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Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, Algarve

On the Doorstep of Formosa Park Apartment Hotel

The best thing about cruising into Faro from the air – other than the tingling anticipation of stepping into the glorious Portuguese sun – is the unrivalled view of the expansive Ria Formosa Nature Reserve. Before touching down at the Algarve’s main airport you pass over endless blue lagoons, pristine beaches and glorious stretches of lush woodland. From 1000 feet the spectacle is breath-taking, but up close, it’s like you’re in another world.

Covering an area almost twice the size of Paris, you’ll be hard pressed to take the place in in one go… but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. Amidst the hugely diverse ecosystem, 20,000 birds and dense fauna you’ll find an array of hikers, nature lovers, golfers (more on that later), sailors and mountain bikers, all revelling in the most striking area of natural beauty that Portugal has to offer. All you need to do is decide what you’re going to do there.

Boat Trips & Peninsula Views

If it’s your first time, one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the nature park is by boat trip. A carefully guided tour will take you exploring around the five barrier islands and two peninsulas which protect Formosa’s crystal clear lagoons from the ravages of the sea... and give you the opportunity to moor up next to each of them and pace crisp white sands and unspoilt beaches. Such boat trips also make their way down the entire length of the Leeward coast, taking in a range of Portuguese culture and architecture from ancient defences to quirky lighthouses. Along the way you’ll experience tropical marshes, tidal flats, islets, saltpans and stunning freshwater coves.

However, the most exciting way to see all that Formosa Park has to offer is to get in amongst it and get rambling. Romping through the carefully laid out paths and trails, you’ll discover an array of impressive bird watching hides – two-storeys high and perfect for getting a splendid panoramic view of the reserve. Inside you’ll likely find some friendly twitchers gazing out at the abundant flamingos and rare purple swamphens. Those with a keen eye will also be able to observe an eclectic selection of reptiles, including a rare and endangered species of chameleon.

Make your way through the dense pine woodland towards the Atlantic coast and past the rocky, scrubland outcrop that separate trees from sand and you’ll discover some of the most spectacular beaches in Europe. One such area, the Ancão Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a protected – and award winning – beach, including a seafront restaurant, exclusive seating areas and glistening unspoilt sands that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Golf... in a Nature Reserve?

But it’s not just the perfect beaches and beautiful nature that drives people to the nature reserve though. Buried in a quiet corner next to the Atlantic Ocean, you can find one of the most celebrated gold courses in Europe, San Lorenzo. Carefully sculpted in amongst the pines by US golf course architects Joseph Lee and Rocky Roquemore, the course boasts fairways that run alongside saltwater marshes, freshwater lagoons and breath-taking flora.

All 18 holes feel in complete harmony with the park, and the course plays home to over 70 species of bird, including herons, white storks, coots, black winged stilts and the rare purple gallinule. With holes located in a figure of eight pattern (with its clubhouse at the centre), the course can be enjoyed on a brisk walk… but it’s far more fun to hire a buggy and zip around its hardy array of trails. Playing the course gives you a 360 degree experience of everything Ria Formosa has to offer, including stunning wildlife, dazzling seascapes and plant life that borders on the tropical.

However you spend your time in the nature reserve; be it hiring a mountain bike and taking a leisurely ride along its coastal paths, renting a boat and exploring the islands, grabbing your clubs and playing a quick 18 under the early morning sun, or simply taking it all in with a leisurely guided walk… it’s guaranteed to be an experience you’re never going to forget, and one you’re going to want to have again.