Our last day on the Fishermen’s Trail has finally dawned and today we will be walking from Burgau to Lagos, where the trail officially ends (or begins if you are walking the trail in the opposite direction). For the first six kilometres we’ll be completing the penultimate stage from Salema to Praia da Luz. After that, we will face the final short stage from Praia da Luz to Lagos – a route we’ve walked several times before.
We woke feeling extremely sleep-deprived. The GNR had finally left Casa Grande at around 1am, but we were awoken again by cats fighting in the garden. I peered out of the window, still none the wiser about what had been going on out there last night. The garden was reasonably well-kept and it seemed unlikely anyone would manage to evade a police hunt by hiding in the shrubbery.
It was a little early for breakfast so we went for a wander around outside. The garden at the rear of Casa Grande was less cultivated but larger; looking up at the ornate ironwork on the terraces, it was clear this place had indeed been a ‘casa grande’ when it was built, with its vast carriage doors and ceiling-height shuttered windows.
A cat wandered out from a basement, followed by several kittens and I felt my heart expand. In a few days’ time, we’d be picking up our very own ginger kitten, Caesar.
The mystery solved
Over breakfast, we finally discovered what last night’s commotion was all about. Sally sat at the head of the long breakfast table and asked, ‘Who was sleeping in the turquoise room last night?’ She then apologised for our likely sleeplessness and explained how a Dutch hotel guest with dementia had gone missing around 5pm. She and the man’s wife had been out looking for him for hours but, with no sign of him as nightfall fell, they’d understandably called the police. He’d been missing all night and his poor wife was frantic.
As we sat around the breakfast table – four cyclists, two other hikers and some younger people – Sally’s phone rang. A Portuguese lady had spotted Sally’s post on Facebook and was almost certain she’d spotted the Dutchman walking near Bensafrim, nearly 13km from Burgau. Having confirmed he was still missing, she promised to stop her car and approach him.
The great thing about having a ground floor room at the front means you have a ringside seat for everything that’s happening. We were just gathering our belongings together when the happy reunion between the man and his wife took place outside our room. The man looked frail and a little confused, and his legs were scratched and bloody, but he was otherwise unharmed. It was an emotional moment, not just for his poor wife whose relief at having her husband back in one piece was clear, but for all of us at Casa Grande. That the Portuguese lady had gone to such lengths to return a complete stranger to his wife safely says so much about the innate kindness that is continually shown to we immigrants here.
Let our last day on the Fishermen’s Trail begin
We eventually set off at 10.15am with full bellies – Sally certainly believes in feeding her guests well. My legs ached from yesterday’s hiking and my rucksack felt heavier; however, our final day’s hiking promised to be a relatively easy one with just one steep climb out of Praia da Luz. We had left the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina just before Burgau, after which there is more development along the coastal strip and a lot more walkers.
Last night, we’d walked the section of the Fishermen’s Trail which passes through Burgau, so we were able to head straight to the coast path. The walking along this beautiful coastline is easy and we made good progress, arriving in Praia da Luz in well under an hour (it was only 5km). Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t playing ball and it looked like it might even rain on us (as it did on our first day’s walking from Sines to Porto Covo).
Praia da Luz itself is a pretty resort with some lovely independent shops and a promenade that’s perfect for strolling along. The sun made a brief appearance and our spirits soared. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find any public toilets though. No loos in Luz, Harri quipped.
Rocha Negra (Black Rock) is a towering volcanic cliff on the eastern end of the beach and there’s no avoiding the climb to the top if you want to continue along the coastline to Lagos. With only 11km to go before Lagos and the end of the Fishermen’s Trail, I found myself struggling in the muggy weather. The natural tendency for most walkers is to follow widest tracks which are incredibly eroded and steep; thankfully, the waymarked route meanders around the hillside making the climb marginally easier.
The views from the top of Rocha Negra are quite spectacular and the fact that there is road access to the viewpoint means this is a popular place. In fact, the views over Praia da Luz and this beautiful stretch coastline are so breathtaking that it’s hard to pull yourself away. After that, the terrain became easier again as we followed a wide dried-clay track for the next few kilometres.
And we’re on the final stage …
Yet, despite the level walking, we were both feeling a little last-lustre on this, our last day of hiking. Harri had developed a sore toe and my energy levels had absolutely plummeted. I couldn’t help contrasting my low spirits with the exuberant mood in which I’d completed the much longer O Fôn i Fynwy or the Via Algarviana (both of which I’ve written books about). We weren’t even carrying camping gear (or wet weather clothes) on this trip … could getting old have anything to do with it?
At Praia de Porto de Mos, we headed uphill and briefly away from the coast before eventually emerging at another popular area – Ponta da Piedade (‘Piety Point’). A few years ago, Harri and I attempted to follow the coast path between the two places but it was so badly eroded and terrifying that we ended up turning back.
Ponta da Piedade is a rocky headland about three kilometres south of Lagos. Its rugged cliffs are popular with locals and tourists alike, which means it’s almost always busy. An enormous amount of effort has been put into preserving this rapidly eroding stretch of coast and there is now an extensive network of walkways, boardwalks and bridges to walk around. Sadly, there will always be people who have no respect for the environmentalists’ efforts – or their own safety – and trample across fragile ecosystems to take the obligatory selfie on crumbling cliffs.
We’d covered 44km since Cabo de São Vicente and have just 4.5km to Lagos railway station and the end of the Fishermen’s Trail.
Those last few kilometres were pretty boring, not least because much of it was along road or involved concrete steps and detours around hotels and other developments. On the bright side, we frequently found ourselves looking down onto Lagos’ smaller beaches.
We reached Lagos railway station mid-afternoon, lifted our walking poles in the air in a celebratory pose in front of the interpretation board and plodded back across the Bensafrim river to kill a few hours. It felt a little anti-climatic, but then maybe that’s the nature of completing any challenge, be it a long-distance hiking trail, a marathon or a book?
Would I recommend the Fishermen’s Trail?
This is a tough one. Overall, we visited some beautiful places and landscapes we might otherwise never have seen, simply because we’d not have driven so far to walk along one beach or wander around a dilapidated fort. I absolutely loved Vila Nova da Milfontes and Odeceixe; we will definitely return to those delightful spots. Harri very much liked Zambujeira do Mar and Almograve. I think we’ll probably return to Burgau before too long, hopefully staying in a bigger (and grander) room at the Casa Grande, which I adored.
The Fishermen’s Trail was certainly tougher than I imagined it would be, not least because there was so much walking on sand and some scary negotiation of precipitous footpaths (my fall didn’t endear me to the terrain). I wonder too if living so close to the ocean (our home is less than two kilometres from the beach and we can see the sea from our terrace) meant the almost entirely coastal nature of the trail made less an impression on me that it might have done when we lived in Wales. The Alentejo and Western Algarve landscape is spectacular – there’s no doubt about that – yet some of those stretches when we were walking high on the cliffs looking down on amazing geological formations felt ‘awesome’ in the way the Grand Canyon does, i.e. you gasp constantly and reach for your camera, but it’s impossible to get up close and intimate. (Personally, I preferred Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks).
The safe return of the Dutchman after a night of walking alone was a wonderful sight to behold; I had tears in my eyes as I watched his wife embracing him on Casa Grande’s cobbles.
For those who manage to get to the top of Rocha Negra the reward is the incredible views back along the coast. Really, it’s worth all the puffing and panting, just to stand there looking across at that magnificent landscape.
The road walking between Ponta da Piedade and Lagos’ Old Town is rather tedious.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com