TRIP: Atlantic Coast walk, Fisherman’s Way and Rota Vicentina, Portugal
Say what you like about us ramblers but there’s a camaraderie of the trail we’re quite proud of.
You may be a complete stranger but show me your tortured feet or twisted knee and I’ll find something in my rucksack to get you back on the road, even if it’s just a warm banana.
But if a fellow hotel guest, sitting at the adjacent breakfast table, peels off her sock and starts picking at her calloused feet to fight a pungent duel with my scrambled eggs, that’s when I’ll come over like that bloke on The Fast Show.
Oi! Backpacker! No!
No, of course I didn’t. If she paid no attention to the mortification of her silent companion, anything I said would only risk her peeling off the other sock.
She seemed to be part of a large group of middle-aged hikers from the USA, most of them now heading out the door. But there she sat, obliviously strip-mining her foot as the WMD of her sock flapped freely in her other fist. Making America late again.
Funny what stays with you. But there are warmer memories. This self-guided walking holiday of Portugal’s Atlantic coast was a challenge and a joy.
It wasn’t a great start. We arrived at Heathrow to discover the airline, TAP, had yanked our scheduled flight to Lisbon meaning we would certainly miss our bus connection at the other end.
It turns out though, if you don’t shout at the hapless lady on the TAP desk, she might even find a way to put you on a BA flight leaving within the hour. Who knew?
The Atlantic coast is surely the most dramatic and beautiful in western Europe. But all anyone seems to know about Portugal is the southern Algarve. Long may it stay that way.
I have never seen such vast and empty expanse of white sandy beach outside Australia. Some argue the surf’s as good too.
The holiday we put together was a blend of the Fisherman’s Trail and the Rota Vicentina. It’s a heady mix of clifftop trails, stony mountain paths, pine scented woodland tracks and meadows bursting with wild flowers.
You’ll note the absence of words like waterslide or golf course.
The idea is simple: you walk about 20 km a day while organiser Ricardo leapfrogs you in his van, carrying your stuff from one hotel to the next.
But it is self guided. You need to keep your wits about you. Whilst we were walking, a helicopter buzzed the coast up ahead, searching for a missing rock fisherman – a local man feared to have been swept into the sea.
Having said that, it’s not a dangerous walk. Stick to the trail, you’ll be grand. But again, you need to keep your eyes skinned just to follow the right path.
The trail is clearly marked: stripes of different coloured paint, sometimes arrows, point the way ahead.
But these markers can be at eye level – as on the trunk of a tree – or sometimes ankle level, whatever’s available.
Which is fine if you’re looking out for these markers. If instead, you and your companion are yelling at each other over the true merit of Scottish football, don’t be surprised if you wander onto somebody’s farm by mistake.
It’s at this point in the story where I’d like to have thrown in a bit of drama about being terrorised by the disgruntled farmer’s angry German Shepherd, Gnashero – but it didn’t happen.
We were graciously pointed in the right direction not just by the farmer that day but by a taxi driver two days later.
Slightly irritated as the cab pulled up, we waved him on. Can’t you see we’re athletes, muttered the Glasgow Celtic supporter. But the taxi driver wouldn’t give up. Patiently he explained he wasn’t trying to pick up a fare, just help out a couple of idiot ramblers apparently striding towards Spain.
You need to turn around and go back. Er yes, we knew that.
You could do this walk in trainers but I reckon walking boots are best. A fair portion of this trail is hard or stony ground which you will feel in soft soled shoes.
The reason I wasn’t wearing boots is because they gave up on Day One. Held together the last few kilometres by rubber bands, they just about got me to our first hotel, the sole in bits. The moral: don’t take 20-year old boots.
What you also need to know is there are a lot of sand dunes along this trail. Again on day one, it was dunes most of the way. I’m a keen walker at home but by the time we’d covered the 20 km to Vila Novo de Milfontes, your correspondent of a certain age was about ready to splash out on a massage.
Which we managed the following evening when the Brazilian masseuse and her colleague drove the 20k to our next billet at no extra charge and shut us both up for 60 minutes.
We started in the Alejandro town of Porto Covo, a couple of hours bus ride from Lisbon. We finished, nearly 80 km later at Arrifana near Aljezur in the northern Algarve.
Sometimes we stayed in a b&b, sometimes a hotel, but the rooms were clean and comfortable, the welcome sincere and the breakfasts generous. Exactly where you stay will depend on how many people are walking the trail at any one time and what’s available. We had no complaint.
Worth saying, because we required a room each, single room supplements bumped up the price significantly, details below.
And finally, if you don’t like salted cod, sardines or Pastel de Nada, the sumptuous custard tart of Portugal…you may want to think about visiting another country. But you’d be mad.
Our trip was organised online with Vicentina Travel in Portugal. Price for two with single room supplements was 640 euros each, including bed and breakfast for six nights, luggage transfers, maps and information pack. It did not include flights from the UK or bus transfers from Lisbon airport. For the record, we paid our own way.
Kieran Prendiville, June 2018