THE small wooden boat glides through the narrow channels of the Algarve’s Ria Formosa.
Spoonbills strut along the salt pans and storks gather on the sandbars.
Through binoculars, this lagoon-like estuary comes to life.
And drifting along, spotting hundreds of birds, makes for a calming change of pace.
Cruising along the Ria Formosa shows that the Algarve is not just about golf courses and resort towns.
With Portugal on the green list for British travellers, the southern coastal strip is sure to be busy this summer.
But there’s plenty of space to go round and you never have to veer too far from the hubbub.
Parts of the coastline feel wonderfully serene, with walking trails spreading along the clifftops.
The golden beach of Praia do Vale de Centeanes is halfway between the resort areas of Praia da Rocha and Albufeira.
Tear yourself away from the beach, however, and you can take on the Seven Hanging Valleys Walk.
The walk is about three-and-a-half miles long and follows the high limestone cliffs.
The coastline dives in and out, with spectacular views from the headlands.
On the way, there are sinkholes and green gullies.
These were once river mouths, emptying into the sea.
Even in party town Lagos, it’s easy to escape.
Kayak Adventures Lagos runs two-and-a-half hour trips along the coast.
Once you’re into a paddling rhythm, the world doesn’t seem quite so frenetic.
Being in a kayak lets you get closer to the dramatic rock formations around the Ponta da Piedade, too.
The competing boat tours have to watch enviously from a distance as the kayakers sidle up to the multi-coloured cliffs.
The real magic, however, comes when you paddle up to a little cove beach.
The cliffs are so steep, it’s hard to imagine getting there by land.
Getting the snorkels out and exploring the underwater ecosystem feels like a special treat for paddlers who’ve put the effort in.
A little further along the coast from Lagos is the Fortaleza de Sagres.
This hulking fort dates back to the Age of Discovery, when Portuguese sailors mapped the world, exploring the coasts of Africa, Asia and South America.
But this fort is all front.
The grand, intimidating entrance has no building behind it any more, just a windswept headland.
The walk around this headland is well worth doing, though.
Signs explain what all the flowers are, and you can watch waves crash into the rocks from clifftop perches.
Just along the coast, it’s possible to see Cape St Vincent.
This is supposedly Europe’s most south-westerly point and hordes of tour buses head there.
Seeing it from the quiet fort at Sagres is a much more atmospheric experience.
The Algarve’s west coast has a very different feel to the south coast.
The west is much wilder, with crashing waves making it one of the world’s most popular surfing destinations.
Praia da Arrifana offers the best of both worlds.
The beach break is suitable for novice surfers getting the hang of riding the waves.
But if you know what you’re doing, the bigger, tougher reef break provides the best rides.
If you’ve never tried surfing before, head to Praia do Amado, home to several surf schools.
Amado Surf Camp runs week-long training experiences for those who really want to master the sport.
But if all you want is a taster, and to get good enough to briefly ride a wave, a half-day lesson will do the trick.
To truly enjoy the quieter side of the Algarve, though, the secret is to head away from the coast.
Inland is a gentle world of cork plantations, family restaurants and long-distance walking trails.
For a few hours’ leg-stretching, the seven- mile return hike up Foia comes with a carpet of wildflowers.
At 902 metres high, Foia is the Algarve’s tallest peak.
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The trail kicks off from the pretty town of Monchique and offers fabulous views out over the region.
The rolling hills, terraced farms and olive groves don’t fit the traditional Algarve image at all.
But this green list destination’s greener side is hugely rewarding to explore.
COVID: Portugal is on the UK green list. You will need to take a PCR test to enter Portugal and take a further PCR test while abroad to return to the UK as well as a PCR test on day two of your return.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: A week’s B&B at the 4H Jupiter Algarve Hotel in Praia da Rocha is from £536pp including return flights from Manchester in June. See easyjet.com/en/holidays.
OUT & ABOUT: The Ria Formosa birdwatching tours with Formosamar (formosamar.com) cost 30 euros.
Kayak Adventures Lagos (kayakadventureslagos.com) sells Lagos kayaking tours for 30 euros, too.
Half-day surfing lessons with Amado Surf Camp (amadosurfcamp.com) cost 35 euros.
MORE INFO: See visitalgarve.pt.