Get off that couch!

Life’s too nice to spend it in front of the telly. This year, be a bit more active and get some outdoor exercise. For example by taking a walk. First need a break after the festive season? Visit a spa and chill out.

New Year’s resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. This year, let’s just all be a bit nicer. For ourselves, but also for others. We focus on three easy swaps towards a healthier lifestyle.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2016

 

Take a hike!

Enjoy the beautiful nature of the Algarve… on foot. This month, discover the variety of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve on the Nature Discovery Trail of the Marim Environmental Education Centre near Olhão. What to expect on this 2 hour walk? Read on.

Pictures by Marijke Verschuren

 

Getting there

When driving on the N125 from west to east, take a right at the Cespa petrol station just east of Olhão. Continue this road straight ahead, crossing the railway. A few hundred metres after the railway crossing, you’ll find the Parque Natural Ria Formosa on your left hand side. (For those relying on GPS, the coordinates are: 37˚02’02,454”N, 7˚49’09,578”W).

 

Follow the signs

At the reception, pay €2.50 entry fee per person which goes towards the upkeep of the park. This is also the place to receive an excellent map of the park as well as info leaflets in Portuguese, English, French or German. (Shaded) parking is available inside the park and bicycles are allowed everywhere on the roads. The tracks are easily recognisable by yellow sticks. Although signs say it’s forbidden for dogs, they’re allowed as long as you keep them on a leash.

 

See the visitors centre

Those expecting a nice wooden treehouse will be disappointed. The visitors centre, located in the middle of the park, is a weird-looking not that pretty building which doesn’t fit with its lush green surroundings. The inside, however, is worth a visit for the bird pictures and scaled models of fishing boats. Looking for any kind of info about flora and/or fauna in the Algarve? You’ll find it here. The visitors’ centre also has toilets. It’s closed between 12 and 2pm.

 

Have a picnic

Close to the entrance of the park you’ll find a shaded area with wooden benches. Under the trees and surrounded by cooing doves, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic, especially in the warm summer months.

 

Eat Medronho berries

João Lúcio is a poet from Olhão with a pretty cool house that he designed and built himself. However, you can’t actually get to his house from the park as it’s on the other side of the railroad and access is well fenced off. Close to the sign with info about João’s house, however, are some Medronho trees that are worth a look and taste – pick the dark red berries.

 

Discover the scoopwheel

Sadly, the water dogs this walk was famous for, have already left two years ago and it’s unclear if they’ll return. Still, the area close to the former Portuguese water dog kennel is worth a look for its scoopwheel, or ‘nora’ as it’s called in Portuguese. It’s a device that serves for drawing water from a well and was once powered by a donkey.

 

Walk the tracks

All roads are flat dirt tracks. They’re easy to walk, as long as you’ve left your stiletto heels at home. When walking through the park, you have great views of Armona Island. Keep an eye out for chameleons; there are over 100 already marked in the park and it’s estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 living there. Sunny days are best for spotting the animals.

 

Visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Investigation Centre

When visiting, there were griffon vultures, seagulls, owls and a hedgehog at the hospital. Wildlife of all over the Algarve and the Alentejo is being brought to this centre, but visitors aren’t allowed behind the scenes to avoid extra stress for the recovering animals. What can be admired is all kind of pictures, bird skeletons, feathers and tortoise shells. There’s a little drawing corner for the kids.

 

Spot an egret

The Ria Formosa Nature Reserve is home to all sorts of birds. Bird observation houses are located at the side of the saltmarsh and directly at the freshwater pond. Pictures inside the birdwatching hides show the waterfowl that can be viewed plus the best months for spotting them. In the saltmarsh you’re likely to see little stints and redshanks foraging for food in the mud; the lake is occupied by ducks, coots and egrets.

 

Learn about history

The Roman salting tanks were used in the fish salting industry. Currently, most of the rocky basins are empty or filled with grass. Three of them are filled with water, but we haven’t actually tasted to see if it’s sweet or salty. Walk past the olive trees and the rosemary bushes surrounding the salting tanks and you have a great view of the freshwater pond.

 

Admire the tidal mill

Built in 1885, this is one of the over 30 tidal mills that were active in the Ria Formosa area. This one was the last one to be discontinued, in 1970. A tidal mill, or moinho de mare in Portuguese, is a mill that uses the tides as an energy source for grinding cereals. During low tide, you can see the marks of the shellfish farms in the sea.

 

Go inside the mill

The inside of the mill is a great place to discover. See the different grinding stones and figure out exactly how the tidal mill works. You can also go on the railing and upstairs where you can see not only Armona Island, but also all the way to Culatra Island.

 

Walk through the dunes

Actually, don’t walk through the dunes – walk over them by way of a wooden boardwalk. Don’t leave this boardwalk as dune vegetation is very sensitive to trampling. The highlight of the park is its diversity; from pinewoods to sand dunes. It’s one of the few places close to the coast where you can get the feeling of being in a forest.

 

Go fishing

But perhaps not in this old fishing boat. The bridge leading to where the fishing boat was first located doesn’t have any flooring anymore, so they’ve dragged the boat closer to the coast.

