Our last day on the trail. By early afternoon, we would have reached Cabo de São Vicente and the end of the Via Algarviana. Rather than feeling elated that we were about to achieve what we’d set out to do, we both felt somewhat despondent this morning. Our shared mood wasn’t helped by the noticeable drop in temperature and the sudden disappearance of the Algarve sunshine.
After we reached our final destination, the plan was to carry on walking to the nearby resort of Sagres where we’d booked one night’s accommodation. If we liked Sagres, we would stay a second night; if not, we were heading east to Lagos. Both places were renown for their beaches and clifftop walks; bad weather would undoubtedly scupper our plans.
There’s a big communal kitchen at Casa Mestre, but breakfast is not provided so we popped along to the local Lidl store to buy croissants. Afterwards, we waved goodbye to Vila do Bispo and set off on this final and purportedly ‘fácil’ section of the Via Algarviana. There are actually two waymarked routes to Cabo de São Vicente from Vila do Bispo: the Via Algarviana (GR13) and the Rota Vicentina (GR11). We were sticking to the Via Algarviana, heading south across a relatively flat coastal plain.
Gradually the landscape became more barren and was dotted with various dilapidated buildings, including a vast complex that looked like it might once have had an industrial or military purpose. In the shadows of one of the annexes, a field of goats grazed and postured on a pile of boulders, watched over by a sleepy ‘guard’ dog.
The last few miles saw us following a dusty road which stretched endlessly into the distance. Thankfully, the clouds had mostly dissipated and the sky overhead was once again gloriously blue.
Cabo de São Vicente is named after St Vincent, who around 304AD was horribly tortured by the Roman emperor Diocletian when he refused to denounce his Christian beliefs. Vincent’s body was recovered from the sea by Christians. Legend tells how his body was protected by flocks of ravens. A church built in his honour by Catholic bishops was burnt down by the Moors. In 1173, King Afonso I ordered that Vincent’s body should be exhumed and brought by ship to Lisbon, where his bones still rest in the seventeenth-century Monastery of São Vicente de Fora.
After an endless section of straight track, we joined the main road and began the final leg of our journey. In many ways, this last stretch of walking was one of the hardest – not physically but psychologically. On the horizon, the lighthouse – and long lines of parked cars – glinted in the midday sun. Soon after reaching this landmark, we would be turning around and retracing our steps as we headed back to Sagres.
Never in our wildest dreams had we imagined Cabo de São Vicente would be this busy. More cars whizzed past us as we dragged our weary selves those last few hundred metres than on the entire trail. Having hiked solidly for two weeks to reach Europe’s most south-westerly tip, the final approach felt somewhat anti-climactic. If I’d imagined our Via Algarviana experience would end with us gazing down at the Atlantic waves from a tranquil clifftop setting I was sorely mistaken.
Sadly, this being another Monday, the gates to the lighthouse itself were locked, so we posed for photographs outside the towering gates and did what we do best … went for a beer (at two euros per bottle our dearest yet!). It was hard to equate this bustling, commerce-driven location lined with stalls and burger vans with the once-sacred spot where people believed the world ended.
Tiring rapidly of the madding crowds and the constant flow of traffic, we went in search of solitude and found a lovely clearing in the rocks overlooking some spectacular coastal scenery where we settled down to eat our picnic lunch.
Sagres is located 6.8 kilometres from Cabo de São Vicente, not exactly a huge distance; however, our trek on a stony ‘cycle track’ alongside the busy main road seemed to go on forever. We stopped briefly at Fortaleza da Beliche, built to control shipping and protect nearby coastal settlements from seafaring raiders. The fort first appeared on a map in 1587, has been rebuilt twice and was badly damaged in the 1755 earthquake. It was restored as part of the celebrations to mark 500 years since the death of Henry the Navigator.
Maybe if we hadn’t been so tired, we might have headed towards the high white walls of nearby Fortaleza de Sagres, from which Henry planned his expeditions into uncharted waters, but we just couldn’t summon up sufficient energy to veer right along yet another long straight road. The original fort was another casualty of 1755, though most of the damage was caused by the resulting tsunami rather than the actual quake.
We limped into Sagres, our feet aching and spirits flagging. In my imagination I’d conjured up the Portuguese equivalent of a picturesque Cornish fishing village with whitewashed cottages, quaint cobbled lanes and tiny boats bobbing around in the bay. Sadly, I was wrong. There was an inescapable ‘package holiday’ air about the place and the old harbour feels quite separate from the tourist resort … or perhaps I’d just been ‘spoilt’ by the tranquillity of the landscape we’d just yomped across.
Our apartment at Pontalaia Apartamentos Turisticos was absolutely stunning (it was so big we could have moved in permanently!); however, it took us no more than an hour or two to make up our minds … we were heading to Lagos tomorrow morning. And no, we weren’t walking there!
Our trip was nearly over and I knew I’d be sad to say ‘farewell’ to this lovely part the world. The Via Algarviana is only the second long-distance trail we’ve walked in one continuous hike, carrying rucksacks and camping gear (the other one being the 585km O Fôn i Fynwy, an end-to-end walk through Wales devised by Harri) and we agreed we had chosen well.
As the wind howled outside, I whispered to Harri, ‘Promise me something.’
He grunted, half-asleep.
‘Promise me we’ll come back to the Algarve.’
Another grunt, which I chose to interpret as a ‘yes’.
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.