After last night’s dinner, we should have guessed that Tia Bia’s breakfast would be something special and we weren’t disappointed. We feasted on ham, cheese and bread, bright yellow scrambled egg and some amazing sweet fried bread (we think it may have been fatias douradasor, the Portuguese equivalent of French toast). There were so many condiments on our table, it was difficult to know where to start.
Harri had been keen to taste the local brandy Aguardente de Medronho made from the fruit of the arbutus or strawberry tree and was disappointed when we failed to locate the ‘hand craft shop’ mentioned in the Via Algarviana guide or anything else really.
In fact, on this warm sunny Sunday morning Barranco was quite deserted, which surprised us as the hills around this small town are popular with hikers (despite Barranco being the second wettest area in the Algarve).
Thus, we set off without our brandy, but it was hard to stay glum for long in such glorious surroundings. Strolling along the wide mountain ridge in a light, warm breeze, we were now being rewarded for yesterday’s hard uphill slog. To our left, the Atlantic Ocean glistened in the bright sunshine, while ahead, we could see the distant line of the Serra de Monchique. If everything went to plan, we would stand on the summit of Picota, the second highest peak, in just four days time. The day after, we intended to do an optional detour to Foia, the highest place in the Algarve and a bit of a tourist hot-spot (most arriving in cars and coaches).
We’d covered about six kilometres when we began the steep descent which would eventually take us to the lower-lying Salir. Immediately we left the ridge, the pleasant breeze disappeared and the temperature soared. I was just thankful we were going downhill for a change.
Eventually, the suffocating heat started to get to us, so when we arrived a peaceful spot alongside the Rio Sec we stopped for nibbles. The shallow stream teemed with tiny darting fish and tadpoles, large azure-coloured dragonflies darted through the air and behind us the tall canes swayed in the breeze. It was such an idyllic spot – and so warm – that I decided it was time to join Harri for my first Algarve dip.
Rolling the legs of my shorts higher, I waded carefully into the cool water and was just thinking I might start doing this kind of thing more often when I spotted it. A metre or so from my bare legs there was a snake – and it was swimming towards me! Harri, who was already drying off on the dusty beach, laughed his head off as, terrified, I splashed my way towards him. Later, I discovered it was almost certainly a completely harmless viperine water snake but it did give me a fright.
After a stretch of road walking, during which the breeze made a brief reappearance and ‘stole’ my sunhat (despite retracing my steps, I never did find it) and then a pleasant hour or so walking through meadows and dry orchards, we reached the deserted back streets of Salir.
Summoning up every last ounce of energy, we followed the waymarks up steep steps to the 16th church of St Sebastião, where the lovely, sweeping views of the surrounding Serra do Caldeirão made every last step worthwhile. Salir is set on two hills, the one where we were now attempting to eat horribly dry bread rolls in the graveyard, and another where the ruined Moorish castle and the rest of the town was established.
After a much-needed beer, we set off in search of the Casa da Mãe – the only accommodation mentioned in the Via Algarviana guide. We had assumed it would be central, especially when we spotted a signpost directing us uphill towards the ruined castle. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit of a red herring and while there were more great views to admire there was no sign of a hotel.
In desperation, we asked a local man for directions, in Portuguese. One good thing about standing aloft a steep hill is that you can see the surrounding countryside for miles. When our Good Samaritan pointed out the Casa da Mãe far off in the valley, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or perhaps beg him to drive us there. Not only did we have an unwanted trek ahead of us, but we would need to return to Salir tonight to eat.
When it came down to it we had no choice, of course. The fact that Casa da Mãe was the only accommodation mentioned in the Via Algarviana guide, almost certainly meant it was the only hotel in Salir. The alternative, Harri informed me in no uncertain terms, was to continue on the trail until we were out of town and then find somewhere to wild camp.
I’m so glad we didn’t do that, because the moment we entered the birdsong-filled gardens of the Casa da Mãe, I was enchanted. After a warm welcome – and the offer and acceptance of more ice-cold beer – we were shown to the twin-bedded Blue Room, a converted outbuilding where almonds and carob was once stored.
Bedazzled and bewitched by my surroundings, I even joined Harri for a quick swim in the pool. Then showered and refreshed, we retraced our steps to Salir in search of food. Harri had been convinced there had to be a more direct route than the one we’d taken this afternoon and now we discovered he was right; the new route involved a steep climb but reduced the walking distance significantly.
We ate at the Papagaio Dourado, Harri choosing espatadas (beef kebabs) which arrived bloody and juicy, just as he likes them, and me opting for the safe-sounding turkey kebab. We shared bread and olives, plus delicious slices of cold carrot (whoever would have thought?). As yet, we had no idea how much the sumptuous Casa da Mãe was going to cost us, but at least tonight’s meal was a bargain at just €20.65, including four bottles of beer.
Happy with our world, we strolled hand in hand back to our little corner of paradise.
For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website. A printed guide with individual maps of each section, plus all the link routes are available free of charge (postage is payable).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
A ‘Made for iBooks’ version is also available from Apple’s iBookstore.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.
For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest.