The Rota Vicentina and Fishermen’s Trail – an extensive network of stunning hiking trails throughout southern Portugal featuring magnificent scenery, excellent weather and affordable accommodation. Fans of big coastal views will love following the incredible Atlantic coastline all the way from Sines to Cabo São Vicente. Those who love gently rolling hills and pastoral rural scenery may prefer the Rota Vicentina Historical Way, running parallel to the Fishermen’s Trail just a couple hours inland.
As travel starts to ramp up again, spending a couple weeks hiking the trails through Portugal’s spectacular Costa Vicentina and Alentejo region is a great option. Whether you have a few weeks to hike the entire circuit or just a few days to hit the highlights, the Rota Vicentina is a European hiking standout.
How long is the Rota Vicentina?
The more popular coastal route of the Rota Vicentina is 226 kilometres from Sao Torpes to Lagos mainly along beautiful ocean-front trails. It is normally done in 13 stages but that can be adjusted depending on your overall walking speed and how long you want your days to be. The Historical Way inland portion of the trail follows dirt roads and rural trails through farmland and small villages and adds up to around 260 km from Santiago do Cacem to Lagos. There are also many different “circular routes” that can be added on and a variety of at some stages along the route. We hiked from Sao Torpes to Sagres, roughly 180 kilometres, sticking to the coast whenever possible. The bottom line is that there are almost endless Portugal hiking trail options but for great coastal scenery on a village-to-village trek the Rota Vicentina can’t be beat.
We’ve had a soft spot for Portugal ever since our first visit back in 2012. At that time, we just had brief stops in Porto and Lisbon before heading to beautiful, balmy Madeira to rest and recuperate and pick off the dried blisters from our first Camino, the month-long Camino Francés. This time around, however, mainland Portugal was the hiking destination as we tackled a 10-day version of the Rota Vicentina Portugal, with particular emphasis on the Fishermen’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores) sections.
The Rota Vicentina length and time it will take will depend on the route you chose and your start and end points. Being from the Canadian prairies – roughly 1,700 kilometres from the nearest ocean – we do tend to get googly eyes whenever we come across special coastal scenery. Of course, Saskatchewan is also flat, so mountains tend to make us giddy also. Mind you, the prairies are also pretty dry, and yet I have never found much love in my heart for jungles. Maybe they just seem a little too much like a super-charged mosquito season. Who knows? The point is, we planned our route to stay along the water as much as possible. The benefits of this: scenery, cooling breezes, picturesque beach towns. The downsides: A lot of sand walking, occasional cold winds, bleak out-of-season beach towns.
Rota Vicentina Portugal Map
We started our hike in Sines on March 6th and finished in Sagres on March 15th and the Rota Vicentina walking map above shows our route. One of the reasons we chose this trek is that it is one of the few places you can comfortably hike in Europe this early in the year and it is the best of the Portugal hiking trails options.
Despite that, the hike could not be described as busy in any sense of the word, although there did seem to be a group of 15-20 other hikers following the same general route as us, some of whom we got to know, some of whom we came to recognize and acknowledge with a subdued smile, nod or discreet wave, and others we only ever speculated about. What can that guy possibly be carrying in that huge grocery bag everyday that he couldn’t somehow fit in or attach to his pack? How do people walking that slowly manage to end up the same place as us all the time? Do you think that guy realizes there are other pants to hike in besides jeans? These are the thoughts that occupied our minds throughout those early days when there wasn’t much else to do but follow the trail, enjoy the view and mentally gossip.
Of course, that all changed around day 5 or 6 when a certain virus – whom I won’t name for fear of invoking its wrath – suddenly became the main talking point for us and, oh, everyone on the planet, give or take a few thousand South Pacific islanders. Anyway, from then on, numbers on the trail dropped steadily to the point we only saw a handful of people the last couple days, all of them heading the opposite direction. It is hard to say how much of that was because many people simply had shorter hikes planned and how much was because health concerns were causing people to pull out early (according to doctors, not an effective method in any scenario).
