Slow travel in Portugal, what’s not to love? And you don’t get much slower than walking…!
Now that we’ve finished our hike along the surprisingly unknown Rota Vicentina, it feels like a good time to share whilst it’s all still fresh in my mind.
So here goes…expect to see a lot of this kind of thing…
Before The Hike..
I know some people are happier simply turning up and finding a bed for the night – but that’s not me… Especially after a long walk each day, I wanted to know where I was going to be sleeping that night!
And to be honest, planning a trip out in advance lets me relax and enjoy the experience, instead of constantly sorting out bookings et al en route.
Besides, anyone who’s read any of this blog knows that actually, I just really enjoy planning our trips.. Research and spreadsheets – yes, please!!
And one of the best parts about the Rota Vicentina is that whilst it’s relatively unknown, it’s amazingly easy to organise the whole thing yourself.
The official website of the walk is full of helpful information – including all the GPX tracks for each segment of the hike.
There’s a lot to choose from and so the first task is to decide how many days you want to (or can!) spend on the trails. The other key choice is whether you want to stick to the coast (Fisherman’s Trail ) or wander inland more (Historical Way).
I found reading other blogs helpful to get a flavour of what to expect from each. For those wanting to do the same I’d happily recommend Marek’s blog, Indie Traveller. Alongside both Stingy Nomad and Routinely Nomadic, who both go into more detail than you could ever possibly want!
I actually planned this hike as part of a longer trip exploring Portugal, starting at Faro and ending in Lisbon. As such, it made sense for us to hike it ‘backwards’, so starting at Cabo de Sao Vicente and heading north.
Given it was our first time, we choose the Fisherman’s Trail. Largely because whilst it had a lot of coast walking, it also often wandered inland anyway.
And so a route was born…..
Planning Our Rota Vicentina Hike
Since this was part of a longer trip around Portugal, we decided eight days of hiking with a stop in the middle to rest and catch up on work would best for us in terms of length and time on this part of the trip.
Whilst we love hiking, the only other multi-day trip we’ve done was the Quilatoa Loop in Equador as part of a house-sitting experiment. Another story, another day…
The upshot being though we weren’t entirely sure how we’d get on with it all. Were we fit enough to hike day after day? Where would we stay? Even more importantly, what would we eat…? These were the kinds of questions we had when planning it out.
Eight days hiking equated to about 105 miles total, which seemed a pretty good distance to try out. Each day varied between 15km – 25km and whilst nothing much in terms of elevation, everybody mentioned how hard it was to trek on sand….
So it seemed a reasonable middle ground and let us cover 90% of the Fisherman’s trail. I purposely skipped the last part of the trail, from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Porto Covo.
Why? Because I was pretty sure by that point S would be fed up wading through sand and we’d have had eight days of hiking before heading on to Lisbon.
Having sorted that out, it was moving on to sorting out where to sleep. The main choice was picking which town or village to spend a few nights at to break up the hike in the middle. After that, the fun started in earnest…
Fortunately, as mentioned, one of the best parts about this hike was being able to organise everything myself. Booking.com is still king of availability in this part of Portugal, though we had a couple of places from AirBnB too.
In some places, the choice of accommodation was pretty limited but it was still easy enough to find somewhere reasonable for each night.
For us, these days that means a private room with a bathroom. Somewhere clean. Anything above that’s a bonus when it’s literally somewhere to crash for the night. I think it’s part of getting older but wandering around in your nightwear searching for a toilet loses it’s appeal at a certain point!
As it turned out, with perhaps one exception, everywhere along the route totally exceeded our expectations. Which when you are only paying between £37 – 65 a night for B&B, is pretty amazing. We hiked in April/May, so prime hiking time too.
How much luggage can I carry?
One of the best decisions we made by far though was to use the luggage transfer service offered by Vicentina Transfers.
These guys were amazing and saved us so much hassle and effort. They basically pick up your main backpack (or whatever luggage you have) each day and move it on to the next place you are staying. All you have to do is leave it by 9 each day and they guarantee to have it there by 4.
Their website is so simple to use and the whole thing for seven transfers for two bags only cost us about £90. We saw plenty of people struggling with larger packs on the walk and honestly, it was so much more enjoyable only taking a day pack each.
Well worth it, totally professional and they took care of literally everything once we’d told them our route. Best decision ever!
I can understand if you are on a strict budget then it may seem a bit of a luxury. But honestly, for us it transformed the hike and well worth working those extra years not to have to skimp.
Hiking the Rota Vicentina: From Cabo to Aljezur
Whilst we started our hike in Cabo de Sao Vicente, we actually stayed two nights in the nearby village of Vila do Bespo.
This was largely because (a) I’d read the hike from Sagres to Cabo was a rather dull stretch of road walking and (b) the gorgeous AirBnB I’d found to stay in deserved two nights.
Cabo de Sao Vicente is famous for allegedly being the most south-western point of Europe and so tends to get its fair share of tourists, what with not being too far from the sunny Algarve shores.
