Lace up – discover the Algarve on foot

Tie up your shoelaces and explore the countryside of the south of Portugal while walking. Because that’s the best way to do it. Enjoy the Algarve takes a hike.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine October 2017

 

Most places in this world are best discovered on foot. The Algarve is one of them. There’s no chance of smelling the flowers through your car window, you won’t hear the birds over the engine of your motorbike, and you can’t see those lizards scurrying for cover when whizzing past on your bicycle. When walking, however, you will take in all these sights, sounds and smells, plus a whole lot more. Other advantages of walking? Taking it step by step will make you less stressed. Surrounded by nature, you’ll feel a part of it, or at least in touch with it. And since you burn off a shedload of calories, hiking will also make you feel less guilty about having eaten yet again a pastel de nata for breakfast.

 

Inland: the Via Algarviana

Say ‘walking in the Algarve’ and most people will think about the Via Algarviana. This around 300km long track runs diagonally across the Algarve, from Alcoutim in the northeast to the Cabo de São Vicente in the southwest (or the other way around if you insist on going from left to right). On the way, you’ll cross over the Serra do Caldeirão, through Salir and Alte, along the banks of the Arade River, and through Silves before reaching the Serra de Monchique and finally the Algarve’s most southwestern part. It’s not coastal, so little chance of encountering a tourist dressed in swim shorts and flipflops. Instead, on this non-touristy track you go off the beaten track and are thus more likely to meet men working on the land with their donkeys and women in traditional clothing collecting carob beans from the trees.

Originally an old pilgrim path, the Via Algarviana is nowadays also known as the GR13, and is one of Europe’s Great Pedestrian Routes. It includes rivers, eucalyptus forests, cork oaks, meadows and mountains. Walking it all usually takes around two weeks, as the track is divided in 14 sections of up to 30km, which can each be completed in a single day. Since the sections start and end in a village, it’s possible to stay overnight. The rural track is easily recognisable by white and red markings along the footpath and part of its charm are the artisan skills that can be observed in villages along the way, such as weaving and Medronho making. Want to walk the Via Algarviana? See the side note in the original article for a guidebook with maps of all the sections.

 

On the coast: riverside rambling & cliff walks

Apart from the Via Algarviana, there’s also the Rota Vicentina, the Ecovia do Litoral and the Grande Rota do Guadiana. The Rota Vicentina is a network of walking trails in southwest Portugal, part of it in the Algarve, in the Costa Vicentina natural park. Its most popular route is the Fishermen’s Trail which consists of four sections and five additional circuits, 120km in total, all the way from Porto Covo in the Alentejo to Cabo de São Vicente in the Algarve. This trail follows the paths that locals used in the past in order to get to the best fishing spots. Seeing as it’s a single track along the cliffs, don’t walk it if you’re suffering from vertigo or are afraid of heights. In that case, better hike along the Caminho Histórico, also a part of the Rota Vicentina, which links towns and villages by a rural trail, or follow one of the Rota’s shorter circular routes.

The 241km long Ecovia do Litoral runs along the south part of the Algarve, connecting Cabo de São Vicente in the west to Vila Real de Santo António in the east. Actually a cycle route, this path is divided in five stages, leading from Cabo de São Vicente to Lagos, from Lagos to Albufeira, from Albufeira to Faro, from Faro to Tavira and finally from Tavira to Vila Real de Santo António. It combines inland, cities and coastal areas. Along the way you’ll soon notice that coastal hiking is more than just a gently barefoot stroll along a sandy beach. Discover the golden rock formations of the Ponta de Piedade near Lagos, the red rocks of Praia da Falésia near Albufeira and consider making a de-tour to check out the caves and cliffs of A Boneca (aka Algar Seco), near Carvoeiro. This route also leads you along the Alvor estuary and the Ria Formosa nature park, both good areas for bird watching. As you finish in Vila Real de Santo António, you’re already in the right place to start the Grande Rota do Guadiana.

 

 

Not as well-known as the other walking routes, the Grande Rota do Guadiana is only 65km long and heads from Vila Real de Santo António all the way up to Alcoutim. This track takes you through the town of Castro Marim, its salt pans and wetland, before continuing north along the Guadiana river and finally ending in Alcoutim (yes, the right place to start all over again by walking the Via Algarviana). Along the way, expect to spot canoers and wildlife while enjoying panoramic views over the river banks. Want to explore the lower Guadiana region in more detail? There’s also the Caminhos do Guadiana, 19 short footpaths (about 135km when you walk all of them) that compliment this long-distance trail. Want to spread out your walking over the whole Algarve region? Here you’ll find over 30 trails with different themes. And, if you’re not keen on walking alone, why not bring a donkey? Enjoy!

 

 

WHEN TO WALK?

Temperature-wise you’re best off going hiking in autumn, winter or spring. Summer, with inland temperatures of up to 45˚C and crowded beaches, is just too hot.

Each season has its advantages; early spring will bring out the pretty pink almond blossom, whereas early autumn is the best time to see migrating birds, especially in the Sagres area. Walk in winter if you want to grab an orange from orchards along the way.

With wild flowers everywhere and temperatures that are pleasantly warm but not too hot, Enjoy the Algarve’s vote for ‘best month to go for a walk in the south of Portugal’ goes to April. That’s also when the Walking Festival Amexial is held.

 

HIKING OR BIKING?

Apart from the Fishermen’s trail, lots of the walking trails mentioned in this article are also suitable for cycling. Especially recommended for cyclists is the Ecovia do Litoral which is part of the European network EuroVelo, a network of cycle routes across the entire European continent.

Next to leisurely cycling, the Algarve also offers the possibility to go enduro and downhill biking, for example in the hills around São Brás, and mountain biking, for example around Lagos’ cliffs.

Important: take care when cycling on the cliffs. Not just because you share these routes with (dog) walkers, but also because cliff paths are fragile and many of them have already crumbled into the sea because of erosion.

 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine October 2017

Posted in Features.