The Fishermen’s Trail: Day 7 Aljezur – Vale da Telha (Arrifana) (17.5km)

A donkey works the field in Aljezur

We celebrate a week on the trail today by walking to Vale da Telha. The official stage of the Fishermen’s Trail ends in Arrifana; however, Harri thought it would be nice to stay overnight in Vale da Telha instead as we have history with this unusual place.

We left Aljezur on the same cobbled lane which led us into the town yesterday, though thankfully it was a little cooler at 8.30 am. The plan was to walk to the coast and then grab a late breakfast/early lunch at the urbanisation close to Monte Clérigo. We recalled there was a clifftop restaurant overlooking Praia do Amoreira; it had been closed in the winter but we were certain it would be open on a hot summer Saturday because what proprietor doesn’t want to make a killing when tourists are aplenty, right?

The river between Amoreira and Aljezur is no longer navigable

On this trip, we didn’t go past Aljezur castle – which is on an adjacent hill – but instead followed the same valley route we took in October 2015. Looking at the marshy estuary, it was hard to believe the river was once navigable and Aljezur a thriving port. In fact, the river and port remained navigable to Amoreira until the 18th century after which channel fell into a state of disrepair following the destruction of the village caused by the 1755 earthquake. The earthquake and its aftermath dramatically altered everyday life in so many cities and communities throughout Portugal; Aljezur was just another of its casualties.

Fontes are often signposted and maintained here: Fonte das Mentiras was no different. I peered through the railings into the dark abyss almost out of a sense of duty – I can’t say the majority of fontes are very exciting.

Still as steep but fortunately a lot less slippery than last time

In October 2015, our hiking trip to the Algarve had coincided with the tail end of Hurricane Joaquin. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much damage in Portugal but there was a lot of rain, which transformed much of the terrain we were walking into thick, cloying mud. The steep hill we were now climbing was memorable because it had been so rutted and slippery, making progress very difficult. Nearly seven years later, the gradient remained as daunting, but at least the ground was firm underfoot.

Halfway up, we spotted the German couple who were walking all the way to Lagos. Like me, the woman was really struggling in the heat but, unlike me, had opted to leave her walking sticks in her backpack. Without my walking sticks I’d have never reached the top!

I rely on Harri to inform me which trail we’re on at any given point in our hike. Apparently, we’d been following the Historic Way since leaving Aljezur but were now rejoining the Fishermen’s Trail. In 2015, we had remained on the Historic Way. The way these Rota Vicentina trails – and circular routes – keep crossing over, merging and diverging can be rather confusing (to me at least!).

Heading towards civilisation … but no breakfast

As we approached the coast on this high-level route, the views were spectacular in both directions. We don’t usually like walking alongside roads; however, this one was quiet and undulating, meaning we were able to pick up the pace nicely.

The ‘official’ route – and the one we followed – leads hikers through a large and rather soulless urbanisation/development which was deserted other than for a few builders. Many of the glass-walled properties shrieked ‘money’ but there was no sign of life anywhere. This didn’t look like the kind of place where we might stumble upon a local café … and we didn’t.

By now it was 10.30 am and our stomachs were rumbling. Alas, the clifftop restaurant at Praia do Amoreira was closed despite the proximity of a large car park which was fast filling up.

Maybe one day we’ll find this restaurant open?

Praia de Monte Clérigo

Fortunately, Praia de Monte Clérigo was just over the headland. We last came here in December 2018 when it was so windy the beach road had almost disappeared under sand. It’s an idyllic spot with an unspoilt beach, a really chilled surfing vibe and traditional cottages tumbling down the hill; it’s not unlike Cornwall on a summer’s day.

Harri heading towards Praia de Monte Clérigo

Thankfully, the unpretentious O Zé was open and busy. We sat on the front terrace overlooking the gorgeous beach and opted for mixed tostas – ham and cheese toasties – and tea. When they arrived, the tostas were so enormous, we could only manage half each.

Our enormous tostas

With only 7.25 km left to walk today, we lingered at O Zé for ages, enjoying the antics of an enormous, friendly dog at an adjacent table (he wanted to greet every other dog but his size rather intimidated some of them).

Eventually, it was time to push ahead and we left Praia de Monte Clérigo via some steep steps past a beautiful pink property (I have tried, but I cannot find anything online about its history, use, etc).

The colourful houses at Praia de Monte Clérigo

Back on the cliff, the wind picked up suddenly. This stretch of coastline looks very different geologically to farther north. To my untrained eye there seemed to be more slate and less sandstone. Unfortunately, it didn’t mean less sand and, once again, our progress was marred by the difficult terrain.

We reached Ponta da Atalaia and the Arrifana Ribât, a 12th century Muslim fort which was excavated in 2001. Sixty-one graves were discovered here, the majority of the bodies facing southeast towards Mecca (three are separate to the other graves and orientated northwest, making archaeologists wonder if they were Christian graves). Anyway, the ribât is apparently the only one of its kind in Portugal, which is probably why it was attracting plenty of visitors.

The excavated Arrifana Ribât

After Ponta da Atalaia, the coast stretched out endlessly in the distance and it was hard to believe we’d be arriving at Cabo de São Vicente, the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe in just four days’ time. We could just about make out the sand dune system near Carrapateira, tomorrow’s end destination.

