With New Year effectively cancelled for everyone this year and a three-day curfew in Portugal from January 1-3, we decided to treat ourselves to an end of year mini-trip to Praia da Luz (returning in plenty of time on New Year’s Eve to comply with restrictions).
The plan was to park at Lagos marina and follow the 10km Via Algarviana link route to Bensafrim before heading back to Praia da Luz for the night. The following morning we would follow the coast path back to Lagos. We’ve passed through Praia da Luz on a previous occasion and thought it delightful; however, we had never stayed there before.
Jasmine Harman of A Place in the Sun fame once told viewers how Lagos was one of her favourite cities in the world and, on this glorious end-of-year morning, it was easy to understand why. This ancient port at the mouth of the Bensafrim river is steeped in history, yet manages to feel modern and vibrant. In normal years, the historic city attracts large numbers of visitors and the property prices here are high.
We were last in Lagos at the beginning of March, when we enjoyed our ‘last supper’ before Portugal entered its first State of Emergency on March 18.
It was wonderful to be back, even if the ticket touts lining the marina’s perimeter and promoting boat trips to local sea caves were as persistent as ever. We’d see more of the city tomorrow; for now, we were heading out of town and into the lush surrounding countryside.
Fortunately, the weather was warming up nicely (I’d been brave and worn shorts) as we left town amid a surprising amount of traffic. After a while, we joined what appeared to be a recently metalled lane and were shocked to have more cars passing us in five minutes than we usually encounter in a two-hour walk around Montes Mourinhos. One of the benefits of living just outside a small Portuguese resort with under 5,000 inhabitants as opposed to a city with a population of nearer 19,000 is a noticeable lack of traffic.
As we climbed (steeply), the views opened out towards the mountains and we arrived in the land of ‘really nice villas’ (quite possibly the reason for all the traffic). Since watching The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes recently (a very entertaining series presented by the wonderful Caroline Quentin and architect Piers Taylor), I find it mildly amusing to identify contenders here in the Algarve (and there are plenty).
We soon joined an idyllic level track with lots of puddles and zero traffic. Harri’s fear is that more and more of these old tracks will be tarmacked, resulting in a dramatic increase in traffic. I understand his concerns. The rough and frequently rutted track leading down to the cobbled Rua da Chaminé in Porches was recently resurfaced, meaning that car drivers now have a fast cut-through to the village and we walkers are left with no option but to remain vigilant and expect to leap aside at any moment.
Away from the traffic, the rural landscape was uplifting. Now, traditional white-washed properties had replaced the sprawling villas, almond trees were just starting to blossom and the fields of Bermuda buttercups reminded us of the bright yellow of the rapeseed back home.
As we walked, I found myself remembering little details about the route. I have a more visual memory than Harri, who remembers maps, place names and the geographical proximity of one place to another. For me, it’ll be a property, a landscape or even a bend in the road which acts as a trigger. As we left the tiny traditional hamlet of Colégio, we were walking through an underpass, when I recalled the stretch of path on the far side as being the place we had previously encountered three loose and quite scary German shepherds. The dogs had only backed down when their owner came running out of a property to call them off. Today, we only spotted the one German shepherd on this occasion and it was behind locked gates.
We decided against walking all the way into Bensafrim, instead briefly joining the main Via Algarviana route out of town. (For information, Section 12 starts in Marmelete and ends at Bensafrim, although back in 2015, we carried on to Barão de São João where there was accommodation available.) Now the climb ahead became an absolute ski slope. I experimented with some backwards walking, encouraged by panoramic views of the rolling hills, so green we could have been back in Wales. By the time we reached level ground – the point at which we left the Via Algarviana – my poor legs were shot so it was a relief to discover we were walking on a high plateau surrounded by agricultural fields, drystone walls and magnificent views.
Having fondly imagined Bensafrim was the midway point of our route because its geographical location was halfway between Lagos and Praia da Luz, I was somewhat astounded to learn it wasn’t actually en route at all. In fact, when we reached a crossroads, Harri informed me the road we were crossing was the same one we’d left that morning at a point just one kilometre to our left (before we even reached Colégio!!). We could have got to this very same point in fifteen minutes and avoided that horrendous climb. I guess the whole purpose of hiking is to meander through beautiful landscapes and not to reach your destination by following the fastest route possible!
Harri spied a couple of ‘his’ and ‘her’ boulders (mine being the larger of the two for obvious reasons) so we settled down to enjoy our egg mayonnaise, cheese and paté bread rolls (a delicious if somewhat unusual combination) and crisps.
We’d barely set off again when we were confronted with a hill of rollercoaster proportions. I’d been warned to expect a descent into a valley before we reached Espiche but I hadn’t anticipated the climb the other side to be quite this steep. Car after car sped past us, the drivers obviously embracing their inner Lewis Hamilton. I plodded on at a snail’s pace, allowing myself to be distracted by the gorgeous scenery and the prettiest little clouds in an other clear sky.
Back on high ground, we could now see the beacon above Praia da Luz, which was reassuring. Espiche is a sleepy Algarvian village, just north of the N125. There were few residents around, just a few stray dogs and a handful of people sitting outside a bar. In that respect, the village was no different to most of the others we’ve walked through in the Algarve – and, I guess, not unlike most Welsh villages during working hours.
There was just a short stretch of walking on the far side of the N125 before we reached our day’s destination and, once again, we were thwarted by a ‘privado’ sign on what appeared to be a historic cobbled road. I was prepared to ignore the sign and carry on regardless; however, Harri spotted a parallel route up another hill. Goodness, with all this climbing, it was like being back in Wales!! I’m not a lover of hills. Before my daughter bought her house on a hill, she Googled the address to find out more about the area: the only result Google threw up was a blog post by yours truly in which I was complaining about the gradient of said hill!!
It was late afternoon and getting quite nippy by the time we strolled into Praia da Luz. We piled into a bar called The Bull, which had an eclectic and not unpleasing mix of English and Portuguese decor (think Toby mugs and china bulls). I opted for mulled wine in an attempt to warm myself up, but I waited so long for Harri’s pint of Speckled Hen to be pulled the wine was already cooling. It seemed a friendly enough place though and the barmaid diplomatically dissuaded us from eating at a particular restaurant we’d spotted by recommending almost every other one in town.
In the end, we gave all restaurants a miss and simply showered, went out to buy some lager and ate the remains of our picnic in our huge room at Club House CVL watching Pawn (a kind of US version of The Antiques Roadshow). We were just too tired (and cold) to justify spending 40-50 euros on a meal neither of us really wanted.
Happy 2021 to everyone. Keep hiking and stay safe and heed COVID-19 restrictions.
Above all, please, please get vaccinated at the very first opportunity.