ALENTEJO

Experience


In the Guadiana Valley

The Alentejo has a clear vocation for Activity Tourism and for Nature Tourism. The beauty of the landscape invites excursions on foot, on mountain bikes and on horseback, and the country lanes known as estradas municipais, despite the absence of cycle lanes, are excellent for cycling-tourism.

On the rivers, the reservoirs and the coast, many water-based activities are possible. The beaches are of the highest quality. And the sky, with this fantastic climate, is ideal for parachuting, paragliding, ballooning and microlight flights.

The Natural Park of the Guadiana Valley, with an area of approximately 70,000 hectares, extends between the area upstream of the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and the Ribeira do Vascão to the south of Mértola. It includes landscapes that are very different from each other: the enclosed valleys of the river and its tributaries, the quartzite heights of the Serra de Alcaria and Serra de São Barão and an extensive and wild peneplain where dry-land trees grow – montados (woodland and pasture) of holm oak and areas of cistus. In the steepest parts of the serras and river valleys, where there has been little intervention by humans, you can still find the so-called Mediterranean scrub, an expression of the original vegetation of the region. In a word, we are in the part of the Alentejo that best expresses the inhospitable beauty of the south. But, now that the Alqueva has submerged a substantial part of the Guadiana, we are also in a place that is privileged in every way for discovering the memories of the way the river used to be as it continues to flow freely to the sea from the Açude de Pedrógão.

The urban centre at the pole of this Park is Mértola. Local enterprises offer excursions on foot or by bicycle, canoeing activities and trips in motorboats for the whole navigable section of the river, which extends between Mértola / Pomarão and Vila Real de Santo António. These small cruisers can operate regular programmes or are available for private bookings.

With an information base available at the Tourist Office, we suggest that, on foot, by bicycle, or by car, you don’t miss places full of bucolic delights, such as the Moinho dos Canais, the Azenhas de Mértola or the small fishing port of Penha d’Águia. As places that should be seen, we suggest the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and the conjunction of the Mina (mine) de S. Domingos and the Praia Fluvial (river beach) da Tapada Grande.

Outside the Natural Park, we also suggest that you don’t miss visiting the beautiful stretch of river that extends upstream between the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and the Açude de Pedrógão weir.

Excursion to the Pulo do Lobo ("leap of the wolf”) Waterfall
The Pulo do Lobo is the most fantastic geomorphological accident in the Alentejo. To understand it, we must go back to the last glacial period – called the Würm glaciation – which, in its final phase, caused a fall in the level of sea water. During this long period of time, in the mouth of the river we today call the Guadiana, a declivity was formed which, thanks to a wave of regressive erosion, slowly advanced upstream, carving a new course within the old river bed. At a certain moment this process stopped, because it met a harder rock – the greywacks of the Pulo do Lobo. What we observe in front of us is, then, much more than the vertiginous landscape of the river between rocky banks – suddenly so narrow that we are within reach of a "leap” – and its spectacular fall of almost 14 metres into the serene Pego (pool) dos Sáveis. It is the clear, and rare, vision of distinct geological epochs, corresponding to the formation of the two beds of the river: the older, the wide platform sculpted in stone where the old Guadiana ran; and, carved into its interior, the new riverbed, here in the form of an extended rectilinear corridor around 12 kilometres in length, called, appropriately, "the corridor”. Water and stone in tumult, a story of millions of years and, with luck, perhaps the chance of seeing a Black Stork, and everything else that makes the Pulo do Lobo a must to visit.

Access to the Pulo do Lobo is signposted on the Mértola – Serpa road on the eastern (left) bank, next to the village of Vale do Poço, and on the Mértola – Beja road on the western (right) bank, from Corte Gafo. The most spectacular view is from the eastern bank, although a better view of the fall itself is from the western bank. It is a dangerous area on both banks. If you are travelling with children, every care is necessary because there are no protective railings.

Mina de S. Domingos and Praia Fluvial da Tapada Grande
The Mine of S. Domingos was the largest pyrite mine on the Iberian Peninsula. Finally providing work for more than 1,500 miners, its workings were begun in the middle of the 19th century by the English firm Mason & Barry and finally closed down in 1960. The Bairro Mineiro (miners’ quarter) continues to be inhabited by the descendants of the miners’ families and the Palácio dos Ingleses ("palace of the English”), former home of the firm’s directors, is today an estalagem (hotel). The mining complex experienced rapid degradation and is being transformed into an Industrial Archaeology centre. Access is signposted and movement around the interior is free. Visitors can make the Percurso Geológio-Mineiro (geology-mining excursion) alone and in safety. This extends between the mining area and the sulphur factories of Achada do Gamo, as long as you keep to the marked tracks and pathways. On foot, by mountain bike or by 4x4, you should have no difficulty in reaching Santana de Cambas (about 10 kms) by the dirt road that follows the former railway line, which once transported the minerals to the port of Pomorão on the River Guadiana, today, a lively recreation centre.

Continue to the Estalagem da Mina located on the Praia Fluvial (river beach) da Tapada Grande. It is a very agreeable combination, with sand, water with a reputed quality for bathing, a picnic area, an open-air amphitheatre and a bar. If you are travelling with children, this is an excellent spot for them to be free and to relax.

Between the Açude de Pedrógão and the Pulo do Lobo
The stretch of the Guadiana which runs between the Açude (weir) de Pedrógão and the zone that is upstream of the Pulo do Lobo is the most expressive living memory of what the river used to be. As well as the beauty of the landscape, the birdlife and the bucolic watermills, inactive for decades, there are falls from the openings in weirs and diverse small rapids, which make the canoeing activities organised by enterprises in the region a lively experience The most accessible place to observe it is the Serpa bridge. If you are travelling on your own, on foot, on mountain bike or in a 4x4, once you arrive at the village of Quintos, you will easily find the well-trodden dirt road which leads to the river. Once here, there are several kilometres which can be explored along the banks, upstream and downstream.

As you are in the region, don’t miss a visit to the Historical Centre of Serpa and taste the renowned sheep’s cheeses of the region.

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