Apart from the official Via Algarviana guide (which does not provide detailed walking instructions), the only guidebook to the trail we’re aware of is a German-language book by Christine Heitzmann.
Over breakfast, Dona Maria Otilia joined us at our table leafed through a copy of Heitzmann’s guide until she came to a photograph of an elderly woman dressed in traditional dark clothing. We could hear the excitement in her voice as she regaled us with the story behind the photograph and we were ashamed that we understood not a word. We guessed the woman in the photograph must be a relative, most likely her mother or grandmother.
We settled our bill – €64,00 for our double room, a two-course meal with several lagers and breakfast – thanked Dona Maria for her kindness and hospitality, and were about to leave when she grabbed two large oranges from the counter and pushed one into each of our hands. The fruit would go nicely with Dona Rita’s remaining sandwich.
Again I was sad to leave this peaceful village where good old-fashioned manners and kindness counted for something. Our room above the Restaurante Retiro dos Caçadores may have been a little bit old-fashioned, but the care and attention Dona Maria lavished upon her guests was right up there in the twenty-first century customer services handbook.
The meandering nature of the Via Algarviana meant we hadn’t actually made as much progress west as we might have expected. Despite covering 74 kilometres of tough undulating trail since leaving Alcoutim, the equivalent journey by road would have been just 54 km.
Today we were facing our biggest challenge to date: 29.1 km of what the guide described as ‘muito dificil’ walking.
As we left Cachopo, we passed an open building where old-fashioned concrete tubs with integral wash boards lined the walls. The washerwomen (or men) of Cachopo had certainly been busy that morning for items of clothing, tea towels and blankets were already pegged along the washroom’s numerous clothes lines. The Portuguese version of a laundrette still brought people together in that centuries-old way and I found myself envying the villagers’ simple way of life.
This morning’s undulating and sundried landscape with its terraced hillsides and scattered wind turbines made walking a visual delight. We were now deep into the dry landscape of the Serra do Caldeirão (mountains of the cauldrons) and the region’s characteristic landscape of rounded hills and valleys meant there wasn’t a moment when we weren’t going up or coming down again.
We walked through forests of cork and gazed into valleys crisscrossed with forestry tracks. Eventually we reached the charming Odeleite stream where a shallow ford seemed the perfect place to stop and rest awhile. As always, Harri plunged into the water, but moments later, he wasn’t so sure it had been a good idea. Inches below the surface, swarms of tiny fish were nibbling at his legs, enjoying the feast of a lifetime.
The climb from the river bed was tough, airless and perfectly silent. We might have been the only people in the Algarve, for there was no sight or sound of anyone.
At Parizes, we drank our long-awaited beers in a makeshift conservatory surrounded by tropical plants and skittering lizards. Surely this place had to be the inspiration for the Rainforest Cafe restaurant chain?
The second beer was a mistake as we both found it practically impossible to get going again. At first the track was level and the going relatively easy but then we gradually descended into a valley where the hot air sapped what little energy we still had.
We knew we’d seriously misjudged the toughness of the distance and terrain. The Via Algarviana guide helpfully suggests hikers might like to divide today’s section into two days’ walking with an overnight stop at Feiteira. We hadn’t seriously considered that option, being confident of our ability to reach Barranco do Velho, but now we wondered if it might have been a better idea.
We finally reached the allusive Barranco do Velho around 6.45pm, thoroughly exhausted. It had taken us nearly ten hours to cover 29.1 km.
The Tia Bia looked terribly grand compared to last night’s accommodation, yet it was inexpensive by British standards at €57.50 for a double room plus breakfast. Again, we’d accepted help to make an advance booking.
Tia Bia is the only place to eat in Barranco do Velho so it’s just as well the food is delicious – and very reasonably priced. Our chicken in red wine was served in a large casserole dish with new potatoes roasted and tossed into the sauce, plus there was haricot beans and bread. In fact, the food was so good we pretty much wiped the pot clean with the bread.
When we set off, I was keen to complete the Via Algarviana in less than two weeks so that we would have extra days on the coast.
After today’s mammoth hike in soaring temperatures, I have changed my mind. Those shorter days are there for a reason and we will be sticking to the sections as outlined in the official guide.
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.