Loule 5 day tour - Day 5 and the last day. There’s more to the Algarve than just beaches, the mountain villages of Salir and Alte show a different side of this amazing region, one that is made up of hills, castles and waterfalls. I planned a full day just to explore these two towns, starting in Salir and moving on to Alte.
On the way to the Castle of Salir, I stopped at Fonte Benémola, a stunning nature reserve and one of Loulé’s most hidden gems. A stream called Menalva runs through this protected area. Menalva is supplied by several water springs, allowing it to keep water all year round. During the summer, a craftsman sits near the stream making baskets with cane, a material that is quite common around here.
Following the walking trail, you’re likely to come across several plant species and animals, such as the colourful kingfishers, tortoises and frogs. Sometimes, it’s even possible to observe otters in Fonte Benémola, but it’s a rare phenomenon.
Further north I visited the Castle of Salir, an Almohad fortress set amid the mountains. The castle was built during the 12th century and belonged to the Moorish until it was captured by the Christians at the end of the century. Later, it was destroyed in a fire and subsequently left to ruins. Today, only a tower and two wall sections remain from this Moorish castle. While you’re here, make sure to visit the small museum near the castle where you can find several items that were discovered during excavations.
I stayed in Salir for lunch and ate at O Regresso. Then, I headed to the national park Rocha da Pena. Set between the towns of Salir and Benafim, this rocky structure has a maximum height of 479 meters and extends for over 600 hectares. Climbing and hiking are the most popular activities at Rocha da Pena. The walk is tiring at first but it’s worth the effort once you get to the top of the cliff and enjoy the magnificent views with the ocean in the distance.
In Spring, you’ll find many plants flourishing at Rocha da Pena, specially wild orchids, but also narcissus and the wild peony, all adding layers of colour to this mountainous region. Visitors arriving in Autumn or Winter will also be greeted by several bird species that migrate here, including alpine accentors and ring ouzels. The village of Penina and the windmills are a few other sites that you should check while visiting Rocha da Pena.
After completing the trail I continued driving until Igreja Matriz de Alte. Dating back to the 13th century, this local church is also decorated with tiles featuring figures of angels playing musical instruments in between the clouds. Outside, two crosses rise above the building’s roof, one on top of the church and the other on the bell tower, where a weathervane also stands pointing in the direction of the wind.
From here, I walked to a waterfall known as Queda do Vigário. In the old days, Queda do Vigário was a popular spot for locals that came here to bathe on Sundays or special holidays. Today it’s frequented by anyone looking to cool down on a hot summer day.
To finish the day, I stopped at the restaurant A Ponte for dinner, a casual restaurant that serves typical food from the Algarve at an affordable cost. Satisfied with my meal I drove back to Quinta do Freixo for the night.