The Via Algarviana: Salir to Alte

The section started with level walking through agricultural land
The section started with level walking through agricultural land

If we’d been impressed with Casa da Mãe yesterday, we were even more appreciative of its charms on this glorious morning when the air was filled with birdsong and the scent of eucalyptus.

Breakfast was a lavish affair with warm croissants and rolls, various cheeses, honey, marmalades and jams, and best of all, a pot of Tetley’s tea. Having failed to ask how much this oasis of tranquillity was costing us before we accepted a room, we were astonished to learn the cost was just €60 for our double room with terrace and breakfast (and we hadn’t even booked online). We’re definitely returning to this absolute gem of a place one day soon.

With only 16.20 km to cover today, there was time to explore Salir. First port of call was the ruined walls of Salir castle. The castle dates back to the Moorish occupation of the Algarve and the low-level walls were not excavated until 1987. The castle towers were designed to look much grander and white lines were painted onto their walls so that the rammed earth (taipa) mimicked large limestone facing stones from a distance.

The wonderful views from the ruined walls of Salir castle
The wonderful views from the ruined walls of Salir castle

As castles go, it wasn’t particularly impressive, but it’s worth walking onto the viewing platform for the spectacular views across the valley and to the Serra do Caldeirão mountains beyond.

The area surrounding Salir is typical of the barrocal and is perfect for walking. Sections of the Via Algarviana use part of a historic network of sunken paths route between the limestone walls of dry fruit orchards. These fruits – figs, almonds, olives and carobs – are referred to as ‘dry’ because their trees require little or no watering and derive all the moisture they need from rain and dew.

We walked along level tracks, surprised to see the harvest was well under way in mid May, and passed the occasional tiny hamlet: Almarginho, Cerro de Baixo and Cerro de Cima.

Limestone walls mark the boundaries of dry orchards
Limestone walls mark the boundaries of dry orchards

In the distance and to our right, the distinctive Rocha da Pena rose from the valley floor, a rocky outcrop which reaches 480 metres. The Moors allegedly hid behind ancient stone walls on the plateau as the Christians seized Salir castle. The defensive walls, dating back to the Iron Age and constructed by Celts, are still visible.

It was all going so well – despite the hot sun, we’d been making good progress – so it came as a bit of a shock when we realised we were walking around in a circle – and even more surprising that it was me who recognised the specific patch of vegetation as we passed it for a second time. Harri wasn’t sure where we’d lost the trail but we had definitely gone wrong somewhere. He needed to find out where we’d gone wrong so his hiking book instructions weren’t muddled so he ‘parked’ me at the bottom of the steep path and instantly disappeared into the scrubby vegetation.

At first, it was pleasant sitting there reading. But as the minutes passed and there was still no sign of him, I began to get worried. Where on earth was he? Surely, we couldn’t have strayed that far off the waymarked route? I headed back in the direction I’d seen Harri go, along a badly overgrown footpath adjacent to a drystone wall. Hot and crotchety, I eventually reached an open space which looked familiar.

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I was just trying to work out where to head next when I spotted Harri walking towards me looking as relieved as I felt. From his lengthy explorations, he had deduced that we overlooked the overgrown footpath (the correct way) because we were seduced by a waymark pointing us along a nice flat area between shrubs. Unfortunately, that waymark was guiding hikers walking the Via Algarviana back to Alcoutim. It was no wonder it felt like we were walking around in circles – we were!

Back on track, we climbed out of the valley and headed towards Benafim. Now the small walled dry orchards were replaced with sprawling, commercial orange groves protected by towering walls and padlocked gates (though it sounds unlikely, orange theft is apparently a very real problem here).

In a post called ‘O is for Oranges’ the very informative Algarve Blog reveals that the Algarve produces between 300,000 and 400,000 tonnes of citrus fruit each year, with the oranges grown here in the Algarve’s most southerly region amounting to about 70% of the total grown in Portugal.

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After stopping for an ice-cold beer or two on the shaded, flower-covered terrace of the Restaurante Hamburg, we set off again. A signpost informed us that Alte was just 5.5 kilometres away and here in the energy-sapping Algarve temperatures and on tough, undulating terrain, that short distance could easily take us an hour and a half, or even more.

We reached Alte around 4pm. This pretty, traditional town is popular with tourists who flock here to visit the famous fontes (springs).  We joined the picturesque tree-lined promenade at Fonte Grande (big fountain) and walked alongside the canalised stream where the verse of Cândido Guerreiro is displayed on tiled panels. The fact that it was Monday and everything was closed clearly hadn’t deterred the many tourists who were wandering purposelessly around the narrow cobbled alleyways. I think that’s why I love hiking holidays so much – every day has a purpose, a definite destination.

Colourful painted crockery for sale in Alte
Colourful painted crockery for sale in Alte

Already, I was missing the solitude and unspoilt charm of the eastern Algarve villages. Places where people poked their heads out of their homes, simply because they had heard unfamiliar footsteps and wanted to fill a stranger’s water bottles or welcome you to their village with a friendly ‘bom dia’.

Down there on the coast, the bright lights of Albufeira stretched for miles. We had exactly one week of walking left and I wasn’t sure I was ready to rejoin civilisation.

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Looking towards the coast from Hotel Alte

 

For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website. A printed guide with individual maps of each section, plus all the link routes are available free of charge (postage is payable).

The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.

A ‘Made for iBooks’ version is also available from Apple’s iBookstore.

The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.

For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest. 

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