We’re facing a longish day today; however, from memory, we know the walking will be relatively straightforward, particularly the long flat stretch between Cabo de São Vicente and Sagres.
One of the great things about staying in higher cost accommodation is that breakfast is generally included in the price. Fonte Velha didn’t disappoint and we tucked into a delicious breakfast of assorted fruit, Greek yoghurt, scrambled egg, croissants, and a range of breads and condiments. (And I wonder why I never lose weight on our Portuguese hiking holidays!)
With our bellies full – and numerous cups of tea/coffee consumed – we set off for Sagres, leaving Vila do Bispo on the Historic Trail, a stage we first walked in October 2015.
The rolling hills and meadows around Vila do Bispo always remind us of far-west Cornwall as you approach Land’s End. Perhaps the similar landscape isn’t surprising as we’re within touching distance of the most south-westerly point of Portugal … an Iberian land’s end.
In late May, the yellow cornfields dotted with purple thistles dazzled and small fluffy clouds drifted across a blue sky. Harri grew up on a small dairy farm and still finds it incredible that haymaking takes place so early here in the Algarve.
The tarmac road eventually gave way to a dusty track and, to our right, we were able to see a fair distance back up the west coast. Arrifana, with its clifftop location, was easy to spot and we could see the water tower at Vale de Telha. I’m always amazed how much ground we can cover just by putting one foot in front of the other day after day.
As we headed towards the coast, the vegetation become sparser and scrubbier, with low-level white rock rose. To our left, sprawling Sagres was clearly visible but there was no glimpse yet of the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente.
Somewhere along the trail, the Historic Way and the Fishermen’s Trail diverged; we stayed with the latter, having committed to walking the route from beginning (Praia de São Torpes) to end (Lagos).
From this point, the Fishermen’s Trail route became busier with hikers and cars (several of which looked rather like rally cars). Unfortunately, even the most considerate driver can’t avoid throwing up clouds of sandy dust as they pass so I found myself rushing off the track the minute I spotted an oncoming vehicle.
Until now, the track had been a fair distance from the coast with cattle grazing the surrounding scrubland, but now it veered towards the clifftop, crossing vast areas of cracked, claylike ground. The vegetation is all low-level here –daisies, tiny blue orchids, some succulents.
Thankfully – given the terrifying cracks in the cliffs – we didn’t need to get too close to the edge or descend to sea level at any point. There was one hairy moment though, when I became wedged in a rocky ravine and nearly fell as my rucksack attached itself to a bush. I admit that a few choice words may have escaped my lips.
In More Algarve Hiking, I relate how, back in October 2015, Harri had dropped a bombshell at around this point:
‘I didn’t want to alarm you,’ he said, ‘but in an hour or so, we’ll be coming to a ravine and the only way of crossing it is to drop into it by means of a ladder.’
For half an hour or so, I feared the worst only to discover the imminent ravine was ‘pretty tame by Indiana Jones’ standards, and rather than being a frayed rope affair, the ladder was sturdy and short’.
In fact, I used the photograph of me perched at the top of the ladder for the front cover of my book.
Fast forward six-and-a-half years and the ladder has been replaced by a little wooden staircase. While this might sound like a vast improvement, the banister was so low and loose it seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
The last section of walking to the lighthouse was sandy and scattered with boulders which meant you really had to lift your feet and concentrate on not tripping over. It was predictably busy – this is a popular tourist destination and people tend to wander around on the clifftops taking in the magnificent views.
Cabo de São Vicente
Our first visit to Cabo de São Vicente was actually a bit of an anti-climax. The lighthouse marks the end (or beginning) of the Via Algarviana but when we reached this iconic landmark in May 2015 it was to find the gates locked and our entry barred (it was Monday, when the lighthouse is closed to visitors). Five months later we’d returned – walking the Historic Way from Vila do Bispo to Sagres – and were finally able to look around (and get our photograph taken on the giant-sized seat).
Unfortunately, like Land’s End in Cornwall, Cabo de São Vicente has become a tourist magnet with the associated food and souvenir stalls, day trippers and endless lines of cars. If you don’t feel up to walking there, you can catch a bus from Sagres.
