We were in no hurry to leave Sitio this morning so after an unexpected offer of breakfast from Fatima (she was providing a buffet-style breakfast for two French/Portuguese couples and asked if we’d like to join them in return for a donation), we decided to go exploring. We had been wondering if the wine might have gone to our heads last night, when we were waxing lyrically about this place (Harri was just as bad as me), and so were delighted to discover that this lovely historic village was just as enchanting in daylight as it had been by moonlight. For me it felt like the Old Town, Albufeira and the Garrison on the Isles of Scilly all rolled into one. In other words, absolutely perfect!
It was clear from the number of gift shops and food stalls everywhere that Sítio da Nazaré is a huge magnet for tourists. It was barely ten o’clock, yet there were people everywhere. The more energetic were heading downhill to the lighthouse (farol) made famous by all those images of surfers riding the big ones. We were halfway down the track and had just passed a large bilingual sign welcoming us to the biggest waves in the world when we changed our minds. The whole point of going to the lighthouse is to see those record-breaking waves, but it was May and not December. We had a long enough walk ahead of us, without adding steep detours.
Harri paused for a photograph next to a huge sculpture of a surfer with a deer’s head carrying a surfboard (by sculptor Adália Alberto). While the concept of a surfing ruminant might seem rather bizarre to overseas visitors, the sculpture apparently relates to the legend of Nazaré. In brief, the legend tells of a twelfth-century ‘miracle’ involving a nobleman who was hunting a deer on horseback when he was cut off by thick sea fog. Realising he was close to the cliff edge, he prayed to a local saint. His prayers were answered and his horse miraculously stopped above a rocky point. The lives of both were saved and the nobleman went to a nearby grotto where a statue of the saint had been venerated to offer his heartfelt thanks. A small chapel, Ermida da Memória, now stands on the spot where Dom Fuas Roupinho almost lost his life in 1182. Much as I love this country, I’m afraid Portugal’s passion for saints and visions is something I’ll never understand.
Back in the main square, we took a closer look at the beautiful Nossa Senhora da Nazaré, which looked so enchanting when was lit up last night. This seventeenth-century church is built on the site of an earlier church which was expanded over the centuries to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims who flocked to Sitio during that era. It’s an imposing structure with two Baroque bell towers. As always, we were more interested in the architectural merits of the building than in the religious detail inside, e.g. the sweeping curved steps leading into the church. Anyway, I learned a long time ago that it’s not a good idea to venture into a church building on a Sunday!
In daylight, the rocky promontory felt higher than ever and the ocean – and the rest of Nazaré – looked an awful long way down. From up here, we could just about make out the Berlenga Islands off the coast of Peniche (in fact, it’s a photograph of the stone fortress of São João Baptista on Berlenga Grande that is frequently used to illustrate articles about the mainland fishing village). In 1889, a funicular was constructed to link Sitio with Nazaré (prior to this, members of the nobility were apparently pulled up the steep incline on carpets … presumably by horses or donkeys!). Fatima told us that in the summer months she often walks down to the shops or bank, then catches the funicular back up to Sitio. It only costs one euro 20 cents each way so it’s a real bargain. We didn’t catch the funicular this morning, but walked down a zig-zagging path to the beach.
We’d seen little traffic in Sitio,but it was a different story in Nazaré. It was barely mid-morning, but already cars were crawling along the promenade as their drivers searched for that elusive parking place. Life becomes so much simpler when you walk everywhere. As we walked along the seafront, it was obvious why Nazaré is one of the most popular resorts on the Silver Coast. The beach is wide and sandy, and the resort seems to be mostly unspoilt by modern, high-rise hotels. Before tourism arrived, Nazaré thrived as a fishing village and, even today, you’ll see older women wearing their traditional clothes and drying mackerel and sardines on wooden frames at the top of the beach. Had we more time, I’d have liked to have gone for a wander around some of the narrow streets, or perhaps stopped for a pastry in one of the bustling cafes, but alas, we’d already whiled away any spare time we might have had. If we were going to reach Foz de Arelho before bedtime, it was time to get a move on.
