For us the Dungeon Trail began with the beautiful drive from Tavira to Cachopo, I prefer the drive up as whilst the 397 is an excellent road my fear of falling arises when we drive down it! As well as being a great drive the 397 was also the quickest way for us to get to the start of the walk in Mealha, a tiny village north west of Cachopo.
Dungeon (Masmorra) Trail is a circular 4mile walk in the Serra do Caldeirão and takes you through Mealha’s river valley before heading up Masmorra to the ‘Anta da Masmorra‘, which is a dolmen (megalithic burial site). In Spring this walk will be full of colour as there is lavender and cistus everywhere, but even in winter it is a lovely walk as the views are wonderful.
We found the walk in Walking Trails in the Algarve, but you will also find it in numerous other guides as it is a marked trail numbered PR8. Whilst it is a relatively simple walk (through village, cross main road follow trail up hill, turn right at top for windmills then down other side of hill back into village), we recommend you have a map with you. The markers such as the one to the right are all too often missing at junctions and even with the guide map it was difficult to follow the trail in places because of the ridiculously thick green line they use in the book!
The walk begins outside the old school in Mealha; we met a local who had gone to school there unfortunately our Portuguese is so poor we were unable to ascertain anything else despite his delight in talking to us.
On strolling past the school down the hill we walked past chickens, animal pens and hay lofts, many of the latter have been created in the ancient round houses of which some were still being lived in in the early 19th century. Skirting round the back of the village past numerous property markers (see left) and olive and almond blossom trees it does become a bit confusing at times because of the lack of trail markers but there is so much to look at it doesn’t seem to matter too much.
Before leaving the village and heading north to cross the tarmac road and ford the river, there is an opportunity to go inside a restored roundhouse and to sit beside the river. Great place for birding and if you wanted an early picnic.
After fording the river it was then time to climb about 280ft, steep at first but then an easy uphill walk on wide tracks. At the crossroads at the top the only reason we knew to turn right was because we had seen the windmills earlier and the only way to get to them and back to the village within 2hrs was by turning right! The panoramic views along this ridge are wonderful and we could easily see Castro Marim 28miles away (as the crow flies).
The windmills are ruins but still good to look at, and a few metres behind them is the Anta da Masmorra. Also now in ruins, thanks to grave robbers in the 1940’s. It was here we had our lunch enjoying the views across the Serra hills, or should I say mountains?! On a clear day you can see the hills around Beja, about 45miles away.
After lunch it was an easy walk back down, at first along a track that clearly has seen very little use in the past year before strolling beside the river,past ‘allotments’ and then back up the tarmac road into the village.
The walk is described as 2hrs in most guides, but we took a little bit longer as we stopped to explore the round houses and windmills and of course for lunch. Definitely not a walk to do on a very wet or hot day, but otherwise perfect if you have a car and fancy exploring a little bit of the Serra do Caldeirão.
Oh and one other thing before you jump in your car and head off on this lovely walk; all the trail guide says on finding the start of the walk from Cachopo is ‘turn left when you see the sign for Mealha’. Well Mealha is 8km from that sign!