To skip ahead:
How to Get to the Rota Vicentina Trail
We took a Rede Expressos bus from Lisbon to Sines (2 ½ hours, €14), then a taxi (€8 on a metre) out to the trailhead at Praia São Torpes. FYI: “praia” is Portuguese for beach, a word that will pop up in multiple place names throughout this guide. You can definitely walk out to the beach but it is about 8 km starting in the city and following roads so we decided to jump ahead to the good parts. This left us with just 10 km to our first stop in Porto Covo, which was short enough that we could do the bus trip and first day’s hike all in one. It was also nice to get used to the sand walking on a somewhat less challenging day.
The Fishermen’s Trail
The next 4 days – from Porto Covo to Odeceixe – are the part people are normally referring to when they talk about the Fishermen’s Trail. This phenomenal coastal route follows blue and green markers, while the inland route, known as the Historical Way, is marked in white and red. Somewhat confusingly, many of the trails farther south are also marked as Fisherman’s Route and then there are more alternatives and add-ons farther south called Circular Routes, which are red and yellow. It is not as confusing as it sounds (although certainly more confusing than, say, a single trail with a single set of markers, but maybe less confusing than figuring out how long to make trekking poles based on degree of incline). The trail variants farther south that most closely follow the coast are also marked blue/green and considered the Fishermen’s Route and we stuck to those except the one day when we’d just had enough, and were quietly daydreaming about putting our feet up and drinking beer on a deck. Actually, I dreamt about that every day but we only let it affect our route once…
How long is the Fishermen’s Trail?
The most popular section from Porto Covo to Odeceixe is 75 kilometres. It is normally walked in 4 stages, although it is possible to do it in 3 if you are a fast hiker or are willing to do long days.
Many of the GPX tracks I have included below came from the official Rota Vicentina site, although we did find that a few followed the wrong route or didn’t include the entire day. In those cases, I’ve used different Wikiloc routes as well.
Pros: Tremendously scenic, easy to follow, hardly any elevation gain or loss.
Cons: Walking in sand.
This was far and away the most sand walking we’ve ever done and it certainly increases the degree of difficulty. The type of sand varied constantly – from wet, hard-packed beach walking to slightly sandy dirt trails to full-on deep trudging on sand dunes. Of course, it also added greatly to the atmosphere of the trail, with most of the dunes traversing the edge of sheer cliffs – the feel of sand underfoot with vast coastal views unfolding on three sides while a fresh ocean breeze tickles our sweaty parts will be our most enduring memory of this trek. Well, that, and eating buns with salami and cheese while precariously perched on a cliff edge. Or testing the wind to determine the safest direction to pee.
Anyway, as to the sand walking, using a completely non-scientific ballpark estimate based on our experience, I would suggest that it added roughly one-third to the degree of difficulty, on average. So, if you are an avid hiker and have a pretty good idea how challenging it feels for you to hike 18 km with 300m of elevation gain, plan for it to feel more like 24 km with 400m of gain. The most sand walking is near Porto Covo, and the closer you get to Cabo São Vicente the less you’ll find.
As far as technique, we would strongly recommend treating sand walking like walking on ice (something we are all too familiar with in Saskatchewan) – take shorter steps and just lift your feet, don’t really push off, since that is when your foot tends to slip back and you waste energy. It is better to use this method and walk marginally slower than normal (our flat ground pace dropped from 5km/hr to about 3 ½ – 4 km/hr in the sand) than to push harder to keep your normal pace and wear your legs out.
As we’ll discuss in the packing section, I also found trekking poles very useful in the sand. In general, we have mixed feelings on poles. I usually only use them on particularly steep mountain trails but was glad to have them even on this relatively flat trail. When carrying a full pack up and down sandy hills it is easy to slip and slide and I found that the poles helped save energy by improving stability and balance. Plus, I love using them to point at things.
The coastal scenery was simply incredible – stunning, rugged cliffs interspersed with beautiful, empty beaches and occasional pastoral farmland. Even after Odeceixe we stuck to the coast as much as possible, despite several more direct inland options. Then we chose to finish in scenic Sagres, although it is possible to continue along a few more days as far as Lagos.
