We have a slightly shorter distance to walk today as we head slightly inland to Odeceixe where we cross the Ribeira de Seixe into the Algarve. We’ve not visited Odeceixe before; however, as our hiking days in the Alentejo draw to an end, there’s the sense that we’re now returning to a more familiar landscape.
Yesterday evening’s explorations had revealed there was a little café just around the corner where we could have breakfast. We’ve been spoilt up to now with enormous, freshly baked croissants so we were a little disappointed by this morning’s offerings. The smallish pain au chocolate and chocolate croissant were burnt and only just edible. With tea and coffee, the bill came to five euros.
We returned to our room only to leave again without our walking poles. Harri and I are very recent converts to walking poles, but the thought of managing another week on the trail without them was terrifying. I waited in the street while Harri darted back to Breathe In to key in two door codes and retrieve four poles from … behind the bathroom door.
The temperature has been gradually increasing so this morning we’ve bought some cans of Sumol (a lifesaver in the heat when your energy levels are dropping and far better tasting than warm water), plus three packs of vegetable noodles for tonight’s dinner.
As we left Zambujeira in shorts and tee-shirts, we were surprised to see how many layers of clothing some of our fellow hikers were wearing – yesterday, we spotted someone wearing a woolly hat.
With 300 metres of climbing ahead of us, I was dismayed to be confronted almost immediately with a steep road ascent. When the couple ahead of me veered off to the right to join a narrow footpath, I looked at Harri optimistically but he shook his head. Resigned to a long, painful climb, I bent my head and dug deep. I could do this.
Suddenly I heard Harri calling out from behind, ‘Tracy, where are you going?’ I’d been so determined to conquer the hill that I hadn’t spotted the Fishermen’s Trail waymark to my right … or noticed Harri leaving the road to follow it. It was going to be one of those days …
There was more climbing after that, which was tough under the glare of the sun, then at last some shade as we reached an area of stone pine and acacia. Here the paths were well-defined, making us wonder if they might be some of the historic fishermen’s trails to the coast.
I’ve long been a devotee of coastal walks. It’s satisfying to know we’ll be passing those as yet undefined landmarks tomorrow or the next day, after which their outlines gradually recede into the landscape behind us. Every now and then, however, the coast can completely surprise you. As was the case, when we emerged over the crest of a hill, expecting to descend but taken completely unawares by the beautiful beach below.
The clamber down to the delightful Praia do Carvalhal was almost immediately followed by a steep ascent. It was tempting just to plonk ourselves down on the beach for a while, but it was only going to get hotter so we needed to push ahead.
After another very scary (for me at least) descent, we encountered a distressed German woman who told us she’d lost her husband. Given the height of the cliffs – and the proximity of the waymarked route to them – she feared the worst. There were hikers everywhere, we reassured her. If her husband had had an accident, then someone would have witnessed it, or heard him shout? Wanting to help, we directed her back to an open clifftop area where a group of hikers had stopped for a break.
We continued walking, concerned about the German man’s whereabouts. Despite our reassuring words, the cliffs were high and there was evidence of erosion everywhere. An unnoticed tumble seemed unlikely; however, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
We needn’t have worried. We hadn’t gone far when we encountered a man looking for his wife. He seemed rather less concerned about her welfare than she was about his, insisting, ‘I have not lost my wife, she has lost me.’
Before we set out from home, Harri had checked the Rota Vicentina website one last time, so the diversion came as no surprise. A signpost clearly stated the coast path was closed due to the risk of a landslide in the area of Lombo do Asno, south of Alteirnos beach.
We were a little taken aback therefore, when the hikers ahead of us ignored the warning sign and forged ahead, along what we assumed to be a closed footpath. Harri probably would have taken a chance too, but I’d found the previous stretch of coastline pretty frightening in places – and there the footpath had remained open. For a Portuguese authority to deem a waymarked coast path unsafe to the point where a diversion had been put in place meant the whole thing must have fallen in the sea!!
