salt marshes

Jo’s Monday walk : Luz de Tavira to Fuseta

I’m often asked if it’s possible to enjoy the Algarve and its natural beauty without the use of a car.  My walk today gives you one example of how to do just that.  In much of the Eastern Algarve the railway tracks run quite close to the shoreline.  As well as a hands free ride through pleasant countryside and that age old delight of peering into passing gardens, you can hop off the train and pursue a gentle walk.  After my brief absence, I’m taking it slowly.

The place I’ve chosen to start is Fuseta, a very laidback town 10km east of  Olhão, with an active fishing fleet and a natural harbour.  You can easily while away an hour or two here and I’ll give you some thoughts on how later, but first let’s catch that train.  There are two railway stations in Fuseta, though I’ve only just discovered tiny Fuseta ‘A’.  It’s at the top of a hill, behind the restaurants at the western edge of town.  If this doesn’t appeal, Fuseta-Moncarapacho, the main station at the eastern end of town, will serve you just as well for the purposes of this walk.

It’s only a couple of stops from Fuseta to Luz de Tavira, a sleepy little spot if ever there was one.  Dismounting from the train you cross directly over the railway tracks.  A word of warning- there is no official gated crossing, but it’s a very flat area and you can see far along the track in both directions, so please do look both ways.  Safely over, turn right at the first corner and follow a leafy lane, passing a couple of country homes.  Prickly pear and almond blossom will vie for your attention in this early stage of the year.

Bear left and soon a glimmer of water will appear on the horizon.  You are joining a stretch of the Ecovia Litoral, a cycle track which threads its way along the Algarve coastline, but which in many places makes for relaxed and enjoyable walking.

Often times the boats are marooned on these tidal mud flats, beautiful in their ugliness.  If you are lucky the tide might be in.  In any case, the sea will glitter in the distance.  The ruins of a defence tower, Torre d’Aires, are largely ignored, lost in the pellucid landscape.

Along this shoreline, an elevated bungalow with a lovely tumble of garden calls to me, though my more pragmatic other half reminds me that mosquitos will be a severe nuisance in summer.  This is the heart of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, and a winter haven for migrating birds.

Just past the midway point to Fuseta you will find a cafe, O Conquistador.  Virtuously I did not sample them (I was to have a substantial lunch at the end of my walk) but the cakes did look extremely appealing.  Following an arrow the path now crosses through the salt marshes, with Fuseta and a towering mound of salt on the horizon and butter yellow oxalis rippling at your feet.

I am delighted to observe, busily guzzling in the briney water, a large flock of flamingos.  Their overhead flight makes a lovely ending to my walk.

And no, I didn’t manage to capture them, unless you wish to see a very blurred tail feather or three.  But I can share that I ate at Crispins, almost impossible to miss as you walk back into town.  The quayside makes a pleasant after dinner stroll, leading as it does to an expanse of river beach.  Grab a bench and gaze out to sea, or watch the locals playing boules behind the green.  In warm weather you can ferry across to Armona and an endless expanse of beach.  Make sure to carry water with you as you are unlikely to find it at this end of the island.

Feeling like something a tiny bit more strenuous?  You can climb up through the narrow streets, for a closer look at Igreja Matriz, the Mother Church.  Notice the red lighthouse in the bell tower.  Legend has it that many years ago, during a mighty storm, the women of Fuseta lit an enormous bonfire in the churchyard, the highest point of the village, to guide their fishermen husbands home.  The men were guided safely back by the distant light and the image of Our Lady of Carmel, on June 16th, an event still celebrated every year.

It has its gritty areas but Fuseta is quite an interesting town.  This video gives a fairly realistic view of it.

I hope you enjoyed my walk.  I do try to include the details you would need if you found yourself in the area, but I can highly recommend Becky’s blog as a walking resource.  Based at  Olhão, she covers much the same territory as I do, with the very useful addition of an interactive map.

Sorry that I’m overdue in sharing some of these walks, but I do like to step back from the blog sometimes, especially here in the Algarve.  I don’t stop walking but I do just relax into glorious scenery and good companionship.  Many thanks to you all for your patience and support.

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Did you know that Drake is a steadfast Liverpool supporter? :

Night in anticipation

You need plenty of fuel in weather like this, but Jackie never has a problem :

Bundling up

No place like home, for Kathrin :

Monheim am Rhein : A walk through my home town

Lisa gives us a history lesson and some beautiful views (and warm sunshine!) :

Holidays in Haifa

While Lady Lee lives the high life!

Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Miriam shares a charming place and a snippet of Australian history :

Old Chiltern Town

Marsha has a tendency to cheat a bit, but look out for those Monarch butterflies :

Plan your Travel Itinerary to include the California Central Coast

Nobody does a garden justice quite so well as Jude.  As a bonus, two gems, one old, one new :

Garden Portrait: Scotney Castle

Garden Portrait: Polesden Lacey

Yikes!  It was snowing at home when I received this from Elaine :

A wintery walk beside Loch Achray

And Irene’s post looked even colder!  Go and say  ‘hi’ and warm her up :

To the Top of a Dune

If that’s not cold enough for you, Hiking Maine is sharing some stunning ice formations :

An amazing Winter Hike on the Cathance River Trail in Topsham

Finishing here in the Algarve, Becky shares one of her passions :

The Olhanese architectural promenade

I hope to share another walk with you next Monday but I’m not making a full return to blogging just yet.  Take care of yourselves, and enjoy your walking, whenever and wherever you can.

 

 

 

Jo’s Monday walk : Salt marshes at Fuseta

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It’s that ‘betwixt and between’, Christmas time and the New Year.  The weather has been atrocious in so many places and some people will be spending it mopping up and repairing their homes.  I haven’t managed too much walking lately myself, but I do still have some happy memories to share.  Shall we take a little salt marsh stroll in the Eastern Algarve?  Nothing too strenuous!  At day’s end, we can even linger by the beach awhile.

The sky is blue, and that’s a good start!  I’ve taken you to Fuseta before.  It’s a little off the beaten track, but beloved by campers for the beachfront camp site.  New development unkindly overshadows the distinctive fishermen’s homes.  Prime location is key, after all, but the fishermen pursue their livelihood as they always did.  The settlement dates back to 1572, and the fishing boats still cluster together in the mouth of the Rio Tronoco.

Approximately 10km east of Olhão, you turn off the E125 and follow the narrow road, over the railway tracks and down past the river mouth to the shore.  Except in high Summer you will find ample parking beside the camp site.  With the sea on your left, walk between the fishermen’s houses and the new apartment blocks facing the sea.  The salt marshes open out where the road ends.

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It’s a distinctive landscape, and habitat for all kinds of birds.  I’ve grown to love it’s oft times, unkempt appearance when the tide is low. Spears of sunlight glinting on high water will reward my patience later.  Coots bob gently on the surface, while their longer-legged friends peck, and choose.

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Paths lead between the salt pans but you would be ill advised to follow any that are not obviously well trodden.  Cyclists zip past, some with a smile and a wave.  Looking back, houses randomly dot the marsh borders, and in the distance the new builds gleam, whitely.

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You can follow the cycle track all the way to Olhao if you wish, but I did promise you a shorter walk, so I’m meandering back, on the main path across the marshes.  I know of a good bench or three, where you can watch the locals play boules and still keep an eye on the sea.IMG_1198

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You’ll be wanting a stop at the beach cafe, but I might just tempt you to a stroll along the river mouth first?  You know I like a boat or two!

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It’s a little ragged around the edges, but Fuseta is a real and honest place, with a working population.  I hope you enjoyed accompanying me on my stroll.  Shall we head back to that cafe now?  I hear there’s cake!

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I’ve had a great time walking with you all this year.  Thank you for the support.  It has been amazing!  I worry sometimes that the formula is growing stale.  I know that I will carry on walking and sharing, because I love it, but I would hate for you to be bored.  You can say so, politely, in the comments, if you wish.  I promise not to take offense.  For now, I’m going to put that kettle on.

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Not many shares this week, as you’ve all been busy with Christmas!  Hopefully you’ll find time to read just a few excellent ones.  Many thanks to my contributors!  My Jo’s Monday walk page gives details of how to join in.

Drake’s post was wonderfully Christmassy!  Happy New Year to you, sir!

Walkaround

Over at Junkboat Travels they were making a proper holiday of it :

Mazatlan, Mexico

Why not visit Jaspa’s favourite city?  You may be in for a surprise :

Secret Itineraries Tour, Doge’s Palace, Venice

One of my joys on Christmas morning was this precious gift from Meg.  Please don’t miss it!

Eurobodalla beaches : Wasp Head 

And my lovely friend Gilly proves that murky weather doesn’t have to make you miserable :

A Boxing Day stroll

Please do join me on Jo’s Monday walk next week, when I’ll be celebrating the launch of Jude’s new Garden Photography Challenge.  I have a rather nice English garden to share.  But first,  I’d like to wish you a very happy and healthy New Year, and lots of walking!

