Via Algarviana: Monchique to Marmelete

The breathtaking scenery of the Serra de Monchique (looking inland)
The breathtaking scenery of the Serra de Monchique (looking inland)

The wind continued to howl throughout the night, or so Harri reported this morning. Yesterday’s walking had clearly worn me out because I’d slept like a baby.

We caught up with the Flemish hikers over breakfast and were astonished to discovered they’d abandoned the Messines to Silves section midway and phoned for a taxi. It was simply too hot for such a long hike, they’d decided. Yes it was, I wanted to shout, but a certain person insisted we cover every single kilometre of the trail on foot … even if it ultimately killed us!

Distance wasn’t an issue today – this was one of the shortest sections of the whole trail – but what was more worrying was the lack of accommodation in Marmelete. The village has a population of around 800 and isn’t really on the tourist trail – or it wasn’t until the Via Algarviana was devised. The only rooms available were above cafés, which meant we hadn’t been able to book ahead. Harri was concerned.

Enjoying the morning sunshine in Monchique
Enjoying the morning sunshine in Monchique

A brief visit to Monchique’s tourist information office confirmed his fears. Fortunately, there was another option. The first floor of Marmelete’s community centre was currently being transformed into a low-cost hostel, Casa do Povo. While not officially open for business, we would be allowed to stay overnight for a small donation as long as we presented ourselves at Marmelete’s council offices before 5pm to pick up the key.

We still had plenty of time to explore Monchique, a city since 1773. The Romans named this place Mons Cicus (meaning ‘mountain ring’); however, the discovery of Stone Age tools proves there were ancient settlements in the area long before they arrived. Monchique felt far more eclectic than other places we’d passed through; the city on the hill has established itself as an arty kind of place, attracting culture vultures who flock here for courses in creative writing, tile-painting and pottery and ceramics, and several Brits, including Lisa who used to live in Cwmbran (near where Harri grew up) and another lady who deduced from my accent that I was a Liverpudlian!

There was plenty to choose from in the medronho shop
There was plenty to choose from in the medronho shop

And, here in Monchique, we finally located a medronho (and honey) shop, which cheered Harri enormously (particularly after he’d sampled some of the wares) and a shop which sold homemade fudge, which brightened my day.

The dilapidated convent is home to a Portuguese family
Monchique’s dilapidated monastery is home to a Portuguese family

Too soon, it was time to get going. After a steep climb out of Monchique, we reached the city’s best known landmark, the Nossa Senhora do Desterro (Our Lady of Exile). This former Franciscan monastery was founded in 1631 by Pero da Silva, who went on to be the viceroy of India. The building was badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake and is now largely a ruin, yet it retains an air of charm and dilapidated grandeur. A Portuguese family has been inhabiting and looking after the ruin for many years, selling homegrown fruit and vegetables to tourists and showing them around.

Standing on the highest point of the Algarve
Standing on the highest point of the Algarve

The ascent to the summit of the Algarve’s highest peak was a walk in the path compared to yesterday’s clamber to the top of Picota. Today’s scenery was equally beautiful, but the rolling hills were more reminiscent of our own Welsh landscape. Sadly, it was an different story altogether on the summit of Fóia, where the landscape is ravaged by various communication towers and masts, including a radar station belonging to the Portuguese Air Force. There was more traffic up here than we’d encountered on our entire hike, and the sprawling car park suggested things got even worse at high season. We took the all-important pics, grabbed a beer and made a quick escape.

The abandoned terraces were once used for agriculture
These abandoned terraces were once farmed

Fortunately, away from the summit the landscape rapidly improved. The Via Algarviana winds gently down through a scenic valley of mountain pasture and abandoned agricultural terraces. Here, cattle and goats grazed freely, the tuneful sound of their cowbells enchanting us (until one sturdy-looking cow turned out to be a bull!). After a while, we caught up with the Flemings, who were lying around on a grassy verge, taking things easy. It transpired they were stopping this side of Marmelete, so had an even shorter day’s hiking than us. We joined them for elevenses, but with that 5pm deadline in mind, we couldn’t linger too long.

Harri keeps his eye on a passing bull
Harri keeps his eye on a passing bull

The afternoon’s hiking wasn’t quite as downhill as one might imagine, given that Marmelete was over 500 metres lower than Fóia, but the scenery more than made up for some very hairy descents on loose stone tracks. At Marmelete (and with the inspired help of Google Translate), we learned that we would not be the only overnight occupants of the unfinished hostel. The sole key to the property had already been handed to a Spanish man who, like us, was walking the Via Algarviana; however, as we had booked first, it was Harri who was designated ‘master of the key’. By now, alarm bells were starting to ring, and if there had been any alternative other than wild camping, I’d have walked out of Marmelete there and then.

The hostel dormitory in Marmelete (we chose to kip on a landing instead!)
The hostel dormitory in Marmelete (we chose to kip on a landing instead!)

Actually when we finally roused him (he was asleep on a bunk inside while we were locked outside), Antonio turned out to be very nice man, and we all did our best to accommodate one another, e.g. going out to dinner at roughly the same time, passing the key back and for as needs demanded. One thing I wasn’t prepared to do was share a bedroom – however big – with a stranger, which is how Harri and I came to spend a night on keep-fit mats spread across the landing floor alongside a noisy boiler.

It wasn’t the good night’s sleep we needed before we embarked upon the longest section of the whole trail, but sometimes you have no choice but to make do!

 

For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website.

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.

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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