The Algarve has a wide range of different areas where Nature is still to be found in an essentially pure state. These are conveniently protected areas where animals and plants are kept safe from the dangers of human aggression.
In the region’s natural parks and the areas designated as classified sites or places of ecological interest, certain species of fauna and flora have survived, which outside these areas are already close to extinction. There are also other species that, because of the region’s very special characteristics, have only found it possible to develop here and so represent an important part of the local heritage.
These protected areas are visited by migratory birds and it is also possible to observe otters, tortoises, flamingos, storks, herons or the rare purple gallinules. In such places, we find enormous expanses of characteristic vegetation and geological curiosities. And we may also come across instances of an earlier human settlement of these areas, such as a basket-weaving workshop or a windmill.
All of this wealth may be enjoyed by walking along marked footpaths, enjoying guided tours or visiting the information centres. These are forms of sustained tourism that enable visitors to get to know and experience the life of these small paradises, where the real keynote is the unaltered charm of nature.
Part of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, one of the Portugal's largest natural reserves
The so-called "Costa Vicentina", the western coast of the Algarve stretches over more than 60 km from Cape St.Vincent, the south-western most corner of the European continent, to Odeceixe on the Algarve-Alentejo border. The rugged rocks of the steep coast are interrupted by small sandy bays. The climate is harsher than other parts of the Algarve and the surging swell from the Atlantic is spectacular.
The landscape is still generally unspoilt by the tourism and rich in flora and fauna species. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e da Costa Vicentinawith 70.000 ha of protected area is one of Portugal's largest natural reserves, and one of the few locations of the Algarve where the nature environment has been almost untouched and the rich cultural and historical heritage has been preserved
Fonte da Benémola
A hidden paradise, located in the Barrocal region of the Algarve north of Loulé between Querença and Tôr.
Located in the Barrocal region of the Algarve between Querença and Tôr, the Fonte da Benémola is a protected area containing ecosystems of significant special interest, not only from the point of view of its geological and landscape features, but also in terms of the fauna and flora living there. This 390-hectare site is one of rare beauty, abounding in species of trees and bushes that are relatively uncommon in the Algarve, whilst some of the animals that are native to this area also justify the special conservation measures taken to protect the wildlife here.
Fauna: The presence of water here all year round also attracts a wide range of animal species. Along the length of the watercourse, it is possible to spot kingfishers, tits, herons, bee-eaters, blackbirds, nightingales, blackcaps and moorhens, living alongside all the frogs, small fish, newts, salamanders and freshwater tortoises down in the water itself. However, the most important animal in this reserve, the otter, is rarely seen, leaving us with only the odd trace of its existence. Furthermore, living in the small caves along the banks of the river, there are two colonies of bats, who have made their habitats here, enjoying both the beauty of their surroundings and their protected status.
Flora: Along the Ribeira da Menalva watercourse, running across the Fonte da Benémola protected area, the flora is both abundant and diversified, with ash-trees, willows, date-trees and wayfaring trees visible among the canes, brambles and oleanders. On the valley slopes along the river, the vegetation is typically Mediterranean, with carob-trees and mastic-trees, thyme and rosemary, rock-roses, junipers, arbutus-trees and different types of olive-trees. In the schist soils at the western limits of the protected areas, this vegetation gives way to holm-oaks and the occasional cork-tree.
This information is extracted with friendly permission of RTA from the website www.visitalgarve.pt
Reserva Biogenética de Sagres
Algarve’s Noah’s Ark between Sagres and the Cabo de Sao Vicente
As one of Southern Europe’s last remaining and most important stretches of wild, unspoilt coastline, benefiting from both a low level of human interference and a low population density, the area from Ponta de Sagres to Cape St. Vincent is a protected area filled with a wide biodiversity of different species and natural habitats, many of which are quite unique in the world.
With its own specificity, resulting from its particular geographical position, varied landscapes, and a climate that is simultaneously marked by the influence of both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean conditions, this region of the south-west Algarve and the Costa Vicentina has been classified by the Council of Europe as a Biogenetic Reserve since 1988 and is one of the most important centres of marine resources and multiple ecological occurrences.
The great diversity of the wealth of natural resources to be found along the coastal strip, the existence of various geographical accidents and the occurrence of different phenomena, such as rocky outcrops emerging from the deep waters in the summer, all these features contribute towards the development of important and high levels of biodiversity.
The rocky coastline from Ponta de Sagres to Cape St. Vincent presents a wide variety of coastal habitats, including marshland, cliffs, sand dunes and lagoons. At the same time, the differentiated characteristics of the marine ecosystem favour the development of a rare and very specific variety of flora, very often described as unique in the world. Biscutella vicentina, Diplotaxis vicentina and Hyacinthoides vicentina are all examples of plants whose scientific names derive from the fact that they only exist in this region.
