One of the reasons we decided to spend the winter in Albufeira was to enable us to hike every weekend. As winters in the UK have become warmer and wetter, our inclination to go walking regularly has dwindled. If we had a dog it might be different, but who wants to be knee-deep in mud and soaked to the skin if they don’t have to?
Fortunately, the Algarve climate is far more conducive to getting out all year-round and so we promised ourselves that unless there was a very good reason not to, e.g. Harri was snowed under with work, or there was a storm heading this way, we would go hiking every Saturday and Sunday while we were here.
One of our first treks was to Alte, a small town in the barrocal which we passed through while walking the Via Algarviana. The plan was to walk there on Saturday, stay at the stunningly located Alte Hotel and return to Albufeira (and home) the following day.
Portuguese sunset is about an hour later than in the UK but at this time of the year the days are still short so an early start was essential. Of course, with our usual impeccable planning we’d managed to arrange this weekend’s walking for the morning after a very big (and extremely enjoyable) night out. Despite being the new guys in town, Dom (the owner of Arte’s Bar) kindly invited us along to the Christmas meal at a nearby Portuguese restaurant (Comida Tipica) where unlimited wine was included in the very reasonable 20 euro price.
Our unaccustomed night of partying meant neither of us felt particularly lively when we set off the following morning (though one of us had sensibly avoided mixing her drinks and so wasn’t feeling ill!).
We’d mentioned our intention of walking to Alte to several people last night and the general reaction was that we were crazy Brits! Hiking doesn’t seem to be so popular here as it is in Spain and, while you do see people walking around Albufeira, we have encountered few other walkers on the tracks and trails leading out of town.
We’d been walking for quite some time, including along a country lane and past huge commercial warehouses when Harri suddenly remarked that we hadn’t reached Albufeira railway station yet. This came as some surprise because:
- a) I’d almost forgotten that Albufeira had a railway station having had no sight nor sound of it since we arrived here, and
- b) if we hadn’t reached the station after over an hour of brisk walking, I couldn’t see how the station could be of any use to people living in Albufeira.
Harri reminded me that mass accessibility to the now popular coastal resorts of the Algarve wasn’t a consideration when the Algarve railway line was built back in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries (the station at Ferreiras opened in 1918).
The weather was perfect for walking – not too hot, but warm and sunny (certainly warm enough for Harri to wear shorts). Many of the surrounding orchards and fields were carpeted with tiny yellow buttercups and while there was no denying the landscape looked incredibly pretty, the bermuda buttercup is an invasive species which suffocates indigenous plants and is a nightmare to remove because its bulbs are so tiny.
Harri’s planned route involved crossing the Quarteira river at a ford. This would normally have been straightforward but the recent torrential rain (most of Thursday through to Friday lunchtime) meant there was a lot of water flowing down from the hills, which in turn meant the river was in full flow. Moreover, the curious design of the ‘stepping stones’ (there was a wide gap between stones halfway across) suggested they weren’t actually meant for humans to use.
Harri wanted to wade across, but the water was fast-flowing and I thought we’d be mad even to try. At best, we’d get soaked up to our thighs; at worst, the force of the water would push us over and wreck the camera, iPad, two mobile phones and possibly send two hikers on a watery trip to Quarteira. It was only when I refused point blank to cross the river, that Harri agreed to find an alternative route. Thank goodness for Viewranger!
Our detour meant following the main road through the curiously named Purgatório, but as always the traffic was so light it wasn’t an issue. In Paderne, we settled down in the sunshine with two bottles of lager and chatted to a Dutch couple (well mostly the woman) who had been touring around Portugal for a while and were about to embark on their first pet-sitting assignment (also in Portugal). The woman joked that they usually drink water when they’re hiking not beer! I retorted that we enjoy our fair share of both.
After Paderne, the terrain changed completely. Now we found ourselves following peaceful, level tracks through a wide valley lined with orange groves and olive trees, many of the former stretching in straight lines up the hillside as far as the eye could see. The presence of several mini viaducts suggested the valley floor gets flooded from time to time and the lack of farmhouses and numerous faded Vende Se signs that the fertile land was mostly used by absent farmers.
Alte nestles in the foothills of the Serra do Caldeirão so it was inevitable that we would face some climbing in the late afternoon. After passing through the pretty little village of Estevais de Moiras, we joined a road so new it didn’t appear on Google Streetscene (and thus didn’t feature in Harri’s route planning!).
Last time we were in Alte (May 2015) we’d been walking the Via Algarviana. On that occasion, we’d been too weary to do a detour to the famous Vigario Falls (and in the dry Algarve spring there would probably have been little to see); however, we were determined to visit Alte’s most popular attraction today. We descended the very steep gravel track leading down to the riverbed was steep watched by a group of motor-home dwellers (you see vast numbers of these huge caravans on wheels parked up everywhere in the Algarve in the winter months).
The waterfall itself was pretty enough, but having visiting waterfalls like Sgwd yr Eira in the Brecon Beacons (where you can walk behind the wall of water) and Aber Falls in Snowdonia, it was a big ask to be greatly impressed with this smallish one. The wooden steps leading down to the pool below the waterfall suggested it was a popular bathing spot in the summer months, but the entire surrounding area was run down and the strange container-like structure at the top of the grassy slope was covered in graffiti and had had its windows smashed.
Alte itself seemed even quieter than last time we’d visited. On that occasion it had been a Monday, the day when many attractions are closed in Portugal. This time it was the Saturday before Christmas but if we were expecting some hustle and bustle – indeed any signs of a lively community – we were disappointed.
Today’s walk today was very much one of two halves. The first stretch (before we reached Paderne) was mostly lined with houses (with some rather gorgeous traditional farms) and the second half of the walk (Paderne to Alte) almost continually along quiet (and flat) tracks lined with orange groves and olive trees, many of the former stretching in straight lines up the hillside as far as the eye could see.
We watched the sun set from our hotel terrace before heading downstairs to eat in the restaurant. We’d covered nearly 29 kilometres today – the farthest we’d walked in a while – and fell into bed around nine, content but exhausted.