Location: Quinta do Lago, Almancil; Loulé municipality; GPS Coordinates (decimal degrees): 37.035242 N, -8.027176 W; Grade: easy; Type: out & back signposted trails; Lenght: 6300 meters/ 3.9 miles; Average Completion Time: 3.0 hours; Best Time to Visit: all year round; Activities: nature walks; cycling; birdwatching;
At the beginning of the trail you will notice, straight ahead, the vast sand dunes that stabilize the barrier islands facing the ocean, and which provide a valuable habitat to a plethora of psammophyte (‘sand loving’) plants, some of them endemic to southern Portugal. Notable among these plants are the Portuguese Thyme, a fragrant and very endangered species (discover more here), and the rare and beautiful Spiny Thrift (Armeria pungens). Besides providing enjoyable panoramas, the bridge – the longest wooden bridge in Europe -that crosses to Quinta do Lago Beach provides a good opportunity to perceive both the dynamic nature of Ria Formosa and the rich plant cover on the dunes.
Here, low tide brings with it the shellfish catchers that painstakingly collect Grooved Carpet Shell, a gastronomic delicacy that has been harvested throughout the Algarvian region since time immemorial. Next, you´ll enter a sparse umbrella pine wood, where it is possible to observe birds like the Iberian Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cooki), and the bright yellow Black-headed Weaver (Ploceus melanocephalus), a species accidentally introduced from the African savannas. If you´re lucky enough, maybe you can even detect the protected chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) that only live in Portugal along some parts of these forested seashores.
Shortly after, you’ll reach a small lake covered by reeds, where – depending on the time of the year – it is possible to contemplate a broad array of aquatic birds, including notable species such as the Purple Swamphen, the Glossy Ibis and the Little Bittern (please check the list here). A bird hide will provide unobstructed vistas of the lake, a place also inhabited by terrapins native to Portugal.
Surrounding the lake, in the distance you’ll also see the famous “luxury Algarve villas” of the exquisitely landscaped Quinta do Lago, one of the top luxury destinations in Europe. Further on, in the shadows of a large carob tree, there is a small tank complex built by the Romans around the 2nd century AD in order to produce a special condiment, called ‘garum‘, very popular at the time, which was prepared from the fermented intestines of fishes. After wondering if there was a strong correlation between the ultimate demise of the Roman Empire and the culinary taste of its citizens, you can either make the pleasant way back or converge with the Ludo Trail to observe flamingos strolling quietly in the salt pans.