Another weekend, another two-day hike. On the penultimate weekend before we must leave this beautiful part of the Iberian Peninsula, we decided to head east once more to check out a place we’d heard a lot about, but had yet to visit. São Brás de Alportel is located among the wooded slopes of the barrocal, within easy reach of Faro and Olhão. In fact, there is a Via Algarviana link route between the town and Parises 18.4 kilometres to the north (though it is not one we walked in October 2015).
Many of our weekend jaunts have involved an early start to catch the train from Ferreiras. Only a few weeks ago, we were setting off in the dark; now our surroundings are bathed in the golden light of morning. The birds are singing, the almond trees are in full blossom, and the landscape is looking green and lush. Best of all, there are few people up at this hour, so the roads are quiet.
Today’s walk began from Fuseta station (not to be confused with Fuseta A which is nearer the coast and arrived at first when travelling in an easterly direction). After a short stretch of road walking, we were suddenly in the Algarve countryside, following stony tracks bordered by drystone walls in a landscape which had remained unchanged for centuries. Harri lamented the fact that similar historic tracks/roads in Wales have generally disappeared under mud if not actively maintained (the old coach road in the Rhinogs being one such example)
Generally, when we’re out hiking we like to stop for a beer if there’s an opportunity … it’s important to support the local economy! The cobbled plaza in Moncarapacho was certainly charming, the various cafes seemingly busy with coffee drinkers; however, it was a little too early in the day to indulge in alcohol – even for us! This town really is very enchanting, with some lovely architecture, e.g. its police station is housed within a distinctive and attractive corner property with an eye-grabbing pink facade.
Having resisted temptation, we continued on a generally uphill trajectory, occasionally being thwarted by Harri’s online route plotting. At one point, the track had been completely blocked with large boulders and the land the other side planted with lines of olive trees. We could have turned back (and the near barking of fierce-sounding dogs almost tempted us to do so), but in the end we decided to clamber over the boulders and make our way hastily between the trees to rejoin the track a few hundred metres on.
The emergence of Strava, Google Maps and Viewranger have undoubtedly transformed our European hiking experience (things like getting hopelessly lost in the hills near Palmela in 2011 simply wouldn’t happen anymore) ; however, even those sophisticated apps cannot foresee a local landowner’s thoughtless actions.
Back on track with our exposed parts unscathed, we soon found our path blocked again … this time by a shepherd and his flock of long-horned sheep and goats. His sheepdog – a growling German Shepherd – wasn’t too keen on being trailed by two walkers but eventually settled down and we all plodded along for a while, enjoying the scenery (us) and the opportunity to clamber onto dry-stone walls to reach low-lying branches (the goats).
In these parts, the hills of the barrocal just keep rolling inland as far as the eye can see and, while I should have known better being a Via Algarviana finisher, I started feeling a little concerned that we couldn’t at least glimpse São Brás de Alportel in the distance. We passed many grand properties (the still grander ones were hidden behind vast gates) with spectacular views and as the track got steeply so the February sun became hotter.
Our final approach to São Brás was along a historic footpath signposted ‘caminho da pilheta’ where the valley landscape – and muddy surface – was very reminiscent of home. Harri thought the path would have been used by fishermen bringing sardines inland (hence, its name), though that didn’t explain the large cross a little way along it, with what appeared to be a carved skull underneath and the date 1860. Did sardine pirates once prowl these parts?
With our destination in sight and the way forward looking relatively easy, Harri announced that his planned route took us over one last hill … unless I would prefer to walk along the busy, main road (this was Saturday afternoon). Perhaps I’d had too much sun, but I couldn’t be bothered to argue; the next thing I knew I was staggering up the near-vertical hill in the direction of a distant electric pylon. The views from the top were magnificent and well worth the extra effort, but even if we could afford one of the luxury villas we passed, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a place that demanded such a monumental effort to reach by foot.
São Brás was once the biggest cork producing centre in Portugal and, though it sounds incredible, there were over 80 cork factories here at one time (there are now around ten). There is a museum in the town where you can find out more about cork or alternatively, you can take a tour of a cork factory (something I’d love to do myself if we weren’t always hiking!). Back home, I have a beautiful handcrafted picture of a sailing boat made from cork that I love.
We entered São Brás along a narrow, one-way street with narrow cobbled pavements. It was lined with some wonderful old buildings, including traditional cottages and larger, dilapidated properties. As we reached the centre of town, there were echoes of our recent visit to Lagoa when the historic plaza had been transformed into a building site. Here, the larger plaza was apparently being pedestrianised after years of being used as a glorified car park. We found a little bar nearby and were soon chatting to an English man who moved to the Algarve ten years ago (I love picking the brains of non-retirees who have made the move to Portugal successfully and are now working here). After months living in Albufeira, it was wonderful to pay just one euro for a bottle of beer!
We’d walked around thirty kilometres in a mostly uphill direction today – our longest hike for some time. After booking into the central and very traditional Luis Jorge Gago Sequeira Hotel, it was time to shower and head out for food before exhaustion overwhelmed us.
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.