Waters Run Deep
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
By Suzanne Radford
Published in Tomorrow magazine in the March 2021 edition.
Looking across rolling hills towards the Barragem de Odelouca, I can see a blanket of colour in greens and yellow from the fresh spring grass and a sea of Bermuda buttercups.
There is plenty to explore and enjoy in the Serra da Monchique with its vast open space and natural beauty. The area is known for its spring water decanted directly from the mountain via fonts at Foia and Caldas de Monchique. A spot that is perhaps lesser-known is Fonte Santa da Fornalha, hidden away and nestled in a valley on the southern side of Picota in the parish of Alferce.
Termas da Fonte Santa da Fornalha or The Holy Fountain of the Furnace dates back to the Middle Ages when Portuguese kings travelled the length of the country to bathe in the thermal waters. The warm sulphur springs run at a temperature of 27°C, the curative effects of the water is meant to soothe skin conditions and ease joint pain and rheumatism.
The water sources remain, but the buildings that house the baths of water are in disrepair. A pleasant stroll in nature across an old stone footbridge leads you into the bathhouses, small and compact, connecting you to the past and to a natural source of water. There is an air of peacefulness and calm here.
Along with two pools in the buildings, there are natural springs from the mountain to douse the eyes and refresh the face. They are easy to miss in the hillside but follow your nose as one of them is high in hydrogen sulphide that you may be able to identify by the ‘eggy’ scent the natural gas can omit.
To access Termas da Fonte Santa da Fornalha you need to cross a stream of water, part of the Odelouca river, six times (three times on the way there and three times back). Along the water’s edge, there are wooden picnic benches inviting people to spend time among the trees and enjoy the wildlife, like kingfishers and bee-eaters, frogs and even terrapins depending on the time of year and the amount of rain. The streams run high after the winter rains and the currents are strong. Moving into spring and summer, the water levels lower and it makes crossing easier on foot.
From the picnic area, the Via Algarviana trail is marked by red and white stripes. Follow these posts to begin your walk to the fonts which should take around 15 minutes. A small pathway leads to the baths passing by dilapidated buildings, remnants of rural living. There is an outside oven and ruins once offering shelter and a place to stay for those making a pilgrimage to the healing waters. Burned out tea lights, a couple of formica chairs and a small effigy of the Virgin Mary hint at recent visitors, locals probably, and perhaps hikers who have strayed off course.
This area was bought by the Câmara de Monchique a few years back. You can see why they would want to protect the heritage and natural beauty, linking it to hiking trails and providing information on the fonts’ history and healing benefits. There is another source of sulphurous water further on, called Fonte das Chagas, but the access is difficult and masked by brambles.
A natural beauty spot, ideal for a picnic, and although it is a short drive from Portimão, Monchique and Silves, it feels secluded, a panacea perhaps from the outside world. Finding the fonts is an added bonus and experiencing the soft water on the skin makes the visit all the more special.
Tips to get there
Take the N266 from Portimão towards Monchique.
As you enter Rasmalho take a turning on the right and follow signs to Alferce and Barragem deOdelouca.
Location for Parking Car: 37° 17.310'N, 8° 29.130'W
After parking the car, take a short walk to the stream.
Note, there isn’t any phone signal.
Good footwear recommended
We are respecting Government rules and restrictions at this time and are not advising people to travel whilst in lockdown. It is, however, one for the bucket list of quiet beauty spots to visit, when it is safe to do so.