Praia da Vieira was already bustling with visitors when we booked out of the delightful Hotel Cristal Vieira Praia & Spa at around 10am. Really, it’s a good job we’re hiking every day because I eat far too much at these amazing buffet-style breakfasts. Thankfully yesterday’s wind had died down and the day promised to be hot and balmy … great for soaking up the sun around the pool but not quite so good when you’ve got a long day’s walking ahead of you.
Despite a liberal scattering of sand, the promenade looked incredibly pretty in the morning sunshine, and the abundance of beach bars (and number of women tottering around in high heels) suggested this resort is a popular weekend haunt for city dwellers.
After a short stroll along the seafront, we left Praia da Vieira on a pretty undulating woodland path, perfect for beginner trail runners like me. Unfortunately, we couldn’t escape the dreaded cycle path for long – Harri had warned me we had no option but to follow it for the first 15 kilometres. The main road wasn’t busy by British standards, but every now and then a motor home or line of cars/motorbikes would come roaring past and shatter the peace. This being a Saturday morning, there was also a steady stream of cyclists, mostly travelling in the same direction as us. As few cyclists seem to use bells these days, we had to keep our wits about us and keep looking over our shoulder to avert disaster.
We’d covered about six kilometres when Harri spotted a tiny, skinny black kitten standing on the path in front of us. He thought it might have heard us talking and decided to venture out to say ‘hello’ … the kitten was certainly very vocal. My first thought was that it must have come from a nearby house but, as Harri pointed out, there were no nearby houses … just dunes and pine trees … and beyond them the Atlantic ocean. We realised that Mini Boston, as we were quick to name him (after my daughter’s black tomcat Boston), had zero chance of surviving here without water or any obvious means of feeding himself. In the soaring temperature – and with him already being so thin – it was uncertain he’d survive the day unless we intervened.
I poured some water into the lid of my bottle and watched as he gulped it down thirstily. The only meat we had with us was chorizo so I broke off a small piece and he immediately ate it. Mini Boston was clearly very thirsty and hungry. Harri and I are both cat lovers, and there was no way we could leave him there to die alone, so I scooped the little fellow up in my arms. We’d carry him to the next village, where we’d find him a new home. It wasn’t much of a plan, but there was no alternative.
Of course, walking nine kilometres with a fidgety, mewing kitten in your arms is easier said than done. Mini Boston would sit perfectly still for minutes at a time, but the moment an articulated lorry went past he’d be reduced to a panicked frenzy and scramble onto my shoulder. It was hard to hang onto him without scaring him even more.
We had high hopes for São Pedro de Moel. Our plan was to attract the attention of an animal lover who, we felt certain, would instantly fall in love with Mini Boston (as we had) and offer him a home. If we could locate a family with children, all the better. Unfortunately, we quickly realised that no-one was taking much notice of our ‘kitten in arms’. While, we thought he was irresistible, no-one else batted an eyelid at his cute little face. At a complete loss as to what to do, we approached a family in the main square and, once we’d established the woman spoke good English, explained our predicament. She assured us that we could leave Mini Boston there in the square. Local people would feed him, she said, even if no-one actually wanted him as their pet.
I was loathe to abandon him, but there was simply no alternative. We couldn’t take him to Nazaré and carrying a wriggling kitten was slowing our walking pace considerably. It was heartrending to know I had to leave our little friend to fend for himself; however, when the woman disappeared and came back with a bowl of water, we knew she’d keep an eye out for him. Reluctantly, we went for a beer and returned to the square half an hour later to find Mini Boston wandering around underneath the outside tables of a fish restaurant. Talk about showing initiative! We’d done all we could do and now it was up to the little chap to capitalise on the fact that everyone loves a kitten. There was no question he would have died if we’d left him on the cycle path; at least he now had a chance of a good life (and I can think of worse places to live than the very pretty São Pedro de Moel).
