Off the Beaten Track: 4 unmissable experiences in ...

Off the Beaten Track: 4 unmissable experiences in the East Algarve

By: Sara Alves

Essential selected four unmissable experiences in the East Algarve to escape the clamour of the beaches in style

With summer always in mind, Essential Algarve has selected four unique experiences to get away from the stunning but chaotic golden sands of the southern beaches

Fly on a gyrocopter

According to Forbes magazine, this is one of the best and most original experiences the region has to offer. It is neither a plane nor a helicopter. The gyrocopter is easier to fly, cheaper and it is revolutionising the recreational flying industry all across Europe. This device can easily reach speeds of 170km/h and has an average flying time of around four hours. The Algarve also offers excellent flying conditions almost all year round, with good visibility and favourable winds.

The only company currently operating in the South is SkyXpedition, in Castro Marim, which organises flights across some of the most beautiful landscapes over protect areas such as the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve and the Ria Formosa, between Cacela Velha and the fishing villages of Santa Luzia and Fuseta.

Besides getting to know the region’s natural heritage, guests also have the chance to fly over forts and castles, small villages in the Algarve hills and see the Guadiana River from a different perspective, the famous Blue Dragon river, formed by the branches of the Odeleite dam, and even several Spanish landscapes. It is also possible to customise the flight route.

The company’s gyrocopter was made by Swiss-Slovenian brand Trixy Aviation, certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and is equipped with a state-of-the- art Rotax engine. Since the Praia Verde runaway is encompassed by the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve Development Plan, the gyrocopter has a special propeller with six blades, which makes it much quieter than a conventional helix.

The company also offers gyrocopter courses starting at €6,200, as well as expeditions for half a day or a full day all year long. You can fly on any day of the week, provided the weather allows for it.

Glide down the world’s first cross-border zipline

The world’s first cross-border zipline was a pioneering idea from London-native David Jarman, head of the company Limitezero. Since November 2013, visitors can climb up in Spain and glide across the border, setting foot an hour earlier in Portugal. Thanks to this original concept, the Algarve and Andalusia are now more connected than ever.

The starting point is on the Spanish side, near the castle of Sanlúcar de Guadiana, almost 100 metres above the river. The point of arrival is just 15 metres high, on the Portuguese side, in Alcoutim. On average, the slope is around 12.47% and the approximate downward speed is around 70 to 80km/h, depending on your weight, the nature and direction of the wind and the position of the body.

Crossing the 720 metres between the starting and ending points takes on average 40 seconds. In Spain, it is called la tirolina, inspired by the Austrian Tyrolean traverse, a simple mechanism that uses gravity to transport merchandise across high points and which was once used for military training, although today it is mainly used for entertainment.

Since opening, this zipline has welcomed countless daring visitors and has made headlines all over the world. Anyone 14 or older and between 25kg and 110kg can slide across. On a busy day, 24 to 30 people can be seen sliding down every hour. Guests are driven to the exit platform on a 4×4 vehicle with all the gear and, when they reach the end, in Portugal, they can walk around five minutes toward the Alcoutim pier, where there is a ferry waiting to cross the river back to Spain.

Relax in an outdoor salt spa

The natural outdoor spa at the Salina Barquinha salt panes, located in the heart of the Castro Marim Marsh Natural Reserve, offers a similar experience to the one available in Israel’s famous Dead Sea. The venue has been operating for over four years and brings together the best of natural therapy: floating baths, exfoliations with Algarvean fleur de sel and clay treatments, all in an unlikely scenario.

It may look barren upon arrival, but here you will find pergola shading and an organic garden, as well as two large mineral-salt pools. The site is already renowned for the baths and therapeutic clay minerals it offers. Guests are invited for a full-body exfoliation with fleur de sel and then take dip in the buoyant and tepid waters with over 80 different highly concentrated mineral salts, where you can float about for around half an hour. Later, your body is covered in a black mud with special properties and rest for over 20 minutes, until the clay dries and begins to act, before cleaning up with a bath to remove most of it. The water is usually at 29oC in the morning and 32oC in the late afternoon. Finally, you can cleanse yourself in one of the outdoor showers.

In addition to being rich in mineral salts, the water also has high quantities of magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, bromine, copper, zinc, mercury and cadmium, among others. The salt itself acts as a natural exfoliating agent, cleansing the epidermis and, once dried, the clay rids the skin of impurities.

Besides the experience of lightness and wellbeing, which is pleasurable and beneficial for your health, clients can also have Ayurvedic massages, yoga or meditation sessions and even try their hand at the ancient craft of salt production and watch the extraction process of salt and fleur de sel. New last summer was a floating Waterflow massage, performed inside the water for 45 minutes. Salina Barquinha has 135 working salt pans and seven nurseries — small artificial lakes that supply water.

The spa is open to the public in June from Tuesday to Sunday between 10am to 6pm, and every day in July and August from 10am to 7pm. Entry is €12.

Sleep on the Ria Formosa

The houseboats from sea-tourism company Passeios Ria Formosa are anchored near Barra Velha beach and offer an experience filled with privacy and comfort. The vessels available, Ilha da Culatra and Barra Velha, can carry four and 10 passengers, respectively, and are both self-sufficient. Fitted with thermic and photovoltaic solar panels, they generate the required electricity and running water.

As the boats are anchored, the engines are never working and therefore do not pollute the protected area. Clients can also request to have a chef aboard and add several activities to their stay, from sport fishing and dolphin watching to spotting seahorses while snorkelling and even a romantic dinner on a deserted beach.

Access to the surrounding beaches is only possible by boat, and thanks to their position, this is quick and easy. The nearest beach is just 20m away and guests have available to them a small, semi-rigid rowing boat to cross. Upon returning, you can enjoy a warm shower and observe the Ria Formosa and its local fauna and flora in its purest form.

The houseboats are available between April and November starting at €175 and up to €450 during high season.

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