Along the Rota Vicentina, Portugal

It’s not for nothing that this 220km long-distance walk is also known as The Fishermen’s Trail, as it passes the best fishing spots along the coast. Rupert Parker dons his hiking boots but leaves his rod and line behind

Rota Vicentina Sign

Rota Vicentina Sign

Zambujeira do Mar

Zambujeira do Mar

Seixe Estuary

Seixe Estuary

Coast near Odeceixe

Coast near Odeceixe

Odeceixe Windmill

Odeceixe Windmill

Aljezur Castle

Aljezur Castle

Arrifana

Arrifana

Motorbikes Praia do Canal

Motorbikes Praia do Canal

Walkers on Sandy Track

Walkers on Sandy Track

Bordeira Beach

Bordeira Beach

Coast near Carrapateira

Coast near Carrapateira

Sandy Cove near Carrapateira

Sandy Cove near Carrapateira

Carrapateira

Carrapateira

Signposts

Signposts

Walker on Clifftop track

Walker on Clifftop track

Praia da Barriga

Praia da Barriga

Distant Lighthouse Cape St Vincent

Distant Lighthouse Cape St Vincent

Cape St Vincent

Cape St Vincent

The trail follows Portugal’s Atlantic coast, through Alentejo and the Algarve, with spectacular seascapes. It starts in Porto Covo, south of Lisbon and ends in Cape St Vincent, the most south-westerly point of Portugal and mainland Europe and takes nine days. I skip the first three and start at Zambujeira do Mar, arriving on the slow train from Lisbon.

Zambujeira do Mar – Odeceixe 18km
I leave the little Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar and head along the main beach before continuing on the cliffs above. There’s a light drizzle but it’s warm and the biggest problem is the sand underfoot which makes walking hard. Soon I’m back down to the beach and the surf school at Praia do Carvalhal before a few more ups and downs to reach the delightful fishing village of Azenha do Mar. From here it’s a marvellous cliff walk to reach the Seixe Estuary and then inland to Odeceixe. Here I leave the Alentejo and I cross into the Algarve.

Odeceixe – Aljezur 24 km
The sun is shining and I follow the river back to the estuary before climbing up on the cliffs. The track sporadically veers away from the coast, perhaps because erosion has made it impassable, and by lunchtime I’m in the inland town of Rogil, really just a string of houses along a main road. It’s then back to the sea before crossing over a bridge and reaching the hilltop settlement of Alijezur. A castle overlooks its cobbled streets and this was the last town in the Algarve to be captured by the Christians from the Moors.

Aljezur – Arrifana 19km
After a visit to the castle to admire the wonderful views, I’m soon in forest, the trees scorched by recent fires. I pass the holiday village of Vale da Telha before taking the road to Praia de Monte Clerigo. It begins to rain heavily and I battle the strong wind as I follow the clifftops. At Ponta da Atalaia the sea below is in torment, visibility is almost zero but I battle on and the rain eases. Arrifana is still an active fishing village and has a good surfing beach. The sun comes out and suddenly the sea is swamped by surfers.

Arrifana – Carrapateira 24km
I’m slightly worried by an early morning shower but then the rest of the day is dry. On the cliffs today I’m overtaken by motorcyclists scrambling down the loose rocks to the stony beach of Praia do Canal. I climb inland then take an undocumented track on a deep sandy trail which brings me back to the coast. It gives my feet a tough workout but it’s worth it as I’m away from traffic and bikers. Bordeira Beach is one of the largest on my walk so far and I climb over the dunes to reach the town of Carrapateira.

Carrapateira – Vila do Bispo 22km
I walk the length of a Praia do Amado, a large beach full of surfers before climbing up the cliffs. This stretch is home to a number of deserted sandy coves and is one of the most spectacular of the entire walk. There’s a section of featureless dirt track so turn off to Praia da Barriga, taking the chance that the tide is low enough to allow me the rest of the way along the sand. I kick off my shoes and enjoy the cold water on my toes. The downside is a 4km road walk inland to Vila do Bispo.

Vila do Bispo – Sagres 20km
My final day and it seems a bit of a slog, partly because the landscape is bereft of trees, all flattened by the strong Atlantic winds. Still there are the usual surfing beaches and the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent in the distance gradually gets closer. The final track is indistinct but well-marked by cairns and suddenly I’m at the Cape. After the solitude of the last few days, it’s a bit of a shock to find coachloads of trippers all out for a view of the end of Europe. I take a few pictures, before walking the final 6 km to Sagres, and enjoying a wonderful seafood dinner in celebration.

In spite of the distance, this is easy walking although deep sand can make it hard going at times. Go in spring or autumn when it’s not too hot and dip your toes into the sea. You’ll also have the spectacular cliffs, sandy beaches, quaint fishing villages and the wild coastline mostly to yourself.

Fact File

Cicerone’s Portugal’s Rota Vicentina is an indispensable guide.
Rota Vincentina has information about the route.
Visit Algarve has information about the region
Visit Portugal has information about the country.

TAP Air Portugal flies direct from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon up to 10 times a day, prices start at £92 return including all taxes and surcharges.
For further information, visit www.flytap.com

Camino Ways has a Zambujeira do Mar to Sagres trip, from £648 per person sharing, including 7 nights’ accommodation, breakfast, luggage transfers and holiday pack with practical information, as well as access to 24/7 support. Flights, lunch, dinner, transport or insurance not included. Airport transfers can also be arranged from Faro Airport.

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