A walk in the Alentejo: Barragem de Santa Clara
The bright blue of the lake, the chatter of birds, the smell of wild flowers and the sun warming your skin… The walking route along Santa Clara Reservoir in the Alentejo touches all your senses. It’s calming and intense at the same time. Go grab your hiking shoes now!
This 10 kilometres walk combines the stunning nature around the Barragem de Santa Clara with the authentic Alentejan village of Santa Clara a Velha. It’s part of the Rota Vicentina network, but as most tourists prefer to walk the coastal routes, you will not meet many people on your way (or perhaps even none at all).
Santa Clara Reservoir
In the dry Alentejo the use of big water reservoirs is essential. Now the Alqueva lake is the biggest of the region, but some decades ago the Santa Clara Reservoir was the main storage for water.
The inauguration of the Barragem de Santa Clara was in 1969, when Portugal was still under authoritarian rule. The reservoir was given the name of the prime minister of that time, Marcello Caetano. After the Carnation Revolution the name was changed to Barragem de Santa Clara.
The reservoir has a surface of almost twenty square kilometres. Besides the use for water storage, irrigation and hydroelectricity, it has become more important for tourism over the years. You can practice water sports, go fishing, birdwatching or simply sunbath in and around the lake. It is nevertheless still a very peaceful place, undiscovered by most tourists.
Part of the walk will lead you along the river Mira, that provides the reservoir with water. The Mira has its origin in the Serra do Caldeirão in the Algarve and discharges in the Atlantic Ocean near Vila Nova de Milfontes. This makes it one of a few rivers in Europe with a south-north orientation.
The lands next to the river are fertile and full of interesting vegetation. You can enjoy the vegetable gardens, orange groves, fig and olive trees, mimosas, willow, watercress and water lilies. Also pay attention to the birds, like the azure winged magpie, that’s very common in this area.
Santa Clara a Velha
Less than a thousand people live in this tiny village with beautiful, typical houses. Yellow, blue and green stripes contrast with the whitewashed walls. Most prominent is the 16th century church, dedicated to the Italian saint Clare of Assisi. The construction of the Igreja de Santa Clara de Assis by the Order of Santiago marked the development of the village. You will love the curved façade and slender bell tower with the blue stripes.
- You can start your walk in the village or at the dam, both of which have enough parking space. Look for the yellow and red signs, they’re easy to follow.
- Always carry enough drinking water. It’s best to avoid this walk during summer, because of the high temperatures.
- Although the walk is not very difficult, it is recommended to wear walking shoes. There’s a climb on a dirt road that might get difficult wearing your sandals or flip flops.
- Bring your swimwear and a towel if you want to take a dip in the lake. There’s a pool with a sunbathing area (hard surface) or you can choose a more private beach further along the shore (pebbles).
- Want more? There is another circular route from Santa Clara a Velha to Saboia. It is 13 kilometres.
Santa Clara a Velha is a village in the western part of the Alentejo, in the Beja District. It’s close to both the coast and the Algarve. From Faro it’s an hour and 15 minutes’ drive.
If you don’t have your own transportation, you can reach the village by train. The station Santa Clara / Saboia is a stop between Faro and Grândola. Plan your trip on the website of Comboios de Portugal.
Check or download the map of this route on the Rota Vicentina website.