Birding in the Alentejo

From $1860 per person

****# Based on 12 customer reviews
(C) Frank McClintock,
  • Superb birding in Portugal's Alentejo: 120+ resident species with many more visiting at certain times of the year
  • Three full day birding trips; two days' independent walking; one morning's guided walk
  • Crystal clear lakes, scented river valleys, proud Atlantic cliffs backing wild deserted beaches
  • Exceptional value for money - all evening meals and generous country farmhouse picnics
  • Charming and intimate rural lakeside hotel with charismatic, qualified bird expert owner

What's included?

  • 7 nights, single centre
  • Departs Selected Saturdays and Sundays from 1 Apr '17 to 22 Apr '18
  • Continental breakfast, 6 picnic lunches and all evening meals
  • Managed locally by Headwater appointed guide
  • Sustainability rating: 86%
  • Bird watching checklist provided

Excellent for...

Birding in the Alentejo

The Alentejo in southern Portugal is one of the foremost birding destinations in Europe, and Headwater are delighted to offer one week with expert birder and qualified guide Frank McClintock staying at his beautiful Quinta on the shores of Santa Clara Lake.

Ornithology here is extraordinarily rich due to the many diverse habitats, with over 120 birds living year round, and many more migratory species passing through at certain times of the year - April and September being particularly prolific, while in June, birding weather is at its best as young birds leave the nest for the first time. During the course of your stay you'll explore the inland plains and pockets of cork oak forest to the north (where 85 species in one day is a house record for one group of lucky guests) as well as heading over to the south western coasts - excellent for spotting waders and shore birds.

The focus on this holiday is very much on the birding with lots of time spent travelling (by vehicle) on three days in order to spot as many varieties as possible. We have, however, combined vehicle use with exploring on foot by including two optional self-guided walks direct from the Quinta, as well as one morning's guided birding walk with Frank or one of his ornithological experts. The 'Water Rail' hide is a recent addition to the Quinta grounds, overlooking the River Mira with regular good views of Kingfishers, Water Rails and Common Waxbills to name just a few as well as other wildlife including otters, polecats and water voles.

Frank runs his precious rural hideaway with his wife Daniela, and the 10 rooms look out over the water. Terraced lawns step down to the lake attracting scores of local feathered residents who love Frank's garden as much as he does. The wide open panoramic window in the dining room even allows you to spot birds from the breakfast table! Bedrooms are simple and homely, the atmosphere warm and welcoming, and dinners are a special highlight with all guests dining together in house party style.

Please note sightings of specific species cannot be guaranteed and in order to get the best sightings there are very early starts on some days.

Photos courtesy of Frank McClintock

Typical day-by-day itinerary

Day 1 Arrival

We meet you and transfer you through valleys of scented rock rose to your lakeside farmhouse and base for the week.

Day 2 Guided Morning Walk

We spend the morning exploring local trails with our guide, strolling through contrasting habitats, from river valleys and cork oak forest to open hillsides pretty village gardens. Possible species include Corn Bunting, Azure winged magpie, White Stork, Common Waxbill, Serin and Golden Oriole. We return for one of Daniela's famed lunches. Frank designed the gardens specifically to attract bird life so this afternoon relax in the gardens, swim in the lake and let the birds come to you! Enjoy a gin and tonic on your terrace with a view over the lake before dinner.

Day 3 Alentejo Plains

We drive (60 minutes) to the Alentejo Plains today - the tawny flat lands of southern Portugal and the country's bread basket. A myriad of possible sightings await: Great and Little Bustards, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Red-rumped swallow, Rufous Bushchat, Stone Curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Thekla, Crested, Wood and Calandra Larks, Short toed, Booted and Bonelli's Eagles among them. Frank's record for one day here is 85 different species - incredible!

Day 4 - Corte Brique Valley Walk (17km/11mi/5hr)

After yesterday's long day on the Plains, stretch your legs with a day walk through rustling cork oaks listening to Nightingale song, before emerging into wheat fields in Corte Brique Valley guarded by low hills. Chat to farmers in the local bar before spotting hoopoes along a track leading back through hillsides of rock rose. Back at the Quinta perhaps make use of Daniela's massage skills to round off a perfect day. Dinner is a mouth-watering three course meal with a selection of 'ornithological' wines to select from (pay locally).

Day 5 Monchique

Today's excursion explores the high hills near Monchique to the south, and then drops down to the west coast (60 mins away), taking in the cliffs of Europe's most south-westerly point. Coastal views are tremendous - all the way to the very corner of Europe, with crashing surf below us. Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Linnet, Cuckoo, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes, Roller, Chough and Peregrine Falcon may be sighted today. We drive back to the Quinta for another convivial dinner this evening.

