I was somewhat surprised to discover that whilst I have mentioned the headquarters of the Ria Formosa Natural Park – Parque Natural da Ria Formosa – on the outskirts of Olhão I have not actually taken you there in any of my posts. I thought it was about time I rectified that. The park headquarters is perfect for families with its signposted trails, picnic tables and information boards and also for those on a short stay but keen to experience the variety of environments to be found in the Ria Formosa. There is everything here – sea marshes, salt pans, sand dunes, pine forests and lagoons.
On our first visit back in 2014 we came here on foot from the centre of Olhão, it took us about 25minutes. However most people, unless they are visiting from the campsites next door tend to cycle, drive or hop on Olhão’s circular bus service (stop 32). There is a small entrance fee, payable at the hut and the guides there can also provide trail leaflets. For a first visit I’d recommend following the self-guided trail as it is easy to miss some of the ‘highlights’ otherwise. One of the highlights which is unmissable, apart from the flora and views, has to be the tidal mill. There were once around 30 such mills in the Ria Formosa. This one was built in the 19th century, and apparently was still being lived in and used in the 1970s.
The interior and exterior were restored earlier this century, however I’m not convinced it is in working operation. There are though excellent information boards which explain how tidal mills work. Most visitors head straight for the roof terrace as the views of Armona from here are stunning.
Leaving the mill you skirt around the lagoons and marshes, before heading back into the pine forests. At the right time of day and on the right tide these areas will be full of bird life and there are hides, but even when most birds are further out there is plenty to observe.
When Mum and I visited earlier this year, we were preoccupied of course with the flora! And this is only a little of what we saw.
Consequently we didn’t quite have enough time to complete the full trail and visit the historic farm as I had misread the closing time, so the following photographs of the ‘nora‘ all date back to 2014 when we first visited the park. For the life of me I cannot recall why I decided to only take black & white images!
The park of course only offers a tiny snapshot of how beautiful the Ria Formosa is, but it is a good place to begin your explorations of this 18,000 hectare network of sea marshes, lagoons, pine forests and barrier islands. When we first came to the Algarve I’d read in one of the guidebooks that the Ria Formosa was formed following the great earthquake of 1755, and this was repeated on websites and even asked about at a talk we attended in Tavira about the earthquake. However it isn’t true! The Ria Formosa is much older, formed over thousands of years by sand and sediments collecting on the continental shelf as sea levels gradually rose. I am sure the tsunami caused by the earthquake had an impact on the coastline, as this network of islands, lagoons and marshes is continually shaped by the sea, but the tsunami certainly didn’t create it. For more information on the park and the rest of the Algarve’s natural environment click here.