Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Almograve – Vila Nova de Milfontes – Porto Covo

The last day for me on the trail had arrived – a total of 175km in a little more than 5 days. While there were still two stages to go (35km in total), my plan was to do a double today and move on to visit Lisbon and Sintra before heading home to spend time with Alex.

The first stage to Vila Nova de Milfontes went pretty quick. It’s just 15km and mostly on solid hiking path’. In fact, you get to the city already after 11km (so a bit more than 2h), but on the wrong side of the river. The ferry service wasn’t operating and hence left me no choice but to walk the 4km across the bridge further up the river.

Weather was still good though with a few more clouds. Rain was forecast for the coming days – an extra motivation to get the trip wrapped up. Rain is very much-needed, as the country already faces water shortages with reservoir levels running very low. A theme that echoed in several places i visited.

I reached Vila Nova right on time for lunch though I somehow managed to sit down in probably the only restaurant that wouldn’t serve food on that fine Sunday. Instead the waiter was busy grilling fish for himself in front of my nose. Well, I had my own food anyway ;o)

The final 20km stretch to Porto Covo was slow. The path was now mainly sand again. About two hours after Vila Nova I met a hikers going the opposite direction. It was now after 3pm and when they told me they had left Porto Covo 10am I figured I am in for a long day. However, the path soon improved as it led don from the cliffs onto the beach. On the wet bits you can walk pretty well actually.

Here I met a fellow hiker also Porto Covo bound. His name is Alex and he is from Sheffield where he deals in clothing though aims at minimising the time in England and rather prefers to spend time in cheaper places – sounds familiar.

Different to most hikers (e.g. 90% German & early 20’s), he is in my age category and has seen a few things in life. We had a rather entertaining and at times pretty deep conversation about life, relationships and the pros & cons of our lifestyle. Glad to have met him. He will be a few more weeks in Portugal – general direction of travel being North towards Porto.

After a short visit to a fortress on the way, we reached Porto Covo by 6pm – a pretty little town right on the sea. We checked into the hostel (‘Ahoy’), which had been recommended to us. Nikolai runs it and is super helpful setting you up and giving you some good tips. We were hungry and hit town for a bit of food (and, of course, a football game in the background). With us was a french fellow (Hughes from near Paris) who also stayed in Ahoy and so yet again the evening turned out pretty entertaining and let the pain in the feet disappear as if by magic.

And here I was. End of the trail. It was beautiful and one of the most scenic routes I have come across. Many amazing people, some interesting new knowledge and a good break from the troubles i encountered the last week. Buen camino!

Here the whole route from Cabo de Sao Vicente – 175km away

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Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Odeceixe – Zambujera – Almograve (The German fellowship)

The morning started off pretty relaxed in hostel seixe. Hanna, who had stayed in the night before, was enjoying her morning coffee in the living room and slowly the rest of us got up. Only the manager Robert i didn’t meet. He and the Walz-Robert stayed out a little later and let’s say were in good spirits by the time they got home.

Hanna and Robert were headed for Sines that day while, initially, I started out by myself. I ended up taking the wrong way out of Odeceixe adding a few km (I missed a pretty large bridge that you need to cross as therre is no way to pass the river later on), but on the flip side bumped into Jenny & Lukas from Trier who left a little after me. Lukas just finished his bachelor and is now contemplating what to do next while Jenny is going into her second apprenticeship in summer and meanwhile doing a mix of small jobs & travel. We would walk the next two days together.

Once you get on the core part of the fisherman’s way (a typically 4 day march between Odeceixe & Porto Covo, see here) you follow more or less the coastline. The views are nothing short of spectacular as the ever-moving atlantic hits the steep cliffs and battles with the rocks sticking out in the sea. Some pretty big waves and that during again perfect weather on both days with clouds not to be seen anywhere. Not sure it would to be surfing these guys … better be a good swimmer and/or total lunatic!

We talked about loads of things and found a common interest in fantasy movies – specifically lord of the rings. In fact, since Jenny also got herself a walking stick, we both looked akin to the wizard Gandalf (Lukas requested this reference … so here you go).

Distance wise I covered 22km on both days (the first including the extra km for going the wrong way). After day one, when we made it to Zambujera do mar, we were all pretty shattered. The nature of the path is pretty demanding for you walk often on sand. That slows you down quite a bit – on my estimates to about 3km/hour vs. my normal 5km/h walking pace. What slows you down further are frequent stops to take in the scenery – but thats why we are here after all.

Links to both sections on the official website

http://en.rotavicentina.com/route-zambujeira-do-mar-odeceixe-75.html

http://en.rotavicentina.com/route-almograve-zambujeira-do-mar-74.html

There aren’t too many stops on the way especially off-season – on day one we found one perfect cafe about 1/3rd of the way for lunch. Otherwise, better bring your snacks yourself. We reached Zambujar before nightfall and, after a welcome beer & a shower, enjoyed a Pizza before retiring in Casa da Praia. Ahh … if you are into nudism – there is a nudist beach just before Zambujar.