We headed south towards the marina and, after navigating a rather hairy stretch of road where there was no pavement and no cycle path (just a lot of jutting reeds), we veered right and found ourselves walking across a flat strip of land sandwiched between a wooded ridge to our left and a dune system to our right. It was still only May, but the ground under our feet was dry, deeply rutted and covered with sand blown across the dunes by those winter storms. This land had been given over to agricultural and there were automatic sprinklers in many of the fields, keeping the crops watered and, whenever we could get close enough, cooling us down.
I was delighted when I spied an escudo coin on the ground. Though virtually worthless by the time Portugal changed its currency to the euro (on January 1, 1999), I nevertheless loved the idea that the coin had been lying there undiscovered for the past eighteen years.
We tackled a steep ascent past several isolated cliff-top villas and found ourselves walking along an overgrown footpath which wouldn’t have been out of place in Cornwall or Pembrokeshire (maybe it was the shoulder-height ferns … or the brambles?). Now the scenery was gorgeous, with heather and other wild flowers spilling over the cliffs and open views of the ocean. The combination of white sandy beaches, turquoise water and a lush, verdant backdrop was enough to get me clicking. Harri was slightly uneasy when we had to walk along a section of clifftop just north of São Martinho de Porto where the cliffs were eroding so badly that a wide gorge had appeared to our right.
São Martinho de Porto nestles inside a crescent-shaped bay on the innermost shore of a lagoon, in what must surely be one of the prettiest locations on the Silver Coast. Actually, I’m not sure if it is really a lagoon in strict geological terms or just an inlet (the ocean flows into the lagoon via a narrow channel between two rocky headlands). There was an information board, but it was in Portuguese so I was none the wiser.
On this balmy Sunday afternoon, it would have been criminal not to stop for a beer (or two) alongside the water’s edge. A short distance from where we sat, a group of local people seemed intent on plonking a statue of their saint into the middle of a bush. I was bemused until our English-speaking waiter explained that this positioning of the statue marked the starting point of a festival procession that was taking place later today.
With hindsight, I wish we’d bothered to explore the old town just a few metres away from the ocean, but instead we joined hundreds of other beach lovers for a leisurely stroll along the promenade. Halfway around we had a much clearer view of the narrow strait of seawater which runs into the lagoon/bay/lake and for a while the air felt fresher and breezier.
Salir do Porto is tucked away at the far end of the bay on the Rio Tornada and is reached via boardwalks and a pedestrian bridge. As we got close, we could see children climbing up and then sliding down the huge sand dune which Salir is famous for …. it’s nearly 49 metres high. I wished I had half their energy because I was beginning to wilt in the heat. Salir is clearly a popular place with local people because the car park was overflowing and there were people everywhere. We stopped briefly for something to eat – and to psyche ourselves up for the long climb ahead.
By the time we reached Foz de Arelho, a haze had settled over the ocean and the beautiful Obidos lagoon (and this one is a proper lagoon) looked drained of colour. I decided to leave the photographs for tomorrow. We had covered 113 kilometres in three days – much of that distance marching along undulating cycle paths – and our weariness showed as we plodded towards our destination.
Our hotel, though perfectly pleasant, was located on top of a hill. There were no restaurants on our doorstep so we decided to eat in the hotel, but once we’d showered, we immediately changed our minds. There was mini bar in our room so we drank the beers, wolfed down the single packet of peanuts and hunted in our rucksacks for anything that was still edible.
You see, Mr/Mrs Amazon reviewer, you once scorned us for missing evening meals and eating so much bread, cheese and crisps, but fine dining is not really most long-distance hikers’ top priority after a long day’s hiking.
If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Nazaré to Foz de Arelho (30.55 km).
The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.