This path starts at Mexilhoeira Grande train station, following the dirt track that runs alongside the railway track. At the crossing, the path continues straight ahead, past the houses, after which the salt flats and Odiáxere Stream come into view on the right.
A trip into the salt marsh comes highly recommended as the perfect place to do some birdwatching and enjoy an expansive view over Alvor.
Heading back to the previous intersection, take the path on the right that goes up towards the train station.
QUINTA DA ROCHA
The entire area that has been generically named Quinta da Rocha is actually a peninsula formed by the Odiáxere Stream (to the west) and the River Alvor (to the east), which come together to form the Alvor Lagoon. Fossils and bivalve shells dating from 23 to 5 million years ago (Miocene) can be seen on the cliff face of the Quinta da Rocha promontory, which is formed by limestone rocks.
When it comes to the flora found in the area, about 400 vascular plants have been identified, the most notable of which are certain species of orchids – a plant that draws many admirers.
ESTUARY, SALT MARSH AND SALT EVAPORATION PONDS
The Alvor Lagoon is the most important estuary in the western Algarve, comprising approximately 350 hectares of sand banks, mudflats and marshland. The Odiáxere, Arão, Farelo and Torre streams flow into the Alvor Estuary, forming a coastal lagoon over 2.5 km long.
An estuary is a location where the fresh water of a river meets the sea’s salt water, mixing and diluting the salt with the coming and going of the tides, allowing the water to build up the nutrients necessary to support high levels of biodiversity.
Salt marshes appear in more protected areas of the estuary, where the waters are less turbulent. They are considered one of the most productive habitats on the planet due to their ability to accumulate nutrients from the entire river basin as well as those brought in by the tides. The plants that grow in salt marshes are adapted to the high salt levels in the environment, with some even absorbing and retaining heavy metals that are particularly toxic to other species, allowing them to purify polluted waters. It was in these optimal conditions that humans decided to establish salt evaporation ponds, due to the high salinity of the waters.
NATURE STUDIES AND OBSERVATION CENTRE
Founded in 1983 by the non-governmental association “A Rocha”, this Centre is located in Quinta da Rocha and has led several studies in the wetland, as well as regular activities such as bird ringing and environmental education activities with schools and the population at large.
The Alvor Lagoon is a haven for a huge variety of bird species, and can even be considered a sort of avian “Service Station” due to the essential role it plays for dozens of species migrating between Europe and Africa. While in spring and summer the black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) can be seen nesting, in winter the marshland is used by birds escaping the harsh temperatures of higher latitudes, such as the common redshank (Tringa totanus), the common ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula), the Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) and the American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber). One of the most interesting species that can be spotted here is the osprey (Pandion haliaetus), which is attracted to this particular area due to the abundance of food available.
The locale also serves as a breeding ground for numerous species of fish and molluscs, such as cuttlefish, that fetch high prices when sold by local fishermen. During low tide, dozens of shellfish gatherers can be spotted bent over the dark earth in search of molluscs such as clams and cockles.
The most notable amphibians found here are the natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita), fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus).