Solo in Portugal on the Via Algarviana Trail: Marmelete - Bensafrim - Cabo de São Vicente
In February I embarked on a three-week-long hike across Portugal. 300 km on the Via Algarviana trail took me through some remarkable landscapes and tested my body's abilities and mind's strength.
In this article, I invite you to read about the section from Marmelete, through the narrow streets of Barão de São João, all the way to the farthest point in Europe: the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente.
The last days of my Via Algarviana adventure took me through some mighty rains, but also beautiful views. I left the big mountains behind me and could experience changing landscapes as I neared the Ocean.
May the Rains Start
I spent the night in fantastic accommodation, and it was not easy to leave it behind. It was about 5 km away from Marmelete, and some 2 km off the trail. When I woke up, I knew the forecasts were correct: it was rainy, and the visibility was abysmal. White fog squeezed into every free space all around.
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When I was checking out the booking app the day before, I saw a comment of someone who wrote that the owners gave them a ride to Marmelete. I hoped for the same, but that didn't work out. The owner spoke hardly any English (well, none) and my Portuguese was basically non-existent, so it was tough to communicate. I got a phone number for a taxi to call, and I also found some online.
Finding a ride back to the trail
The morning I called both, but no one picked up. The perspective of walking 5 km in the pouring rain, on the side of a busy road in really thick fog was not exactly pleasant.
I packed and left the place and moved on the other side of the street where there were a restaurant and a gas station. I asked for help, and the good people found me someone who would give me a ride for 5€. A man who was a builder, I believe, took me into his old car and we had a friendly chat. He said his daughter liked traveling and was planning on visiting Poland and the Auschwitz museum.
When we stopped in Marmelete at a gas station, I gave him 10€, as I was really grateful for his help.
I started my walk through the small town on a steep cobbled street and worried I could slip any minute, as I did in Cachopo. I could only take photos on my phone, as the big camera was put away in a dry bag.
From Marmelete the trail lead on dirt tracks and small paved roads. There was a lot of downhill walking, so it was pretty easy and pleasant. I soon reached Romeiros, a tiny village which had two cafes! I didn't know about it so when I reached the first, and it was closed, I sat on the covered porch in front of it and ate my lunch snacks.
If they have coffee, I am in.
Just some 200 m after I moved again I bumped into the second one, this time open. I just couldn't go past it! So it was time for coffee.
The weather got much better, the fog lifted and rain stopped. It was still gloomy but it looked like the rain wasn’t coming back, so I took my big camera out of the backpack. I felt much better right away!
I knew there was supposed to be a reservoir on my way and hoped for excellent views. Alas! When I reached it, it was completely hidden from view thanks to overgrown shrubs and trees. I only caught some glimpses and finally at a higher point on a hill I could see a bit more. But there was no way to get to it unless you wanted to go full machete waving trailblazer on it.
This day I wanted to walk as far as I could, as I knew it was supposed to rain much harder the next day.
Camping with frogs
I needed to look for a wild camping spot and found one not too far from the trail. I walked away from the dirt road through some mud and rocks and found a tiny place next to a pond. I could hear voices from nearby houses but was sheltered from them.
I didn't cook that night - I had enough dry food. I could hear the frogs while I read myself to sleep.
Marmelete to a wild camp:
18,6 km; total height gain: 413, total height loss: 687m
I woke up to the sound of rain drops gently drumming on my tent. It was raining, and I liked listening to the sound.
Finally, I had no choice but to move on. I packed inside the tent and then wrapped it completely wet. I hoped I could dry it at some point later on.
My plan for the day (I love my hiking plans) was to reach the village of Picho where the was supposed to be a restaurant. I could stop there for a lunch break and then move on.
When I got crossroads, there was still 200 m of steep ascent needed to reach it. And, when I arrived it, it was closed. What a disappointment!
I had no choice but to keep walking toward the town of Bensafrim, my next goal.
I liked the rural landscapes a lot. Everything was in rich green color with fantastic colorful wildflowers to break the monochromatic background.
The rain was not as heavy as I worried it could be. It was mostly gloomy and cloudy with occasional light showers. The distance seemed much longer than in reality, I didn't enjoy this part too much. When it started to pour heavily, I welcomed it as an excellent disruption of the monotony of my march.
I stopped in Bensafrim for a late lunch and had my favorite: omelet with french fries.
Rain can be annoying, but it can also create fantastic landscapes. It clears the air, colors seem more vivid and alive with the thin layer of water. When I walked on the red soil, surrounded by cork oak trees, I felt like I was in a different reality. A purely magical experience.
Reaching Barão de São João
At some point, I reached an area with more affluent houses and farms. When I reached the town, it was a real labyrinth of narrow streets and fairytale-like houses. I had some difficulties with finding my accommodation in this maze, and when I finally did, it was closed. I left my big backpack by the doors (inside a small entry place) and moved on to find a place to have a cup of coffee.
I found one on the main street, and it was filled with locals, some of more artistic type. I was found there by the owners of the accommodation. It's only then I found out why everything was closed (like a grocery store) - it was Carnival and a public holiday.
When I finished my coffee, I could finally get to my room, clean up and rest.
I decided to book a stay in Vale do Bispo, which meant I had no other choice but walk the 24 km the next day. It's a lot for me, I rarely do more than 20 km because my feet hurt much after that.
The forecast is still the same: rains for the next 2-3 days.
Wild camping - Barão de São João:
19, 5 km; total ascent: 308 m; total descent: 368 m
Starting the long walk to Vale do Bispo
I planned to start hiking before 9 am. Unfortunately, the grocery store opened at 9 instead of 8am as it was written on the doors. I ran out of rice cakes and hoped to buy some fresh food for the next 2-3 days.
