The official start of the Fishermen’s Trail is at Praia de São Torpes, with the first day’s section ending at Porto Côvo.
You can reach Praia de São Torpes (from Sines) by bus or taxi, but it means a very short day of hiking, i.e. just 10km to complete.
This is probably the reason that many – maybe even the majority – of guided tours choose to leave out this first stage of the Fishermen’s Trail and set off from Porto Côvo, where there are more accommodation options.
Skipping some of the trail was never an option for us; however, our determination to walk the entire Fishermen’s Trail did mean we ended up doubling the first day’s distance.
We breakfasted like kings at the Hotel Sinerama in Sines, enjoying two plates of bacon and scrambled eggs each, plus fruit and cake. One of the best things about paying a bit more to stay in a good hotel is the buffet breakfasts. I can live without luxury but there’s nothing better than setting yourself up for a good day’s hiking with a decent breakfast.
The weather was grey and cloudy when we set off from Sines at 9.15am, but at least it wasn’t raining (as was originally forecast – though overnight this had changed to a 3% likelihood).
Sines is something of a blight on the coastal landscape. It marks the end of the longest unbroken stretch of beach in Europe, which begins on the Tróia peninsula south of the River Sado at Setúbal.
Until the early 1970s, Sines was a small fishing village and a popular seaside resort. Half a century later, the city is Portugal’s largest port, with vast container ships able to dock in its deep waters. The port is also vital in the country’s energy supply, including natural gas, oil and its derivatives. It reminded us of Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.
We visited Sines for the day in September 2019 when we were looking after the farm in Grândola and I blogged about it. In my penultimate sentence, I wrote ‘I very much doubt we’ll return here, unless we have a very good reason.’
Walking the Fishermen’s Trail was a ‘very good reason’; however, I couldn’t summon up any more enthusiasm for this important city on our second visit.
Unfortunately, Sines’ industrial landscape was a constant for much of the day. Harri had worked out a route which avoided some of the worst eyesores and circumnavigated a new stretch of motorway, but, even so, the industrial area seemed to go on forever, the desolate landscape only enhanced by the grey skies and threat of rain.
I’ve always enjoyed walking coastal footpaths, not least because you can often see your whole day mapped out ahead of you. Today wasn’t any different and, once we’d crested the highest point of the Sines’ headland, we could see Porto Côvo across the bay.
Unfortunately, the 3% possibility of rain materialised into actual rain and it was raining quite heavily by mid-morning. We had no waterproofs with us so all we could do was stash our phones and camera in our rucksacks and forge ahead. It was all rather soul-destroying, but although didn’t make for particularly enjoyable hiking it did mean we covered the first 10km very quickly.
We reached Praia de São Torpes at 12.30pm and stopped for large mugs of tea at the Kalux beach bar, which has been remarkably creative in ‘shielding’ its customers from the ugliness of the thermoelectric plant behind them with well-placed screening and (fake) plants. On a more positive note, the plant pumps warm water into ocean, resulting in delightfully warm bathing conditions. Unsurprisingly, this makes the Blue Flag beach extremely popular with bathers.
Finally, we crossed the line that marks the beginning of the Fishermen’s Trail and the start of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. It was far from balmy, but at last there was some blue sky overhead with the promise of afternoon sunshine.
We walked on the beach for while, then joined a quiet road past numerous restaurants, which – this being Sunday lunchtime – were all full of customers. It was only when we left the flat, level road surface and started plodding uphill on a sandy footpath that it hit home just how out of practice we were at walking with backpacks.
With around eight kilometres to go before we reached Porto Côvo, we stopped in a large carpark for some nibbles. On the horizon, several vast container ships waited to enter the port of Sines.
The afternoon’s landscape was far prettier. Though we’d missed the abundance of floral displays by opting to set off in late May, there were still plenty of beautiful wildflowers around, particularly the smaller purple ones. The terrain became sandier, which slowed us down considerably but reminded us of the delights to come as we headed down the Alentejo coast.
Getting back into the swing of long-distance hiking – not least carrying backpacks – takes a while and, by the time we reached Porto Côvo, we were in desperate need of a beer. Usually buying a beer in Portugal is a simple task, but not, it seemed, in Porto Côvo.
In the pretty, though very touristy, cobbled square (Praça Marquês de Pombal), we were refused a beer at O Torreao because we weren’t buying food. We tried the place next door but they were serving their beer in small, waxed, paper cups of the type used in coffee machines. Despite our thirst, drinking beer from a coffee cup was simply a step too far so we retraced our steps to a café we’d passed on our way into town (A Cantarinha) and bought two bottles of beer for 1,20 euros each.
Porto Côvo is quite pretty, though perhaps a little too twee for us. Praça Marquês de Pombal is a pretty spot to enjoy a meal, even if a bottle of beer is off the menu.
A Cantarinha is a traditional café and pastelaria (cake shop) which is popular with locals and hikers alike, and offers low-cost beers and breakfasts (we chose the cream-filled croissants, which were large and delicious).
We hadn’t expected this morning’s walking to be picturesque – and we weren’t disappointed. Sines is probably the most industrialised city we’ve visited in Europe and a real blight on the coastline. Thankfully, as the Fishermen’s Trail heads south, you can mostly ignore it.
Porto Côvo emptied after 6pm, leaving deserted streets and very little life. The Coviran supermarket is small and expensive (thankfully we’d bought ingredients for our evening meal in Lidl before leaving Sines).
Harri chose Quartos Porto Côvo for its central location and the availability of a shared kitchen. We hadn’t expected luxury for 55 euros; however, we did expect to have access to our room at the agreed time of 4pm. When nobody had turned up at 4.45pm, Harri had to telephone and remind them they had a booking. The property is for sale so we’re not sure if the actual owners are the ones still welcoming guests.
When we finally got in, the accommodation was traditional and clean, but very cramped with the end of our bed barely 30cm from the wall. The mattress sagged so much on my side I was in danger of rolling out, the ancient television predictably didn’t work and our ‘view’ was a clothesline strung with white sheets. This was back-to-basics accommodation, which only redeemed itself by the presence of that shared kitchen, which we used.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com