A circular walk around the highest mountain in the Algarve
When on holiday in the Algarve, if you are feeling half baked on the beach or the crowds are driving you mad; run to the hills and climb the mountain of Fóia.
Standing at exactly 902 metres above sea level; Fóia will reward you with far reaching views and a cool mountain air. You can climb to the summit from a nearby village; if you enjoy the exercise. Or you can drive to the top and do a more gentle circular walk from there.
Choosing the latter; I set out to take in the views.
If you are arriving by car; then come off the A22 at junction 5. Coming from the east on the N125; turn off for signs to Portimao after the grand suspension bridge over the Arade River. From here the mountain and the town of Monchique are clearly signposted.
As the road climbs, you begin to see Fóia up ahead; a great green pyramid against a deep blue sky. The road then passes through a small village with thermal baths; which might be worth a look one day? Then after twenty minutes you arrive to Monchique; the nearest town from the mountain. There are plenty of bars and tourist shops here and you could also start to hike to the summit too. Yet feeling lazy under the heat of the sun; I kept driving up in my hire car.
After many twists and turns; the trees and rocks give way to the summit plateau. When I opened the car door, the sun still felt strong; so I drank almost a litre of water and took another for the walk ahead of me. Leaving the car, I passed the summit buildings of a café and gift shop and took in the brilliant view facing west. From here I could see, the slopes of Fóia dropped quickly to the orange groves below, then a few dusty fields before the wide open Atlantic Ocean.
Right turn or a wrong turn?
After taking in the views from in front of the café; I walked to the right of the building to begin this walk. A noticeboard in at least four different languages explains the route; as well as the flora and wildlife to look out for along the way.
Cherry, Apple, Chestnut and even Cork trees can be seen. As well as lavender, rhododendron and rarer flowers; such as the: mountain sandwort. I came in spring, so was lucky to see all the wild spring flowers in all their glory. My favourite was the Brugmansia or the Angel Trumpet plant; with its big yellow trumpets.
For the twitcher; common whitethroat, common linnet, rock bunting and the Bonnelli’s eagle are birds to look out for.
Whilst reading the information signs directly opposite the gift shop; behind you, will be the image in the photo above. The smooth road forks to the left, with a clear trail sign adding to its invitation. The route to the right turns into a rough track and seems to only lead to the radio masts. The choice seems obvious right?
Well, studying the map beforehand; I noticed the gradient dropped rapidly on the route to the right which would set me up for a gentler return climb. The choice is yours; yet I would recommend the road seemingly less travelled.
After passing radio masts and satellite dishes on either side; the path starts to descend between more welcoming wild flowers. Take care here, try to focus on the rough rocks and soil as much as the stunning views. The risk of a twisted ankle or stumble seem greater when each step is easier on a descent.
The track or trilho seemed to be dropping so fast; I would soon be at the coast over twenty miles away! Yet after about a mile; the gradient eased as I walked into denser vegetation. Countless different species were all coming to life now spring is here. In places, the bright yellow flowers of the forsythia formed a colourful tunnel of joy.
Reaching the road
Within half an hour of descent; the track meets the road on which I drove up to the summit. Two Portuguese passed me and bid me a ‘bom dia’!
Turning left here, I walked down the side of the road that faced the traffic. This way, I could clearly see as well as hear any approaching vehicles. When a car did pass; I would stand on the verge to assist the driver. For I was in no rush and wanted to be at peace with every one I met.
At one point I passed a house with a magnificent tree at its gate. It appeared to have hundreds of bright yellow bell shaped flowers. According to google; it is a Angel Trumpet tree or Brugmansia! An amazing sight to see; because such exotic flowers not survive my native English climate.
Not long after the Angel’s Trumpet tree; a path leads off to the left, after a house with a balcony. The house to look out for, has: bare stone with white on the ground floor; then brown and white tiles in the local style on the first floor. With the track then climbing for a while past a new house with a foul smelling drain; then out into fresher fields and foliage.
Rolling round the mountain
The path climbed up a smooth but steep gradient; with cork trees either side. Looking closer at these trees; I could see their amazing structure, which I have only ever seen in the top of a wine bottle! The sun began to take its toll on me here; its strength working against me with the gradient. As I started to hallucinate about cool lemonade and iced lollies; the track began to level out.
The cork trees then gave way to steep meadows; where calm cows grazed on the long grass. I passed a barn here; with a water pipe running outside. Filling my bottle and poured the contents over my head and back; which made me feel fresh as my spine tingled with the change in temperature. I then refilled my bottle; happy in the knowledge I now had enough water to return to the car.
As I walked on, the landscape opened up into a wide open meadow of wildflower and various trees. I could have been in Switzerland or the Austrian Tyrol; it was as beautiful as any alpine meadow. Slowly, I gained height as I climbed through this wonderous place. I passed many other people of different nationalities; with all looking happy and relaxed by being here. A German couple stopped me to ask for directions in perfect English. I explained I had done the route in the opposite direction and assured them; they would enjoy the route all the same.
A water world high on the mountain
As I walked on further, I came to another information sign that explained a local project to save rain water for periods of drought. The local water company had created channels that divert rainwater into a seam of aquifers that lie below the high slopes of Fóia. This seam of rock can naturally store the heavy rain water of the winter; with it arriving to water treatment plant four to five months later as the dry summer begins to bite. It made me think of what a wonderful world we live on!
From here the end was in site; marked by the masts that I had seen at the beginning of the walk. The track follows a smooth road that takes you back to the summit. Returning to the car; I was hot and tired from walking under the sun. Yet I was happy and relaxed for being in such a wonderfully beautiful place.
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