Most people go to Barranco do Velho to eat at the popular Tia Bia restaurant. They arrive, enjoy their meal and then drive off not bothering to explore the village.
Admittedly, as the village straddles the N2, there does not appear much to attract, but go beyond the main road and there is a whole different world.
The village itself lies at the start of the Serra do Caldeirão mountain range, an important area for cork production and the cork oak woods close to Barranco produce some of the best cork in the world.
Loulé Council has a waymarked walk of almost 6km that will take you through some well-established cork woods with panoramic views down to the sea to the west and over the mountain range to the north and east.
The walk begins on the N124 just out of the centre of Barranco at the Casa dos Cantoneiros (on the right-hand side of the road). The walk will take you up to the telephone masts that tower above the village before dropping you down to cross the N2. It is at this point you will also see signs for the GR13 (Via Algarviana) and the information board for the Biodiversity Stations (more later).
Opposite the signs, you will see a track to the left. If you walk up here, you will come to the church and, from the grounds, there are panoramic views south and west down to the sea.
The church is relatively new, being built in 1944. The funding for the church came from two German brothers who built almost identical houses to the south of the church. It seems that the brothers built their houses without planning permission and to appease the mayor at the time, they agreed to fund a new church which was duly built.
However, a change of mayor brought a change of heart and here the story becomes unclear, but the brothers returned to Germany and never returned to their houses. It is evident from walking around the outside of the houses that much care went into the design, and both have bread ovens, but it is also clear that they have not been occupied for a very long time!
To continue the walk, return to the main track and turn left. You will now be walking along a ridge before the signs indicate a turn to the left and you will now walk down through the cork oak woods.
The track here is very stony with a lot of loose gravel, so care is needed. You descend for some time before the track takes you around the hillside before climbing up to meet a surfaced road. The walk goes to the right, but can I suggest a detour to the left to walk down the road to the bend where you will see the outside walls of a Quinta decorated with images depicting the seven deadly sins? A man made from cork and scrap metal with a small dog guards the door!
Walk back up the road to the main road where you must turn left and walk for about 200m before taking a small road off to the right. This will lead you past two very different fonts before you arrive back at the starting point. The walk, at almost 6km, is classified as ‘moderate’, the descent through the woods is almost 187m and that must be regained albeit gradually.
If this is too much, then I can recommend walking the Biodiversity Trail. The trail begins just off the N2 (150m up from Tia Bia on the left). The trail has eight information boards that make for very interesting reading, telling you about the flora and fauna. The boards are almost spaced equally for 1km along a ridge, following the Via Algarviana, and the walking is easy, so 1km out and 1km back. A perfect stroll before lunch.
How to find the start of the walk at Barranco do Velho
The village itself is on the N2 which runs north from São Brás de Alportel, but most people arrive either from the Salir direction on the N124 or from Loulé on the N396 that joins the N124. Once you arrive in the village, turn right at the junction by the restaurant Tia Bia in the direction for Cachopo and, after 150m, you will see the offices for ‘Associação de Produtores Florestais’ on your right. The walk starts here.
Julie and her team lead walks every Tuesday morning and every other Friday. All are welcome. There is a nominal charge of €5 per person and this includes a donation to charity. Full details at www.portugalwalks.com or in the diary section of the Portugal Resident
Julie Statham has been walking throughout Portugal for more than 20 years and now acts as a walking advisor and guide for various companies in both Portugal and Europe. She has a background in earthsciences and a Ph.D. in geochemistry from Bristol University, UK.