Rota Vicentina Weather
One of the big draws of the Rota Vicentina is the climate. There are precious few places in Europe where the weather is fine for trekking as early as February, and southern Portugal is one of them. While most popular regions in the Pyrenees and Alps are still covered in snow until late June, early spring is a perfect time to trek one of the hiking trails in Portugal. Even considering that March is normally an excellent month in these parts, we enjoyed particularly great weather. So much so that I made a big deal about it on day 5 when we saw our first real clouds. Up until then it was just perfectly clear blue skies. Gorgeous.
At the beginning and end of our trek, overnight temperatures dropped below 10C most nights and was back up around that number by the time we got started in the morning. We normally started out wearing jackets and then stripped down to t-shirts about half an hour in once the sun got a little higher and we climbed our first (admittedly minor) hill. It sometimes reached 20C late in the afternoon but most of our hiking was done in 10-15C, which is practically perfect. Plenty warm enough for a t-shirt or even shorts but not so hot that you are constantly dripping sweat and needing to refill your water. The nights were cold, though, so don’t just plan for the nice afternoons when you’re packing. The sun was down before 6 and we usually wore all our warm clothes just to go for dinner every night.
However, there were a weird couple of days where it got unseasonably warm – brilliant, sunny days reaching 25C. Slightly warmer than ideal when hiking but not exactly grounds for any serious whining. Just a little taste of summer in March.
We got a couple light sprinkles of rain towards the end but nothing problematic. In hindsight we could have gotten away without all that rain gear we were carrying but, in general, that would be a pretty poor bet. Rain is always a possibility along the ocean. Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Lessons learned as a lifetime Leafs fan.
Rota Vicentina Accommodation
Like with most of our long-distance treks, the great thing is that there is a good range of accommodation along the way. We’re not big fans of camping, at least not the kind where you carry all your gear every day (I’m much more open to the idea when I’ve got a vehicle to load up with coolers, blankets and chairs), although campgrounds are common all the way along the trail, so hiking the Rota Vicentina camping along the way is definitely an option.
What we liked, though, is that every stage on the Rota Vicentina ends in a different town, most of which have several hotels to choose from. Budget travellers can go with basic dorm beds (€10-20 pp), people like us tend to opt for mid-range hotels (€30-50 per night for a double) and, if you like a little more luxury, many of the towns had some fancier options in the €100-200 per night range.
We were happy with all the places we stayed but would probably single out Hostel Nature in Zambujeira do Mar (friendly and helpful) and Atlantic Lodge in Aljezur (friendly with a kickass rooftop terrace) as our favourite stops. Our room in Casa Dorita on Praia Odeceixe actually had a view of the beach and ocean for just €40, an outstanding deal that may or may not be available later in the season. One really important feature in every stop was heat, as the temperature dropped pretty quickly at night. Every room but one had some form of heat – either an air conditioner or portable electric heater – making that one (Pirata Hostel in Vila Nova de Milfontes) pretty noticeable. Fine for sleeping but not a room you wanted to hang out in. Something worth checking when picking a room.
We ended up booking all our rooms in advance but, in March, that probably wasn’t necessary. Since there aren’t that many ways to adjust the hiking schedule without simply doubling up a day, we preferred having our room reserved so that we didn’t have to spend time every day figuring it out. However, considering how quiet the trail was at this time of year, people who crave spontaneity could probably get away without reserving and just choosing day to day. Later in spring, though, and in summer for sure, I assume it is busy enough that you’ll want to book ahead.
Food and Water
Since we spent every night in a real town with shops and restaurants, breakfast and dinner were never a problem. Some of our hotels included breakfast, other times we picked up a few things at the store the night before (yogurt, bananas, pastries). There are lots of good seafood restaurants and pretty much every town had at least one relatively cheap option.
Lunches were a bit trickier. On about half the days on our Rota Vicentina hike we passed through a town or village where we could have had a sit-down lunch. However, several of them only had one restaurant and, being so early in the season, it was hard to count on these being open when we passed through. So we ended up packing our own lunch every day (buns, salami, cheese, oranges, chocolate, nuts). This meant we didn’t have to worry about what might be available along the way, plus allowed us to stop whenever we felt the urge and happened to find yet another amazingly scenic coastal spot.
