The County of Loulé is one of the Algarve’s sixteen Counties. With a surface area of 765.31 km2 , it is bordered by the County of Almodôvar (Baixo Alentejo) to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, the counties of Alcoutim, Tavira, S. Brás de Alportel and Faro to the east, and the counties of Silves and Albufeira to the west. The County of Loulé is divided into 11 civil parishes: Almancil, Alte, Ameixial, Benafim, Boliqueime, Quarteira, Querença, Salir, S. Clemente, S. Sebastião and Tôr.
The elevated terrain throughout the County of Loulé runs largely parallel to the Atlantic coastline. From the sea to the uplands, the land gradually rises until reaching its highest point – the Pelados, at an altitude of 589 m - in the Serra do Caldeirão mountain range.
In likeness to the rest of the Algarve, the County of Loulé consists of three areas with different types of orography: the Litoral (or coastal area); the Barrocal (or limestone area) which is the central area occupied by the civil parishes of Alte, Salir, Benafim, Tôr and Querença; and the Serra (or uplands), which stretches up to the county’s far northern border, situated in the civil parish of Ameixial. A fourth type of landscape can also be said to exist, the transitional area between the Barrocal and the uplands, known as Beira-Serra.
Given its geographical location, the County of Loulé has a temperate climate, with Mediterranean characteristics, influenced by the proximity of the sea and the elevated terrain that gradually rises the farther inland you go.
The routes featured in this guide cover the civil parishes of Alte, Benafim, Salir, Ameixial, Tor and Querença, with the exception of one, which covers the civil parish of Almancil.
01 PÉ DO COELHO
In the interior of this county there is a route of great beauty due to its panoramic view. The route is divided into two types of scenery, the riverside and the mountains.
Winding through the mountains and along the valley floor, runs the Arade stream, which has water almost all year round. The trail crosses the stream many times, allowing you to admire the typical riverside vegetation and the richness of the fauna.
This is an old zone of vegetable gardens and irrigated agriculture, with various types of devices, like the waterwheels from which water was taken using animal power, such as donkeys or mules, before this practice fell into disuse. You can also see dams, water mills, sluices and as land fencing you can find some lath-and-plaster walls (a building technique of Muslim origin).
When you climb to the top of the Cerro do Malhão, one of the highest points of the chain of mountains Serra do Caldeirão, the panoramic view is better and more diversified allowing, at times to view the sea.
The cork oak woods dominate the landscape and the harvest of cork via ancestral methods is still one of the main sources of income for the mountain population. Here, the people also use the strawberry tree fruit, to produce aguardente (firewater).
The sausages, in particular from salted or smoked ham, are of great quality, and can still be tasted in local cafés. The game dishes (wild boar, hare and wild rabbit) are also very tasty.
The commerce of these products began to develop with the construction of the road to the Alentejo, which passes through here.
02 ROCHA DA PENA
The Classified Site of Rocha da Pena was created by the Law-Decree no. 392/91 dated 10th October and is located within the parishes of Salir and Benafim.
With its 479 m of altitude Rocha da Pena is an impressive view for the visitor. It is formed by a cliffed corniced of limestone rock with a tabletop of 2 km in length and a cliff face of 50 m in height.
The great diversity in the local flora is one of its main riches, with over 500 different species throughout the seasons that fill the landscape with scent and colour.
Because of its preferential geographic location, there is a great diversity in Avifauna and around 122 different species have been identified, of which the most notable resident birds are the Jay and the Buzzard and of the migratory birds most notable are the Bonelli’s eagle, the Grey Heron and the Redwing and in summer the European Bee-eater and the Cuckoo. You can also find little mammals like rabbit, fox and the genet.
Remains of past civilizations can be found at the two stone walls, which are believed to date back to the Iron Age.
