With its aqua-marine lagoons, secluded islands surrounded by golden sands and salt marshes, it is no surprise that the Ria Formosa Natural Park has been named one of Portugal’s Seven Natural Wonders.
Stretching for 60km along the Algarve coast, close to Faro and the fishing town of Olhão, it is a haven for wildlife, including flamingos and chameleons. So, leave the car behind and uncover this stunning natural landscape by foot, bike or on the waterways, says Peter Jenkins from Sun-hat Villas & Resorts.
Walk on the wild side
Sandy trails and boardwalks weave their way around the natural park, making it the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing walk. Suitable for people of all ages, and accessible to wheelchair-users and buggies, the trails take you through pine forests and past salt marshes. Along the way, look out for fishing boats dotting the water, as well as wildflowers, cacti and eucalyptus trees.
Magnificent at any time, the park is even more magical when the sun goes down and visitors disappear for the day. Take a twilight stroll along the Ludo trail, when the lagoons are bathed in an orange glow, and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a dragonfly or flocks of birds. To get a real insight into this fascinating natural landscape, book a tour with a local guide.
Rolling on a river
Cover even more distance on two wheels with a guided cycle tour, taking the time to stop off and admire the ocean views and wildlife. The well-marked paths are easy to navigate, so if you prefer to explore at your own pace, pick up a mountain bike or tandem from one of the rental shops in the area and set off for the day. E-bikes are widely available too, which means you can experience even more of this beautiful natural park.
Avoid the crowds on an early-morning run
The well-maintained trails make the Ria Formosa a much-loved destination for runners, who want to race or hone their skills at one of the nearby training camps. But don’t worry if you prefer a more leisurely jog – grab your trainers and head out before breakfast when the trails are at their quietest.
Birds of paradise
Home to more than 100 bird species, including flamingos, storks and purple swamphens, birdwatchers flock to Ria Formosa throughout the year. Pack your binoculars and join one of the many birdwatching tours, or spend a peaceful morning in the park’s hides. For something a little different, wind your way along the trails, quietly and discreetly, on an Algarve Segway tour.
See Ria Formosa from a completely different perspective with a tour of its peaceful waterways. Take a boat trip to the islands with an expert, who can tell you about the park’s landmarks and wildlife, or try your hand at stand up paddle boarding (SUP) or kayaking, leaving only ripples in the water behind you.
Or why not dip your toe in the water and come face-to-face with the park’s resident fish and crustaceans? Take the little ones crabbing on the quiet shoreline, or venture further by snorkelling through the shallow waters. Ria Formosa has the highest concentration of seahorses in the world, so don’t miss the snorkelling tours led by expert guides who take you to their natural habitat.
Tee-off in Quinta do Lago
The Algarve is famed for its golf resorts and Quinta do Lago, a short drive from Ria Formosa, is home to several top courses. As seasoned players test their ability on the challenging Laranjal or San Lorenzo courses, families can while away an afternoon on the mini golf course, where they will find smaller versions of iconic holes, like the Belfry and Augusta.
With a number of golf schools, private lessons and the world’s only Paul McGinley Academy, Quinta do Lago is ideal for anyone who wants to improve their game with expert tuition and performance analysis using the latest technology.
Retreat to your own deserted island
No visit to Ria Formosa would be complete without a trip to Ilha Deserta, or the deserted island. The clear blue waters, palm trees and white sands give it the appearance of a remote Caribbean island, yet it is easily accessible to visitors thanks to a regular boat service.
Even more unspoiled than other parts of the nature park, the barrier island offers the perfect environment for flora, fauna and birds to thrive. Here, you can walk along the boardwalks, before kicking off your shoes and relaxing on a sun lounger for a few hours. Of course, you don’t have to travel too far to find an even more secluded spot to sit and watch the waves lap against the shoreline.
Before heading home, make sure you stop off for a bite to eat at the island’s only restaurant, Estaminé. Inspired by the ocean that surrounds it, and with a kitchen run on solar power, its chefs serve up an array of seafood dishes, including oysters, clams and prawns. Or you could try the fish of the day, chargrilled and washed down with a refreshing glass of white wine.
This is a guest post from Sun-hat Villas & Resorts, a specialist in Algarve villas offering luxury properties with between one and nine bedrooms.
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