As for water, you can drink the tap water everywhere in Portugal, so there is no need to buy disposable plastic bottles or carry a filter. We had read that some towns had water fountains but never really saw any – maybe that’s more of a summer thing. Either way, between not passing any towns some days and not really wanting to buy something at a restaurant just so we could feel good about filling up our water bottles, we opted to carry all our water for the day right from the start. Of course, because it was early March and never got too hot we usually only needed about 3.5-4 litres (between 2 of us). At a hotter time of year this might be a more difficult decision. And if you’re thinking about using a filter to save weight, well, we really didn’t see much for running water. Supposedly it had been a very dry winter so maybe that’s why, but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to count on natural water sources.
Rota Vicentina Hike Budget and Costs
The Rota Vicentina was much cheaper than most of the long-distance trails we’ve done lately. We averaged €40/night for accommodation and, even though we stayed in a couple hostels, we always had a private room. Sometimes that included breakfast. Then we spent about €10/day on lunches, breakfasts and snacks. The evening meal usually cost between €20-35 including drinks and tip. So, altogether, we spent roughly €80/day for 2 people. Travelling alone you probably would be looking at €50/day since hotels are rarely half-price for singles, unless you went with dorms all the way, in which case you could probably get it down under €40/day.
Compared to the Tour du Mont Blanc and Everest Base Camp, the Rota Vicentina is a great bargain. On the TMB we spent €140/day for the two of us and slept in dorms most nights. Even Everest Base Camp, in relatively cheap Nepal, was considerably more expensive at around €60/day per person once you factored in permits and transportation and porters and such. And that doesn’t include the flights to get there. The Camino de Santiago can cost roughly the same as the Rota Vicentina if you stay in albergue dorm beds most of the time, occasional hotel rooms and order the special Pilgrim’s Menu most of the time.
Rota Vicentina Packing List
As with any long-distance trek, the less you carry, the more you enjoy it. And, because the Rota Vicentina doesn’t involve any remote backcountry, extreme terrain or (hopefully) severe weather, it is easy to pack light. I took the following:
No other footwear. I usually carry some flip-flops but left them out since we weren’t going to be in shared accommodation and because it wasn’t going to be warm enough yet to wear them around outside at night. It was fine, although there were a few times it would have been nice to have them for walking around inside the hotel or hostel.
One pair of hiking pants and one pair of long underwear. The underwear served as my “hanging out in the room” clothes and were a lot smaller and lighter than a real second pair of pants.
I wore these twice, I think, and only because we got some freaky hot weather for a couple days. Considering it was March, I probably should have left them behind.
Two merino wool t-shirts for hiking and one long-sleeved merino wool that I wore at night. I can hike in merino for days before it starts to smell and it dries super-fast if you decide to throw it in the shower with you. I probably could have gotten away with just one of these, also.
One North Face fleece and one ultra-light windbreaker. The perfect combo.
Necessary every day.
Toque (aka beanie, wool cap)
Necessary half the mornings and most of the nights.
I only wore it once, and even then, it was barely necessary. But although you can get lucky, you should assume you’ll get rained on sooner or later. We opted against carrying our rain pants and were happy with that decision, obviously.
Normally, these are used to keep your feet dry in wet, muddy conditions. Which could certainly happen on this trail, even if it didn’t come up for us. But I actually wore them every day just to keep my shoes from filling up with sand all the time. It worked great and now I plan to use them every time I hike sandy trails in the future. Or attend beach weddings.
As I mentioned earlier, even though this trail wasn’t the kind I would normally use poles on, I was glad to have them. Unlike on the TMB, where 90% of people used poles, I’d say less than 25% used them on the Rota Vicentina. But I found they made a big difference walking in the sand and would definitely recommend using them. There are some steep parts occasionally, as well, especially farther south when we went off the main route now and then to stick closer to the coast.
Collapsible grocery bag
Every day we stocked up on supplies for lunch, breakfast, or both, and it was handy having our own bag rather than going through a bunch of disposable plastic.
Kind of obvious, but you’ll probably use even more than you expect on this trail. There is virtually no shade, ever. Also, because we were hiking early in the season it was dark and cold early in the morning. This meant that we didn’t usually get started until 9:30-10:00 and hiked for 5-6 hours in the strongest possible sun.