Harri reminded me that only six months ago we’d been walking the Portuguese side of the Guadiana river to reach the country’s most south-easterly point. Now we were standing at the country’s most south-westerly point … there’s a certain serendipity in that, don’t you think?
The Via Algarviana and the Historic Way both finish at Cabo de São Vicente – it’s only the Fishermen’s Trail which continues along the south coast – and the lighthouse marked the end of our west coast hiking. From this point on, we’ll be walking along the Algarve’s southern coast to Lagos.
And on to Sagres
After four hours of walking, we stopped for lunch just after Fortaleza do Beliche. The coastline between Cabo de São Vicente and Sagres is ruggedly beautiful with steep cliffs and just one accessible beach (Praia do Beliche).
This means the Fishermen’s Trail is forced back onto the road for a short distance, leading to some fast – and extremely dull – walking. Eventually, our route left the road and we found ourselves on a footpath winding its way through some strange sparsely planted ‘forest’ full of six to eight foot trees with little bunches growing on them. I have no idea what they were. We emerged and made slow progress as we picked our way across the lunar-like landscape and occasionally missing waymarks.
The Fortaleza de Sagres is another big tourist attraction in the area and one we haven’t yet visited (we’re always approaching the end of a hike when we reach it!).
In Sagres, we ordered two pints at the same bar we went to back in 2015 (for an incredibly low 6,20 euros) and reminisced about our final day on the Via Algarviana and how the woman in the tourist information office refused to stamp our trail passports for the past two days’ hiking (thus denying us our free gifts). People in Portugal are generally so friendly and accommodating that the occasional grump or officious individual always sticks in our minds!
We were having a cheap night tonight (36 euros compared to last night’s 80 euros). Harri had booked accommodation described as ‘self-catering [and] equipped with a kitchen’. There was a Spar around the corner and we had a terrace where we could eat … or so Harri thought.
We had a bit of a surprise then, when we checked in and there was no sign of a kitchen or a terrace. When I asked the owner where the kitchen was, he pointed to a microwave on top of a small fridge. Terrace was even more of a misnomer … a glass door led out onto a quiet cobbled street where a plastic table and two chairs awaited us.
When the owner left, we roared with laughter. The definition of a terrace is clearly vague in Portugal: in Vale de Telha, we had a terrace with no seating or table while, here in Sagres, we had the table and chairs without a terrace. But really, for 36 euros we couldn’t quibble and the room itself was modern and well-decorated with wi-fi, a television and Netflix. Of course, Harri was more concerned about the lack of laundry facilities, i.e. no terrace meant nowhere to dry our clothes overnight.
Clearly, the lack of kitchen facilities meant we had to rethink our evening dining plans. We weighed up our options: eat out, buy food that didn’t require any cooking, plates or cutlery or grab a takeaway and stay in.
In the end, we opted to buy a bottle of wine (with screw top) in the Spar and grabbed some kebabs from a nearby takeaway. With yoghurt sauce and chips, our total evening meal plus wine came to around 14 euros.
It was still hot, so we ate on our pavement ‘terrace’ with various items of underwear pegged to our chairs. A tailless cat prowled past and, in the garden opposite, some small girls practised their rollerblading skills on the driveway. We used our fingers to eat and drank wine from mugs, but it was all rather delightful and an unforgettable experience.
When you go with the flow, the very best things happen.
We stayed at Apartamentos Atalaia for 36 euros (no breakfast). I’m sure you would get a kitchen and a terrace if you paid a little more – or were perhaps staying for longer than one night.
Our double room was beautifully decorated. The biggest downside for us was the lack of any windows in either the bedroom or the bathroom (clearly, we couldn’t leave the door open as it opened directly onto the street). At the end of May, this was just about bearable but neither of us slept particularly well as a result.
The proximity of the Spar supermarket makes the apartments ideal for hikers needing to stock up on snacks for the next stage of their hike.
For me personally, I enjoyed the hiking between Vila do Bispo and the coast far more than today’s coastal walking. Maybe I’m just getting a little blasé about having the ocean alongside me, but those rolling meadows around Vila do Bispo just have to be seen.
The lines of parked vehicles on the approach to Cabo de São Vicente are pretty depressing (Land’s End in Cornwall at least has a car park).
The stretch of road walking when you first leave Cabo de São Vicente to head to Sagres is pretty gruelling in the heat.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com