We’re heading to Carrapateira today, on a route that will be slightly longer than the official stage because we haven’t yet reached Arrifana.
Despite liking Hotel Vale da Telha very much, we didn’t get the best night’s sleep. Our room’s proximity to the reception desk meant we were woken by loud talking more than once; in fact, Harri said the noise continued off and on until 4am (I must have slept through much of it). There were also mosquitos buzzing around in our room … this is a habitual problem in the Algarve and at home we use plug-in repellents. Here there was nothing.
Thankfully, the great buffet breakfast went some way towards softening our feelings towards our accommodation provider.
We set off at 9.15am in thick cloud, calling first at a mini mercado for more Sumol, fruit and crisps. This was one reason Harri had opted to stay overnight in Vale da Telha, i.e. the availability of supplies. According to the Rota Vicentina website, there are no facilities on route today – which may be a good thing as these beer stops do tend to slow us down a bit!!
The temperature is forecast to be slightly lower today, which will make the walking easier. In fact, we’re hoping to get some of the toughest, sandiest walking under our belts before the sun breaks through.
Our first task was to complete yesterday’s stage and walk the three kilometres to Arrifana. This additional walking was necessary because we left the trail to head into Vale da Telha and needed to retrace our steps to rejoin it. It’s rare for us to under-walk a stage – we’re more likely to do the opposite – but Harri’s research revealed there are very few accommodation options in Arrifana, other than surfing hostels.
As we skirted Vale da Telha, it struck us again just how enormous this sprawling urbanisation is: 500 hectares or five square kilometres. In an interesting online article, Matt D’Arcy explains how the first housing was ‘a tiny area flanking the lake’, which was called Vale da Telha (valley of the tiles) to reflect the nature of the lakeside’s clay ground.
The wider urbanisation wasn’t developed until the late 1970s when a local businessman – José de Sousa Cintra – spotted the potential to develop a purpose-built community. Over the years, Vale da Telha has had a chequered history and plans to improve its infrastructure (those roads!) are gathering pace. As I said in my previous blog, it’s a beautiful spot to live if you or your visitors don’t need regular access to the airport.
Back on the Fishermen’s Trail, we left the sandy footpath and found ourselves walking through a scrubby landscape dotted with ruins. Now the terrain underfoot was dry and hard, and despite following the coast, it wasn’t long before we were in Arrifana. The two places are very close as the crow flies. In fact, as you’re leaving Arrifana, you pass a large Moorish chimney with the words ‘Vale da Telha’ painted on it and an arrow pointing left.
Today’s stage involves walking on both the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historic Way, but there was no sign of any waymarks in Arrifana – this is where downloaded GPX files come in useful. Left to our own devices, we might have followed a well-defined footpath to our right … which would have taken us to the coast too soon (from Google maps it looked like we’d have had a valley to circumnavigate).
Needless to say, the correct route was uphill. Within minutes of us joining the wide track, a spaniel-type dog raced past followed by a 4×4 vehicle. We’ve seen dog owners here using this kind of technique to take their pets for a walk on previous occasions, but what amazed us was the speed the dog was racing up the hill. Boy was that animal getting its Sunday morning workout. (It all happened to fast for me to capture it on film.)
When the track levelled out, we encountered the dog again. This time it was being walked by its owner – and there was an older dog plodding alongside them. The dog’s owner explained how the spaniel needs a good run every morning, but her 15-year-old dog has developed bad arthritis. By encouraging the younger dog to expend most of its considerable energy on route to the woods, it happily settles down to walk alongside its older companion later on. What an ingenious idea!
We walked the Historic Way between Arrifana and Carrapateira in October 2015 (when the Fishermen’s Trail didn’t exist this far south) and are beginning to recognise some of the landmarks. Of course, we won’t be sticking with this route all the way to Carrapateira this time around … the two routes will be diverging at some point.
There was a steep descent to a pebbly beach we’d previously named ‘Stinky Beach’. Without going into too much detail, the stinkiness clearly came from the detritus and rotting ‘materials’ left behind by humans. It was horrible and so we were delighted to return to find the beach cleaned up and no longer stinky …though the scummy polluters may well return later in the summer.
Having had our spirits lifted at sea level, mine plummeted again when I realised the climb back to the clifftop was tough … really tough. Time and time again we came to what proved to be a false summit. Where was that sea breeze when you needed it?
To make things worse, the couple ahead of us were carrying tiny daypacks and making light work of the ascent.
Finally, the terrain levelled out and we found ourselves walking on a wide, vehicle track with just a scattering of sand; eucalyptus trees and stone pines lined the track, meaning there were no views. Our pace increased and Harri thought we’d end up reaching Carrapateira earlier than anticipated.
At the 10-kilometre point, the sun finally made an appearance, though sadly it was short lived.
The Rota Vicentina
As we walked, Harri explained how the Rota Vicentina’s various trails fit together so I’ll do my best to reiterate here:
At 263 km, the Historic Way is considerably longer than the Fishermen’s Trail (which is just under 230 km). Both are split into 13 stages, but the hiker faces longer distances on some of the Historic Way stages. Three stages range between 23–25 kilometres, plus there is the challenging Sabóia-Odemira stage which is 33 km (we’re hoping to tackle this as a two-day out-and-back in the autumn).