The next day started 5am for me, as I had to do my Russian homework still before my skype class with Daria. Next to our accommodation was a nice bakery for probably my best breakfast on the trail yet. Shortly after 9am we hit the trail towards Almograve.

The path wasn’t as sandy at the start (though it was later on) and we made some good pace. The only real stop on the way was Cabo Sardao (with a cheeky beer to celebrate half way) while otherwise there was no place to refuel. Well, we had our supplies ranging from apples/bananas to the dryest bread on earth and, of course, chocolate bars ;o).

Once in Almograve, we checked into a huge hostel (looked like some former military building now painted in white to me) and went shopping, as Jenny kindly offered to cook that night. Pasta with tomato, onion & cheese. It turned out pretty tasty and, over some local wine, got the conversation going quickly. We were joined by my room-mate Tim. He is from California and left his finance job for some travels before getting back into the job market. Another 10w lie ahead of him – enjoy!

While Lukas retired after dinner, the three of us headed over to a ‘bar’, watched Befica winning 3:1 and trying (hard) to have a conversation with an older local man. With little success admittedly. Portuguese is pretty hard and my spanish skills of close to no help (plus, they don’t seem to like the spanish too much – so keep it english/german ;o) Then it was time for a really cold nights sleep in the hostel – even two blankets were not enough!

And here the fellowship ended. Gandalf one continued to Porto Covo (aka mordor) while team Trier hopped on a bus to Lisbon (I still suspect they went to Isengard as I believe Jenny is Saruman in disguise). It was fun guys – thanks for the time on the fisherman’s trail & safe travels.

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Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Arrifana to Odeceixe (… on the ‘Walz’ for an evening)

After the long 48km yesterday, I took my time to get going. Today my ambition was to reach Odeceixe some 28km away. That’s where the real fisherman’s trail would begin. Until then I continued on the historical way. The path took me through a few villages and mainly foresty areas, fields and along a canal towards the final stretch.

On the way, during a day yet again blessed with sunshine (one wonders if there even exists a portuguese word for cloud), I walked past trees full of oranges, saw lama’s (glady they didn’t spit) and a windmill in Odeceixe.

However, the real highlight of the day came later. In my hostel (‘hostel seixe’), which is owned by Matthias from Austria and run by Robert (originally from Leipzig), I met two German travellers – Robert & Hanna. They are both from Karlsruhe and currently on what we call ‘Walz’ in German. Essentially, 3y of travels once formal apprentice ship as say craftsman has passed (see below for more colour). Hanna is almost 4y on the road while Robert 2y.

Further, there was two friends from Trier (Jenny & Lukas) who alse stayed for the night. Over a shared dinner, Matthias with wife & daughter joined as well, we enjoyed some fantastic conversations and some really entertaining stories from all parties involved. Topics ranged from experiences on the road of our walz guys, surfer stories & so e of my own experiences. A large map on the kitchen wall helped to check out where each of us had been already. The  night went on for a bit for some of us (people on the Walz are never shy of a drink or two and the local bar was open late that Thursday evening …).

The “Walz” – a few points to note

  • Its a mainly German tradition dating back to the middle age where you literally work & travel
  • Going on travels around the country used to be a prerequisite to become a master (‘Meister’) of ones guild, now its voluntary though protected as immaterial cultural hertitage in Germany since 201

How does it work?

You start off with a travel book (Wanderbuch) denoting some of your personal details, education and people that vouch for you (your elders kind of). It also denotes the ‘no go’ area – a typically 50km circle around your home town that can’t be visited for the 3y period. Records of places visited and certificates of employment are entered. Usually an elder (craftsman already on the walz) picks you up and settles you in. Travels have to be exclusively on foot & hitchhiking (planes possible for intercontinental so sometimes frowned upon). You take no money with you, but you can earn normal wages on the way.

I have personally always admired this German tradition, but never had the chance to meet any in person. Now I finally have and think its bloody awesome! So if you meet one of these fellows … help them out. They will repay you promtly – with solid work & entertainment pure.

Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Vila do Bispo to Arrifana

What a walk! The first full day on the trail and a 48km hike on the historical way lie behind me. Today I hardly saw the sea until my arrival in Arrifana, but instead enjoyed the nature of the ‘Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina’ and the villages along the path – Vila do Bispo, Pedralva, Carrapateira, Bordeira, Monte Ruivo and finally Arrifana. 11h walking under blazing sunshine.

I managed to leave about 9am after a quick breakfast in one of the bars in Vila do Bispo. From there a path takes you through the forest, only occasionally alongside roads, under wind farms and along temporary puddles (‘charcos temporarios’, important for reproduction of amphibians) to Pedralva 12km away. On my way I encountered the first other hiker – Tamara. She hikes the route the normal way (from Porto Covo to Cabo de Sao Vicente). We had a quick chat about what lies ahead (mainly very sandy. slow path from Odeceixe on). Ahh .. yes, I also saw a wild pig family crossing my path.