Since we were making our own lunch every day it was handy having a knife to cut buns and cheese, etc.
The perfect example of something you should always carry and hope to never use.
Also, since we were spending 2 months abroad altogether and had lots of other things planned after the Rota Vicentina, we arrived in Lisbon with more than the bare trekking minimum. To keep from having to carry a bunch of clothes and gear that we didn’t need yet, we packed up all our extra stuff in a collapsible duffel bag and mailed it ahead.
This made our packs a lot lighter and everything was waiting for us when we arrived at our final hotel in Sagres. I think it cost €18 including the box we bought for added protection. Keep in mind, though, that somehow the main post office in Lisbon(CTT) does not have packing tape (we had to buy some next door) and they told us that if we sent it “general delivery” the CTT in Sagres would only hold it for a week (even though I read about people who said it was 30 days – maybe larger towns?). So it makes sense to book a hotel for your last stop and check that they are okay with accepting a package and holding it for you. We stayed at Apartamentos Atalaia – a very nice place and they happily picked up our package from the post office (about a block away) and had it waiting for us when we arrived.
There are also some luggage transfer companies that you can pay to shuttle your gear from town to town along the way if you really want to lighten your load.
One of the great things about the Rota Vicentina is that the overall length is completely adjustable to fit your time frame. Many hikers tackle just the especially scenic Fishermen’s Trail stretch from Porto Covo to Odeceixe which typically takes 4 days. However, the entire route from Santiago do Caçem to Lagos will probably take 17-18 days of hiking whether you stick to the coastal sections or stay inland on the Historical Way. With another dozen or so optional circular routes to choose from and some recommended rest days now and then, you could easily turn it into a month-long adventure. The most common length, however, would be 2 weeks.
As I discussed earlier in the Trail section, the total elevation gain is minimal compared to mountain trekking, but the sand walking means it is tougher than you’d expect just looking at the numbers. Early in the season the trail was very quiet and we typically only saw around 10 other hikers each day. I would expect the popularity to grow later in spring and summer, but it is clearly far less popular than nearby treks such as the Camino Francés, Camino Portuguese and Camino del Norte.
It is nowhere near as difficult as the Tour du Mont Blanc (extreme elevation gains each day) or hiking in the Nepalese Himalaya (elevation gain and high altitudes). We hiked part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in New Zealand and, other than the sand, it was fairly comparable. The Camino del Norte that runs along the north coast of Spain features similar scenery but far more elevation gain. The Lycian Way in Turkey and Southwest Coast Path in England also have some similarities as far as walking along the ocean.
Altogether, I would describe the Rota Vicentina hike as a relatively leisurely 2-week trek featuring outstanding coastal scenery and some irritating sand walking, and a terrific choice early in the season when it’s too cold in the rest of Europe. Then it is up to each trekker to decide exactly how much time they want to commit and whether they want to focus on the coast or spend more time inland.
Rota Vicentina and Fishermen’s Trail Map and Daily Trip Report
Now for our daily reports, daily Rota Vicentina maps and Wikiloc links, to provide a little more detail and share a bit more of the trail’s daily flavour. Plus, a great opportunity to learn what kind of weird stuff we actually consider noteworthy…
The estimated hiking time includes short breaks but will vary considerably depending on your personal fitness and speed. The links are to the Wikiloc files. Wikiloc is a hiking app that is free to join and features hiking trails all over the world. If you prefer a different trail app (All Trails and Maps.me are two popular ones) it is possible to download the actual GPX file out of Wikiloc. From there you should be able to import it into your app of choice.
1. Sines/Praia Sao Torpes to Porto Covo
10km, 2.5 hrs
Our bus from Lisbon (€14) to Sines took 2 ½ hours, then we opted for a taxi out to Praia Sao Torpes (€8) to avoid walking through town for 8 km. This left us with only a couple hours of hiking – a nice, easy start. It was pretty windy, yet we still chose to eat our packed lunch on the beach, despite the irritating complication of blowing sand. We soon continued on – pockets and teeth both full of sand – and slowly worked out the best system of sand walking. Short steps, lift the feet, don’t push, quietly grunt every now and then. Porto Covo is a cute little beach town that had a bit of an eerie, out of season silence, plus a dog.
2. Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes
20km, 6 hrs
Now this was sand walking on a grand scale, finally. Whether traipsing along lengthy, picturesque beaches or trudging through atmospheric, wind-blown dunes, there was always plenty of sand underfoot. The views, though! While the previous day was certainly nice, this stretch is gorgeous confirmation of why you’re here.
We didn’t know it at the time but Vila Nova de Milfontes would turn out to the be busiest town of the entire trek. Real, live people walking the streets, drinking in restaurants and hanging out on the beach watching sunset (making it harder for me to surreptitiously take a leak behind a dune). We had some terrific burgers in the Riverside Pub, clearly an English expat hangout, and killed time listening to an elderly rugby fan argue the trajectory of the televised match with an obstinate 2-year-old. Then it went down to 5C over night. Just sayin’.
3. Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve
15km, 4.5 hrs
A nice mix of town, road and fields, before making our way back to more wonderful coastal dunes. Overall, there was less sand walking than the previous day and, knowing we had a shorter day, we eventually started meandering and exploring along the coast. We scrambled out to what looked like a small rock island that turned out to be a small rock peninsula and I climbed up to the top for incredible, expansive views of Laynni back down on the trail. We ended up in trail conversations with 3 people all day, each of whom just happened to be from Canada. The only Canadians we would meet throughout the hike. Absolutely clear blue skies, third day running, and the guy running the hostel in Almograve happily talked soccer/football with me before describing in astonished detail the size of the previous guest’s thighs.
4. Almograve to Zambujeira do Mar
22km, 6 hrs
A really amazing day – just incredible cliff, beach and dune views. There was some road walking toward the end but for the most part it was a great hiking day. There was one short detour around an ecologically sensitive area where we almost missed a turn but were lucky enough to run into a Belgian guy, Dries, who was dejectedly returning from having made that exact mistake, saving us the time and extra walking. Then we ended up in the same hostel together in Zambujeira do Mar – fate? Or just likely, considering there are only 2 hostels in town?
At one point we overtook another couple on the trail – the first people we’d seen in hours – and yet they managed to not even acknowledge us as we passed them and said “bom dia”. Now that’s focus. Or French. The nesting storks, however, they kept a sharp eye on every step of my ever so stealthy approach, stopping to take a slightly closer photo every two steps, then continuing to tiptoe out to the edge like a sandy, sweaty Pink Panther.
It was so hot and sunny during the day that – for the first time ever, I believe – I sunburnt the inside of my wrists (ah, it’s the trekking poles, he slowly concluded), yet it got cold again so quickly that we ate dinner in all our clothes, plus jackets, toques and gloves.
5. Zambujeira do Mar to Odeceixe Beach
22 km, 6 hrs
Another beautiful, enjoyable day despite the grouchy warnings of the old Dutch guy in our hotel the night before who had been hiking from the other direction for 2 weeks and was “so sick of cliffs”. There was more variety than on previous days, featuring hills, shrubs, tunnels through said shrubs, actual trees, beaches and, obviously, plenty of dunes and cliffs. We still like them, though.
All day we played hiking leapfrog with a German couple – the man carrying a heavy yellow grocery bag in one hand. We simply couldn’t speculate enough about this strange development, as it seemed there were a multitude of ways that strange load could have been incorporated into their backpacks. Couldn’t bring ourselves to ask, though, so we can only assume it contained the still-dripping decapitated heads of local cats. Or… is that why we didn’t see a single weasel, despite the Rota Vicentina website assuring us there were “abundant signs of the presence of mammals”. Signs we presumed did not include Germans carrying mystery bags.
On the bright side, we saw loads more storks, the pleasant memories of which kept us going throughout the long inland detour that took us from “just across the river, literally 200 metres away” from Odeceixe Beach all the way in to Odeceixe town and all the way back out – 8km of walking to solve that wet 200-metre gap. At least it gave us time to stop for a couple beer in town with Dries, where Laynni took advantage of a talkative Asian New Yorker to seize the last bread in the grocery store (yoink!).
Restaurants in Portugal often bring mixed appetizer plates and bread to your table without asking, then charge you for it later, somewhat annoying but avoidable once you expect it. Laynni got the last laugh, though, by deciding that was plenty for her and not bothering to order a meal.
