Many of the large Algarve hotels are practically empty in December (before the Christmas rush), which means we’ve grown used to sharing vast breakfast rooms with very few others. At Hotel São Sebastião De Boliqueime, we had the entire breakfast buffet to ourselves until a few minutes before we left and a very nice spread it was. There was scrambled egg, bacon, peaches, fruit, plenty of cold meats and cheese, croissants, rolls, even cakes. As we enjoyed our solitary feast, the Portuguese news channel showed footage of the devastating storm that had reached northern Portugal and was heading south over the course of the day. It’s good news, of course, because the country is desperate for rain; it’s just not much fun hiking near the coast during an Atlantic storm (as we discovered two Octobers ago) Thankfully, this one not going to hit the Algarve until much later this evening, when we’ll be tucked up in bed.
After breakfast, we went for a stroll around Boliqueime. it’s a nice little town perfectly located equidistant between the coast and the mountains, making it a sought-after place to live (it seems most towns in the Algarve now fall into that category!). The hotel is in the old centre (and higher part) of town, after which the landscape rolls gently down to a flat plain extending all the way to the sea. Having covered nearly 17 undulating miles yesterday, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we turned to the west and spotted a familiar landmark in the distance. Yes, the water tower at Pateo was clearly visible on the horizon.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning, warm with just the faintest of breezes. The surrounding landscape was springing back to life thanks to heavy overnight dew and the recent, albeit brief, rainfall. Rather than feeling like the middle of winter, December here feels more like early spring, with everything springing back to life after the hot, dry summer months. The rust-coloured soil was being tilled, the trees – orange, lemon, pomegranates, olives – were full of fruit, and vibrantly-coloured flowers cascaded from over-sized terracotta pots onto balconies and walls.
Yesterday Harri had been struggling to walk as a result of what seemed to be a verucca or splinter on the sole of his feet. Frustrated, he’d embarked on a little self-surgery in our hotel room, using the tiny tweezers in his Victorinox Swisscard (a gift from me and one of the best inventions ever). It probably wasn’t the best idea in the world, but this morning the defining black mark had vanished and he’s been able to walk without pain.
Harri’s plan today was for us to head south-west following mostly country lanes to eventually join the coastline at Praia de Santa Eulália from where we would walk along the beach back to Albufeira. One of the wonders of modern technology is that he can plan our routes in advance for us to later follow using the iPad. We don’t even have to worry about getting lost because Harri can immediately see when we stray off his plotted route.
The morning’s walking was straightforward enough and we were nearing the coast and looking forward to beer o’clock at a nice beachside bar when the way ahead was suddenly blocked with tall gates and high-level mental fencing. The obstacle was clearly very recent because we could still see the line of the footpath on the ground beyond the gates. Frustrating though this was, Harri didn’t at first think it would cause too much disruption to our route – we could follow the perimeter fence and work our way across to the far side, i.e. the point we would have emerged anyway. We were attempting to do that when we encountered a Norwegian hiker in her sixties who had also been thwarted by the newly-erected fencing and asked if she could tag along with us. For a while, the three of us meandered along in single file determined to find the way down.
Eventually, our wanderings led us to the top of the gorge where an almost sheer footpath appeared to be the only way down. Norwegian women are clearly made of sterner stuff than Welsh women (well, certainly this Welsh woman) because, despite telling us her sandals weren’t up to the terrain, she made a rapid descent worthy of a mountain goat. She called back up to us that there was indeed a path on the far side of the gorge; however, I was hesitant about taking such a perilous path, particularly as we couldn’t see the path she was referring to.
Instead, we skirted around the top of the gorge and found a gentler descent into the gorge, only to discover there was no way out. Well, that wasn’t strictly true because we could have trespassed into the roped off area owned by Parque Aventura – Albufeira’s version of Go Ape – as the Norwegian woman must have done, but we felt cheeky knowingly wandering through the tourist attraction and decided to turn back.
An attempt to walk through Quinta da Balaia, a beautifully landscaped holiday village, was also unsuccessful and eventually we had no option but to walk back to Albufeira along the traffic-free main road. The wind had well and truly picked up by the time we eventually reached Praia da Oura and ordered our beers, confirmation the storm was getting closer.
There’s a rocky platform running below the cliffs that separate Praia da Oura and Praia dos Aveiros and it was here that Harri found a pair of good quality sun-glasses on the ground. There was no-one else around so we had a quick debate about what to do and thought it best to perch them on a sizeable rock so if anyone came looking for them they were immediately obvious. Ten minutes later, we caught up with three women walking in the same direction as us and thought it worth mentioning the sun-glasses. It transpired that they did belong to one of them and she’d only just realised she’d lost them. Harri started to explain where he’d put them, then realised it would be quicker just to run back and retrieve them himself (something he’s often been called to do when I’ve managed to leave the camera behind!). He’s very gallant like that. I stood chatting to the ladies, who hailed from Glasgow. This was their first time in the Algarve and they were loving it – it’s just a shame that the weather was just about to do downhill.
We walked into Albufeira along a very wild and windy beach, occasionally having to run to avoid getting soaked by the waves crashing onto the beach. Our last ‘adventure’ of the day was in Old Town when, just minutes from home, we strayed into a labyrinth of narrow, traditional streets we’d never explored before. Emerging close to the museum, we stumbled upon an excavation of two Islamic houses dating back to the 12th-13th century, which back then would have been located inside the walls of Albufeira’s medieval castle and housed the political elite of the day.
We peered into the large hole, trying to work out where the storage rooms and water cisterns might have been, but didn’t linger for long. It was getting cold and there was a storm heading our way.
Here is our route, in case you’re interested (just don’t follow it into the gorge … unless you want to do some swinging through the trees!).