The Fishermen’s Trail: Porto Côvo to Vila Nova de Milfontes (20km)

Leaving Porto Côvo before the tourists arrive

After a relatively straightforward day of hiking yesterday, we were ready to tackle Day 2 of the Fishermen’s Trail. The official website describes the 20-kilometre stretch from Porto Côvo to Vila Nova de Milfontes as ‘difficult’, presumably because so much of it involves walking on sandy footpaths.

The site goes on to say, ‘With 20km and a sandy floor, this is a very long and tiring stage, especially if you are going to start your crossing precisely in Porto Côvo’ … er, isn’t that where this stage does start?

We woke early and headed along deserted streets to A Cantarinha for breakfast (it’s open from 7am), only to find out every hiker in town had had the same idea. Still, who wants to hang around waiting for the more touristy places to open when you can have enormous cream-filled croissants, tea and coffee for a bargain 5,90 euros.

Some wading might be necessary at high tide!

Unfortunately, despite having a clothesline right outside our bedroom window, our washing hadn’t dried overnight so we set off with various items of clothing pegged to the outside of our rucksacks.

Porto Côvo was still quiet when we set off at 8.30am. It was a slightly brighter than yesterday, though not exactly balmy. Harri – ever the optimist where weather is concerned – pointed out that we could at least define individual clouds today whereas yesterday it was just featureless white stratus overhead. We could expect the temperature to rise to 21 degrees, warmer than yesterday but a full five degrees below the temperature back home in Armação de Pêra.

Leaving Porto Côvo behind

It had taken me a while to get my head around the concept of the Rota Vicentina, which is not actually one trail but a network of them, including two long-distance routes, i.e. the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Path, plus 24 circular walks. Adding to my confusion, this morning’s route was part of the Praia do Sissal circular trail which linked the two major trails. This is why it’s essential to make use of the free GPX files … with all those routes crisscrossing, you really need to pay attention to the waymarking.

The Stingy Nomads noted the route was ‘unpleasantly busy’ when they walked it (I think in May 2021). We’ve also been taken aback by the number of walkers all heading in the same direction as us, albeit without the backpacks. There seemed to be two large groups with guides, plus plenty of independent hikers. For many of them, today would be their first day on the trail.

Much of the morning’s coastal landscape was not dissimilar to the UK

We reached a tiny cove reminiscent of those we’ve hiked past in Pembrokeshire and Cornwall and crossed it on wet pebbles. Harri thought it likely some paddling would be required at high tide.

The waymarks directed us to join a long sandy beach with an island 300 metres from the shore. In the centre of Pessegueiro island (translated as ‘peach tree island’) is a 15th–16th century fort, which formed part of an ambitious plan to link the island to the shore. Boat trips run to the island from Porto Côvo; however, there were no sign of them this morning.

Pessegueiro beach with the island just offshore

Just in case you’re wondering, sadly there are no peach trees growing on Pessegueiro – and there never were. The name is believed to come from the Roman word ‘piscatorius’ which refers to the island’s long-gone fish salting factory.

We joined the unspoilt Praia da Ilha do Pessegueiro, breathing in the salty air and fascinated by the piles of tan-coloured seaweed heaped up along the water’s edge. Coincidentally, I’ve just read an article in Portugal Resident which says the University of the Algarve is asking for people to report any ‘large amounts of seaweed’ on the region’s beaches. From their description of various seaweeds, I think we were looking at ‘brown algae known as Rugulopterix okamurae, an invasive species originally from the seas of Korea and Japan’ but I’m no expert … and we’re not yet in the Algarve.

We’ve never seen seaweed like this on our local beaches

We left the beach and walked around a second fort – the Fort of Pessegueiro.

Unfortunately, the interpretation board was so weathered that all I could make out was that the fort was built in 1558 by an Italian architect and is now owned by the Portuguese state, which classified it as a monument of public interest in 1957.

To be honest, unless there’s some creative attempt at bringing history alive (as at the wonderful Brean Down Fort in Somerset), I find it hard to get excited about these crumbling military sites which dot every nation’s landscape and remind me of man’s propensity for conflict and hostility.

Crumbling fortresses aren’t really our thing

By the time we settled down for elevenses, there were large swathes of blue sky and the sun was putting in the occasional appearance. Two men weaved their way through the dunes, the second already looking like he’d had enough and would prefer to be anywhere else. Fortunately, the majority of Fishermen’s Trail hikers looked more cheerful as they drifted by, unencumbered by heavy packs.

The route diverted slightly inland to circumnavigate an area of dunes and the ocean breeze that had been keeping us going dissipated. If this was what it felt like to be hiking the Fishermen’s Trail in 21 degrees, then goodness knows what it was going to be like later in the week when temperatures of up to 29 degrees were forecast.

Views on the Fishermen’s Trail never failed to impress

My calf muscles were already aching and Harri was having problems with his left foot. I wonder if, because it’s close to the ocean and resorts, people underestimate the difficulty of the Fishermen’s Trail?

