One of the most enjoyable things about hiking is the interesting people we meet along the way. Not all are fellow hikers, of course, some are locals going about their daily lives, others may be visitors who have stopped to admire the same view as us.
Mostly we’ll strike up a friendly conversation, linger for ten minutes or so and then continue on our way. I think it’s safe to say we have never, ever stopped to talk to fellow hikers in a car park and then spent the rest of the day with them. But that’s exactly what happened when we ran into Denise and Geoff at Praia da Marinha a few days ago.
We’d decided to kick off our Algarve hiking season (this is a year-round season) with a tough but challenging 10-kilometre coastal walk. Unusually for the Algarve, the Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (Seven Hanging Valleys Walk) is a signposted trail along a stretch of coastline somewhere between the popular resorts of Armação de Pêra and Carvoeiro. There are interpretation boards along its route explaining geological features like sink holes and informing hikers about local flora and fauna.
From end to end the trail is only 5.7km and is described as of ‘medium difficulty’. Though there are certainly many advantages to having a car at our disposal (like getting to Marinha in the first place), it does mean we have to return to it at the end of the day. The easiest solution was to walk the route in both directions, finishing where we started.
Last time we were here we were walking from Ferragudo to Albufeira over two days. When we stopped to eat at the picnic area, we were joined by several friendly tabby cats who lived in a five-storey wooden ‘kennel’ and thought we might have a morsel to share. This time around, there was no sign of the cat colony and at first I thought it had been dispersed. Then, a languid individual wandered out from the vegetation and jumped onto a picnic table. A quick look around, revealed the cat house was still nearby, but had been moved to a shadier spot.
On longer walks, we generally avoid unnecessary detours so we hadn’t previously descended the many steps to Praia da Marinha. The beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe – and one of the hundred most beautiful in the world. It was time to find out if all the praise heaped on it was justified.
The beach is small by Algarve standards and at 10am the sun was yet to rise above the high cliffs. Surprisingly, for such an easy to reach beach there was absolutely nobody on the sand other than us and six seagulls (yes, I counted them). I was intrigued by a pretty grotto which led to a deeper cave, but Harri stayed clear (he’s not a cave lover). Was it beautiful? Very.
Back at the car park, a couple had emerged from one of the camper vans and were admiring the view. From their walking poles, we guessed they were planning to hike the trail too. We got chatting and then, as we were all heading in the same direction, set off together. Denise was the chattier of the two (a bit like us) and we soon learned they’d recently sold up in the UK and were moving lock, stock and barrel to the Algarve, just like us. I was intrigued to learn they had spent the last decade living on a riverboat and almost completely off grid.
The day wasn’t turning out quite as we’d imagined – we generally cherish our hikes for the opportunity to spend time alone together – however, on this occasion, we all seemed to be enjoying each other’s company so there seemed little point in parting only to shuffle along the trail separately.
Despite being officially categorised as of ‘medium difficulty’ you really do need to have strong legs to cope with the terrain. There are several precarious sections where you need to use your hands to pull yourself up or lower yourself down steep rocky pavements. Worse, was the knowledge that we’d have to do all the difficult bits again a few hours later … in the opposite direction. We learned Denise was once a member of the Long Distance Walkers Association and had tackled some of their toughest distances, including an overnight team event.
This stretch of coastline is the Algarve at its best. There are stunning beaches along the trail (and they don’t come much more beautiful than Praia de Benagil) as well as Alfanzina lighthouse (check out this footage). Sinkholes abound and, while they are fenced off, we’ve witnessed several crazy people clambering over the fences to take selfies at the edge of what is essentially a massive hole plummeting down to the sea.
I won’t go into the geology of the landscape again (if you want to know more about how the formation of the landscape and its continued erosion visit my original blog about the walk).
Eventually, this intrepid red-faced quartet found ourselves back at the car park where we enjoyed our most expensive beer of the winter to date (2.50 euros a bottle). I was delighted to see the tabby cats had returned and were sunning themselves on the surrounding tables.
It’s not often Harri and I meet a couple we like so instantly; however, we’d had a thoroughly enjoyable day with our new hiking friends. Denise and Geoff, we hope all goes well in Tavira and we hope to meet up with you again very soon.