In the Alentejo, the Historic Way and the Fishermen’s Trail have different overnight stopping places so it isn’t easy to switch between the two long-distance routes. From Odeceixe, the stages of both trails end/begin in the same place – this means you can opt to pick and mix stages of both routes if you wish.
Of course, it’s possible to mostly follow the Fishermen’s Trail but switch to the Historic Way occasionally during the latter stages:
- Aljezur to Arrifana – the shorter distance is the Historic Way
- Arrifana to Carrapateira – the opposite is true, with more climbing and extra kilometres if you stick to the Historic Way for the entire stage (though you will avoid the sandy footpaths towards the end of the day)
Unexpected liquid refreshment
We hadn’t expected any beer stops on today’s route so it was a nice surprise when we stumbled upon a lovely tapas bar. Obviously, we piled in … to encounter all those hikers we’d spied in the distance. We’ve missed the camaraderie of our early days on the trail so it was nice to be able to talk to other hikers again.
Turns out the super-speedy day packers in front of us are also walking the entire Rota Vicentina but have opted to have their luggage transferred every day. I am not the slightest bit envious.
Nobody can subsequently recall every twist and turn of a long-distance trail, but the last section of the Historic Way felt so unfamiliar to Harri he found himself wondering if the trail might have been rerouted? There was no way of knowing as we weren’t using GPS in 2015.
We reached the spot where the two trails diverged and joined the Fishermen’s Trail. The track remained high, with the deep, wooded valleys to our left looking impossibly inaccessible. Distant views of Fóia and Picota.
For a while there were no sea views, and then we headed back to the coast where the sea looked every bit as bleak and grey as the sky. We climbed to a beacon and then Harri climbed a little more … to the top of the beacon.
From this aspect, Carrapateira was clearly visible ahead and Arrifana already far behind us. Inbetween the two surfing resorts there was nothing noticeable, bringing home just how sparsely populated the western coast of the Algarve is.
We descended to Praia da Bordeira, which was deserted at its northern end. As we got closer to the lagoon, it became busy with families and surfers despite the distinctly unbalmy weather. There’s a river on the southern side of the beach and I’d been concerned about crossing it (my feet are very sensitive to the cold).
If the river is impassable, the Rota Vicentina website advises hikers to go to Pinhal do Bordalete and follow the road into Carrapateira. I needn’t have worried. On this occasion, a sand bar blocked the lagoon from the open sea. We joined a narrow footpath above the beach to head inland and I spotted a familiar wooden beach bar on the far side of the lagoon.
Away from the sea, the wind dropped and it felt warmer. There were even little pockets of blue sky overhead. Harri remembered joining boardwalks on the approach to Carrapateira, while I recalled sandy footpaths. Turned out we were both right, though unfortunately the boardwalks soon ended and we were once again ploughing through deep sand.
We have very fond memories of our visits to Carrapateira in 2015 and 2018. Under today’s cloudy skies, this surfers paradise bore little resemblance to the buzzing, lively place we remembered. We walked past several derelict properties to reach the centre. The main square was deserted and its eateries closed. In fact, the only place we could grab a beer (and a meal later that evening) was a small restaurant called Alecrim.
At Casa de Olivia, a blackboard listed tonight’s guests, with instructions on how to get into the rooms. If only we’d known, we could skipped the beer and rolled up an hour earlier.
We had no option but to return to Alecrim for dinner. We opted for bacalhau à bras, a traditional Portuguese dish of salt cod, potato and eggs, with a carafe of vinho verde. The food was excellent, but the wine tasted a little flat. There were also mosquitos buzzing around, which was off-putting.
We ate in a deserted restaurant, longing to be transported back in time to our lively Friday night in Aljezur. At some point, a Danish hiker we recognised came in and we had a little chat to him, but the evening felt as flat as the wine.
Thank goodness, we were only in Carrapateira for one night.
We had a nicely decorated triple room (a double and a single) at Casa de Olivia for just 28 euros. Breakfast wasn’t included but there is a popular café just off the main square that opens at 9am.
I hesitate to be critical of any accommodation which charges so little and provides access to a kettle, a clothesline and flipflops! My only reservation was the tiny bathroom, which had clearly been a built-in wardrobe in a previous life.
For me, this stage of the Fishermen’s Trail was the least enjoyable yet. Harri puts this down to the gloomy weather and he’s probably right. Whatever, my mood really plummeted today.
Still, I’ve tried to remain positive, so my two highlights for today are the far-reaching views from the beacon (I’m imagining how spectacular they would have been in sunshine) and the delicious buffet breakfast at Hotel Vale da Telha.
The day’s biggest disappointment was returning to Carrapateira to find the vibrant little town of our memories distinctly lacking in life. Maybe the many derelict properties looked uglier and more conspicuous under grey skies, or maybe Sunday afternoons/evenings at the end of May were always this quiet – whatever the reason, Carrapateira felt like a very different place to the small town we first visited in October 2015. I’m not sure I’ll be able to wax lyrically about it anymore.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com
An article about Vale da Telha appeared in the June 2022 issue of Tomorrow magazine.