But it’s one of those odd places, a little like Land’s End last time I was there, in that there’s not actually much to do there apart from say “I’m at the end of the world” or something similarly amusing.
All of which is a longwinded way of saying we spent about ten minutes admiring the view there before agreeing to head off hiking.
The Rota Vicentina is really well-marked as a trail, especially since it’s apparently largely maintained by volunteers. The Fisherman’s Trail is marked by blue/green dashes, like the ones on the rock under my feet here…
The red/yellow markers you also see in the photo will appear occasionally. They’re used for shorter circular routes, usually starting and ending in the same town. You could always tell when you were getting near the end of the day’s hike when they started to reappear.
And so it was with great excitement we spotted our first trail marker and left Cabo. It was windy but gorgeous and it didn’t take very long at all before we’d left the tourist crowds thronging the small café and shop at the lighthouse far behind.
The hike from Cabo back to Vila was our shortest of the route at 9 miles, perfect for a warm up practice day. And it was such a great introduction, hugging the coast to start with before wandering back inland through masses of spring flowers.
All too quickly we were back into the village, enjoying a chilled beer in the square before heading back to the B&B to shower and return for some delicious squid. A great first day!
Waking up to glorious sunshine, we nervously left our backpacks in the B&B hallway and headed out to start the hike to Carrapeteria. This one was a little longer at 10.5 miles but easy enough.
There were a few ups and downs near the end but nothing too tricky. And oh it was all so stunning.
We were both blown away by how beautiful this part of the world is – and how quiet. Most people hike the Rota Vicentina from North to South so we were usually on our own with scenes like this one surrounding us.
And when I say blown away by the scenery, I mean it. There’s a reason this part of the Portuguese coast is so much quieter than the Algarve – it can be very windy!!
There’s often not too much in the way of shops or bars/cafes on the actual hikes before reaching the next town. So we always carried enough water for the day and food for lunch. Plus a beer, obviously. After all, got to make the most of these scenic lunch spots…
Again, before we really knew it we were arriving into Carrapeteria. And we were delighted to see a Vicentina Transfers van parked outside our guesthouse as we arrived – top timing!!
Naturally ravenous after a full day’s hiking, we fell into what would become the usual routine of checking in, showering and heading out for some well-earned beer and dinner. There’s nothing quite as good as knowing you’ve already walked off the calories!
And it’s a good job we did – the food had been good along the south coast, but it really stepped up another notch along this hike.
Carrapeteria is a tiny place but we were still surprised the next morning when neither the small shop or café was open. Not until 9am apparently.
Given the day’s hike was going to be one of our longest we wanted to get an earlier start than that, so headed off without coffee – shocking! Good job we’d made a spare lunch the previous day, just incase you understand…
Before long after leaving Carrapeteria you hit the beach. And what a beach it is……
Bear in mind this is about ten ‘o’ clock on a warm (and actually not windy!) Saturday….
Honestly, if it had been one of the beaches at home in Norfolk it would have been thronging but I think we saw perhaps 2, maybe 3 other people the entire time it took us to get across. Crazy.
The day continued in much the same vein. It’s one of those kind of places you start to feel bad you can’t stop again to take another photo. But you really do have to, you know, get to a bed at some point..
Another scenic picnic pitstop and a few more gorgeous but deserted beaches later and we arrived in Arrifana, having hiked just over 15 miles. Tired but very happy.
Our hotel for the night (Vale de Telha) was one of the best bargains of the trip. Only £42 for a double room with balcony, including a delicious and filling breakfast. They’d even put our luggage in the room ready for us since it had beaten us that day. Really lovely people here.
It’s a little further on out of Arrifana but still along the trail. And it’s handily not far from some great eating options – including the delicious Thai we had that night. Yum…we’re loving this lifestyle…
The next day dawned bright and sunny again. Today’s walk was naturally shorter at 11.5 miles since we’d already in effect started along the official route the previous day. And so we headed off to Aljezur via the coast.
And yeah, the scenery was alright…
One thing people don’t talk about much is the smell on this hike. And I don’t mean it honks of seaweed or other unpleasant seaside things.. But the wild flowers are just amazing – the colours are so vibrant.
But the smell is something else. Especially when you wander through the large swathes of lavender that apparently just grows wild here.
It really is a hike for all the senses. Each day we would reach the end with almost a sense of disappointment at having finished for the day. Despite being more than ready for a rest and refuelling.
And so yet again, we did reach the end and duly arrived in Aljezur, full of pretty white-washed houses like this.
It’s also one of the bigger towns along the hike, with a population of about 6,000 at last count.
Split across an old and new town, it’s got a lot more amenities than most places in the region. Which is largely why I picked it as our halfway spot to take a break from hiking.
It turned out to be an excellent choice as it ended up being our favourite place to stay along the whole hike.
But that and the rest of the story up to Vila Nova de Milfontes is going to have to wait to next time….
For now, it’s safe to say we were fast becoming addicted to multi-day hikes. Especially ones that are so scenic and remote – yet end each night with a warm bed, hot shower – and some of the best food we’ve had.
Happy travels all!