6. Odeceixe to Aljezur
19km, 5.5 hrs
As we made our way out of Odeceixe enjoying even more excellent coastal views we were suddenly stunned to silence by the appearance of a fluffy white presence hovering in the southern sky. It even had a darker, more ominous tinge along the bottom. Could it be? A cloud? A cloud! It turns out they do have those in southern Portugal, after all. Thankfully, it just kind of floated around for awhile, occasionally getting in the way of the sun for a few minutes before shuffling along a bit more. Not ideal, but we persevered.
Because we had walked the extra 4km from town to the beach the day before (somewhat sluggishly thanks to our 3-beer break), what would have been our longest day was shortened slightly and we had a head start on those leaving Odeceixe, meaning we found ourselves completely alone on the trail all morning. The solitude and tiny cloudy reminder of how lucky we’d had it so far inspired us to go off-trail several times, sticking as tight to the coastline as possible all morning. It meant more down and up to different beaches and through some interesting ravines, one of which involved a fairly precarious (but scenic) climb.
Eventually we ended up inland and followed an unofficial Wikiloc trail to an irrigation ditch on the edge of Rogil. This refreshing detour provided an hour or so of pleasant walking along the grassy trail next to the ditch, watching alarmed frogs escaping with epic leaps into the water while startled turtles burrowed into the silty bottom. Sure, they’re no weasels, but entertaining nonetheless.
Aljezur is a fascinating historic town with an old Roman road and medieval castle across the field from the newer part of town, which is known more for its surfer hangouts and multiple pizza joints. As it was Laynni’s birthday we went all out, combining to drink dangerously close to double-digit beers between us while soaking up the warm sun on the rooftop terrace of awesome Atlantic Lodge, Skyping home and periodically debating the reason behind the rooster weathervane on the steeple of the neighbouring church. Why not a cross, or maybe a funny Jesus bobblehead doll? Could it be the reason the enormous church bells clanged loud and long every 15 minutes from 7am to 10 pm. We can’t rule it out.
7. Aljezur to Arrifana
17km, 5 hrs
It took a surprisingly long time to get back to, and through, the old part of Aljezur, before making our way to the flat country roads that would eventually lead us back to the wild coast. As luck would have it, though, some mindless, uneventful terrain was the perfect backdrop for our suddenly urgent coronavirus discussions (now more menacingly known as COVID-19) and how it was going to impact the 6 weeks in Spain and Morocco we had planned following the trek. We were going to have to really think about how much moving around we would want to do in Spain since things were getting a bit wild in Madrid at this point, and we came to the conclusion that even though Morocco had only reported a handful of cases we did not think it would be wise to intentionally put ourselves in Africa during a global crisis.
While off on one of our now-patented cliff-edge detours we met up with a German expat who was relaxing, enjoying the view and casually perfecting the creepy witch’s symbol he’d made out of rocks. He was nice enough to show us the best route down the rocks to the beach and then magically appeared in front of us when we reached the far end, clearly excited to chat and possibly lure us into some weird sex stuff.
We ended up in a nice new hostel in a crappy new area of Arrifana with no shops or restaurants, then got down to the depressing business of sorting all the different cancellation policies and getting rid of everything we could in Spain (16 hotels) and Morocco (5 hotels) and 24 hours in Madrid.
8. Arrifana to Carrapateira
20km, 6 hrs
The Spanish government announces complete border closure. So that’s definitely that. Glad we debated the pros and cons for two hours yesterday. On the bright side, more terrific walking – cliffs, hill roads, beaches, etc., culminating at the mother of all beaches in Carrapateira. A long, white wind-swept crescent ending at a dramatic rocky headland featuring massive, loudly crashing waves that had us squealing like kids opening Christmas presents, or that mob snitch who just never learns. We watched a couple kite surfers and, for the first time ever, thought “you know, maybe kite surfing could be fun”. Of course, the water is freezing so, no thanks, just thinking out loud.
We spent the night in a friendly little B&B in Carrapateira where Estela welcomed us with big smiles and absurd amounts of random sweet foods. We liked our room, we liked the lasagna we had for dinner, and we were particularly enamoured with the walk light with the man falling over.
