The path starts in Fóia – the highest point in the Algarve (902m). Follow the paved road, and when you reach a junction go straight ahead. The road will start to slope downwards towards the EN 266. This descent is surrounded by landscapes adorned with French lavender (Lavandula stoechas), heather (Erica spp), gum rockrose (Cistus ladanifer), and the famous Pontic Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum subsp. baeticum), which is particularly easy to spot when in bloom.
There’s nowhere better to enjoy a superb view along the coastline! The last part of the descent takes you along a cobbled road. Be very careful to comply with common safety practices as you walk along the EN 266, as the road has a constant stream of traffic. This is the perfect place to take a break and refuel while you get ready to head back again.
The path will then veer left, taking you away from the paved road and onto a dirt track. Enjoy the vibrant greens of nature and the freshness of the air that surrounds you. You’ll go past several terraces where you’ll be able to spot animals grazing. The path will then intersect with the GR13 – Via Algarviana as you near the top of Fóia hill. On clear days, this spot boasts a breathtaking view over the entire Algarve and even parts of the Alentejo.
The Serra de Monchique, which is part of the Natura 2000 Network, is characterised as having the properties of a Mediterranean area with a strong Atlantic influence and high levels of rainfall. It is the climate in the region, particularly in areas with a higher altitude where levels of annual rainfall are over twice that experienced in most of the Algarve, that influences the unique flora, which differs greatly from the rest of the region's vegetation.
A botanical richness has therefore arisen as a result of these climatic conditions and the geological diversity present in these mountainous landscapes. Close to the top of the hills, rare species can be found such as Pontic Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum subsp. baeticum), Paeonia broteroi and the Neotinea maculata orchid, commonly found in woody areas.
The Atlantic influence over the area, which is commonly linked to a specific type of biogeography, has led to the Serra de Monchique being the south-westernmost point in which certain species and plant groups can be found in Europe. Proof of the strong Atlantic influence exerted on higher elevations within the Serra de Monchique lies in species such as the dwarf gorse (Ulex minor subsp. lusitanicus) and mountain sandwort (Arenaria montana L.).
Also noteworthy is the presence of plantain-leaved leopard's-bane (Doronicum plantagineum) in the understorey of the few remaining chestnut groves, the southernmost location in which it can be found in Portugal, as well as Senecio lopezii, which, in Portugal, can only be found here although it is endemic to the southwest of the peninsula.
Some specimens of Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis) can be found on cooler surfaces in the area. In Portugal, this tree only grows in the wild in mountainous landscapes such as the one found in Monchique, which has led to it being commonly known as the Monchique oak.
The current tree cover is predominantly made up of native cork oak formations and patches of pine and eucalyptus forests. Eucalyptus trees are mainly harvested to produce paper pulp. Strawberry trees can also be found in abundance between the cork oaks and pines.
Fóia is the highest point in the Algarve, at an altitude of 902 metres. The viewpoint provides a privileged view to the south, across land stretching all the way to the coastline. Piles of rock known as outcrops stick out of the landscape, structures often found in areas predominantly made up of solid rocks such as syenite, granite and the like.
Though snowfall is very rare in the Algarve, it is most likely to occur in Fóia, and it is said that it can be expected every seven years. Frost is a more frequent occurrence on the north side of Fóia, and every year sees the low temperatures necessary to allow for a good crop of apples.
Orange, cherry, peach and chestnut trees are grown on the terraces built into the slopes, each one slightly slanted to avoid land erosion from rainwater. These agricultural terraces also serve as pastures for goats and cows.
Pontic Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum subsp. baeticum)
This plant, which is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, may be the most notable surviving element of the laurel forests that once covered this landmass. Though these forests were practically destroyed by the glaciations brought by the Pleistocene period (which started approximately 2 million years ago and ended about 10,000 years ago) nowadays, this plant grows in the wild in the Monchique and Serra do Caramulo mountains in Portugal, and in the Aljibe Massif in Andalusia, Spain. This plant is threatened due to its limited geographical distribution and the isolated nature of these populations.
In Monchique, the species is found in soils with a high moisture content, in a Sub-Atlantic environment. However, Mediterranean elements can also be detected in the southernmost areas where it is found, which sometimes occur as a result of the degradation of these habitats.
The Pontic Rhododendron contains alkaloids that are poisonous to cattle. In Monchique, however, it is said to be recommended as the main ingredient in “mother-in-law tea”. It is so notable, in fact, that it is the subject of a popular local song in Monchique.
Note: the bus stops in the centre of Monchique, about 5 km from Fóia (the starting point of the trail).
More information: Vamus Algarve