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.
In the 12th century,
Salir was occupied by the Moors who built the Castle of Salir to
protect the region against the Christian re-conquest. Now left to ruins,
the castle acts as a great viewpoint over the green hills of Serra do
Caldeirão. Besides this, the main landmark of the region is the natural
park of Rocha da Pena, a popular spot among climbing and hiking
Alte, on the other hand, is famous for its natural spring waters. In the past, women used to come to the fountains to fill their pitchers, do their laundry and catch up on the local gossip. Today, the water stream fed by the fountains is enjoyed as a refreshing swimming spot.
You can easily combine both villages in a single day trip. Below we highlight the best things to do in Salir and Alte, so you won’t miss a thing.
The Fonte Benémola is 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.
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, you can visit the Castle of
Salir, an Almohad fortress set amid the mountains. Built during the 12th
century, the castle belonged to the Moorish until it was captured by
the Christians. Later, it was destroyed in a fire and subsequently left
in ruins. Today, only a tower and two wall sections remain from this
Moorish castle. Make sure to visit the small museum near the castle,
where you can find several items uncovered during excavations.
Set between the towns of Salir and Benafim, this rocky structure has a maximum height of 479 metres 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 ocean views in the distance.
In Spring, you’ll find many plants
flourishing at Rocha da Pena, especially 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 you should check while visiting Rocha da Pena.
Continue driving towards Alte. When you get there, head to the 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
the church, you can walk to the waterfall known as Queda do Vigário. In
the old days, Queda do Vigário was a popular spot for locals who came
here to bathe on Sundays or special holidays. Today it’s frequented by
anyone looking to cool down on a hot summer day.
Both Salir and Alte offer a couple of activities for kids. In the
summer, you can enjoy a swim at the natural spring pools like Fonte
Grande in Alte. This is also a great spot for a picnic. If you’re
feeling adventurous, you can follow the Rota do Alte, a hiking trail
that takes you along the mountain valleys.
Meanwhile, in Salir is the Clube Hípico de Salir, which organizes horseriding lessons. A bit further in Paderne is the Donkey Tours Algarve, a farm that offers donkey rides for children, a great way to explore the surrounding countryside.
Alte Tradition Guest House: You’ll find this modern guesthouse in
the centre of Alte. It has nine rooms featuring double or twin beds.
Other facilities include an outdoor pool and a rooftop with a jacuzzi
overlooking the mountains.
Quinta do Freixo: Surrounded by natural
streams, this rural property doubles as an accommodation and farm.
Guests can enjoy delicious organic treats for breakfast, interact with
the farm animals and rent bikes to explore the area. There is also a
restaurant and a pool on site.
Casa da Mãe - Hospitalidade Serrana:
This rural complex near Salir offers a mix of rooms and houses with
fully equipped kitchens. All guests have access to the gardens, outdoor
pool and barbecue facilities.
Festa da Espiga: Festa da Espiga is a traditional festival that takes
place 40 days after Easter on the Feast of Ascension. It is held near
the church of Salir, and it’s an homage to the countryside. To mark this
day, residents collect ears of wheat which symbolise abundance and hang
them outside their houses until the following year. The day is
celebrated with a parade, music and local food.
Semana Cultural de Alte: Between the 25th of April and the 1st of May, Alte hosts a cultural week full of events. These include exhibitions, walking tours, street performances, craft markets and live concerts.