9. Carrapateira to Vila do Bispo
20km, 6 hrs
This might have been our favourite day of the entire trek, maybe because it was starting to feel like the whole thing was winding down and our expectations were lower than before, feeling like we’d already passed the best. Not so, as this is another unbelievably scenic section. Rather than follow the official trail along the road, we cut over to the cliffs early and spent the morning enjoying more awesome wave-crashing spots and, of course, great cliff views. It didn’t hurt that those pesky few clouds that had snuck into the sky over the past few days had disappeared again, leaving another crisp blue sky that we were now more prepared to appreciate than before.
Once again we stuck to the coast whenever possible, crossing some deep ravines and climbing out of a slightly dicey valley up from Praia Muração. Eventually we made our way inland on dirt country roads and then, while taking one last Snickers break just outside Vila do Bispo, along came Dries, the first time we’d seen him in days. Turned out we were staying in the same place again – a 3-bedroom AirBnB apartment we also shared with a pair of surfers from northern Portugal.
Walking into Vila do Bispo was creepy and quiet, and we felt like those people in an apocalyptic movie where everyone’s either dead, hiding in terror or watching you from abandoned buildings waiting for the perfect chance to sneak up and eat your brains. Thankfully, that changed a bit once we reached the heart of town, although we soon experienced another post-apocalyptic moment when we found ourselves in a carefully spaced line outside the Lidl grocery store. Yes, COVID-19 measures had well and truly reached southern Portugal, with limits on the number of people allowed in stores and 2-metre spacing required at all times. At least it wasn’t completely overrun with panicky hoarders, though, which was our first thought when we saw everyone standing outside, but it was still our first real look at the new regime to come. Other than the Carrapateira hostel employee’s bumbling and ineffective use of rubber gloves, of course. Laynni was quite grouchy about having to limit random touching of products in the store, apparently her favourite part of shopping.
We bought the food, Dries the beer, then we mostly drank alone while one person after another hounded him on the phone to GET… HOME… NOW…! Which he did the very next day, cutting his trip short by 2 more weeks of hiking and, presumably, an almost infinite number of more cliffs.
10. Vila do Bispo – Sagres
21km, 6 hrs
Our final day started off with goodbyes to Dries, then we spent a dark, cloudy morning walking along quiet gravel roads through featureless fields. It was a “winding-down” atmosphere if I’ve ever seen it, and I should know, having recently struggled skeptically through the final two seasons of Game of Thrones.
Eventually we reached the coast and some pretty dramatic rocks and cliffs again (felt like home, at this point) and the famous lighthouse at Cabo São Vicente loomed larger and larger as we slowly closed the gap over some strangely lunar terrain of pitted rock that resembled coral – very sharp and awkward to walk on.
Finally emerging to a paved road for the last stretch to the cape, we stayed well off the shoulder as cars blasted past up to a full parking lot. After a week and a half of expansive, unspoiled scenery and quiet, empty country roads, the ending was just as anticlimactic and off-putting as we’d read from other trekkers. Despite the rapidly growing coronavirus issue, there were even a couple tour buses, plus the obligatory tightly packed groups taking photos and, for some reason, sharing coffee.
Needless to say, we didn’t linger, picking up a grossly overpriced Coke before continuing on towards Sagres. Even though this final 7km stretch followed pretty close to the highway, it actually had some really dramatic cliff scenery, including a much better view back toward the lighthouse than the areas directly around it. Definitely worth walking this stretch rather than taking a bus like some bloggers had suggested. Next stop: Sagres. Next highlight: digging some clean clothes and a laptop out of the package we’d mailed ahead. Next plan: hunker down.
A truly fabulous hike, and that’s a word I don’t use lightly, generally reserving it for only the truly special – extraordinary treks, clear blue skies and fun new haircuts. Between the easy accessibility, perfect early season weather, minimal crowds and incomparable coastal scenery, it is mind-blowing that the Rota Vicentina trail isn’t more popular. Something that is surely going to change, or at least it will once we are allowed to, you know, leave our houses again. I’d highly recommend getting there before the rest of Europe does.
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