The Via Algarviana (GR13) runs for 300kms and is mainly mountainous. It begins in the east and ends in the west travelling through the Algarve region of Portugal. Starting at Alcoutim on the border with Spain, it finishes at the spectacular Cabo San Vicente, said to be the western-most tip of Europe, with America across the Atlantic Ocean. From there you can walk the Ruta San Vicente going north towards Lison, or eastwards along the coast towards Faro and Albufeira, if you would like to keep going! November 2019
Route: Alcoutim, Balurcos, Furnazinhas, Vaqueiros, Cachopo, Barranco do Velho, Salir, Alte, Messines, Silves, Monchique (with a monastery), Monalete, Bensafrim, Vila do Bispo, Cabo de Sao Vicente. There are 14 stages.
Below are a selection of views of the countryside at the start of the walk, the east of the Portuguese Algarve. Official website Please note that the fires referred to on this page were in 2018 and people were walking the route in 2019.
Near Silves on the Sao Bartolomeu de Messines road is the National Monument, the Cruz da Portugal.
The fortress and sea views from Cabo San Vicente (end of the route) below
Lagoa (not to be confused with Lagos) in the west of the Algarve of Portugal. November 2019
The Convento de Sao Jose (Saint Joseph) was built to shelter women and children who were looked after by an order of mendicant nuns. After the extinction of the religious orders, it was taken over by Benedictine nuns. There is more to see inside including a cloiser, but it was shut because it was a Monday. It is usually open between 9-12.30 and 1400-17.30 Tuesday to Saturday.
The Lady in Red (LiR) Modern Art Gallery is in a winery (reputedly it smells of the vine) and it was also closed when I was there, but it opens 10-12 and 14-18 Tuesday to Saturday and costs 2euros entrance. According to a Trip Advisor contributor it is better than the Tallin Modern Art Gallery. Address: Rua 25 Abril 55, Edificio Adega Cooperativa do Lagoa 8400-343 opposite the bus station which has buses to and from many places you will want to visit in the area. Pay on the bus – very cheap fares.
Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer, the first Count of Vidigueira. He was the first European to reach India by sea.
The south coast of Portugal is absolutely stunning and I highly recommend it. There are some very built up areas and busy beaches because it is so popular with tourists (especially British and German), but the sections inbetween are amazing and very unpopulated.
I arrived in Albufeira by bus (Terminal Rodovario de Albufeira, just off Estr. de Vale de Pedras) from the airport. This was actually no mean feat, as the Rede Expressos poster information at the bus stop is erroneous. Rede Expressos is the national bus company and is usually an extremely good service (on time, efficient online booking system) which I used many other times with no trouble. I recommend that you use their website rather than written information, as it is up to date. However, do not allow your phone to translate it into English as it translates the place names which are also real words such as Sal from Alcacer do Sal meaning salt and Pias (a small town in the south east) meaning sinks! This makes it very hard for non Portuguese speakers to find where they are going.
This is the correct information, as of November 2019
When I arrived, I walked into the town which took 30 minutes. The road takes you past Lidl and other stores. I went in briefly, but it was so similar to home, that I resolved to shop locally and left immediately.
The Orange Terrace Hostel (Rue Padre semedo do Azevedo 24, 8200-167 through booking.com) provided everything I needed, including breakfast. There were some great people there and a delightful terrace! Cost 16 euros.
I hung out in a little municipal park with a sort of modern pond and benches overlooking the main strand, and shopped at a little shop at the top of the hostel street for bread and other provisions – very cheap.
A man was jumping from an enormous height into a big net when I went past the marina – the sort of things some people do for fun.
I did not follow a trail, but instead either ‘followed my nose’ or changed my google maps into the satellite setting where you can see all the tiny paths on the cliffs .
At one point I got rather lost in a maze of villas, trying to take a short cut as it was very hot and I knew there was a beach coming up where I could take my boots off and have a swim.
Then it poured with rained and I spent a good hour with a green tea in the restaurant. Most people seem to eat big meals at these places so they are not really suitable for a cake and a cuppa, although in this case it was after lunch and they were very friendly (as they all always were).
I stayed at the Lost and Found hostel that night (more of a motel on a busy road, but it had a pretty courtyard where I could do my morning Tai Chi, an amazing kitchen and it was scrupulously clean. There were two supermarkets nearby, with ATMs for getting money out.
