Having headed west for the past few weeks, we decided it was time to go off exploring in the opposite direction. Harri’s love of Google Maps is legendary and he’d used his favourite online tool to devise a circular walk between Olhos de Água and Vilamoura. From Olhos we’d follow an inland route before joining the beach just west of Vilamoura marina to head back to our starting point.
After a week of changeable weather it was wonderful to gaze up at cloudless blue skies. Unfortunately, the lack of cloud cover overnight meant there was a definite chill in the air as we set off (a far cry from last week’s walk from Carvoeira to Ferragudo). We stepped up the pace, with me wondering if shorts had been a good choice after all.
We made our way around the back of Olhos, unimpressed by the glass-fronted angular villas that seem to be springing up all over the place (we’d much prefer the traditional, terracotta-roofed properties to these angular, concrete blocks). Modern architecture aside, we enjoyed exploring the quiet, tree-lined streets of an area which was completely new to us.
Eventually we left the built-up area and joined a quiet country lane. Now the landscape changed, becoming less developed and more agricultural. A Portuguese driver stopped us and asked if we could direct him to a European running event. We were unable to help, but later we saw some of the young athletes enjoying some post-race fun on the beach (their race numbers identifying them).
The recent rainfall had left the rough surface of the lane full of puddles and shallow mud. The freshness and lushness of the surrounding landscape was not dissimilar to Wales in spring. One of the things we love about the Algarve is that you really don’t need to go very far outside the developed resorts to find yourself in beautiful rural surroundings.
When we reached the Quarteira stream, I was alarmed to see the ‘crossing’ comprised two tall and widely-spaced concrete pillars followed by a plank of wood. It looked more obstacle-course than safe route across the shallow water, and I was pondering whether to risk life and limb when two of the young female runners we’d seen earlier appeared and, like a pair of gazelles, gracefully and speedily navigated the crossing.
Buoyed by their expertise, I clambered onto the first pillar. From where I was standing, the second one looked an awful long way off … way too far for my leg span. Harri was already on the far side so there was only one thing for it. Lowering myself back down to water level, I just about managed to get across on stones without getting my feet wet. I often wish I was braver … or had longer legs!
We neared Vilamoura and entered Parque Ambiental, a protected former agricultural area which now boasts several artificial ponds created from old irrigation ditches. The ponds are surrounded by swaying reeds and there are wooden hides from which to watch the bird population. Our stomachs were rumbling so we did a short detour to the second of these hides and enjoyed a spot of bird-watching while we ate. There was an interpretation board on one wall and we were pleased to be able to identify a little greeb and a whole load of reed warblers. A goose took to the air and we thought we recognised a pair flying overhead as birds of prey. Apart from the birdsong, it was all very peaceful and a far cry from what the Portuguese refer to as the ‘touristic’ coastal resorts.
We retraced our steps to the main track and continued on our way to Vilamoura, the Quarteira stream on our right hidden behind tall grasses and wild olive trees. Eventually, it emerged from the tangle of vegetation and we were surprised to see how wide it had become and how muddy its banks.
A cycle path delivered us to the functional side of Vilamoura’s glamorous marina where the real business of boating gets done. I briefly hankered for a stroll around the touristy side of the resort but it would have added several kilometres and, as we weren’t planning to stop for a drink at one of the resort’s numerous cafes, it seemed pointless.
The moment we joined the beach it was easy to see why visitors flock to Vilamoura. Praia da Falésia has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal with its gorgeous soft white sand. At this point, it’s also incredibly wide, although it does narrow somewhat as you reach the red cliffs farther along the beach.
Within minutes of reaching the beach, we’d removed our socks and shoes and were heading down to the water’s edge. Alas, we soon learned that appearances can be deceptive: the azure ocean was bitingly cold.
We strolled along the beach, debating exactly where we did or didn’t join the beach on our very long two-day walk from Faro to Albufeira. I didn’t write a blog so I couldn’t check later; however, from memory, I am pretty certain we followed a path along the top of cliffs and didn’t descend to the beach until midway along it.
We still hadn’t eaten so when Harri spotted some wooden steps leading to the cliff tops, we headed that way. There was a sitting area with a bench halfway up, though it would have been nicer had the adjacent rubbish bin not been overflowing with discarded food.
The distinctive weathering and erosion of these red and white sandstone cliffs remind me of the ‘hoodoos’ of Bryce Canyon in Utah, US. I went there back in the early 2000s on a trip that included the Grand Canyon. Perhaps because of its smaller scale – and the fact you can wander easily between the hoodoos – I much preferred Bryce Canyon.
It’s fascinating to stand on the beach looking up at the sculpted fissures in the cliffs, although probably not a good idea to walk too close to the bottom. There is plenty of evidence of recent rockfall!
At low tide it’s possible to walk around the headland at the far end of Praia da Falésia to reach Olhos; however, with high tide just an hour earlier, we were forced to take to the clifftop path where the bright purple and pale lemon mesembryanthemum were beginning to flower.
The promenade at Olhos was busy but we didn’t stop, instead heading back to our local bar in Albufeira. Our 16-mile walk had been thoroughly enjoyable and almost entirely flat (apart from the last few metres to the car park).
If you’re interested in following our route, here’s a link to the map.