Last time we were in Ferragudo, Harri spotted a board detailing a new waymarked trail from Praia do Molhe (the beach next to Ferragudo’s breakwater) to Praia de Paraiso in Carvoeira or vice versa. Clearly, if there is a new trail in the area, then walking it is an absolute must.
We’d certainly chosen the right day to walk Lagoa municipality’s Caminho dos Promontórios (Trail of the Headlands); despite it being late January, the temperature was expected to reach 20 degrees. At little after ten, it was already so warm that I fearlessly took my trousers and fleece out of my rucksack and left them behind in the car.
Carvoeira isn’t the easiest place to navigate by car (narrow streets and a one-way system), so Harri wisely decided to park at nearby Algar Seco, where strange limestone rock formations and caves attract many visitors. This meant we had a little farther to walk but as most of the additional kilometre or so was along boardwalks with spectacular views I wasn’t complaining. Carvoeira is the perfect place to watch the sun setting over the sea, which is probably why there is so much ocean-facing seating here.
The steady erosion of the limestone cliffs is evident everywhere (the boardwalks help protect fragile natural habitats). At one point, we spotted a crumbling staircase carved intermittently into the limestone and leading down to the water’s edge. This, we surmised, must be how the fearless sea anglers reached their precarious cliff-edge perches.
We approached Carvoeira, passing through the eastern entry point of what remains of a surveillance and defensive fortress, built at the end of the seventeenth century to protect the area from pirates The Nossa Senhora da Encarnaçao church stands on the site of the original hermitage next to a popular children’s playground.
Carvoeira is one of the Algarve’s most picturesque resorts and the praça was already bustling as we descended steep steps onto the beach. It’s easy to see the appeal of this pretty former fishing village with its rows of traditional, whitewashed houses creeping up the cliffs and the brightly painted beachside restaurants. Fortunately, there was no sign of the tiger of Carvoeira, aka the scary cat that attacked me (and others) on a previous visit.
The Caminho dos Promontórios begins slightly to the west of Carvoeira. We had no sooner joined the trail when Harri reminded me that we would very soon be encountering the particularly difficult and scary downhill stretch that had forced us to turn back the very first time we’d walked this stretch of coastline. Funny how he never mention the negative points of any hike until it’s too late!
But before we even got to that point, we were faced with a man-made obstacle … the way ahead was blocked with barricade tape. Harri’s first instinct is always to ignore this kind of thing and proceed with caution (to be fair, he’s developed this approach because the majority of ‘closed’ footpaths are easily passable with care). In this instance, he was again right in determining that we should push ahead. Apart from some nice, solid fencing along the clifftop, including around a smallish in diameter but very deep sinkhole, the footpath seemed pretty much as we remembered it.
Moments later, we reached the hairy section Harri had reminded me about. Relief flooded through me when I saw a thick nylon handrail now ran from top to bottom, removing the need to cling to unstable fencing on the other side. I seized the handrail joyfully and (almost) managed to keep up with Harri who, by now, was pondering the presence of more tape across the bottom of the incline. His best guess was that the path had been cordoned off while construction work was taking place and, for some reason, had not yet been removed.
We continued on our way, enjoying the warm sunshine and peaceful nature of our surroundings. There are a lot of sinkholes and caves along this stretch of coast, making me wonder if I’d be willing to invest in a luxury clifftop villa even if I had the money. The owner of a particularly desirable villa has taken steps to mitigate against the likelihood of anyone disappearing into the vast crater at the bottom of the garden and built a low-level wall around its entire perimeter. I’d be interested in knowing how long it is before the ground opens up and those decorative bricks start dropping into the ocean below. The scariest thing about it is the erosion starts at the waterline with the wave action continually battering the base of the cliffs. You might not know about the huge sinkhole being created underneath your property until it’s too late!
Erosion or not, this is a stunning stretch of coastline and the waymarking and promotion of the Caminho dos Promontórios means there are now regular interpretation boards informing walkers about the local geology, fauna and flora. There are also several landmarks along the trail, including the remains of a Roman dam at Presa da Moura, built of limestone blocks and cemented with a very hard lime and sand mortar. The 10,000 cubic-metre lake that once lay behind these tumbling stones has long since filled with sediment.
This is not definitely not the trail for inexperienced walkers, those who are unfit or people wearing flimsy footwear. Despite wearing trail shoes with a good grip, I was finding the terrain tough-going and the walking very technical. More than once, Harri had to turn and hold a hand out to steady me as I teetered down a particularly steep section of trail. With my gaze lowered almost permanently lest I stumble on the uneven ground, it was not always possible to fully appreciate the wonderful scenery.
Another man-made landmark along the route is the Torre da Lapa, a sixteenth/seventeenth century watchtower restored in 2017. Watchtowers were once commonplace along the Portuguese coastline. Local men would keep a lookout for approaching pirates and alert neighbouring communities of any impending danger. These watchtowers were apparently hollow; however, the one I was circling appeared to lack any ground floor entry point, perhaps a means of keeping the watchmen safe from marauders.
We reached a large area of limestone pavement, which reminded Harri of the Black Mountain back in Wales, and provided us with a brief opportunity for some level walking. Now at last I could appreciate the views along the coastline to Lagos and beyond.
As we neared Ferragudo, the trail became busier with people heading up from the resort to Farol da Ponta do Altar, a lighthouse standing at the mouth of the Arade river. There was no real need to walk the final few hundred uphill metres to the finish/start of the trail, except Harri likes to do things properly and so we had to finish what we’d started.
Having covered the outward distance, we retired to Praia de Paraiso for the next hour and a half. This is our third winter in the Algarve; however, it’s still hard to get our heads around the winter climate, i.e. it was sufficiently warm in late January to laze around on the beach in shorts and tee-shirts. Harri, (fool)hardy as he is, even went for a dip in the sea, although he did admit afterwards that it was extremely cold.
All too soon it was time to get going again. Now we just had to tackle everything in reverse. All those nail-biting downhill sections became uphill slogs and the tough climbs of the morning were transformed into terrifying nosedives. Thanks to the running, my legs are strong and muscular; however, I still face steep, rocky downhill sections with trepidation.
By the time we reached the car, we’d walked just under 15km. On easier terrain, we’d have covered that distance in well under three hours. But the Trail of the Headlands is not easy terrain and my leg muscles were aching from the constant climbing and descending. It’s just as well those incredible views made the exertion worthwhile!