EXPLORING THE RIA FORMOSA – With journalist Abigail Blasi

Abi visited Four Seasons Fairways in December 2018 to join Helen Glover for a week of Active Living and exploring the Algarve, which she summarised in an article in The Telegraph earlier this year. Here she looks back on her time with us.

Lagoon banks knitted together by mauve-tipped Mediterranean scrub, sunlight filtering through sea lavender, a heron scudding across the mirror-flat lagoon, and the sight of the sun, a ball of fire, sinking slowly into the sea as we watched from a wild beach: these are my memories of a year ago, of our holiday alongside the Ria Formosa Natural Park.

The Protected Nature Reserve of the Ria Formosa is only around a 15-minute walk from Four Seasons Fairways, and these beautiful wetlands were a revelation. A series of lagoons that stretch along the coast from here to Tavira, the reserve is protected from the sea by several coastal islands and peninsulas. Its marshland and waterways shelter over 20,000 birds during the winter, from Purple Swamphen (the park’s symbol) to blush-pink flamingos. The water is apparently so clean that it has one of the largest seahorse populations in the world. During our visit, one of my favourite moments was trying out SUPing, gliding up and down at high tide, enjoying the surrounding countryside and the
rippling calm of the water, and kayaking, too, drifting along beside the banks, was another highlight.

We were there in early December, yet the temperature was an English-summer steady 25
degrees, and the sky without a single cloud. A long pedestrian bridge over the ria was mirrored in the glass-flat water beneath, and the only disturbance of the calm were birds fluttering across the lagoon and flitting from island to island.

Later in the day, we walked on the paths around beneath the stars. We also all loved the food at the clubhouse, with oysters, lobster, and great skewers that were a winner with our kids, all local, healthy food: our sons particularly loved the local oranges delivered to our apartment daily. Much appreciated also was the opportunity to order takeaway from the menu when we didn’t feel like eating out. My other favourite gastronomic experience was taking a speedboat over to Ilha Deserta, an island that is part of the Ria Formosa, where there is one restaurant, the eco-friendly remote-feeling Estaminé, serving superb seafood, including fat clams gathered from nearby and freshly caught fish sourced from local fishermen. The island is ringed by a boardwalk, and we were guided around it by a local naturalist who pointed out the different flora. The sun was eye-squintingly bright, and we descended the boardwalk onto another long, the water’s edge. I remember, the water had ebbed away, exposing hundreds of mole-hill-like islands amid pools of water. There were birds wherever we looked. As the sun got lower in the sky, the light had changed. It was paler, turning a subtle shade of delicate rose pink and a smokier shade of blue. I remember seeing fish lollop out of the water as we crossed the bridge. This was when we discovered the beach at the end of the bridge, empty golden sand as far as we could see, being washed by the royal-blue Atlantic. There was a small gathering of people awaiting the sunset, all mesmerised by the changing sky as the sun sank into the horizon, splashing orange light across the dark denim-blue sea.

At our Four Seasons Fairways apartment, we had our own private pool, but preferred to swim after dark in the large landscaped pool by the clubhouse, which was heated (this was December, remember) and had mood lighting that made it all the lovelier to swim pale beach, where the white sand was soft underfoot and covered in shells.

People may assume the Algarve to be all bucketand-spade tourism, but we saw another side on our visit, and it was great as a family to discover these secret-feeling Algarve spots, from the Ria Formosa to Ilha Deserta, while enjoying all the activities that Four Seasons Fairways had to offer. We returned feeling relaxed, healthy, and full of good intentions: a combination of the food, the exercise and the chance to meander peacefully around the Ria Formosa’s birdflocked lagoons.

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