Thanks to the recommendation from our good friend Kyrie we embarked on a four-day hike along Portugal’s southwestern coast. Over the four days we hiked 88km along the Rota Vicentina, experiencing the Alentejo region’s beautiful cliffs, beaches, and small towns on foot. We really enjoyed the peacefulness of the trail and the opportunity it gave us to just BE. We took in the sights, chatted, felt the sun on our faces, and got lost in our own thoughts.
Tuesday, 6:45am. We left our Lisbon apartment and walked downhill to the Saint Apoliana train station to catch the metro. Tuesday and Saturday is market day in the Alfama neighbourhood and as we made our way down to the station we witnessed the vendors setting up for the day. We were amazed at the extensiveness of the market!
We felt light and free as we walked through the streets with just our small daypacks which contained our necessities for the next four days.
We boarded the metro and hoped for no delays. We were cutting it close for our 7:30am bus departure to Cercal.
7:20am. Metro arrived at Jardim Zoologico. We exited the train, followed the crowd outside, and then proceeded to walk/run almost a full circle around the block trying to locate the bus station.
7:25am. We found the bus station, but what bus was ours? We didn’t recognize any of the cities on the tiny departures screen. With a small line-up at the ticket desk, and little time for mistakes we lined-up to get help. The ticket agent didn’t speak much English, but from showing her our online tickets she was able to motion that we needed to print out tickets from a nearby machine.
“Quick! Over there to the machine before there is a line up!”
I read aloud the reservation numbers as Tim punched them in.
7:28am. We grabbed our tickets which conveniently revealed our bus number and dashed over to the row of buses. Two minutes to spare!
We love that feeling of making it aboard the bus/train/plane. The relief of making it, and the anticipation of the trip ahead!
Starting town: Cercal
Ending town: Vila de Milfontes
Distance hiked: 31km
Trail time: 10:40 to 19:00
The Rota Vicentina consists of two trails - the Historical Way and the Fisherman's Trail. The Historical Way traverses inland through rual villages, while the Fisherman's Trail runs along the coast. The first leg of our trip was on the Historical Way.
We left the town of Cercal, and hiked through its outskirts, passing small farms and walking up a bit of a hill from which we looked over Cercal behind us.
We then walked through a eucalyptus forest, followed by a cork oak forest. Apparently the bark can be removed without killing the tree, and re-harvested every nine years. It was interesting to see these oak tree farms with the trees in various stages of nakedness depending on the year their barked had last been harvested.
The first half of the day was easy walking on the Historical Way trail. The ground was compact and the path wide. The navigation was fairly easy as well, for the most part. At one point we arrived at a pasture, and distracted by the cows, turned west toward the coast a little too early. This navigation error meant we had to hike a kilometre on the highway to rejoin with the trail. I’m glad it wasn’t longer on the road - there was no shoulder and the traffic was constant and fast moving.
15.5km and 3.5hrs later the Historical Way intersected with the Fisherman’s Trail at the coast. Hellloooo Atlantic Ocean! It felt so good to be at the ocean, but at the same time it was hard to come to terms with the fact that we were only half-way done for the day. It didn’t help that I discovered that my hiking boots were not as comfortable as they once were, and I could feel big blisters developing.
It was the coastal views that we had most been looking forward to, but we were both surprised by how much we had enjoyed our morning on the Historical Way, seeing the farms and experiencing the tranquility of the inland trail.
Happy that we had made it halfway, we took a water break and aired out our feet in the ocean breeze. However, knowing that the sun would set at 6:10pm we don’t stop for more than a few minutes before getting on our way. We had just under 4hrs of sunlight left, and 16km to go.
The walking was fast and easy on the Historical Way, but such was not always the case in the afternoon. The rest of the day we walked over soft sand - the kind where it feels like for every step forward you are also taking a step backwards. The upside of the sand though was that it was softer on my sore feet.
Some of the trail sections in the afternoon had smaller cliffs and so we were close to the water level. At one point we were able to walk along the beach.
The last 30 minutes before sunset was my favourite part of the day. We were still on the cliffs, with not a soul in sight, and it was breathtaking to see the landscape change colours as the sun set over the ocean. The small succulents plants that flourished in the sand burned red in the glow of the sun.
We arrived to our lodgings promptly at 7pm. The last section through town was one of the toughest of the day, as the pavement was hard on our feet, and we were in complete darkness by the end. What a relief to have made it!
The hot shower felt oh so good. The food at dinner was so-so, but, as a wise family member used to say, there’s nothing like food when you’re hungry!
It was a wonderful day full of beautiful views, great conversation, a little bit of pain, but mostly smiles and laughs. Couldn't have asked for a better way to spend our 8th year dating anniversary :)
Starting town: Vila de Milfontes
Ending town: Almograve
Distance hiked: 16.5km
Trail time: 12:00 to 17:30
Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by, you know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life for me
And I'm feeling good
- Nina Simone
It was certainly a new day, but my feet begged to differ about “feeling good”. Our host had very kindly made us breakfast, and as we heard her door open we sprang out of bed to meet her for our pre-arranged 8:30am delivery.
We enjoyed breakfast outside on our little terrace. Mid-morning the sun hit the terrace and, knowing we had a shorter hiking day ahead of us, we lingered a little longer reading our books soaking up the sun with our feet up.
Time ticked on, and eventually we needed to hit the road. The walk leaving town was gruelling. It felt like my blisters hadn’t recovered at all from the previous day, and the asphalt start certainly didn’t help. I even questioned whether I would be able to make it to Almograve, and considered for a moment getting a taxi. Tempting as it was, I knew I couldn’t give up on the second day, so on we went.
After the asphalt stretch leaving Vila de Milfontes we had arrived at a beautiful section along the coast.
The rest of the day though turned out to be a little disappointing view-wise compared to the previous day. Although we were near the coast most of the day, a lot of it was spent just behind the sand dunes with the ocean out of sight, or walking through thick growths of acacia trees. In one patch we had to crouch down on our knees to make it through the thick growth. The trail definitely needed some pruning!
It was always a delight to emerge from the think acacia trees and see the Atlantic ocean. Maybe the acacia trees even made the ocean views better as they interrupted our consumption and made us appreciate them even more.
"Slow and steady wins the race". We didn’t win any races, but we did eventually make it to Almograve. We picked up some cold cervejas on our way to our AirBnB and enjoyed the refreshing drink and the satisfaction of another great day.
Check out Hike the Rota Vicentina Part 2 to read about our 41km journey from Almograve to Odeceixe.