For some time now, we’ve been talking about heading to São Bartolomeu de Messines for an overnight stay with our friends Dale and Irina.
Irina runs a well-being retreat called Pure Body, Healthy Mind from her beautiful quinta, located in the hills just north of Messines. Irina believes that a healthy mind and a healthy body go hand in hand. Here in this idyllic setting, she helps her guests to bring an inner peace to their lives and to focus on what really matters to them. For energetic types, there are wonderful walks and safe roads for cycling; on the other hand, if you just want to relax,do some sightseeing and enjoy Irina’s excellent hospitality, that’s fine too. We’d planned our trip several weeks ahead and we excited to be on our way at last.
São Bartolomeu de Messines is located between Silves and Alte. We were last here when we were walking the Via Algarviana in May 2015. On that memorable occasion, we left Messines in unseasonably hot weather and ran out of water long before we reached the section’s end at Silves.
We were confident water – or the lack of it – wouldn’t be an issue this time around and, rather than packing litres of bottled water into our rucksacks, we’d brought along some bottles of rosé wine.
Because we’re without wheels here in Albufeira the plan was that Irina and Dale would drive us to their mountain home and we’d all go for an afternoon walk together before settling down for dinner. Unfortunately, a recent nasty fall meant Irina wasn’t in any fit condition to be striding out along uneven trails so, before she and Dale got busy in the kitchen, she drove us to the Barragem do Funcho so Harri and I could go for a stroll on our own.
Like everyone else, we’re only too aware Algarve is desperate for rain. When we arrived at the beginning of November, everyone was talking about the drought (eight months with barely any rain) and, apart from one short-lived storm, there’s been very little rainfall all winter. Even knowing this, we still weren’t prepared to see the dwindling water supplies with our own eyes. Admittedly, we were standing at one of the reservoir’s extremities where the water level would be shallower anyway, but it did seem that an awful lot of the sandy shoreline was exposed.
We meandered along the water’s edge for a few hundred metres, enjoying the crisp mountain air, and marvelling how the moon – now in its waxing gibbous phase – was visible above the tree tops. Knowing that a circuit of this vast expanse of water was out of the question, we pondered what to do.
Though we’d left our rucksacks behind, Harri had brought his iPad with him. With just a few hours before dark, he suggested we could join the PR1, a scenic circular route from Messines. This waymarked trail meanders alongside the Arade river, crossing it several times before returning to town. Irina’s quinta wasn’t exactly on route but it was close enough. If we left the trail at the railway crossing we’d only have a short, uphill stretch to walk. It sounded like a plan!
If the reservoir’s water levels looked low, the Arade was faring even worse. There was barely any flowing water, just the occasional large puddle punctuating an otherwise arid riverbed. We passed a ruined farmhouse where three thin wires were all that separated us from a group of excitable horses who went into a galloping frenzy when they spotted us walking on the track.
One of the highlights of our afternoon walk was coming across the beautifully situated Ermida de Sant’ Ana. In 1834, troops aligned with the miguelistas and the liberals lined up cannon and fired at each other across the valley in one of the last battles of the six-year Liberal Wars or as it is often called, the War of the Two Brothers. It saddened me to think of such needless carnage in this peaceful place (the war was about the succession of the Portuguese monarchy). I could feel Harri’s eyes on me as I wandered around the perimeter of the hermitage, admiring its tranquillity and the extensive views. He later admitted he thought I was eyeing it up as a potential renovation project!
We crossed the Arade several times, walked underneath the railway then over the rails. At one point we could actually see Irina’s quinta high above us, but the steep, scrubby terrain looked like it might prove difficult and, besides, there was metal fencing along the near boundary of the quinta’s land. What had started off as a short afternoon stroll turned into a 12-kilometre trek and, as the late afternoon sun dipped below the mountain tops, we just hoped our hosts weren’t worrying about our whereabouts.
Having skipped lunch, we were ravenous when we reached the quinta around 5pm. Fortunately, our friends had been busy and our dinner awaited us. Soon, the four of us were sitting around an enormous wooden table in the quinta’s large living/kitchen area enjoying homemade soup, barbecue chicken in spicy sauce, roast vegetables and sweet potato and potato chips.
It wonderful to sit around a roaring fire, drinking wine and enjoying good company (and chocolate). At one point, we put our outer layers on and went outside to do some star gazing. It was too cold to stay outside for long and we were soon heading indoors to warm ourselves around the fire. The hours flew by and before we knew it, it was past midnight and we were yawning our heads off.
After a good night’s sleep in our lovely traditionally furnished room, it was time to have a proper look around the grounds while Irina prepared breakfast. We couldn’t fail to be enchanted by this gorgeous quinta with its wonderful views of the rolling Algarvian hills. Harri was particularly impressed by the large pool, while I could imagine myself lying around in the hammock all day reading.
Our visit was necessarily brief, and after breakfast we reluctantly bade farewell to Irina and a pleasant Dutch couple who were also staying at the quinta (Dale was making the most of a day off and was still in bed), and set off down the lane towards Messines and our long walk back to Albufeira.
More Algarve Hiking by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon in digital and print format.