 

Spot the fish farms

Robalo, cavala and other fish are farmed here. Currently, they’re working on farming octopus. In the distance, the fishing village of Olhão can be seen.

 

Return soon

The entry ticket is valid for the entire day, so do feel free to return later on the same day. Fancy exploring some other part of the 60km long Ria Formosa Nature Reserve or another area in the Algarve? Tourist information centres in most towns have booklets with regional walks. Alternatively, download the guide to walking trails in the Algarve.

 

Good intentions

January is the time for New Year’s resolutions. Usually, those good intentions are forgotten again by February. Not this time. Here’s how to live healthier in the Algarve by making just three simple swaps.

 

Swap your couch for a beach

Walking, swimming, running, surfing, building a sandcastle, flying a kite. There are like a zwillion things to do on a beach and all of them are better for your health than lying on your couch back home. The Algarve has almost 100 beaches, so no excuse that there isn’t one near you. Find the perfect stretch of sand in our June issue.

 

Swap your TV for a landscape

No, it won’t show you Masterchef or The Apprentice. But there are so much more interesting things to see and hear if you just turn off the idiot box and take in the gorgeous Algarvian landscape. Like rocks, flowers, birds and geckos. Next time, instead of vegging out in front of the TV, go for a walk in nature.

 

Swap your booze for some fruit

True, the Algarve is one of the best places to buy good, cheap vinho. But although wine is made of grapes, it isn’t exactly healthy. For a few days a week, try some different fruit in a different way. Like pomegranate. Either squeeze the seeds into a smoothie or toss them in a salad or yoghurt. Enjoy!

 

Healing water

In need of some R&R after the holiday season? So were we. That’s why we drove up to Caldas de Monchique and tried out the only thermal spa in the Algarve

 

Our bodies consist of up to 60% of water. So yeah, it makes sense to drink enough of the stuff if you want to stay healthy. Obviously, the type of water matters: in some parts of the Algarve, the amount of chlorine in the tap water is high enough to kill every bacteria in your body, also the good ones. Plus, it tastes like you’re sipping from a public swimming pool.

Luckily the water at the springs of Caldas de Monchique is tastier (yes, it’s thermal, but no worries, it doesn’t smell of rotten eggs). It’s also healthier; apparently drinking two glasses a day cures you of all kinds of airway conditions. The water was fully analysed and all its characteristics can be found displayed on the wall in the spa complex, from temperature (32.1˚C) to oxygen level and pH (9.58).

 

 

Apart from the special water, (either take a bottle or just have a sip from the fountain opposite the reception), Monchique Spa Resort also does relaxation. Getting there already works de-stressing as Caldas de Monchique is located far away from the hustle and bustle of the coast.

Drive through the green hilly region, smell the pine trees and feel the tension leave your body with every curve in the road – well, unless your partner is the type of person who thinks they’re a rally driver on the final lap in the most important match of their career when encountering a hairpin corner. Then you will certainly be in even more need of a relaxation when arriving at the spa village.

 

Whatever the case, you’ve come to the right place as the background music combined with the sounds of the water spouts invites to chill. Iron bars on the walls in the swimming pool make it easy to stay in place and let the power jets do their massaging work on your muscles. The ones of the top end of the pool also make for good holds to ensure you’re in the optimal position for the bubbles.

To have a well-deserved rest after the family holidays I try an anti-stress aromatherapy bath. (Yes, that’s needed because for ‘family holidays’ one could also read: ‘driving 3500km and spending a week around three little children who chase two barking dogs around the room with their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures while screaming Christmas songs’).

 

 

A shot glass of something which looks like a drink that Shrek would have for breakfast is being poured into a bathtub. It’s actually a mixture of essential oils; lemon, lavender, tea tree, thyme, rosemary, mint and eucalyptus to be precise, all with the effect of having a calming influence. Fact: they smell good, especially when mixed with the thermal water.

For 15 minutes, water jets alternate between massaging my shoulders & neck, my lower back and my legs & feet for half a minute each. Despite the tickling on my toes, the feeling is relaxing. It’s like a combination of a hot bath and a massage, so pretty brilliant indeed. The only thing missing is some champagne and strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. Oh, no, that probably won’t go well with the whole health and wellbeing atmosphere here.

 

The bath ends with 30 seconds of all-over bubbles Jacuzzi style. When the bubbling stops I’m completely relaxed and utterly unwilling to get out of the bathtub. The treatment room is closed and the water is still warm, so I decide to just stay in, hoping they’ll forget all about me for the next few hours. Unfortunately the resort staff must have had experience with guests who are reluctant to leave after their treatment has finished as the bath water start to drain by itself. Bugger.

Oh well, there’s always the relaxation room. Or one of the dozens of other treatments on offer, ranging from a mud application ritual to a heated basalt stone massage. Or maybe the gym, steam room or sauna, sweat out all the toxins from the New Year’s toasts? It’s a tough decision what to do next. Probably best to drink another glass of thermal water and think about it in the warm bubbles of the swimming pool.

 

 

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine January 2016

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