As the weather improved, the coastal waters cast aside their previous greyness and adopted a deep turquoise hue. With the sun high in the sky, the process of putting one foot in front of the other became arduous, not least because 6070% of today’s section was on sandy footpaths.

We reached Praia do Malhão, an official nudist beach where the last paragraph of the notice board amused us immensely: ‘The practice of naturalism is permitted under the terms of this law provided this is not accompanied by attitudes that may cause scandal’.

The only holiday pic of us together

Two young German couples asked us to take their photograph and then kindly offered to take one of us together. It’ll probably be the only photograph of us together on this holiday!

Something which hit me as we walked high above the eroding cliffs, tiny coves and longer stretches of beach was just how vertiginous this stretch of coastline actually is. You do have to be careful not to stray too close to the edge. At one point, our path took us straight past a clifftop ‘beach’ with a vertical drop to sea level and the beach below. The Fishermen’s Trail is definitely not a trail for anyone who’s frightened of heights.

A clifftop beach and a sea-level beach … with a big drop inbetween!

Talking of heights … when you’re hiking long distances along the coast, an approaching headland tends to be greeted with great excitement, as in what wondrous sights will we see beyond it? This time, Harri was certain the one ahead of us marked the point where Sines would finally disappear from our rear mirror. Here, the strata in the rock seemed to be sliding and folding into the sea and the ‘beaches’ were pebbled rather than sandy.

Ahead of us but still distant, we could see the familiar outline of Fóia and Picota – the Algarve’s highest mountains – for the first time.

It was hard to ignore the effects of erosion below the clifftop paths we were walking

At last we left the sandy coast path, more than ready for our first beer of the day. Fortunately, the Porto das Barcas was more welcoming than Porto Côvo’s O

Torreão and didn’t consider it problematic to sell drinks only to thirsty hikers nearing the end of the day’s hiking. First, we headed to some nearby benches to empty our shoes of umpteen kilos of sand. My fears were confirmed: all that walking on sand had resulted in a large blister developing on my left little toe. Thankfully, our first aid kit was crammed with blister plasters, but no hiker needs a blister on the second day of a long-distance hike.

Not far from from a beer now

I hobbled the last few kilometres to Vila Nova de Milfontes, though my pain was momentarily forgotten as I gazed down on the beautiful estuary with its unspoilt beaches. This charming resort sits at the mouth of the Mira river and, believe me, you’ll be reaching for your camera the moment you arrive. The Stingy Nomads write that they prefer Porto Côvo, but for us there was simply no comparison.

Beautiful Vila Nova de Milfontes

Tonight’s accommodation was at Sol da Vila, which was a little up the hill, so we wasted no time in heading there – it’s always more enjoyable to explore a place backpack-free. Harri’s actually been making good use of a running bum bag that I was given in a secret Santa back in 2015.

Early evening light over one of Vila Nova’s unspoilt beaches

We ventured out later and ate at Paparoca, one of the restaurants the receptionist had recommended. The wind had picked up so we ate inside and had a lovely meal with wine for a little over 20 euros.

Highlights

The return of the Portuguese sunshine really highlighted the spectacular landscape of the Alentejo coastline – explaining why this four-day stretch of the Fishermen’s Trail between Porto Côvo and Odeceixe is so popular with those who do not have the time – or inclination – to complete the full 13 stages.

The jewel in the crown, of course, was our first glimpse of Vila Nova de Milfontes from the clifftop above the estuary. I could have gazed down at that landscape for hours. With Praia da Franqueira on the Vila Nova side and the wonderfully unspoilt Praia das Furnas on the opposite side, that view was just mesmerising. We’ll definitely be returning to Vila Nova before too long.

São Clemente Fort on the Mira river at Vila Nova
Downsides

It did sometimes feel like we were walking in convoy, which was occasionally awkward, e.g. there was a particularly slow walker with one of the tour groups who kept dropping way behind the others. We felt we couldn’t position ourselves between her and the others so we frequently found ourselves slowly right down.

For me, walking for hours in ankle-deep sand also became a bit tedious – and, of course, resulted in a nasty blister which would give me grief for several days to come.

There were times when we longed for some road walking
Accommodation

We paid 45 euros for a double room at Sol da Vila; there are also one- and two-bedroom apartments available. Our ground floor room was beautifully decorated, but there was no terrace and the view from our window was disappointing (just the whitewashed wall of another hotel across the cobbles).

Although Vila Nova de Milfontes is popular with hikers, there was little thought given to our needs; in fact despite the pretty décor there were simply no surfaces provided for us to unpack anything (which is unusual). The bathroom hairdryer had been fitted so high it was almost impossible for me to use. Harri commented that the hotel’s interior designer – while clearly talented – was undoubtedly someone who’d never backpacked in their life!

The receptionist – though friendly and happy to recommend places to eat both dinner and breakfast – showed us to our room but failed to mention there was a pretty outside terrace area with a long clothesline!

We didn’t stumble upon this pretty courtyard until we were leaving

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

https://rotavicentina.com/trilhos/porto-covo-vila-nova-de-milfontes/

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