The line of hills and smaller mountains of volcanic origin forming the northern border between the Algarve and the Alentejo is covering more than 50 % of the total area of the Algarve. The Serra is of great importance to the Algarve climate, because the ridge of hills forms a weather barrier. The most important holiday locations are Monchique and the neighbouring Caldas de Monchique, which was renowned in Roman times for its healing warm springs. The Serra de Monchique as well as the Serra de Caldeirão (Serra do Mú) are ideal for biking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities.
The hilly landscape of the Serra covers more than half of the area of the entire Algarve
The hilly landscape consists of two distinct geological formations of volcanic origin: shale up to 300-400 m and in the more elevated areas syenite, a kind of granite that is quarried near Monchique as Foiaíte.
The line of hills is divided into three different ridges:
- Serra de Espinhaço de Cão with a height of up to 300 m, located in the far west near the Costa Vicentina
- Serra de Monchique located in the western Algarve, the highest mountain range in Southern Portugal with the Fóia (902 m) and the Picota (774 m)
- Serra do Caldeirão (Serra do Mú) situated in the central and eastern Algarve with a height of up to 590 m.
The major localities in the Serra
The best known place in the Serra is Monchique, situated between the two highest elevations of Foia and Picota. The therapeutic effects of the nearby hot springs of Caldas de Monchique have been known since the time of the Roman Empire.
The villages of São Marcos da Serra and São Bartolomeu de Messines (simply known as Messines) in the municipality of Silves are situated at the foothills of the Serra de Monchique. To the east the small villages of Alte, Salir and Querença are situated in the water-rich area that lies between the Serra do Caldeirão and the fertile Barrocal landscape.
The importance of the Serra for the climate of the Algarve
The Serra do Caldeirão has a considerable influence on the climate of the region. It forms a physical barrier against the cold winds blowing from the north and the lows from the Northwest, thus giving the Algarve coast an almost Mediterranean climate, with low annual rainfall and mild temperatures in winter. Furthermore, it is also a barrier for the misty winds that come from the South.
Average annual rainfall varies: in the higher areas of the municipality of Loulé levels are greater than 800 mm per year, but in the north eastern regions of the Algarve as we get closer to the border with Spain, (Guadiana valley), they go down to below 500 mm annually.
Due to its geographical position so close to the Atlantic and the North African sunshine, the climate of the Serra de Monchique is classified as a subtropical maritime one.
Sports & Leisure
Sports and leisure activities in the Serra
The Serra is an ideal territory for recreation and hiking along a number of trails through the almost untouched hilly landscape. Guided tours for groups and a wide range of outdoor activities such as mountain and downhill biking, , canoeing and climbing are offered all year round.
The area south of Monchique is well known for its thermal springs in Caldas de Monchique, famed for its therapeutic qualities since Roman times.