Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana
Located in the valley of the River Guadiana, winds its way through narrow riverbanks dotted by age-old watermills, or sharp ravines covered in Mediterranean undergrowth, and offers magnificent landscape views. The area of the Natural Park also includes towns that exemplify well preserved traditional architecture.
On the northern border of the Park, in a place of exceptional natural beauty, we find the steepest natural decline in the course of the River Guadiana, the waterfall in Pulo do Lobo (Wolf's leap), that was given this name due to the proximity of the rocks on the two sides, which give the idea that it would be possible to cross the river in a single bound. But don't try – it’s much more difficult than it seems at first sight.
Marked by the immense plains that extend from the Corte Gafo to the Serra de Serpa, home to cereal crops and pasture land, this area preserves unique species of vegetation. One of the rarest is the four leaf clover (Marsilea batardae) that according to tradition will bring luck to anyone who finds it.
Visitors may discover the protected area, by following the various pedestrian trails proposed by the Park. But during the summer, it’s necessary to take precautions against the intense heat recorded in this zone, that has the highest temperatures and longest numbers of sunshine in Portugal. Perhaps a more refreshing alternative would be to descend the river Guadiana in a canoe.
At any time of the year, make sure to visit Serpa, a town of narrow and picturesque streets, enclosed in 14th century mediaeval walls, that produces excellent cheeses; and Mértola, a town museum, with nuclei dating from the Roman, Visigoth and Islamic periods. The vestiges from these periods, have inspired the Park’s symbol -- a bird of prey as represented in a sixth century Islamic dish.
For those who admire industrial archaeology, it's well worth visiting the former mining complex in São Domingos, in the mountain range of the same name, that was once an extremely important centre for the extraction of copper pyrites.