Nearby it is possible to find the Quinta do Freixo (Agro-tourism) that apart from having accommodation it also dedicates itself to food production, producing biological food such as sweets, jams and also a strong spirit called “aguardente de medronho” done with strawberry tree fruit among others, constituting an important point of tourist development in the parish. In what can be referred to, concerning handicraft products, it is possible to find chairs made of flag red mace and various articles in leather.
On the 3rd saturday of October a traditional party in honour of Our Lady of Glory is celebrated in this parish and that coincides with the annual fair
03 BARRANCO DO VELHO
The Serra do Caldeirão (Caldeirão mountain chain) is an important area for cork oak production in the Mediterranean, because it produces some of the best cork in the world.
The cork plays a very important part in the livelihood of many families living in the mountains of the county of Loulé, in particular the cork-oak woods in Barranco do Velho.
In Barranco do Velho, an important place to visit, there is a boarding house, a restaurant, a café and a handicraft shop, which sells local products and where articles are predominantly made from cork, clay, honey, and a strong spirit made from strawberry tree fruit (Aguardente de Medronho).
In this place you can find an aguardente de medronho distillery. The medronho is a very important supplement to the livelihood of farmers, because the gathering of the fruit and the production of the medronho is done simultaneously with other agricultural tasks. This home-produced spirit dates back to the Arab occupation.
Along the route the panoramic view is spectacular. In particular from the highest point, the churchyard of the Barranco do Velho Church.
Next to the end of the course you can find a theme park, a physical exercise park and a picnic area next to institution of social solidarity of the Serra do Caldeirão.
On a hill in full Barrocal Algarvio (Limestone Region) is the village of Tôr, facing the South and overlooking the Tôr stream. This village is known mainly for its traditional urbanistic features, it is a quaint village with a certain charm as well as narrow streets that wind between the whitewashed houses.
At the heart of the village you will find the Church of St.ª Rita de Cássia, which has a small bell tower, and was constructed in tribute to the village’s patron saint. The local economy, once dominated by the agricultural sector, in particular dried fruits, now also has industrial, handicraft and commercial sectors as well.
However, the carob still plays an important role, for it is the most profitable of dried fruits due to the new uses that have been found in the food industry.
Concerning cultural heritage it is important to mention the Tôr Bridge that is supported on 5 arches and is originally from the period of the middle ages. It is considered a county monument of great historical value.
Various cultural and social events are organised here, for example, the Feira dos Frutos Secos (Dried Fruits Fair), the Festa das Filhós (Tradicional Cake Festival), the Festa do Vinho (Wine Festival) the Festa dos Reis (Kings’ Festival), the Prova do Vinho (Wine Tasting) and the Festa das Chouriças (Smoked Pork Sausage Festival), as well the religious festival in honour of St.ª Rita de Cássia, the patron saint of the parish.
Tôr also possesses great subterranean riches, for it is located over one of the biggest aquifers in Europe, having been for many years one of the main water suppliers of the region.
In the centre of the village, characterized by steep streets and rows of white houses, you will find the Church of N. Sra. da Assunção, which dates back to the XVI century, with a Manueline portal, as well as a stone cross. There is also of great value and heritage interest, the Manor house and the Church of Pé da Cruz.
In distant times, Querença has been a place of passage for people and goods in their journeys between the Mountains and the Coast; remains of these journeys are still present in the narrow, cobble-stoned track, which still exist here.
Querença is situated in the transition zone between the Barrocal (Limestone area) and the Serra (Schistose Mountains), called the Beira Serra, and is a strip with 3 km in width, facing the sea as if it were an amphitheatre, that has unique edapho-climatic characteristics, visible on the banks of the Mercês Stream, presenting different types of soil and vegetation.
The soil changes from schist in the Mountains and to limestone in the Barrocal. The vegetation also follows this alteration.
Along the Mercês Stream, at the bottom of the valleys, cane-plantations grow and by the banks there are some vegetable gardens, thus completing the subsistence of the population.
Querença, like everything that surround it, exhibits a strong connection with water and water-based agriculture since times of the Arab occupation. Along the route you can find various water-springs and fountains, water mills, dams and sluices that at one time along the banks of the Mercês Stream, transported water for the irrigation of vegetable gardens and the milling of cereals.
