By Suzanne Radford
Not so much a chase but a slow meander, looking and listening for the sound of natural flowing water and experiencing the thrill of the first sighting. Waterfalls have long been the inspiration for poets and scientists, nature at its best and nestled in the mountains around Monchique there are plenty.
I found my first waterfall in the Algarve when I arrived four years ago. A long-time hiker, always curious to explore my environment, I walked the many tracks and trails around Monchique and got acquainted with the mountains. Walking with my dog one day, we followed the sound of what could be mistaken for the wind blowing through trees but I sensed it was something more. We ventured off the trodden path and into the trees, climbing up until eventually, we came to the source.
A secret waterfall in the heart of the forest, with cascading water falling over rocks and moss into a pool with rivulets of water escaping down the hillside. This has become a place I visit regularly, either alone or when I guide people on forest therapy walks. Sitting on the boulders, surrounded by lush vegetation, watching the water, listening to birdsong brings such peace; it is one of my favourite places to be.
A well-known waterfall in the area, and the largest, is Cascata do Barbelote, which you can access from Fóia or from the M1067 road. If you prefer the adventure on foot, you can walk to it from Fóia, following part of the Via Algarviana walking trail. The waterfall flows all year round, but during the winter after the rains it comes into its own and is a spectacular sight when the water spills over from a great height in full force.
Trees block some of the views but if you go carefully along the rough pathway you can see it in all its glory. For the more adventurous and nimble-footed, follow the path all the way down to the water; it can be slippery, but it’s worth the descent to stand beneath the water, to feel the freshness on your skin and breathe in its spray.
Every winter, and with the first big rains, I look and listen in anticipation for nature to spring into action. It is a joy to hear the mountains come alive with the sound of water gushing. This is when the waterfalls of Penedo do Buraco and Cascata do Chilrão start flowing again. There, at Chilrão, I sit and imagine where the water goes, finding its way through the valleys, flowing into the Ribeira da Cerca that heads to the west coast and the ocean at Amoreira.
There is a hike that links the three waterfalls, it’s around 17.5 km so you need a day but you will see the biodiversity that makes Monchique special. There are shorter routes and circular walks, or simply visit each one separately and spend some time relaxing. One of the guided walks I offer includes the main ones, and there are hidden ones, the little gems I have discovered taking in a total of five waterfalls over a gentle five-hour walk. They are not all big but they are all bursting with life.
It’s fascinating in itself, what attracts us to waterfalls. There is beauty, of course, and how nature makes us feel. There is the knowledge that the water rejuvenates and replenishes the earth and plants. But being in the presence of waterfalls benefits us too. Our brains and bodies are made up of 95% H2O and it is water and being hydrated that allows us to function well. Mindfulness around water can help ease stress and anxiety.
Science tells us that breathing in negative ions from water boosts our sense of wellbeing and watching the movement of water can be meditative. In day-to-day life, we seldom check in or listen to our bodies. During a forest therapy walk, I invite people to spend a moment and tune into the body and really listen to where it wants to bring you; to follow the movement of the water, and how it picks up light and carries sound; to notice any scents or sensations, and metaphorically let the water carry away any worries.
Next time you feel like a break, I recommend seeking out, chasing or, better still, slowly finding a waterfall. Stand among trees and rocks that have been here for hundreds of years and open the senses. Stay in the forest a while, breathe it in and let tranquillity and calm wash over you.
Suzanne Radford is a certified forest therapy practitioner and forest bathing guide.
Co-ordinates for Barbelote and Chilrão 37.31625011251138, -8.613678573771445
For more information on guided walks and workshops including the secret waterfall contact Forest Bathing Algarve.
Feature Photo © Michael Mardon