Day 6 - Santa Clara Circular Walk (11km/7mi/3.5hr)

A local walk from the Quinta lined with purple gladioli dips and weaves between ridges offering shimmering lake views today. Descend to the hamlet of Cortes Pereira and Ermelinda's tiny bar. Look out for Crested Tits, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Rock Buntings, Black winged Kite, Short-toed and Bonelli's Eagles and Black-eared Wheatears. A leafy trail leads back through cork forest sprinkled with green winged orchid and one-leafed squills. Relax on your jasmine scented terrace before dinner, watching Grey and even Purple Herons patrolling the shoreline of the lake below you.

Day 7 Lagoa St Andre

Our final day in the vehicle takes us north (90 minutes) to explore Lagoa St. Andre - a favourite haunt of Bee eaters, Marsh Harriers, Zitting Cisticola, Great Reed, Savi's, Melodious and Dartford Warblers, Hobby and Black Kite. After a picnic lunch we'll drive back via Cabo Sardao, (where you'll be able to see the only sea-nesting White Storks in the world), before returning for a farewell dinner tonight.

Day 8 Departure

We transfer you from the Quinta and drop you off to complete your return journey.

For a longer tour, why not consider combining this with our Walk the Algarve's Wild West

Where you stay

This single-centre holiday is based at the following hotel. If you'd like to extend your stay here, or upgrade your room, just let us know at the time of booking. You can call our sales team on 1-800-567-6286 to discuss accommodation options.

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, Santa Clara   (4 acorns)

Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, Santa Clara

Barranco da Estrada, also known as ‘Paradise in Portugal' is a unique property. Frank McClintock moved here and bought the land in the 80s, and his ten room property has taken shape slowly but surely over the intervening years.

The rooms are set out in a row above the (mosquito free) Santa Clara Reservoir with panoramic views over the water. The landscaped garden is stepped and leads down to the waterside with many beautiful secluded corners. It was created specifically to attract local and migrating bird life, and does the job brilliantly.

The lounge and dining area has an amazing open feature window with perfect views, and dinners are taken around a large table in dinner party style. Rooms are homely rather than luxurious, each with a private terrace and en suite bathroom.

Further details on the hotel website, and independent reviews on Trip Advisor.

Local facilities:

  • Mastercard accepted
  • Wifi hotspot

Extra nights and stop over hotels

If you'd like to extend your trip with extra nights at the start or end, or if you'd like to arrange a stop off point en-route, then we recommend the following hotels.

Pousada Palacio de Estoi, Faro   (4 Star)

Pool at the Pousada de Faro

The Pousada de Faro, is situated in the small village of Estoi, just a 25 minute bus journey or 15 minute taxi ride from Faro. Set in the hills overlooking Faro and the coast, this wonderful hotel was born from the ruins of the Palacio de Estoi. A C18 Rococo palace once owned by the viscount of Estoi, it has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and provides a relaxing haven complete with beautiful pool just above bustling Faro and just a twenty minute walk to the Roman excavated village of Milreu.

Whilst keeping an eye to the past, the rooms have a modern fresh feel all of a good size, with views down to the coast. The hotel boasts a large SPA complete with sauna and Turkish bath. There is a nice restaurant offering set menus and a la carte.

Further details on the hotel website, and independent reviews on Trip Advisor.

Local facilities:

  • Mastercard accepted
  • American Express accepted
  • Diners Club card accepted
  • Swimming pool
  • Hairdryer
  • Wifi hotspot
  • Internet access
  • Television
  • Minibar
  • Air conditioning
  • Safe

Nearby facilities:

  • Shops
  • Market
  • Banking / cheques cashed
  • ATM / Cash machine

Travel options

Tour only: Transfers included from Faro airport at 11:30 and back to Faro airport at 08:30.

Please call our sales team on 1-800-567-6286 or email to arrange connecting flights.

Customer reviews

Everyone who goes on a Headwater holiday will be emailed a link to our post-holiday questionnaire where they can give us an honest assessment of all aspects of their holiday - everything from how quickly we answer the phone to how clean the hotels were - plus, of course, an overall rating and comments about their holiday.

Any feedback collected is posted straight to our website - totally unedited. So, for the real tales, twists and turns of our holidays, look no further than the reviews from our previous travellers.

Reviewed by Ms Pitt on 05/05/2016

This was a wonderful week in a magical place - very remote in the beautiful hills of the Alentejo. Frank and Daniela made us so welcome and comfortable. They really put themselves out to make our stay a success. It was like staying with old friends. This is the perfect holiday for those who like to get away from it all and learn more about birds, with good company, good food and a truly beautiful spot. The early starts [eg 5am] were tough but well worth it, as dawn is the best time to see the greatest number of birds. I definitely plan to return. Many of our fellow guests have been back several times.