“A gift from the sea”

A salt mountain, carefully harvested.

A salt mountain, carefully harvested.

One of the best things about visiting the Algarve off season is being able to take long walks.  The 12km circular of the salt pans at Castro Marim Nature Reserve was one of the highlights of my recent stay.

The sapal or salt marshes are a special feature of the Algarve.  It is one of the few areas where harvesting sea salt, begun in Roman, or even Phoenician times, continues today.  There is an art to skimming the salt crystals off before they grow big and heavy enough to sink to the bottom.  The end product is mineral rich, though needing hours of toil in the heat of Summer.  The distinctive sight of the salt pans, evaporating in the sun, always fascinates me.

I loved this landscape

The wide, flat landscape of the reserve

And suddenly, taking off across the water...

Then suddenly, a white stork takes off across the water…

Maybe to visit this nest?

Maybe, to visit this nearby nest?

The walk starts off, without too much promise, along an unsigned dirt track which doesn’t appear to lead anywhere. Olive and carob trees line the neighbouring field. In the distance, across the salt marsh, you can see the towering piles of salt and the refinery.  As you head towards them a river appears on your right.  Beyond it, in the distance, hovers the sleepy town of Castro Marim, its mighty castelo perched high on the hill.   The twin peaks of the road bridge, which crosses the River Guadiana into Spain, are barely visible.

The salt mountains beckon across the lagoon

The salt mountains beckon across the lagoon

Can you see the flamingoes in the foreground?

Can you see the flamingos in the foreground?

They were everywhere on the salt marshes

They were everywhere on the salt marshes

And seem very content to be there

Seeming to be busy, and happy to be there.

In the distance, across the river, the hilltop fortress of Castro Marim

In the distance, across the river, the hilltop fortress of Castro Marim

And just faintly you can see the bridge to Spain, across the Guadiana

And just faintly you can see the bridge to Spain, crossing the Guadiana

I’m not very knowledgeable about birds, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the quantity of them, indulging in this salt spa.  Heron, white storks, spoonbills and egrets are common sights.  The landscape seems vast, but it is not until you reach “the gate”- the entry to the saltworks- that you begin to realise just how far you are from your start point.  And to wonder how you will get back there.

The infamous "gate".

The infamous “gate”.

It's not only the flamingos that flourish here

It’s not only the flamingos that flourish here
This family of horses

This family of horses seem quite at home.

The horses are wearing bells round their necks, as were some cows we passed earlier.  Maybe, because they have young?  In 2000 hectares of salt pans, there’s a lot of wandering to be done!

According to the guide book, the next landmark is a pumping station, a far off speck on the horizon.  Arriving here is when the adventure really begins!  You turn left, into the salt pans themselves.  The book warns that you must never deviate from the track to attempt a shortcut, as many are dead ends.  If you tire and despair of making the end, you should turn around and retrace your steps.

This last section is a bit of a leap of faith, as it crosses the pans on an overgrown, narrow ridge, and does not appear to have an ending on dry land. It does, though, of course.  It feels quite surreal being out there, surrounded by water and sky.  It’s a little tricky underfoot- a mix of smooth, hardened mud and shrubs- but well worth the effort.  Nor did I want to contemplate retracing my steps, by this stage!

All seems peaceful and calm

All is peaceful and calm

And then, that magical moment when the flamingos take flight!

And then, that magical moment when the flamingos take flight!

The ultimate magic, as you pick your way around the reserve, is that moment when you approach a flock of birds.  Seemingly minding their own business in the salt pans, they obviously have one eye cocked for nare-do-wells.  Panic, or simple good sense, sends one of them into the air, and in seconds the sky is full of beating wings.  Those pallid-looking flamingos have the most glorious crimson underside to their wings, and the sight of them above me, at full stretch, is one I will never forget.

In a world where sky and water are as one.

In a world where sky and water are one

And the horizon seems far away.

And the horizon seems far away.

The book I was using was “Algarve Walks” by Julie Statham, walk no. 22.  It has been revised and reprinted a number of times and I have quite an old copy, so there may be some variation.  It’s not a difficult walk, but if you don’t fancy the last part you should retrace your steps from “the gate”.  Don’t even think about doing it in Summer- there is no cover whatsoever.  And don’t forget the bottled water!

I’ll be taking you to Castro Marim another day.  You’ll like it there!