There is a healthy coexistence here between the great diversity of habitats and the reserve’s rare and endemic species, all in a favourable state of conservation, which transforms the region from Ponta de Sagres to Cape St. Vincent into a unique paradise in world terms.
Protected lagoon landscape along the Eastern Algarve coast from Faro to the village of Cacela Velha near Tavira
This lagoon landscape stretches along the Eastern Algarve coast from Faro to the village of Cacela Velha near Tavira. Created in 1755 by the last great oceanic earthquake, its sand dunes, islands and bars to the open sea are continously shaped by tidal changes. Many archeological sites show the remains of Roman and Pre-Roman settlements.
Since the mid-eighties, the Ria Formosa has been a nature reserve, where sea water birds find protected breeding places and many fish species of the Northern Atlantic as well as other marine organisms reproduce.
Besides salt harvesting, productive activities in this protected area are shellfish farming and small-scale fishing. The excellent water quality, without detectable contamination by industrial effluents, sewage dumping, agricultural and radioactive pollutants, favours the traditional gathering of seasalt.
Rocha da Pena
Looking out over the Barrocal region between Alte and Salir
The protected area of Rocha da Pena offers one of the very best vantage points for looking out over the vast expanse of the Algarve’s Barrocal landscape with all the geological oddities and diversity of fauna and flora that the region is famous for. Located between Benafim and Salir, this rocky massif covers over 600 hectares reaching its highest point at 479 metres. The craggy landscape features a limestone cornice reaching 50 metres high and topped by a plateau some two kilometres in length.
The natural beauty of this region results in a rich and varied flora, made up of over 390 species of plants - endemic, medicinal and aromatic - and the characteristic geographical formations of the Barrocal region of the Algarve. Highlights include a striking species of wild rose, yarrow, wild orchids and differing types of scented rosemary.
Standing out amongst the diverse animal life surviving here are the large birds of prey, such as the Bonelli’s eagle, the buzzard and the eagle owl, in addition to the many other birds patrolling these skies, such as the bee-eater, which digs its nest out of the escarpment slopes, the great spotted woodpecker and the tit. Wild rabbits and hedgehogs share the land with foxes, genets, mongooses and a small species of wild boar.
This wild landscape, reaching down to the distant sea, is ideal for long walks, but it is also an understandable favourite among rock climbers, because of the excellent conditions provided by all the cliffs and steep escarpments with which nature has endowed the region.
The caves carved out of the limestone rock by water erosion are also excellent places to explore and discover. Perched on top of Rocha da Pena is Algar dos Mouros, a site renowned historically as the preferred place of refuge for the Moors as they fled from the forces of Paio Peres Correia when he reconquered Salir.
The stone battlements existing at the top of this listed site may possibly date back to the Iron Age and have long served as a strategic point of defence. An arched entranceway and a chimney dating from 1827, which can be found in the village of Penina, in addition to the Pena windmills, are other local places of special interest that are well worth visiting.
The text on this site is extracted with friendly permission of RTA from the website www.visitalgarve.pt
Sapal do Castro Marim e Vila Real de Sant António
The salt marshes of Castro Marim - a natural reserve between land and sea, located on the estuary mouth of the Guadiana river
Situated by the mouth of the River Guadiana, the Sapal de Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Nature Reserve is one of the most important wetland areas in Portugal and is recognised at the international level by the Ramsar Convention. This area gained its special protected status due to the fact that its ecology was highly representative of a wetland. It is formed by salty marshes with their special brackish waters, salt-pans and creeks, that are home to a diverse range of plants and animals. Dry areas of schist, red sandstone, stretches of sand and arenaceous rocks, and higher areas leading up to the Algarve’s upper reaches further serve to complete the biodiversity of this area in the eastern region of the Algarve.´
A natural habitat for a huge number of animal species, the Sapal de Castro Marim reserve is home to thousands of aquatic birds that come in search of its excellent nesting conditions or to use the area as grounds for seeing out the winter. Throughout the entire year, 153 different species, including flamingos, storks, avocets, dunlins, plovers and redshanks seek out this reserve, either as a permanent or seasonal place to stay or merely as somewhere to stop off at on their way to distant lands.
The rich environmental heritage of this area is further heightened by its importance as a breeding ground for numerous aquatic species. And these add up to a grand total of 34 different types of mollusc, ten varieties of fish, thirteen reptiles, eleven amphibious creatures and six kinds of crustaceans, demonstrating how this area effectively serves as a natural fish farm. Meanwhile, the drier and higher surroundings are home to other bird species, including birds of prey.
The great wealth of flora, with as many as 400 different types of plants, turns this site into a veritable botanical paradise. The vegetation typical of a tidal saltmarsh is dominated by halophilic plants, highly resistant to the dryness caused by the excessive saltiness of the soils. These include the morraça, a grassy plant that is able to survive long periods of time submerged under water.