The Cerro dos Negros, with its 404 metres in height, dominates the surrounding landscape and is a beauty of contrasts and colours that only untouched nature can offer.
The rich gastronomy gained prestige through its restaurants and festivals, which are both religious and popular. Some examples of these gastronomic festivals are the Festa das Chouriças (Festival of Smoked Pork Sausages), the Festa do Petisco (Festival of Delicacy) and the Festa dos Folares (Festival of Easter Cakes).
06 FONTE BENÉMOLA
The Classified Site of Fonte de Benémola was created by the law decree nº 392/91 of the 10th of October. It stretches over an area of 390 ha, and is located in the Algarve´s Barrocal, in the parishes of Querença and Tor.
This area has always been connected to the water. It is crossed by the stream of Fonte Benémola that together with the stream of Mercês form the stream of Algibre.
Here there exists some water springs namely “o Olho” and “Fonte Benémola”, that both contribute to the fact that there is water during the summer period. The people attribute medicinal and curing powers to this water.
Along the route you can find water wheels and water mills as well as dams and sluices, thus demonstrating the richness of water and its use for agriculture since remote times.
On the banks of the stream, throughout the valley, there is a dense riparian tunnel made from Willow Trees, Ash Trees, Poplars, Laurustinus, Oleanders, and others. On the valley slopes, the vegetation is typical of the Barrocal, composing of Rosemary, Lavender, Strawberry Trees, Kermes-oak, Carob Trees, Wild Olive Trees and in the schistose soils Cork and Coal Oak.
The vegetation by the stream offers a great richness in avifauna, in particular the Kingfishers, Moorhens, Nightingales, Bee-eaters, Jays and Greenfinchs.
From the abundance of cane collected by a local craftsman, who uses this prime material to make handicraft pieces, such as baskets, cups, musical instruments, etc. and are much appreciated by the visitors.
07 AZINHAL DOS MOUROS
In the heart of the Algarve’s Serra, this route of rare beauty passes between hills and valleys and crosses the stream of Vascão and Vascanito (that is one of its main tributaries).
On the rounded schistose hills, Cork Oaks; Wild Strawberry Trees and Rock Rose grow. Arboriculture is one of the main activities for the population, but there is also shepherding, from which results in the regular cleaning of the land for the development of natural pastures. The local economy is also complemented with subsistence farming in valleys, by the production of cheese, honey and strawberry tree spirit.
In spring, the White Lupine, a type of animal fodder, covers the landscape with a bright yellow that contrasts with the green of the corn and wheat fields.
On the banks of the stream grow Oleanders, Willows and Ash Trees. It is an excellent place to observe an abundance of fauna, from Black-birds, Nightingales, Jays, Kingfishers to mammals like Rabbits, Hares, Foxes and Wild Boars and there are also traces of Otters.
Along the route you can find water mills, dams and sluices. For example there are the water mills “Moinho da Chavachã” and “Moinho da Conqueira” and the mill “Moinho da Marmeleira,” that are of Roman origin and still use the horizontal wheel system.
At Ximeno and Portela it is possible to see examples of traditional architecture, that present a mixture of constructions made of schist, a rock in abundance here, with whitewashed walls. The ground floor houses often display Arabian tiled-roofs and interesting chimneys.
At Azinhal dos Mouros you can see a “wall” of Indian Fig Cactus surrounding the village. In the past, during the time of the Moors, it was used to protect the village against invaders.
To the East of the parish of Ameixial, this route continues to the boundary with Alentejo, which is marked by the stream of Vascão. The route stretches along one of its main tributaries, the Vascãozinho stream. The Ribeira do Vascão, with approximately 100 km in length, is the largest stream in the Algarve region and flows into the river Rio Guadiana.
