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 (out & back); Average Completion Time: up to 2.5 hours; Best Time to Visit: all year round; Activities: nature walks; cycling; birdwatching;
At the start of the trail you will notice the vast sand dunes that stabilize the barrier islands facing the ocean*. These dunes also provide a valuable habitat to a wide variety 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). From Quinta do Lago, the only way to reach Gigi Beach and the dunes on the other side of the main water channel is to cross the wooden bridge further down the trail. Besides providing enjoyable panoramas, this bridge – which is the longest wooden bridge in Europe – provides a good opportunity to appreciate the dynamic nature of Ria Formosa and the dune’s rich plant cover. *When the access is made through the main parking site.
Here, low tide brings with it the shellfish catchers that painstakingly collect Grooved Carpet Shell, a gastronomic delicacy that has been harvested throughout Ria Formosa since time immemorial. Following the main trail, you´ll then enter a sparse pinewood 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. Under the Umbrella Pines (Pinus pinea), maybe you can even detect the protected Chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) that inhabit these pinewoods.
Shortly after, you’ll reach a small lake covered by reeds, where – depending on the time of the year – it is possible to observe a broad array of aquatic birds that include 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 panoramas of the lake, a place which is 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 afield, 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 fish. 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 saltpans.
Quinta do Lago & Ria Formosa Natural Park: Recommended Outdoor Activities