Sponsored by pdm travel
WE OFTEN use this page to tell you about exotic far-flung destinations and amazing long haul trips. This week we thought we would stay a little closer to home and tell you about a great scheme from the Portuguese national rail company – CP, Comboios de Portugal.
Rail travel offers a great way to explore the country – sure, you could drive, but by doing so you’d be missing out on a great experience. Rail travel provides you with a comfortable and easy way of getting from one destination to the next. Most railway stations are centrally located and are close to hotels, restaurants and shopping areas.
Travelling by rail also eliminates the hassle of looking for road signs, finding and paying for parking, not to mention filling up the tank! Plus you get to travel with locals and meet new people – you can’t get that sort of authentic journey in a car!
Train and nature trails
CP has launched a scheme designed to encourage the discovery of Portugal’s areas of outstanding beauty, make the public aware of the impact that tourism can have on these beauty spots and therefore adopt sustainable environmental behaviour. In other words, they want you to ditch your car, take the train and then follow cycle or footpaths to discover natural areas. The Southern Line to Serra do Caldeirão has access to two bicycle routes between railway stations, eleven short walks and one long walk.
Stunning Serra do Caldeirão
Caldeirão is part of a European network of areas that makes up the Rede Natura 2000. The Serra do Caldeirão, also known as Mú, is situated between the North-east Algarve and the South-West Alentejo. The high central plain is characterised by its rounded hills and covers an area of about 3,600Km2.
Follow the footpaths
The suggested CP route centres around the Rural World Discovery centres in Casas Baixas, de Feiteira and de Mealha, which are the most attractive villages in the Serra. The walks are along ancient tracks that still serve the local populations in their daily lives and reveal old buildings, old farming practices, scenery and stories that have become lost among the hills and valleys.
Abundant Flora and Fauna
As you explore the Serra do Caldeirão you’ll see it is mostly covered by large Oak woods and carpets of heather and wide areas of broom (Cistus ladanifer) which often grows up to 1.5 metres high. Species such as the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and rosemary (Lavandula sp.) are also part of the highland landscape, while the roadsides are adorned with lilies and the yellow-flowered giestas (Cytisus sp).
The Serra is also full of wildlife. Commonly sighted birds include the Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus), the Iberian Magpie (Cyanopica cooki), the Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos – major), the Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), the Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos) and the European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster). It is also usual to see the Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), or the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) gliding across the skies on the look-out for small mammals and birds. In the oak woods, the song of the Wood Lark (Lullula arborea) echoes in the air. Many of the ruined windmills are now choice nesting sites for the White Stork (Ciconia ciconia).
The mammals that inhabit the valleys and rivers include boars (Sus scrofa), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and otters (Lutra lutra). Serra do Caldeirão has always been home to the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), the most endangered species of cat in the world.
Step back to natural ingredients
Prepare for a feast if you stop off at a local Serra eatery. Local food is based around local produce, such as almonds, olive oil, rosemary honey, which many consider to be the best in the world. It includes fantastic sheep cheese and Strawberry Tree brandy or medronho, and local delicacies include goat stew, papas and jantar de milhos (originally an Arab dish), chick-pea dishes, gaspacho, smoked sausage, smoked ham and home-made bread.
How to get there
CP suggests that you bring your bike and jump on any regional train leaving from the stations on the Algarve line and travel up to Loulé. After arriving at Loulé station, follow the signs for the town centre – around 6.5 kilometres away. They then suggest a 13 kilometre bike ride along the N396 to Barranco do Velho and the N124 towards Feiteira, where the GR23, PR4, PR5 and PR6 foot paths begin. Further along the N124 you will come to Cachopos.
There are two possibilities here – you can either head towards Mealha, for routes PR7, PR8 and PR9, or towards Casas Baixas, for routes PR1, PR2 and PR3. If you prefer the routes in S. Brás de Alportel, when you get to Loulé, you should cycle up the N270 to S. Brás de Alportel. Here you will have to follow the N2 and turn right in Alportel towards Parizes, where you will find the PR2. Further along the same road you will go through Cabeça do Velho and then pick up the PR3 in Cabanas.
If you’re feeling inspired to take the train – why not give us a call at PDM – we are very happy to organise train tickets and, of course, we can suggest and book hotels if you would like to stay in the beautiful Serra for a few days.