I used booking.com again for this. Cost: 15 euros for a bunk in a dorm of four with a spacious shower room and toilet en suite. I shared with a Spanish man of few words, and had a good chat over supper in the kitchen with another who told me about the family restaurant near Granada where he works.
The next day I made my way through Sesmarias to Praia de Gale and thence Praia dos Salgados. There are many sections of boardwalks (like the Camino Portugal de la Costa in the north) and they often traverse through protected natural areas where there are birds (egrets, for example), plants and animals of interest.
It is basically one beach along the length of this part of Portugal.
Wide open sandy paths run amongst still-green undergrowth. Inlets and lagoons, sand banks with fishermen and high-rise, white-washed apartments in the distance: Armacao de Pera, where there is a fortress, and knowledgeable staff at the tourist information. Here I stopped to buy a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) for my elevenses.
My way wound through spiky bushes and always the sea was on my left. Brown and cream butterflies were warming their wings on hot stones which had been whitened by the sun; parched roots; yellow/green, soft pine needles; and palm trees in the rich man’s garden (Carvalho, the footballer, has a property above a beach named after him) where swans swam and lemons hung on branches of shiny leaves.
There are high class resorts with grounds kept fresh from constant watering, and just the most spectacular beaches.
I took a wrong turn and went down. This meant that, of course, I therefore had to go back up – about 150 steps, which was hard work with the rucksack in the sun.
Here I waited for a bus to take me to my lodgings as it had taken me longer than expected and I was reliably informed (by the surfing dude in the wooden cabin on the beach) that I would not make it by dark. He was right.
I sat by the wayside waiting for the local bus which a woman tending a clothes stall had pointed me towards. This took me to perhaps the most disappointing hostel of my whole trip. It promised a garden, but it was separated into various areas which all seemd private or had a vehicle of one sort or another in them. The kitchen and dorm was open-plan. The hospitalero was not around once I had booked in, and there was one other person who seemed to be a long-term lodger, a chef in a local cafe. It being cold at night at this time of year even in the Algarve, I prepared my tea on a temporary stove in the one mug that I could find, and huddled until the morning.
Once again I had been staying a little way inland and so had a short walk to the start of the Caminho das Promontorios (Trail of the Headlands). The route was harder to find and I lost my way several times, once bringing me to tears of frustration as I wandered around in circles. In the end I simply waited until someone else came along – a kind man who continued to look back to check that I was still following for the quite a long way. It was really lovely scenery and there were lots of hikers going one way without rucksacks and getting a taxi back.
I phoned up that night when I realised that I had not remembered to gather together my things. I asked if anyone lived in Portimao and I was lucky. A few calls and days later, I arranged to meet someone and eventually I got the costume back (never the towel – the travel one which D had kindly bought for me from Germany. I managed without a towel for the remainder of my trip (three and a half weeks). I am very grateful indeed for their kindness.
Smoke (by day) and fire (at night) signals were set by sentries to warn the populace.
From the Farol da Ponta do Altar (lighthouse) I made my way around the promontory towards Portimao and there was still a long way to go, so I took a water taxi, waiting on the beach with a cool and most welcome drink.
When I read the small print for the Plaza Real by Atlantichotels which I had booked (again through booking.com), it said I had to leave a deposit of 200 euros which I have never had to do before. Despite my best efforts to contact both booking and the hotel, I could not get it waived and was rather nervous in the run up. However I needn’t have worried. The kind receptionist explained that they do not take it off your card or need cash, just take details in case you make a mess in the room. It was a bit like hiring a car without paying for third party insurance – slightly nerve-wracking, but then again, I wasn’t planing to have a party.
It cost 24.67 euros and I had a whole apartment to myself, that was 4 rooms! (There was also the use of a pool, but I arrived too late to use it and it was in shadow and therefore cold). The supermarket was a good walk away (back towards the city, although the were two smaller ones nearby).
Today was all about the birds. 13th November 2019. And it prompted me to look through some of my other recent, avian memories of Portugal as I speed into Spain.
I was up on the roof today in Vila Nova de Milfontes (western Portugal) at 5.30am (that’s my favourite place to go on waking, wherever I am, if possible) doing my tai chi and yoga and standing around like a tree, as you do, when a wee gaggle of sparrows joined me. Lightly they hopped, pecking with their tiny pointed beaks between the ground mosaic for tid bits.
I sat down to meditate and a ringed dove came a-paddling. She dipped her head every now and then to drink from the previous night’s rainwater. Pale grey with a black choker, she was tinged with pink and very pretty. I didn’t spoil the time by reaching for the camera – just enjoyed it.