Reviewed by Mrs Reynolds on 28/04/2015

An extremely enjoyable and informative birding experience, enhanced by the warm hospitality of our hosts, Frank and Daniela . I would thoroughly recommend this holiday for 'old hands' and new birders alike!

Reviewed by Mrs Jackson on 23/10/2014

The prime activity of the holiday (birdwatching) was very good and Frank actually included additional opportunities (e.g. close to Faro Airport after he picked us up). However, the subsidiary activities were somewhat uninspiring. The walks offered were not very interesting and the water activities were minimal. We would have been prepared to pay for a visit to an historic site, if this were possible (realising that the location made this difficult). However, we did enjoy the holiday overall and we were well looked after by Frank, Daniela and the staff.

Reviewed by Mr Williams on 22/10/2014

This holiday is suitable only for keen birdwatchers or, maybe in the spring ,for those interested in flowers. There are kayaks and a sailing dinghy available. Local walking is limited. There is no opportunity to leave the hotel to visit local towns. No television or DVD service. Bring a book or use extensive library. The bird watch trips involve leaving very early , 5.30am , and driving on very rough ( and deserted) dirt roads. It is not comfortable and nervous passengers will not be relaxed. That said , the quality of the guiding and information received about the bird life is superlative. The hotel itself has character and the ambiance is one of a house party. Meals are communal around a large table although individual tables will be available if preferred. My wife and I loved it.

Reviewed by Mr Joseph on 07/05/2014

This is a unique holiday. You are welcomed to the Quinta like a family guest. It is a place of tranquillity and peace, where you can relax in their beautifully landscaped garden and enjoy the views and the lakes, or take local walks. Meals show the benefits of locally sourced produce and Daniella's home cooking. I went for the bird watching. Here you get the benefit of Frank's 25+ years of study of the wildlife of the Alentejo. Not only does he have amazing knowledge he has an infectious enthusiasm that he so much wants to share with you. He doesn't rest until you have had not just a view, but the best possible, of the huge variety of species that are in this little-known, and quite unspoilt, region. The care he took over planning each excursion was outstanding. I returned refreshed in body and spirit and recommend this holiday as strongly as possible to all bird lovers

Reviewed by Mrs Lugg on 23/04/2014

Perfect location for birding with knowledgable guides who tailor trips according to individuals needs. Excellent accommodation and meals.

Reviewed by Mrs Naylor on 20/06/2013

fantastic! it really was paradise in Portugal! And Frank was a wonderful guide and took us to places we would never have visited on our own. All staff were so friendly and welcoming, including the dogs!

Reviewed by Ms Horner on 17/06/2013

I have had many Headwater holidays and never been disappointed.

Reviewed by Mrs Probett on 13/06/2013

Frank was brilliant, extremely knowledgeable and able to help us improve our bird id skills. We really felt part of the family in a beautiful setting.

Reviewed by Ms Owsley on 07/06/2013

The location was fantastic for a place out of the way and quiet. Superb for bird watching and the owners professional knowledge in that area.

Reviewed by Mrs Riley on 06/06/2013

The holiday was excellent but a bit of a shock for novice bird watchers when some morning starts are 4.30am!! Frank was an excellent guide and very knowledgeable. We were made very welcome by everyone at the Quinta and nothing was too much trouble.

Reviewed by Mr Pittam on 30/04/2013

The Quinta is an excellent base for anyone wanting to get away from it all! Peace quiet beautiful surroundings friendly people relaxing etc walking great & spring v good time for flowers & birds.

Departure dates & prices

Departure date Tour only 
2017 departures 
Apr 1 $1860
Apr 15 $1860
Oct 1 $1890
2018 departures 
Apr 22 $1890

Holiday details

Minimum group sizes

A minimum of 4 people (in total) are required for each departure.

Holiday type

Guided walking, single centre. Managed locally by Headwater appointed guide.


Selected Saturdays and Sundays from 1 Apr '17 to 22 Apr '18, for 8 days (7 nights).


Continental breakfast, 6 picnic lunches and all evening meals.

Other details

Please see our Planning your holiday and What's included in the price? pages for additional information. Please call us for single room supplements, room upgrade options and child prices.

Starting your tour

Tour only: Transfers included from Faro airport at 11:30 and back to Faro airport at 08:30.

Enquire about this holiday

Simply complete the form below and a member of our sales team will contact you (when it's most convenient for you) to provide availability information, travel options and additional information.

We'd like to keep you informed of our latest news and special offers. Please tick here if you'd rather not receive our free e-newsletter.
We can call you when it's most convenient for you, or contact you by email if you'd prefer. Morning calls will be between 9:00-13:00, afternoon calls between 13:00-17:00, and evening calls after 17:00.
Let us know any queries you might have about departure dates, similar holidays or tailor-made options.


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  • Relaxed activity holidays since 1985

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