We might well end up paying the price for yesterday’s unnecessary extra miles because the Via Algarviana describes today’s 20 km section to Vaqueiros as ‘steep’.
Two days into our Algarve expedition and we have been taken aback at how tough the walking has been. The scenery in the eastern reaches of the Serra do Caldeirão – the first of three mountain ranges the Via Algarviana passes through – has been as spectacular as the publicity promised and the late spring flowers are abundant.
Harri has warned me to expect a lot of climbing (aka calorie burning) today, thus I wasted no time in tucking into the delicious and filling breakfast provided by Dona Olivia. There was far more food than two people – even two hikers – really needed and again we struggled to do our table of bread, goat’s cheese, sliced cheese, water-thin ham and various condiments (including sliceable marmalade) justice.
After encouraging us to trickle honey onto our goat’s cheese and bread (the combination of flavours is delicious), Joao proudly gave us a quick tour of the newly modernised accommodation at Casa do Lavrador. He’s put so much into making his business a success that I really hope the hikers flock to the Via Algarviana and Furnazinhas.
After leaving our apartment key in the front door as instructed by Joao (yes, that’s the front door which people frequently walk past), we left Furnazinhas on a cobbled street and were soon walking in familiar scrubby landscape with far too many ups and downs for my liking. As the day progressed, the scenery was glorious, with grassy meadows, dry-stone walls and rock rose cascading over the hills. Every now and then, we passed an old well, a relic of bygone days when those same hills were bustling with agricultural and farming activity.
At Monte Novo we passed yet more abandoned homes and so we were somewhat relieved when we reached Malfrades, a small traditional village which remains inhabited and not only had a working water fountain, but a tiny adjacent shelter where we could escape the sun briefly (as a lifelong sun worshipper, I never thought I would write those words!).
Joking aside, it was still early May and the soaring temperatures we were experiencing had come to a shock to us both. It was looking as though the four, one-litre water bottles we were carrying were not going to be sufficient on days when we had no access to additional water – or beer – on route.
We plodded on, growing wearier by the minute until at last we could see Vaqueiros glistening on a distant hilltop. We’d been walking for no more than six hours, but the heat had taken its toll.
Evidence of ancient settlements as far back as the Arabs and Romans has been found in this region, and Vaqueiros itself is built on the site of an Arabic settlement. Back in 1865 a Moorish copper mine was rediscovered in nearby Ferrarias and if we’d been able to summon up the energy for a 2 km detour to Cova dos Mouros (Mining Park) we could have found out more about the long history of copper mining in the area.
As it was, we barely had sufficient energy for the final climb to Vaqueiros. As we rolled into town we immediately had the sense of arriving somewhere. Unlike Balurcos and Furnazinhas, Vaqueiros felt like a place where families might live, where children might go to school and play at weekends.
Joao had phoned ahead and booked us accommodation at the Casas D’Aldeia (owned by Dona Rita who runs the Casa de Pasto Teixeira café) Having announced our arrival, we sat in the café’s pretty garden with a much-needed beer and spotted our very first Algarve stork nesting on a nearby chimney. We watched, transfixed as, the two chicks took turns to poke their heads over the top of the nest.
Dona Rita rents out two little modernised cottages just around the corner from the café. Ours had two bedrooms, both with en suite bathrooms, and a small lounge (no kitchen). For this lovely accommodation, we paid just €35,00. Dona Rita indicated she would provide us with dinner for an additional charge. The menu was restricted to meat (carne) or salt fish (bacalhau), so having no recourse to discussion of any kind, we opted for the latter and hoped for the best.
We had a few hours to kill until we presented ourselves for dinner at 7pm, so we went for a wander around Vaqueiros. There wasn’t a huge amount to see really. An interpretation board informed us that though sustenance agriculture and live-stock farming had declined steeply in recent decades, it was still practised in the parish, with some flocks of goats and sheep remaining. Traditional crafts and foods like honey, goat’s cheese, arbutus-berry firewater, lace and baskets were still produced.
For the second night running we dined like kings and paid just €25,00 for our meal, plus a litre of white wine.
We had really enjoyed sampling authentic, wholesome, home-cooked Algarve food and hopefully there would be more to come as we made our way west. After we’d eaten, we retired to the garden with our wine and watched the stork high above the roofs of Vaqueiros. There was no sign of the chicks now, so we guessed they were sleeping. What a lovely way to spend the evening . . . and how infrequently we can do this at home. I think I’m falling in love with Portugal all over again.
For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website. A printed guide with individual maps of each section, plus all the link routes are available free of charge (postage is payable).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
A ‘Made for iBooks’ version is also available from Apple’s iBookstore.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.
For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest.