Discover the Algarve’s most beautiful natural springs
A lesser known fact about the Algarve – and indeed one of its lesser known attractions – is that the region is peppered with Fontes Naturais, or natural springs. Many of the natural water sources are channelled in to man-made tanks to create refreshing bathing areas (usually equipped with picnic tables and bbq facilities), which are council-run and – best of all – free to the public and open 24/7.
From east to west of the Algarve there are many of these hidden beauty spots, which lend themselves perfectly to family leisure time; all you have to do is pack a picnic and some towels. And don’t forget the charcoal!
Do bear in mind that these bathing sites will likely not be manned by a lifeguard and not all will have facilities like WCs (and even if they do, they could be closed during the off-peak season). They will also probably attract lots of the local wildlife, like bugs, frogs, turtles and snakes, as well as people, who tend to flock to these lovely spots in their droves when the weather is warm and sunny.
So if you fancy a day in the countryside with a difference, take a look at our list of the Algarve’s finest natural springs.
Benémola Spring, Loulé
Located in the rural central Algarve countryside between Quarença and Tôr (Loulé) is the Benémola Spring, one of the Algarve’s lesser known natural springs. Hidden by indigenous flora and typical Mediterranean vegetation, this tranquil oasis is fringed by the likes of ash and willow trees, reedy canes and scrubby brambles. Home to a wealth of fauna, otters have on occasion been seen bathing in the spring water, while bats can be found at certain times of the year in the caves around the spot. If you enjoy hiking, the Ribeira da Menalva foot trails weave around the spring, which has a lovely little picnic area with natural stone tables and benches.
Sítio das Fontes, Estômbar, Lagoa
One of the Algarve’s most popular natural springs is the Sítio das Fontes in Estômbar, in the municipality of Lagoa. This outstanding natural beauty spot can get pretty busy on sunny bank holidays, and is popular throughout summer, when events, such as jazz nights are staged at the site’s quirky open-air amphitheatre. With a number of communal bbqs and long wooden tables and benches, it isn’t usually too hard to find a spot, and large grassy areas flanking the swimming tanks are perfect for laying a towel or picnic blanket down. These large stone-clad tanks face out over the stunning Arade River, while a pretty restored tidal mill adds an extra-charming touch. A work-out and walking circuit hems the site, if swimming, sunning and eating isn’t enough.
Fonte Grande, Alte
A hidden gem of a beauty spot, the Alte natural spring, Fonte Grande, is one of the smaller spring sites, but still very popular. Long, tree-lined rock tanks framed by grassy borders and crossed by quaint bridges make this spot quite idyllic, and a little on-site kiosk, which in warmer months sells ice creams and cool drinks, is an added bonus. There are also bbq facilities here, for visitors to bring and grill their own meals, served by wooden picnic tables that benefit from cool natural shade from the trees. Alte village itself is reputed for being one of the prettiest in the Algarve, and well worth a visit before or after heading to the springs.
Vigário Falls, Alte
A stone’s throw from the Fonte Grande springs in Alte is the Vigário Waterfall. It’s a bit of a steep walk to get there and back, parking behind the cemetery in Alte, but the scenery once there is worth the trek. Swaddled by lush green landscape, the waterfall and pool are at their best off-peak season (Spring and Autumn), as hot weather can dry them up. The path to the spot has recently been equipped with wooden railings to guide the way, and a little grassy area by the waterfall gives weary trekkers a spot to sit and enjoy the tranquillity of the unspoilt, secret Algarve countryside.
Caldas de Monchique, Monchique
Just off the main road on the way up to Monchique town is the Caldas; an enchanting, fairytale-like hamlet that is a fantastic place for a wander, all year round. A sparkling stream flows down the middle of the hamlet, surrounded by fresh, dense trees. A fresh, earthy smell pervades the air, while the trickling of water in the background makes an hour or two here very relaxing. A number of chunky stone picnic tables can be found around the site, although unlike some other natural springs, there are no bbq facilities here and swimming in the stream is not allowed. In summer, music and open-air cinema sessions are put on in the Caldas, which is also host to the Termas de Monchique spa, which uses the local natural spring water, reputed to have healing and restorative properties, for therapeutic purposes and massages. A charming hotel and a café serving fresh wood-oven baked Pão com Choriço (traditional chorizo bread) daily, are also found here in the Caldas, along with a handful of historic, colonial-style houses that are fascinating to look at. A walk around this area is a must when en-route to Monchique; a stay at the local hotel or dip in the spa is highly recommended.
Fonte Santa, Alferce, Monchique
Hidden away in the depths of the Algarve’s rural countryside, deep in the valleys of the Monchique mountain range, is probably one of the Algarve’s best kept secrets; hot thermal spring baths. The Termas da Fonta Santa da Fornalha are an old, ramshackle two-room building with cements tubs that fill with warm water, at around 27 degrees Celsius. Unkempt and unmanaged, this secret spot is sought after by locals who believe the water’s sodium bicarbonate properties can help with the likes of musculoskeletal diseases, skin diseases and liver disease. Just before arriving at this building there is also a small cascade and spring. Some people make annual pilgrimages to this spot, to bathe in the water on June 24th, which coincides with the religious São João (Saint John) festivities. Local history also has it that some centuries ago the Termas da Fonta Santa da Fornalha was visited by both the King of Portugal and the King of Italy.