So we did the diversion, which, in hindsight, was probably a mistake. The detour involved a long stretch of road walking sandwiched between two lengths of straight and boring dusty trail. There were no views.
We caught up with the reunited German couple at Azenha do Mare (today’s only beer stop). They had ignored the diversion sign (on the advice of a US tour guide), saying said the footpath had been fine and the diversion – in their view – completely unnecessary.
After the beer, the route suddenly got very tough. We took a steep rocky footpath down to a small harbour, then headed straight back up a steep rocky footpath to the high sandy trails. The spectacular landscape and crashing waves went some way towards keeping our spirits up but the heat and lack of shade was slowing us down dramatically. When we stopped for our picnic lunch on a grassy tump amidst the dunes, we could feel our weathered legs burning.
The first glimpse of Praia de Odeceixe from the north is quite something: the glorious beach with its two ‘coastlines’ (the ocean and the meandering river Seixe), the hillside tumble of whitewashed properties with their terracotta roofs and the estuary with its wooded hills. Bethany, our cat sitter, had been captivated by this wonderful spot and now we understood why.
We descended a wide, stony path which, for once, had an easy gradient. Harri had originally wanted to push on to Odeceixe and our overnight accommodation but, at sea level, the temptation to strip off and get into the water was just too much. We stopped on a stony river beach and Harri swam across the chest-high water to touch the rocks of the Algarve on the opposite bank. I waded in up to my knees, but it was icy cold so I just paddled and enjoyed watching fish leaping sporadically out of the water.
Once we’d dried off, we walked the final few kilometres up the estuary and into Odeceixe along a quiet and meandering road. Several large taxis passed us, packed with hikers. Odeceixe marks the end of the most popular section of the Fishermen’s Trail and everyone we’d spoken to was planning to end their hiking endeavours here. It seemed many had ended their hike at Praia de Odeceixe.
In Odeceixe, we stopped for a few beers with some of our fellow hikers. Having been surprised at the popularity of the trail, we now found ourselves feeling a little sad that all those familiar faces would be disappearing overnight. It was an aspect of ‘being on the trail’ that we’d gradually grown to enjoy.
Our accommodation was close to the main square so we did a quick detour to the supermarket, where we bought courgettes, an onion and some curry powder to liven up our noodles, plus a bottle of vinho verde, a huge custard pastry to share for breakfast and some nibbles for tomorrow.
After a short rest and a shower, we ventured out in the beautiful evening light for an evening stroll to Odeceixe’s restored windmill, via winding cobbled streets and steep steps. The mill itself was constructed at the end of the 19th century and remains in full working order to mill corn and wheat, though nowadays it’s rarely used.
Frustratingly, we could have gone inside (entry is free) if we’d arrived before 7pm, but we were twenty minutes late. We weren’t too dismayed, however, as there are excellent interpretation boards and the views of Odeceixe and the fertile Seixe valley make the effort well worth it.
As hikers, I sometimes feel we miss some of the highlights of the places we visit, either because we’re setting off early or arriving too late, or we’re just too exhausted to be curious about our surroundings. It was good to have an opportunity to look around Odeceixe this evening.
We paid 49 euros for a double room at the Sudoeste Guest House in the middle of Odeceixe. The accommodation is perfect for hikers with a well-equipped shared kitchen and a separate dining room, plus a courtyard with several clothes horses for drying clothes. The glass bathroom door may be a little uncomfortable for friends (rather than partners) sharing a room! The ‘view’ from our room was of the small shared courtyard.
That first glimpse of Praia de Odeceixe from above is just breathtaking – and it’s just as pretty when you reach beach level. Odeceixe itself is also a delightful place, with a pretty cobbled square and a labyrinth of streets and steps to explore. Don’t miss the windmill – and try to get there before 7pm!
I’m not a big fan of steep, downhill scrambles (though many hikers love them), meaning some of today’s walking was a bit scary for me. The apparently optional diversion was extremely boring and involved more road walking than we anticipated.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit rotavicentina.com