideal for hot weather jaunts.
But back to the Rio de Alvor. This coastal landscape is not unlike the Ria Formosa farther east, albeit on a much smaller scale and with the added bonus of superb mountain views (the high peaks of Fóia – 902 metres – and Picota – 739 metres – appear tantalisingly close throughout both walks).
We decided to tackle the longer of the two walks first and parked at Mexilhoeira Grande railway station (a sadly neglected building with no facilities and a badly surfaced access road).
The first few kilometres of the route are not particularly interesting. The visual rewards come later when you reach the outer limits of Quinta da Rocha, the peninsular between the River Alvor and the Odiáxere Brook.
Last time we walked in the opposite direction. Wishing to do things properly this time, we ignored the footpath to our right heading across the saltmarsh and continued to A Rocha Delicada. The small beach here becomes vastly bigger at low tide and it was tempting to join the people wading in the shallow waters. Instead, we headed right and joined a dyke heading out into the estuary of the Rio de Alvor.
The views from the dyke are just spectacular. There’s Lagos in the distance, the lagoon to your left and the saltmarsh (and mountains) to your right. Harri spotted some crabs scuttling sidewards from rock to rock across the exposed sand and we watched them, fascinated.
Despite the occasional launch speeding along the deep channel, Rio de Alvor is a gloriously peaceful place, which is an important feeding and resting place for many species of migrating bird. We spotted storks in the distance; farther up the estuary, you’re likely to see flamingos.
By now, Harri was striding ahead, which is generally the case when I find myself overwhelmed by the beauty of my surroundings and I am trying to capture at least some of the landscape on camera.
For once, however, he had good reason for leaving me behind. He’d started to suspect things weren’t quite as they should be and had hastened his step to find out if his suspicions were founded. Sadly, he was right. Despite this being a promoted and waymarked PR route, the footpath along the top of the dykes has been truncated. It now ends abruptly with a rather big drop into the sea. This is one of those times when following the waymarks is NOT advisable.
Harri explained that what’s happening in a lot of places – Cwm Ivy on Gower being a good example – is that land which was historically drained for agricultural purposes is no longer being protected. This was the likely explanation for the dyke being breached at Rio de Alvor.
We had no option but to retrace our steps back to the beach. This time we stopped for elevenses, marvelling at the quiet enjoyment of the family groups around us. The tide was so low, you’d be forgiven for thinking you could walk across the sand flats to Alvor’s extensive dune system. Except it would be an exceptionally bad idea: there’s a deep channel running between the two places (evidenced by the occasional motor launch whizzing past). Unless you know the behaviour of the tides extremely well, there’s the very real risk of finding yourself marooned on one of those sand flats as the sea rushes in around you.
By the time we reached the station at Mexilhoeira Grande, we were waning. Did we really want to undertake a second walk, we wondered? Yet it hardly seemed worth driving this distance for 8.3km.
Thus, we did what any hardy hikers would do when the temperatures are hitting the high twenties … we determined to carry on regardless. To be clear, the decision was based on the seaside location and the brevity of the next walk. If we’d been planning an inland walk in the mountains, then the risk factor would have come into play and we’d most definitely have called it a day.
So off we drove, this time heading to Alvor itself (which has appallingly bad road access considering its popularity).
The first big surprise was the beautiful headland we have previously walked around to reach Alvor was now fenced off to walkers. We’d always suspected it would be developed in time (the tell-tale signs being the half-constructed roads); however, it was still disappointing to discover such a lovely area of scrubland was no longer accessible.
The second shock was just how badly Alvor has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. On a Saturday lunchtime in mid-July, the promenade was deserted. I’d visited Silves a few days previously and it was the same there. Those eateries that are open are less than a quarter full and many establishments, including shops, have simply not bothered. You can hardly blame them. In Alvor, one of the largest restaurant was shuttered up with a ‘For rent’ board outside and only two of the kiosks selling boat trips were open.
This is our first summer in the Algarve (we spent July and August 2020 in Andalusia) and the effects of the pandemic mean it’s a far cry from what we were anticipating. It’s hard to imagine how things will get back to normal anytime soon, especially if economists are right and the world is plunged into deep recession.
Our second Rio de Alvor walk – Ao Sabor da Mare – is probably the flattest, easiest walk we are ever likely to do, in terms of distance and terrain. Even during lockdown, our morning strolls were more demanding. The majority of the route follows boardwalks, with a little track and beach walking thrown in for good measure. Indisputably, it’s the boardwalk section that offers the best views … of Rio de Alvor, Alvor itself, the mountains and the property Harri has coveted since the very first time we came here.
From Alvor’s boardwalks, the Quinta da Rocha just screams ‘perfect lifestyle’. For starters, it’s completely secluded with the waters of the estuary. There is a private jetty and what looked to be a beach below the house. A Rocha Delicada is tucked just around the headland and out of sight, but (I think) accessible at low tide.
A little online research revealed the property has acquired new corporate owners. They want to alter the current layout and turn it into a rural hotel with additional accommodation in the grounds. As I don’t possess the Portuguese language skills necessary to navigate the planning portal, I’m not able to go into details. However, it doesn’t sound like everyone is enthusiastic about the latest proposals. In the mean time, Harri continues to dream about winning a lottery he doesn’t participate in and buying the quinta for himself.
The estuary now looked like a sprawling beach with the occasional splash of blue. We watched men plunging their spades into the wet sand (maybe looking for bait) just a stone’s throw from the family groups paddling in the turquoise waters. In little more than six hours, they would be gone and this vast area of sand would again be submerged by the Atlantic Ocean.
We decided to skip an optional detour to the end of the boardwalk and headed down onto Praia de Alvor. Harri went for a dip in the sea. I lay back on the beach and promptly fell asleep … which is most unlike me. In my defence, it’s not easy to sleep when it’s hot, your mozzie bites are itching like crazy and the neighbours’ dog is barking non-stop. (I shall never understand the Portuguese custom of leaving their dogs outside all night.
The day’s walking totalled just over 16 kilometres (if you add the extra distance to reach the starting point for the second walk) and yet we both felt exhausted. I’m starting to understand why Algarve walking groups take a break in July and August!!!