By 1pm I made it to Carrapateira for lunch. I went straight through the village and headed for the beach to find a restaurant. Seems not enough surfers around with most places shut, but eventually i found one close to the beach (‘O Sitio do Rio’ – decent). I took a long break and only got going 2.30pm knowing that I was only half way.

Right after leaving the village I must have missed one turn on the normally well marked route and ended up walking street-side to Bordeira. The actual path, as the map suggested, goes somewhere parallel. An hours walk later and I was back on the path. The roads aren’t too busy anyway.

Cork bark trees: Right after the village Monte Ruivo I first started noticing numbered trees with parts of the bark missing. Upon closer inspection it turns out to be cork bark. Portugal produces 50% of global cork (Spain 30%). The bark grows back if done properly and can be harvested every 9y. That would explain the numbering by and large I think. See here for a bit more detail on this.

The final stretch to Arrifana takes you into hilly territory and some 6km before you reach the village the sea comes into sight. Great sight & sound in fact. Quite a few surfers around too relaxing in their camper vans and getting ready for the next day. Apparently Jan/Feb belong to the better parts of the season here – meaning often good waves. I finished the last hour of walking in complete darkness though under a starry sky before reaching the hostel. Beautiful! The one bit i didn’t like was that the only restaurant open was the last house in the village … another km after a long day, but heh!

Fisherman’s trail (Rota Vicentina): Kicking off in Cabo de Sao Vicente

I haven’t travelled much in Portugal, especially the countryside. The first time was for a weekend to Porto in 2005 together with former MS colleague Raul, then with Mandy and later for the wedding of good friends David & Theresa in 2011. Other visits were just business – to explore the say challenged banking system. Portugal also reminds me of my good friend Jose and my former boss Vasco. This trip will take me along the Atlantic coast line in the South West. Can’t wait.

The trail is one of the more recent trails in europe and i have to give thanks to Luis from Aareal Bank for recommending it. The fisherman’s trail is part of the greater rota vicentina. There are two main path. First, the historical way (green in below picture) that connect villages/cities near the coast and the second the actual fisherman’s trail (blue) from Odeceixe to Porto Covo actually along the coast. See here for more details on the excellent homepage created for this trail.

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Getting to the southern trailhead at Cabo de Cao Vicente

The trailhead i used is cabo de vicente (more specifically the lighthouse) at the south-western tip of Portugal. It is also the starting point of a magnificent long distance hiking path (E9). This path takes you 5,000km along the coast all the way to Estonia. For me it will be more like 120-150km. Not exactly sure yet.

After a brief two nights in London i headed out to Faro, which is the closest airport to the trailhead (120km away). I just missed the bus no16 to terminal (bus & rail) and took a taxi instead (EUR10). The next step is to get to lagos (2.15bus, 1:45 train). I took the train (€7,40) given there will be more bus travel later on. Sadly, only sea view from the train line as you approach lagos.

On the flip side, it was nice to see oranges growing on trees outside the train window … given its mid February. In lagos in encountered quite a few homeless begging (one bloody high on something), but also a very helpful info lady with fluent english (same goes for faro airport – excellent). There is only one direct bus to cabo s.v. at 10.30am, but a bus to sagres was available (7km from cabo). Before I continued it was time for a snack – especially since food is still good value here. 

The journey around Portugal was already enjoyable. Different to the miserable weather in London, people are sitting outside and look happy. While officially only 18 degrees, the sun was super hot. I felt utterly relaxed despite all the shit in the past week. Was passed by cactuses, oranges, green fields (apart from one brownish golf club just before lagos) while i was listening to my no1 German rap artist (Morlockk Dilemma) and reading. Wished i would have such vocab as readily available. Sharp like a samurai sword. 

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From Sagres there was the option to walk the 7km to the trailhead at the light housed or a taxi. The bus there would only run 11.15am (presumably the 10.30 departure from Lagos). A 5min ride (€8) later i was there and, after the mandatory pictures, the journey North began. Altogether about 5h from Faro airport to get here. Not too bad. However, it was already pretty late at 4:45pm. Sunset, for which many caravans had positioned themselves near the cliffs, would already be 6:20pm. 

Stage one: Cabo de Sao Vicente to Vila do Bispo

The path takes you along the historical way first (the fisherman’s way only starts from Odeceixe) for about 8-9km at or close to the cliffs. Initially quite sharp-edged rocks form the best part of the path and requires good boots (both strong soul and ankle support). The views are awesome and firmly reminded me of the cliffs of Moher and the Burren way in West Ireland (see here for my blog). Powerful nature at work! Hence all the surfeers here too …

By the time the sun had set and darkness spread, the path was now heading away from the Atlantic ocean towards Vila do Bispo. I was walking while listening to Charles Dicken’s “Great Expectations”.  I quickly booked myself a room on the way there (Case Mestre – goo value, pool, nice & tidy). Shower, dinner, done. 13km on the first day. So far the toe i broke 5w ago is ok. Fingers crossed it remains this way …