Today I listened to the dawn chorus drowning out the school kids. A week earlier it was the starlings who entertained me outside the hostel window, while I watched four, then six, then eight egrets foraging in a faraway field.
While I waited for the second bus later in Lisbon, I visited the Zoological Gardens (a stone’s throw from the Seite Rios bus and train station. The entrance is guarded by these pair of handsome eagles.
Sitting across the water from me, my green tea and pastel de nata was a heron, just like he was the first time I visited two months ago. Like a humfy old man in a great coat, he stood patiently.
Lodging my rucksack in the cafe-staff locker room, I took a walk under now Autumn trees and moving cages with happy boys in them, waving, to the seagull side of the lake. She too was bathing intermittently.
And then I heard this whistling! It was so loud and repetitive that I thought for a moment it was a machine or recording, but after some investigation I found the parrots.
I watched and listened for ages: some were completely scarlet right up under the roof and they skweeked; smaller green, yellow and pink ones squwarked while crowding next to each other on a branch, one helping himself to the green leaves hanging out of his brother’s beak (no hard feelings!); some cuddled up close and preened each other; while a fourth species were tilting their heads and whistling like there was no tomorrow.
I had been interested in her talons before (four per claw) which were large, but able to delicately hold the thinnest of twigs (the thickness of a blade of grass) while she bit off sections one at a time with her hooked beak and crunched it.
Now here she was using both feet and mouth to manœuvre into place and cling to the fence not more that 6 inches in front of me, so that these photos are real size. Positioning herself so that her eye was in a gap, she silently observed me.
I was being shown her belly, the soft, downy grey with spectacular tail feathers underneath. While her sisters hooted over the other side, she kept me in her sights, but didn’t talk back.
These ducks were white balls, sound asleep until a rowdy truck disturbed one.
I was mesmerised by a falcon amidst a flock of much smaller birds in Carrapateira. They seemed to be surrounding and then flying straight at him. Occasionally, he separated and made dive bombs, but minutes later he was caught up with the swarm again. Were they trying to warn him off?
Storks can be found all over the Algarve, particularly the Silves area where I had a perfect view of them gathering in the early mornings down by the river.
They perch on their massive nests which are balanced on top of poles, turrets and church spires.
Feathered fact: “White Storks are faithful to both their partner and nesting place each year and the building of the nest is carried out by the male and female together”
However, I was astonished to see one so close to the sea at Cabo Sardao.
My final memory is of swimming in a swirling sea, rocks all around me, when an oyster catcher plopped in just a little way away. I think I must be getting stiller for these birds don’t seem to be frightened and come surprisingly close. It’s a joy.
Early November 2019 and there are lots of hikers on this most beautiful Fisherman’s Trail, the Rota Vicentina along the south western coast of Portugal.
At Cabo Sardao for example, there were 11 in 5 minutes – in groups of 2, 5 and 4. A single walker and a pair spotted this morning on the beach at Zambujeira do Mar. Ranging from German to American, there are similar gatherings in cafes and hostels at the end of each stage that you would expect on the Camino.
1. Rota Vicentina
The trail runs from Cabo San Vicente to Porto Covo, or vice versa 350 kms in total, each stage is 12-22 kms in length.
You can be creative in choosing your route – the whole thing or part of it – to suit you, your physical capacity and time availability.
The two grand routes are divided by sections, which vary between 11 and 33 km. If you were to complete all of the sections at the rate of one per day, you would need the same number of days as there are sections that make up the Rota Vicentina.
Circular Routes are shorter, ranging from 4 to 16 km in length.
Ideally, you would prepare yourself before departure and take water and groceries with you for the day of walking, since not all sections cross places with coffee shops and / or grocery stores.
At most start and end of stage points, you will have no problem purchasing groceries. Check each village to see what they offer by way of food and drink.
Both the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way have clear signs in both directions.
Mostly by the sea, the Fishermen’s Trail travels along the paths used by the locals to access the beaches and fishing grounds. It is a single track, walkable only on foot, along the cliffs, with lots of sand and therefore it is more demanding from the physical point of view. It is a challenge, but contact with the wind, the sea, the coastal landscape and the presence of a wild and persistent nature makes it worthwhile.
‘I booked it ahead, very easy as the accommodation is all on booking.com, but I didn’t need to. I got the details from the Rota Vicentina website which is very good, but there was more accommodation than was shown on the site and in most places you have a choice of near empty hotels.’ John Hayes