On the landscape of the small hills Rock Rose, wild Strawberry Trees, Coal-Oaks and Cork Oaks grow. In the valleys, the vegetation is made up of Oleanders, Willows, Cane Reeds and Poplars. Throughout the route there is an abundance of stork’s nests, that breed here due to the proximity to feeding areas and the contact with an almost untouched nature.
Shepherding, more specifically sheep or goat shepherding have an important role here and along with the extraction of cork, are the main economic pillars of the community.
The local productions of cheese, honey, sausages, strawberry tree spirit are still very genuine, and based on the knowledge of those of old, that was handed down from generation to generation, accommodated within such serenity, in a place where the air is pure and breathing becomes easier.
09 MONTES NOVOS
The pedestrian course starts at the village of Montes Novos in the heart of the Serra do Caldeirão and evolves along dirt tracks and country paths that at times disappear among the lush vegetation.
This course allows you to observe the beautiful landscape of the Serra do Caldeirão, sometimes wild and with a variety of dominating species of flora such as the cork oak, Gum Cistus, Rock Rose but also Pine Trees, Eucalyptus Trees, Strawberry Trees, Heather and Lavender.
The great economic importance of the Cork Oak should be mentioned, from which the cork of great quality and value is extracted (it is know as the best in the world), the fruit of the Strawberry Tree is used to produce a spirit (very strong) called Medronho while the Heather and Lavender are used for honey. The fauna of the area is dominated by the presence of various species such as the Wild Boar, the Rabbit, the Hare among others and a diversity of birds like the Buzzard, the Crested Tit, the Green Woodpecker and more.
In the village of Montes Novos where the route starts there lives approximately 150 people living in houses that are spread out on the slopes of two hills where previously there existed windmills.
In Besteirinhos, a small hill with houses and surrounded by small vegetable gardens where it is possible to observe the Valley of the stream of Odeleite that starts in the immediate neighbourhood of this hill and flows to the Guadiana River.
In the Pego Escuro you will have the first contact with the Odeleite Stream that is next to the Vale Formoso. It is a place of great natural beauty where it is possible to see the Common Ash, the Willow, Oleanders and Elmleaf Blackberry. At night the Otter appears searching for fish to feed on.
When crossing the National Road 124 it is possible to see layers of schistous rock with 300 million years.
10 VALE DA ROSA
This is a zone of great environmental richness allowing all the lovers of nature to know a natural space that is rich in fauna and flora, more specifically the Cork Oak woods alternating with Gum Cistus, Rock Rose, Heather, Strawberry Tree, Lavender as well as Pine Trees, Eucalyptus Trees and small vegetable gardens by the small streams. In this area it is possible to observe a variety of the birds, from the Black Bird, the European Robin, the Pheasant and some mammals such as the Wild Boar, the rabbit, and the hare among others.
The course evolves throughout various hills where you can observe some of the rural life.
Along the Barranco dos Caminhos it is possible to observe the hard work of the highland populations as well as water tanks, sluices and wells that form an efficient watering network. In the valleys of the streams you can see the Common Ash, the Willow, the Elmleaf Blackberry and the Oleander that constitutes an unforgettable spectacle where they are found in bloom.
On the Macheira hill you can find a small “museum” constituted by objects, pieces and rocks collected by the owner. You can also visit the Macheira fountain, that is built of schistous rock and was recovered in the 40s.
11 PARQUE NATURAL DA RIA FORMOSA
Ria Formosa Natural Park extends throughout the counties of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.
The Natural Park coincides with a lagoon system that is in permanent change and is bordered by a string of dunes to the south that spread out as long peninsulas and sand barrier islands. These are separated by sand bars that open up to the sea and are subject to continuous migration. In this area it is possible to observe various species of birds as there are bird observatories spread out along the route in the salt marshes, salt pans and dunes.
There are places in the Ria Formosa where at low tide, it is possible to observe a vast areas of muddy ground, called the salt marsh, containing a small variety of plant species. This is a place for reproduction and development of a many number marine animal species.
source: câmara municipal loulé