If you were to just look at holiday brochures and stick to the coast you might be fooled into thinking that the Algarve is all about the sun and the sand, and don’t get me wrong we certainly have some stunning seasides, but those of us ‘in the know’ know that there is immense beauty to be found inland - especially when spring has sprung.
The countryside has been busy this autumn laying down a background carpet of lush green that will, in the next few months, start to become punctuated with an explosion of colour from wild and wonderful flowers.
But where to go to properly admire these fabulous floral displays?
Well, Fonte Benemola, located about 20 minutes north of Loulé (Querença, Tôr, Benafim sort of area) is a great place to start. The Menalva stream, which because of the porous rock in the area runs mainly underground, springs up here and allows Benemola to have water all year round. (Although it does dry up considerably by August, and I can attest to the fact that even in midsummer the water is ‘freeeeezing’.)
And where there’s water - there’s life. Fresh water flowing all year around makes Benemola the perfect place to find an abundance of fauna - you can sneak up on a turtle, and even an otter (apparently) if you are stealthy enough. But I’ll be honest, you need to be a proper ninja to get the drop on those furtive fellows. However, the residents of the stream you can’t fail to spot (well, if you put your glasses on and look carefully at the water that is) are called ‘Boatmen’. They are tiny little aquatic insects that seem to have the divine ability to walk on water, or should I say, paddle? They have long back legs that are shaped like oars, and so it certainly gives the impression that they are ‘row row rowing their boats merrily down the stream’ - there’s no crocodiles to scream about at Benemola (as far as I know), but I’m sure newts, frogs and toads keep them on their toes.
Fonte Benémola - Algarve - Portugal
And then there’s all that flora. As I mentioned before, pretty soon all those wildflowers are going to start to ‘spring up’, and among the efflorescence, Benemola is a particularly great place to hunt for rare orchids. There’s all kinds of trees as well, from all the classics of the area such as carob, olive and almond (making it a winter wonderland at the moment with their snow-white petals). There’s also lots of orange groves with the occasional ‘nespera’ and pomegranate tree, at least one massive eucalyptus, cork oaks and some willow trees as well. The fragrant aroma of shrubs like wild lavender, thyme, oleander, rosemary and ‘medronho’ bushes fill the air and, all in all, the upcoming floral flourishes provided by all these plants make Benemola quite a ‘buzzing place’ to be - with all the local pollinators busily going about their business.
The skies are a flutter too with an amazing array of bird life such as kingfisher, heron, egret, hoopoe, bee-eater, great tit and nightingale, along with many others. If you stayed until dark there would even be bats on your radar (or at least you would be on theirs). They live in caves at the top of a nearby hill and if you have the puff to climb to the peak - you can peek in at them.
The watery nature of the 4 kilometre Benemola trail, means that it’s also dotted with pretty old abandoned water mills and dams, and to help you identify the plants and animals you might come across there’s plenty of signs along the paths with pictures and information about what’s what and whose who.
Oh! And I almost forgot the most exciting part. To cross over the stream there’s stepping stones. Lets face it, this is always an adventure, but particularly after it’s rained and the white water is racing past below your feet. Google maps is, as ever, your ally. Just dial it up and set off on your adventure.