Don’t we just love the springtime? So full of promise, it embodies our fondest hopes and highest expectations in life; but perhaps spring’s greatest gift is its enduring perfection. So many other ‘perfections’ - youth and beauty, success and celebrity - are no more than transient trophies. Whether modest mounds or towering tors, we must all descend our conquered peaks of worldly attainment, whose currency soon fades irretrievably into history. Thankfully with them goes visibility of our embarrassing failures too. Individually we may cling to vague recollections of satisfaction and regrets for missed opportunities, but to the world at large they are pretty much gone forever. We soon work out that getting what we think we want (or should that be what The Market wants us to want?) is no guarantee of long-term happiness.
Spring’s hope is eternal. The chance to enjoy the perfection of spring isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event. Mother Nature renews and reinvents herself every year. If you missed the rebirth last time it’s about to happen again, giving you another opportunity to experience a truly inspirational display of youth and beauty. Admission is free. All you have to do is to take a gentle stroll through the Algarve countryside, and you will enjoy a spring of unrivalled promise and fulfilment.
Here, there and everywhere spring is always special. Even in Scandinavia, where sporty skaters and skiers make so much of the winter, there comes a sudden yearning for the light and life of spring instead of endlessly dark days. Snow is no substitute for sun when it comes to lightening the landscape.
In central Europe the shift from winter to spring can go unnoticed. Primroses will bloom in the rain, and without sunshine to alert them to the shifting seasons it is often the arrival of summer that shocks people into the realisation that winter has finally released its ghastly grip.
Some of my Portuguese friends might argue to the contrary, but winter doesn’t really exist in the Algarve. It’s true that when you are used to the high thirties in midsummer, the dive to almost-freezing at night can feel uncomfortable, but when plants are dying back and preparing to lie dormant for the winter further north, here in the Algarve the autumn rains are already awakening them. Undeceived by lavishly watered resort gardens that bloom throughout the year, we know that summer is the dead season here. Our spring announces itself in November and endures well into May. It’s not a case of ‘Never mind the quality, feel the width’; we have it both ways.
There are some wonderful walks in the Algarve where people can enjoy spring at its best. Two in particular, both along sheltered stream valleys in the centre of the region, are all the more outstanding because of the almond trees, which begin blooming in January. The first of these is Fonte de Benemola, near Loule, and unlike many of the Algarve’s beauty spots this walk is well signed and easy to find. The second, along the Algibre Valley, is best approached from Paderne. Maps and directions for both these sites can be found on our ‘Walks’ pages...
If you can wrest your eyes away from the bewitching beauty of the almond blossom there are many other lovely wildflowers to enjoy, and the increasing volume of birdsong foretells special sightings in store for those who move quietly. Siskins, Cirl Buntings, Goldcrests and Firecrests are present at this time of year. White Storks are now renovating nests, their bill-clapping a curious cacophony in town and country alike. With the early spring flowers come Algarve butterflies. Cleopatra, Painted Lady and the rare Large Tortoiseshell are among the earliest to emerge.
Roadsides tell their own spring story, too, with White Broom Lygos monosperma and Acacia bursting into flower, while inland two Algarve heathers are much in evidence. Portuguese Heath Erica lusitanica and Spanish Heath Erica australis reach their flowery peak at this time of year.
Scrambling over roadside walls and hedges is the poisonous Dutchman’s Pipe Aristolochia baetica, and it’s not too early for sentinel cistus flowers which within weeks will transform the Algarve landscape.
Foragers find thyme and rosemary producing new growth - wild asparagus too - while Chanterelle, Cep and the strange-looking but delicious Horn of Plenty are also worth looking out for.
The calendar whispers ‘January’, but the Algarve countryside shouts it loud and clear that spring has well and truly sprung. Whatever the ups and downs of the previous year, spring strives continually to lift our spirits.
Sue Parker is a Director of First Nature, Publisher of Algarve Wildlife – the natural year; Wildflowers in the Algarve; and Wild Orchids in the Algarve.
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