That’s what I most love about hiking: by simply putting one foot in front of the other and repeating for hours on end you can cover the most incredible distances. This particular trail has been tough in places, but that’s more to do with the terrain than the distances (which have not been demanding).

Thankfully, the wind dropped again and we were able to enjoy the landscape without battering against the wind. The cliffs here were dark and slide steeply into the sea; sandy beaches were replaced by stones heaped up where land and sea met.

Vale da Telha

The terrain began to look familiar as we approached Vale da Telha, another sprawling urbanisation, which we rather like for its wide sandy roads, trees and kerb appeal (most of the houses are traditional build, i.e. terracotta roofs, and detached).

Even among the trees there was no shade

We left the trail to join a sandy trail through stone pine and vegetation. The landscape was beautiful but sadly lacked the shade we desperately needed. I was so tired by this point that I could barely keep putting one foot in front of the other. Until we began walking the Fishermen’s Trail, I really hadn’t realised how distances matter far less than the terrain. I walked 45 kilometres earlier this year (mostly on pavements and tracks) and yet here I was struggling to keep going for a measly 17.5 km.

Harri has some advice for anyone who plans to walk the Fishermen’s Trail in the future.

‘Don’t be tempted into thinking that – because the day sections are not very long – you can put two together and do a longer day. The walking on this trail is so much slower than you would expect and a few kilometres on sandy, undulating footpaths can take forever.’

After beers and Calippos outside Fonte do Vale on the main roundabout, we headed for our accommodation – the two-star Hotel Vale da Telha. We’d been looking forward to the pool, but again the wind had whipped up making it far too cold for a dip. I relaxed, fully clothed, on a sunbed while Harri preferred to sit at a poolside table to read.

Nobody was venturing into the pool today

Later, we returned to Fonte do Vale where we opted for olives, burger meals and a litre of vinho verde. Everything came to 31 euros, again representing excellent value for good food.

What might have been

We’d normally have gone straight back to the hotel after dinner; however, it was still light so Harri suggested a post-dinner stroll. He thought it would be interesting to discover the fate of a large house we’d viewed back in December 2018. I had adored its size, its quirkiness and the strangely shaped rooms; Harri hated it. In the event, we couldn’t proceed anyway because our UK house sale collapsed, but we’d remained curious about the property because the estate agent told us we were the only potential buyers who hadn’t wanted to turn the property into a hostel. At the end of 2018, it was on the market for 215k and the agent assured us we could secure it for under 200k. To put it in some perspective, this was six-bedroomed detached house with nearby beaches in the Algarve. Anything around 200k was an absolute bargain. There was only one drawback: in Vale da Telha there was a moratorium on any building work, including new windows, terraces, change of external appearance, etc. The ‘haunted house’ – as Harri insisted on referring to it – was calling out for renovation.

The ‘haunted house’ in December 2018

So how did it look three-and-a-half years on? Well, the new owners had definitely started renovating the property and a swimming pool was being installed so we could only assume the moratorium had been lifted. The horrible front tile walls were still in place and an ‘overhang’ had been erected on one side. As I gazed around the large garden, I admit to experiencing a little pang: what I might have done with all that space. We really like Vale da Telha – the coastline is stunning and Aljezur is nearby. It was the 102-kilometre drive to Faro airport that was a deal breaker for us.

And in May 2022: those tiles would have been the first thing to go if we’d bought the property

We fell into bed around nine, absolutely exhausted. Coincidentally, despite ending the day’s hiking at Vale da Telha rather than Arrifana, we had covered exactly the same distance, i.e. 17.5 km.

Accommodation

We really liked Hotel Vale da Telha – and its lovely pool area. We paid 64 euros for a double room and breakfast. The hotel’s Moorish theme is reflected throughout, including in reception, the dining room and guest rooms.

The rather grand toilet door off reception

Our room was lovely with nice touches of Moorish décor, e.g. the lighting, and we had decent distant views. Unfortunately, our tiny ‘furnished’ terrace was lacking any furnishings (unless you count an ashtray). We wondered if we were meant to drag the room’s two ornate chairs outdoors – it seemed unlikely. Similarly, the ‘mini bar’ was an empty fridge, which was a big disappointment for Harri. On the plus side, our room was equipped with its own recycling bins, something we’ve never encountered before.

The biggest disappointment was that our room faced the ‘wrong’ direction, which meant there was no sun on the tiny terrace at all during our stay.

Highlights

Without doubt, today’s highlight was Praia de Monte Clérigo, one of my favourite beaches on the Fishermen’s Trail. The views as you approach from the north are quite magnificent.

Praia de Monte Clérigo

Downsides

The urbanisation at Monte Clérigo is soulless and adds nothing to this stage of the trail except kilometres.

Now I’ve studied the map properly, I’m not even sure why the Fishermen’s Trail bothers to direct hikers through this deserted place – there are no facilities here. If we’d ignored the waymark pointing right and continued along the original road, we’d have reached the coast a lot quicker and avoided a lot of aimless wandering.

More information

If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com

Routinely Nomadic have produced lots of information about the Rota Vicentina and the Stingy Nomads have also produced free guides to walking the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail.

If you want to know more about Praia de Monte Clérigo, here’s a guide to the place.

https://rotavicentina.com/trilhos/aljezur-arrifana/

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