You have to time it just right if you want to walk up here as Fóia is highest summit in the Algarve, and consequently can be very hot, very cold, very cloudy, very wet and/or very crowded with tourists! If you get it right though then you will love it as the views throughout the walk are fabulous. The official trail name is – PR3 Fóia Trail – and the official way round is clockwise. However whatever you do don’t follow the official advice! Go anti-clockwise instead and not only will no-one be walking in front or behind you, but the climbs become enjoyable rather than painful.
In fact we advise not even commencing at the summit. Begin at Restaurante Rampa which is on the road up to the summit, still go anti-clockwise and not only do you avoid the long drive up to the summit (902 metres (2,959 ft)) but you can get to enjoy a beer halfway round at the summit and then again at the end! We of course didn’t realise we would be walking past the restaurant on our way up so blissfully unaware drove past. If we decide to return however we will definitely try this option!
The summit is covered in telecommunications, radar and people. Can’t do much about the technology but fortunately very few people were doing anymore than taking photographs of the views, climbing rocks, drinking a beer or looking around the gifts shops. And so within minutes of beginning the walk we found ourselves alone, because we were sensibly going anti-clockwise we soon found ourselves on a south facing descent enjoying even better views that those at the summit. It was though very steep in places, and there was no break in the descent.
The knees were certainly very aware of how fast we were dropping down, however we looked in far better shape than a couple going up who we passed about halfway down! We were mainly walking through eucalyptus and rhododendron. The latter is only found in the Serra de Monchique, and so it is considered rare. The eucalyptus however seems to be as big an environmental problem as rhododendrons are in Wales. It was introduced to this area as a crop in the 1970s, and its aggressive growth is/was affecting water courses. We didn’t see huge areas of eucalypti, possibly because of the terrible fires last summer, however a large lorry carrying wood did past us on the descent so clearly it is still being ‘farmed’.
The descent finished with a short section on the main summit road. It is not a pleasant road to walk on as there are no paths, lots of sharp bends and it can be busy. It is however a short section and we were soon back on quiet tracks. The paths were surprisingly wet underfoot in places; reminding us even on a gloriously sunny day that this is the rainiest place in southern Portugal. So rainy in fact that the locals apparently call this area the ‘chamber pot of heavens’!
It was a steady climb from the road but the gradients were gentle and there was so much to see from the beautiful terraces and views around Monchique, to fauna, to flora, to the Monchique syenite. These are just a tiny few of the photographs I took.
As we approached the latter stages of the walk we met quite a few people going the other way. I really didn’t envy them their climb at the end on a hot afternoon. If only they had taken a more careful look at the topographic profile of PR3, the zig zag really doesn’t help. For us though it was an easy ascent back to Fóia and to my delight there was a Cabra Algarvia traffic jam en route!
Now I haven’t said much about the terraces of Monchique, and I’ve only given you glimpses of them in my photographs. The reason is that I have discovered quite a bit about them and so thought I’d keep the detail and the photographs for another post.
We did ponder stopping for a beer once we got back at the summit, but decided we’d make our way back to the east. It hadn’t been the easiest drive to get here because the road from Monchique up to Fóia is so busy with cars, coaches and other commercial traffic. Don’t let this put you off though! The views on this 7km walk are so fabulous that I am really glad we squeezed this walk in before the end of our winter sojourn.