The Silver Coast is a lot greener than the Algarve; in fact, in many ways it reminded us of Cornwall, particularly the surf. The beaches were smaller now, with rocky headlands separating the coves. The pine forests we were passing through were first planted in the thirteenth century to stabilise the region’s extensive sand dune system. It was the wood from these forests that was used to build the ships during Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The lack of views was frustrating at times, although we were able to make several short jaunts along cliff-top boardwalks between headlands, which lifted our spirits.
We were staying at Fatima’s House in Nazaré tonight and, earlier in the day, Fatima had phoned Harri twice to check we were happy to carry on walking on such a hot day. If we changed our minds, she told him, just phone her and she’d pick us up. Now, as we headed downhill into Vale de Paredes, a car pulled up on the opposite side of the road and we heard a woman’s voice call out ‘Harri Roberts’. It was Fatima, still concerned about the distance we were attempting to walk in the sweltering heat and offering to drive us to Nazaré right now.
We assured her we were absolutely fine and that we’d see her at the apartment in about two hours. With hindsight, we probably made the wrong decision (it’s easy to do that when you’re walking downhill into a resort where there is a beer/ice lolly awaiting). Half an hour later when we were faced with a steep and endless climb, we were already regretting our haste. Surely we couldn’t be far from Nazaré now? After all, Fatima said it would only take her ten minutes to drive back.
It was our frustration with the endless cycle path (I’d started counting telegraph poles to pass the time) that led to us making a bad error of judgement. Craving some decent views, we decided to follow a sandy footpath leading back to the beach and approach Nazaré along Praia do Norte, the Silver Coast’s famous surfing beach. Here, the biggest waves in Portugal (and the world) are created by a deep underwater canyon just off the coast. During the winter months, waves can reach over 70 feet and wild horses wouldn’t get me anywhere near the shoreline but, in the middle of May, the waves rolling onto the sand didn’t look too alarming. Better still, the wet sand looked flat and easy to walk on.
We were wrong on every count. The ‘wetness’ was an optical illusion, and our progress across what turned out to be dry sand covered with tiny, razor-sharp pebbles was (literally) painfully slow. After ten minutes or so, we admitted defeat and, with some difficulty, scrambled up the steep sand dunes behind the beach and tried to work out the quickest route to Nazaré.
Thank goodness for the local man who suddenly appeared on the dunes below us. Realising we might otherwise be meandering around in the sand dunes for ages, we shouted down to him ‘Onde está Nazaré, por favor?’ Fortunately he understood and pointed behind him. So it was back down again. By now I was completely exhausted. Clambering up vertical sand dunes is tough enough at the best of times but in the early evening heat and with a rucksack weighing me down … I’d had enough for one day.
Fatima’s House is located in an apartment block in Sitio, high above the main resort. When we finally reached it (much later than the approximate time we’d given her) she was standing outside and just about to ring us again. To say this lovely lady – who incidentally speaks perfect English – was a gracious host is an underestimation. Like us, she is a keen hiker and runner, which was one of the reasons she was concerned that we were covering so many kilometres in the hot sun.
Our room was gorgeous and the apartment generally packed with wonderfully eclectic furnishings. We were astounded when she handed us a bottle of red wine to welcome us into her lovely home. When I admired one of Fatima’s beautiful paintings, she revealed she had done voluntary work in Africa and the painting was a gift from an African family.
When we asked for a recommendation, Fatima suggested we eat at the excellent Sitio dos Petiscostos, a short distance from the apartment and at the far end of the high walled promontory overlooking the Atlantic ocean and the main town. After we’d eaten – and with no desire for this wonderful, balmy evening to draw to a close – we strolled around the square, admiring the illuminated Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Church and pausing to gaze down at Nazaré’s glittering lights below. That was where we were heading tomorrow, but for now we were happy to walk under the stars, staring out on the still, dark ocean that had beguiled Portugal’s explorers for centuries.
We’d arrived in Sitio da Nazaré just three short hours ago, and already we were captivated by this beautiful place.
If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Praia de Vieira to Nazaré (36.45 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.