Hiking and nature observation in the Algarve have been the activities most developed by Almargem - Associação de Defesa do Património Cultural e Ambiental do Algarve, over the years, since its creation in 1988.
In 1995, in partnership with the Algarve Walkers, preparations were started for an Algarve crossing on foot, in order to make known the interior of the region and its high potential for this type of activity.
Based on the information collected so far, by these organisations, as well as that published by the Caminus Association on the Moçarabe Trail (path used by religious pilgrims from Mértola to Cabo de São Vicente), work began on the creation of what would culminate in the “Via Algarviana”.
The implementation of the Via Algarviana aims to achieve several objectives related to the territory of the Algarve inland, in different aspects such as: nature conservation, rural development, cultural heritage enhancement, tourism, sports, etc.
The goals that were at its genesis are still current and are the guidelines that rule those involved, on a daily basis, to keep the Via Algarviana in operation:
- Boost the practice of hiking and other forms of ecotourism in the Algarve region;
- Contribute to the diversification of the region's tourism offer in order to mitigate the region's seasonality;
- Promote the dissemination and enhancement of the region's cultural and environmental heritage, with special focus on sparsely populated territories;
- Contribute to the consolidation of existing micro-enterprises in the region, and encourage the creation of new ones around the Via Algarviana;
- Contribute to the mitigation of the phenomenon of depopulation in the Algarve inland and improve the quality of life of resident populations;
- Promote the sustainable development of the Algarve inland.
- In 1998, several contacts were made with the Portuguese and Spanish walking federations, in order to reach an agreement to try to connect the Via Algarviana to a trans-European route that would pass through Spain (E4).
- In 2001, taking advantage of the 2nd Jornadas de Pedestrianismo (trekking journeys), Almargem and the Algarve Walkers promoted the symbolic inauguration of a section of the Via Algarviana between Alte and São Bartolomeu de Messines.
- In April 2002, Almargem prepared an application to INTERREG III-A, with a view to implementing the Via Algarviana, which would later be invalidated.
- In 2004, after the failure with INTERREG III-A, work began on applying to PROALGARVE, Axis 2 – Measure 1, approved in April 2006, with Almargem as promoter and 9 partner Municipalities (Alcoutim, Castro Marim, Lagos, Loulé, Monchique, São Brás de Alportel, Silves, Tavira, Vila do Bispo). It was this application that allowed the installation of the Long Distance Path Via Algarviana (GR13).
- In May 2009, on the 29th, the Via Algarviana was officially inaugurated, in a session held in Barranco do Velho.
- In 2011, it began what would be called Phase II, with the approval of the application “Via Algarviana II – Ecoturismo no Interior do Algarve” under the Algarve 21 Operational Program, involving 11 Municipalities (two more than in the first phase: Aljezur and Portimão). This application had, as co-promoters, the Algarve Tourism Association and the Algarve Tourism Region. This application allowed, above all, installing a network of infrastructures complementary to the Via Algarviana (12 complementary walking paths, 10 Audio Guided Routes, 5 Connections and 4 Themed Routes).
- In 2018, the “Via Algarviana– (Des)envolvendo o Interior do Algarve” application, financed by Turismo de Portugal, included in the Support Line for Tourist Enhancement of the Interior, which is running until 2021, was approved. 13 partner municipalities (one more than in the previous phase: Lagoa). This application provides, above all, for the development of promotional materials (brochures, information guide, new website, APP, audio guided routes in English and French, an audio guided route for the blind and amblyopic, promotional videos, etc.).
- In 2019, financed by Turismo de Portugal, under the RegFin programme, the “Revitalizar Monchique – O Turismo como Catalisador” application promoted by the Algarve Tourism Bureau, Almargem and the Municipality of Monchique, coordinated by the Algarve Tourism, was approved, which will run until December 2021. The general goal of the project is to strengthen the tourist attractiveness of Monchique in terms of nature, cultural and creative tourism, reinforcing its offer in terms of walking paths and creative experiences, involving local agents and valuing endogenous resources.
- Also in 2019, from September to November, the application “Via Algarviana – Um Elogio à Natureza” was implemented, financed by the Fundo Ambiental, included in the notice "Educarte: Educar para o Território" under the National Strategy for Environmental Education 2020 program (ENEA2020), which covered the partner municipalities of Alcoutim, Aljezur, Castro Marim, Monchique and Vila do Bispo. Capacitation Actions and Thematic Workshops were developed for the interpretation of this territory in various themes (sustainable tourism, geodiversity, biodiversity, botany and cultural heritage), aimed at different target audiences: entrepreneurs, decision makers and technicians of regional and local administration and population general. Environmental Education Actions for Schools were also carried out. Among the resulting materials, we have a digital guide to environmental education activities and an online Via Algarviana Quiz.
Impact on the region
With the installation of a Long Distance Footpath between Alcoutim and Cabo de São Vicente, inaugurated in 2009, the region was endowed with an important infrastructure that integrates and reinforces the network of trans-European walking routes, contributing to the attractiveness to lovers of hiking. Its function of structuring and articulating with existing pedestrian paths or marked in the territory it crosses, has allowed even greater visibility for this offer.
The route is based on the recognition, dissemination and enhancement of the cultural and natural heritage that exists along the GR13 - Via Algarviana. At the same time, it contributes to strengthening the dissemination of the territory by local populations and the knowledge they have about its activities, architecture, fauna and flora, and enhances its sustainable use, contributing in a genuine and careful way to the local economy.
The existence of the increasingly wide “Via Algarviana Territory”, and its contribution to the tourist activity of the Algarve, is based on two purposes:
- a specific product, which attracts to the region a public specialised in hiking and seeking to know the authenticity of the territory, where cultural and natural values are still preserved;
- a complementary product from the Algarve in diversifying the existing offer with other domains.
As a Long Distance Footpath, the Via Algarviana, together with its complementary infrastructures and all the other infrastructures that it crosses, managed by other entities, makes it possible to respond to both purposes.
Contribute to the complementarity of the offer, but also assert itself as a specific product, with its own and very demanding public.