We’re heading to the small seaside resort of Zambujeira do Mar today. Zambujeira is 22 kilometres south of Almograve, making this our longest stage to date. The Rota Vicentina website describes the walking as ‘somewhat difficult’ and there’s only 200 metres of climbing so I’m expecting lots of sand!
We usually find that our fourth day of hiking is when we finally get into our stride and start enjoying life on the trail. Despite my blistered toe, I was actually looking forward to today’s longer walk to Zambujeira.
Vicentina Rooms didn’t provide breakfast so we headed down the road to the café the receptionist had recommended, only to discover all the seating was outside. Rather than sit there shivering, we bought chocolate croissants, rolls, ham, crisps and fruit, then headed back to our room.
Our room overlooked the wide road heading down to the beach. Already we could see a steady stream of hikers heading down to the coast. We guessed many had opted to shorten today’s section by about 30 minutes by skipping the valley and going directly to the beach. This is a suggested detour on the Rota Vicentina website, but it felt a bit like cheating to us.
In reception, the huge sports holdalls and suitcases were piling up in readiness for collection and delivery to Zambujeira. With hindsight, I do wish we’d opted to use a luggage carrier, although I don’t think we’d have needed to bring quite so much gear!! I could only assume many of our fellow hikers were walking the Fishermen’s Trail as part of a larger Iberian itinerary.
We trotted out of Almograve at 9am and quickly joined a wide track with a sprinkling of sand and dunes to our left. The Stingy Nomads (whose trail guide I’ve been consulting each day) listed the ‘first 10km on the sand dunes’ as one of the stage’s challenges, though I wasn’t certain if this easier sandy walking was included in that 10km (probably not!).
The views along this stretch of coastline were stunning and the ease of walking for the first kilometre or so meant I was really able to appreciate the views. We could have opted to walk on the beach at Praia da Longueirinha, but we decided to stay high (not least because we’re always worried about the ease of escape from these west coast beaches!).
Eventually, the wide track swept downhill to a small harbour and our by-now-familiar waymarks directed us along another sandy footpath through clifftop dunes. With already-aching calf muscles, I can’t say the prospect of perhaps another 9-10 kilometres on sand filled me with joy.
Perhaps I should mention here just how vertiginous the Fishermen’s Trail has been in many places. There are some pretty steep drops off unprotected cliffs and the footpath frequently meanders close to the cliff edge. I’m not sure it’s a good choice for anyone with a fear of heights.
There is ample evidence of erosion along this stretch of coastline too, with some impressive overhangs. It’s quite scary when you consider how the rock is eroding beneath the surfaces you’re walking across. Amateur geologists will enjoy the folding and faulting of the sedimentary rock layers. The landscape has an almost lunar look about it in places with areas of very white sediment and a lot of stones. The official website explains how the sea level was once over 100 metres lower than the current level, meaning the beach itself was 60 kilometres away. Much of the sandstone around us was created when the sand dunes compacted and hardened.
A brief interlude through eucalyptus and towering stone pine came as a happy surprise, although the myriad of tracks meant we had to keep our eyes peeled for those ground-level waymarks. The ground was as sandy as ever; however, the fallen leaves and twigs made walking easier
The weather has been improving, with a big leap to 27 degrees predicted for tomorrow. We’re already discussing our water requirements and plan to supplement our bottles with several cans of Sumol (believe me, it tastes a lot better warm than water!).
We’ve been intrigued to see Fóia and Picota (the highest mountains in the Algarve) getting closer, particularly as Fóia looks considerably higher than Picota from this angle, whereas they look more similar in height when viewed from our side.
We headed inland to Cavaleiro, where we grabbed a midday beer at Café Adélia with pretty much every other hiker in the vicinity (mostly European tour groups). Several people removed their boots to reveal blisters – it seemed I wasn’t the only one suffering from these endlessly sandy trails.
The tour groups skipped the next, longer section of the waymarked route and headed directly back to the coast from Cavaleiro, knocking off a kilometre or two and ending up in front of us. Again we were left wondering why everyone was in such a rush to complete each stage – though I guess it’s the actual guides who are making the call to shorten the route.
The trail got even busier at Farol Cabo Sardão, where the lighthouse marks the most westerly point of the Alentejo and is a popular visitor spot (there’s a car park and a miradouro). There are guided tours at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm on Wednesdays.
After lunch, the walking became easier with less sand. There were a lot of wooden steps to descend to the fishing port of Porto das Barcas, where there is a bar/restaurant (we didn’t stop).
The final stretch of walking into Zambujeira was right up there with the cycle paths of the Silver Coast in terms of spectacularly unspectacular roadside scenery. This time, instead of counting telegraph poles to relieve the tedium, I found myself anticipating the next fitness station. To be fair, the Rota Vicentina website does suggest you can take a taxi from Porto das Barcas to Zambujeira, thus cutting a very boring four-kilometre stretch of walking.
We arrived at our accommodation at 4.40pm and, after a quick shower, ventured out to see what Zambujeira had to offer. It’s a small but pretty resort with a lovely beach and lots of nice-looking restaurants along the seafront. As per yesterday, we decided to get the first kilometre or so of tomorrow’s route under our belts today to enable us to head straight down to the beach in the morning. Unfortunately, our walk back to the bars, restaurants, etc, then involved tackling a road so steep that even motorised vehicles were struggling to get to the top …and we’d already walked 22 kilometres today.
The evening was one of simple pleasures: a few glasses of wine at 1,20 euros each, delicious kebabs for supper and a quick walkaround to check out where we could get breakfast and snacks first thing tomorrow.
Overall, we thought Zambujeira had a really nice vibe. It doesn’t feel too touristy and everyone we met was friendly and helpful.
I particularly enjoyed the earlier part of today’s walking, not least because the easier ground conditions meant I could better appreciate the views.
Another highlight – for many people and not just us – was being able to see storks nesting on the cliffs. In the Algarve, we’ve become accustomed to seeing their huge nests in all sorts of manmade places, e.g. roofs, chimneys, telegraph poles, even cranes, so it was wonderful to see the adults caring for their young in their natural habitat.
Without doubt, the final stretch of road walking into Zambujeira. When we commit to walking a recognised trail, we like to do the whole trail rather than skipping bits, but this time I completely understand why many hikers would not waste their energy on this long stretch of road walking with zero views.
We stayed at the Breathe In, which is basically a town house which has been converted to provide overnight accommodation. We paid 60 euros for one night in a double room with en suite but with no breakfast, kettle, toiletries or kitchen (there was a fridge in our room). There is no host on site and we gained access independently using two key safes.
Our room was beautifully decorated but, once again, the view left a lot to be desired (these things are important to me). The problem is that more properties are being built immediately behind the Breathe In’s small, enclosed garden space (with a barbecue but no plants). Where once there would have been extensive views across the surrounding countryside, now there’s nothing to see except brick walls. I found myself wondering if the Breathe In’s owner had chosen to convert the property into holiday accommodation for this very reason. I know I couldn’t live there.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com