To the north of Lagos you’ll find a peaceful haven in Algarve’s undulating countryside. Built in the sixties, the Bravura dam has formed a pleasant lake bordered by rounded hills, narrow valleys and zigzagging trails. Its water becomes turquoise and emerald on sunny days, creating a lovely contrast with the well-defined margins and the brownish-green hills that embrace this off-the-beaten-track water body.

Location: Barragem da Bravura/Barragem de Odiáxere – Lagos Municipality, Western Algarve | Coordinates: 37.201454 N, -8.698751 W (decimal degrees) | Grade: Moderate | Type: Loop trail; dirt and gravel tracks | Length: 8800 meters (5.5 miles) | Average Completion Time: Up to 4 hours | Best Time to Visit: all year-round; avoid during very hot days | Activities: nature walks; hiking; cycling & other outdoor activities; sightseeing; non-motorized watersports.

Much of the Algarve’s countryside has a largely porous parent rock. In Rocha da Pena, for instance, the soils are fertile enough but rainwater quickly moves through the ground and into the deeper rock layers. This leaves the surface soil parched between rains. The opposite occurs in Bravura: formed by schist and hardened sandstone, the parent rock is not porous at all and no water infiltrates the shallow, barren soils. Image: Hinnerk Haardt

These barren soils can only support a hardy variety of trees and smaller plants. Originally covered by Cork Oaks, today you’ll find the landscape dominated by Gum Rockrose, Eucalyptus and pinewoods. There are also smaller patches populated by Strawberry Trees, Heath and Kermes Oak. But, despite being an arid expanse, the landscape surrounding Bravura is rich in wildlife.

Barragem da Bravura Trail - Topographic ProfileThe hills are the hunting grounds of the Short-toed Snake Eagle, the Northern Goshawk, the Sparrowhawk and the magnificent but rare Bonelli’s Eagle*. Depending on the season, the woods and clearings are settled by Eurasian Woodcock, Red-legged Partridge and Subalpine Warbler. The lake itself holds populations of Mallard, Grey Heron, Kingfisher, Great Cormorant and (occasionally) Gadwall. Noteworthy non-avian species include the Otter, the Mediterranean Turtle, the Iberian Newt and the flashy Iberian Emerald Lizard. Bravura’s wildlife is varied but individual species do not occur in large concentrations. Barragem da Bravura is also inhabited by two endangered species of rare animals: the Portuguese Boga (a small freshwater fish that is only found in a very restricted area in Portugal) and the Cabrera’s Vole (a large vole native to Iberia). But in Bravura the most striking species is not an endemic animal; it is rather a welcomed arrival from Central and North America.

Promoted by an NGO dedicated to the study of butterflies, to the south of the dam there is a short signposted trail (please check the map below) where the large, famous Monarch Butterfly can be seen between May and October. Pushed by the wind, this splendid butterfly crossed the Atlantic from the Americas all the way to the Algarve; then, in Bravura and neighbouring areas, the Monarch has found the perfect environment to establish breeding colonies: access to clean streams, sheltered valleys, abundant sunlight, few predators and appropriate roosting vegetation (namely the Narrow-leaved Cotton Bush).

The most celebrated migrating butterfly, the Monarch has been colonizing other areas of the Algarve; however, the landscape enclosing Bravura remains a true hotspot for moths and butterflies: besides the Monarch, with luck you’ll also find the Marsh Fritillary, the Adonis Blue, the Dingy Swift, the Cinnabar Moth and the Jersey Tiger. Named a ‘Biodiversity Station’**, the short out & back trail (1.0km) intends to encapsulate the special habitats across this rural area. The Biodiversity Station trail is a suitable appetiser for the lengthier trail located further north at the dam.

The main trail starts in the vicinity of the local café. Head downhill from the car park towards the dam; cross it to the other side and then follow the trail to the left. The trail hugs the margins of the lake as it progresses to the north, making this segment enjoyable and refreshing; leaving the verdant margins behind, the track then curves abruptly to the right and heads uphill. At the top of the ascent turn left; this short section is steeper but you’ll be rewarded by the views of the Monchique mountains rising to the northeast. Proceed downhill along the winding trail, and then at the lowest point turn right onto a broader trail running uphill.

There’s a confluence of trails at the top of the rise; proceed straight ahead and downhill to briefly meet the lake’s margins once more. At the lowest point turn right; here, the trail starts to rise again by heading east. At the junction, turn to the right and head uphill; at the following intersection veer sharply to the right again and ascend more steeply heading southwest; ignore the smaller tracks to the left and to the right; at the next junction turn right and follow the main track towards the lake; you’ll then meet a crossroads of trails, but just keep going straight ahead and uphill; at the top of the rise keep the hillside to your right and walk downhill towards the lake. Turn sharply right at the main junction to follow a narrower trail heading north. You’ll then meet the margins of the lake again; retrace your footsteps to the left and follow along the leafy banks to reach the dam and conclude the walk.

*The mountains of Espinhaço de Cão, where Bravura is located, are in fact one of the best places in the Algarve to observe the Bonelli’s Eagle.
**The Algarve has the highest number of Biodiversity Stations in Portugal. Other noteworthy examples include Tôr in Loulé, and Boca do Rio/Budens Marsh.

Barragem da Bravura Trail & Biodiversity Station: Check markers for directions or open on Google Maps

Further Tips
There is a car park at the local café (closed on Mondays), but public transport is not available. This is a loop trail around part of the lake and the surrounding countryside; there are however many other possibilities (both easier and shorter) to explore the area: the reservoir covers an extensive space, and visitors can choose between several walks described at the café. Always carry enough water with you, even in winter. Walking around the whole lake takes 7-10 hours. The margins of the lake can be very steep and the lake is rather deep; there are also sunken logs and tree branches: please be extremely careful if you intend to swim (there are no lifeguards at the reservoir), and be especially mindful of children playing along the banks. The area has a high risk of forest fires in the summertime: don’t leave any glass out in the sunshine and do not use fire. A Critical Wildfire Period is announced annually, typically between June or July and September. Campfires are prohibited in rural areas during this period, and allowed only in designated picnic parks using communal BBQ grills. Bravura is popular with local families at weekends for outdoor activities.

It is possible to fish at the reservoir in selected areas (the lake holds populations of Carp, Barbel and Largemouth Bass, among other fish species). You’ll first need a permit, however: please contact the ICNF* headquarters in the Algarve via email ([email protected]) or telephone (289 700 210); if you are a permanent resident, these licenses can be obtained from any ATM (this video shows you how, step by step). Licenses are not expensive – please check the current prices on this page (in Portuguese). This official chart from the Portuguese Environmental Agency shows the areas where it is possible to fish (look for “Zona de utilização livre”), as well as the most suitable areas for watersports (look for “Zona preferencial para recreio balnear”).

*Instituto da Conservação da Natureza (general site)