Right outside the town, the trail leads through the forest. There was a shallow gorge below the path with overgrown plants. Combined with the rain, I felt like I was hiking through the jungle.
Later the trail run over undulating hills, like a ribbon. It felt wild and remote, only massive wind turbines reminded me I was not far from civilization. I liked the diverse landscapes and beautiful Nature. Sometimes it was hard to fully appreciate the stunning surroundings because the rain and wind got strong.
A coffee house in the middle of deluge
During one of the periods with the hardest rainfall, I reached something that looked like a small village with a sign inviting to a cafe! I am not the kind of person to ignore such an invitation. I couldn't believe that in all that torrential rains I could find a great cafe, with a fire going. Later I talked with the lovely lady that it's not a village but a private farm with buildings dedicated to education (Montessori method), to organic farming and similar. I had a great time sitting by a fire, drinking my galau and gathering strength to move back into the nasty weather.
The dramatic landscapes were even more striking thanks to the dark clouds. I could also, again, admire the majestic beauty of wind turbines. I find them fascinating and an intriguing relation between human engineering and nature.
My feet started to hurt, as usual, the moment I reached the 10th km. After 15 km, I stopped and put some gel with pain killers on the feet, but it didn't help much.
The weather got slightly better - the rain stopped, it was cloudy and gloomy with strong wind.
Modifying the route
After analyzing the map and realizing that my feet won't be able to go for another 10 km, I decided to cut the trail a bit. To avoid walking by the main road, the path makes kind of a large triangle off the road. Walking by the road would save me 4-5 km of the "triangle." I walked for about 3 km on the side of the road, on a proper, wide shoulder.
When I reached my accommodation, I almost cried. I found my place (a room in a shared apartment) and was happy to see a big Lidl store close by. I was delighted when I saw a gluten-free pizza in their freezers! I was exhausted, and my feet were killing me. I deserved this pizza!
I was the only one (for the moment) in the apartment, so I utilize the moment and run a real, hot bath. That was precisely what I needed! When I head that someone came into the apartment, I forced myself to leave the bathtub.
It was hard to believe that I had just one day left of the big Via Algarviana trek!
I was a bit nervous: there was only one bus that could take me from Cabo de São Vicente to Sagres, and it leaves at 3:05pm. I was stressed I wouldn't make it and then, I would have to walk another 6 km to reach the town. Or hire a taxi.
Barão de São João - Vale do Bispo
20,4 km; total ascent: 363 m, total descent: 360 m
A walk to the End of the World
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, I moved on to reach the Ocean.
I tried not to think about the timing and the risk of not catching the bus so I could enjoy the walk. And what a great walk it was!
I loved how different the flora was the closer I was getting to the Ocean. The soil had reach orange-brown color, there were a lot of boulders and rocks scattered around. Shrubs and occasional sturdy plants added to the strikingly beautiful landscapes.
At one moment I walked past a farm and encountered a family of pigs. Two adult pigs with a group of piglets were happily foraging on the side of the road. I know what a sow could do if she thought her babies were in danger, so I kept my distance. Only when the whole group turned into a meadow and disappeared behind a hedge, I sped up.
Straight path to the Lighthouse
After a few miles of diverse looking trail, I reached a paved road which was perfectly straight. I could see the famous lighthouse for a moment, then it disappeared behind rocks and hills.
It takes about 3 km to walk this straight road to reach the end of the trail. I saw that I was good with time, so I spent a few minutes playing around with photography.
Just when I was getting closer and closer to the end, heavy clouds moved, and I could feel single drops falling. I really wanted to reach the place before the rain (to take some photos) and raced against the clouds.
At the Lighthouse there were many people, most of them came by cars, by the look of the parking space. I seemed to be the only hiker with a big backpack. I asked a few people to take some pics of me to commemorate the moment.
I tried to find a trail marker with a proper sign for the Via Algarviana, and I haven't found one! There is a beautiful one marking the Via Vicentina, but not mine. After the 300 km, I really wanted something touristy as a souvenir. I asked in the gift shop if they had anything (like a magnet) with Via Algarviana, but nope. I can't get it. This is the start/end of the most significant trail they have here, so why not make it a bit more visible?
I walked a bit around the Lighthouse admiring the dramatic cliffs and vast greatness of the Ocean. When you stand at such a place, you can really understand why people felt inspired to discover “what’s out there” and why the medieval Portuguese were pioneers in discovering new routes to new (to the Europeans) lands. Cabo de Sao Vicente is a beautiful place. Bare, dramatic, stunning. A beautiful place for an end of my epic journey through the Algarve.
Anyway, I've made it, and I even had the time to drink a cup of coffee before the bus.
Vale do Bispo - Cabo de São Vicente
17, 6 km; total ascent: 195 m; total descent 234 m.
Via Algarviana - I've made it!
I still couldn't believe it, it was the longest trail I completed up to date. I usually pick and choose different paths, as I'm not really a thru-hiker of any kind.
Was it worth it? Would I recommend it?
Absolutely. I'm delighted I made this trail. The Algarve is popular with tourists thanks to its breath-taking coast, but when you go inland, all the tourists are gone but the beauty isn’t. We move away not just from the noise and crowd, but also away from modern life, as if by time machine. This trail allows to experience solitude and contact with beautiful Nature. Via Algarviana is diverse and continuously changing - it never gets boring.
It's hard as a wild camping destination - the hilly terrain and the nature of the soil make it really difficult to find a suitable spot for pitching.
It's beautiful, it really is.
Make sure you have seen all the sections of the Via Algarviana trail. I hope I can inspire you discover this part of Portugal - either by hiking the whole length of the trail or some of its sections.
Have you ever been to Algarve? What have you seen?
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