After a much-needed ten-hour sleep, we woke feeling refreshed and raring to go. Fortunately, today’s section of the Via Algarviana promises to be shorter and less demanding than yesterday’s baptism of fire.
Although it felt like we were trekking up hills most of the day, Balurcos is actually only 206 metres above sea level; over the next few days we’d be gaining height gradually and eventually we’ll reach the Algarve’s highest point.
Our third full day in the Algarve and we are already feeling more relaxed. Long-distance hiking may be physically demanding, but it’s far less stressful than rush-hour driving and office politics. For two weeks our only concerns would be the centuries-old ones of eating, drinking, walking and sleeping.
The only thing that was slightly worrying me was today’s crossing of the Ribeira da Foupana. The Via Algarviana guide uses the words ‘an adventure’ to describe crossing the Foupana, adding that the river was ‘the most imposing river all along the route and that in times of heavy rain may become very dangerous or even impassable’. I didn’t like the sound of that, not one little bit.
In the Casa de Compo Vale das Hortas’s breakfast room, I was browsing through some leaflets when a dark green concertina-style publication caught my attention. I picked up the Via Algarviana ‘passport’ for a closer look. The idea was that hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders, or even donkey trekkers could present the passport at a stipulated location at the end of each section and get it stamped. A small but unspecified gift was available to those emailing a completed scanned passport to Almargem (the environmental organisation who look after the Via Algarviana). The passports were free so we took one each, impressed that we now had a way of recording our progress (and I could check on our progress without constantly asking Harri where we were heading).
Today’s destination was Furnazinhas, just over 14 km away. After yesterday’s deserted villages and the distinct lack of traffic on the IC27 dual carriageway, we were somewhat surprised to encounter signs of life in Palmeira: a man up an electricity pole, hit workmate looking on, villagers tending crops in outlying fields.
My sense of dread increased as we began to descend into the deep Foupana valley. This was it then: time to brace myself for the inevitable drenching, or worse, a watery end. I tried to look on the bright side – at least there aren’t crocodiles in the Algarve.
We edged our way towards the riverbed through dense vegetation and towering bamboos. Despite its proximity, there was still no sign (or sound) of the raging Foupana river. We emerged from the bamboo forest onto a pebble beach running down to a shallow stream. This was the mighty Ribeira da Foupana? The water looked no deeper than six inches and there was the possibility that we might be able to cross on some wobbly-looking stones without even getting our feet wet.
We weren’t out of the woods yet though. Until now the waymarks had been frequent and easy to spot; here in the valley they had all but vanished. Harri left me reading on the beach below the towering viaduct to go in search of the ‘official’ path (when you’re writing a guidebook it’s crucial you don’t get your readers lost!). It wasn’t long before he returned, happy that he now knew exactly where we were headed next.
The descent to the Foupana had been long and steep; now we faced a tough climb out of an airless valley. We’d barely got our ascent underway when we encountered first a frightened lamb that had become separated from its mother and moments later, two fierce-looking dogs (which further terrified the lamb). Thankfully, the dogs’ owner wasn’t far behind and they responded to his urgent calls. Motivated by terror, the lamb lurched itself down into a roadside ravine to reunite with its mother.
Halfway through our second day of walking, and we are taking great pleasure in the sheer number of bees. There are so many that for much of the time, the only sound we can hear is the continuous buzzing of honey bees as they gather pollen from numerous wild flowers, including lavender, thyme and the ubiquitous rockrose. Beekeeping is a thriving rural industry in the Algarve, and local honey was on the breakfast table this morning.
With the Foupana valley behind us, the gradient at last eased and our route took us through a forest of holm oak, a large evergreen oak native to Mediterranean regions. As we were discovering, the mention of a forest on the map did not mean we were about to reach much-needed shade – the trees are generally too far apart to provide any real shelter.
In Corte Velha, we were directed to the local bar Ti Emidio by a Good Samaritan who clearly realised we needed beer and some respite from the relentless sun. It wasn’t long before the owner Antonio realised we were speaking English to each other and told us he had worked in Jersey between 1976 and 1980, during which time he’d had a girlfriend from Belfast.
The beer was going down well and we were enjoying Antonio’s company so we ordered another round of beers. We discovered he was a musician and played in a local folk group called Grupo Mato Bravo which toured around local villages.
Several beers later, we emerged from the shadowy bar into dazzling sunshine, feeling . . . well, I can’t speak for Harri but I was feeling ever so slightly tipsy. Drinking so much at the height of the day with so many miles ahead of us probably wasn’t the best idea but we’d thoroughly enjoyed talking to Antonio.
The next few miles were a bit of a blur and the sun felt hotter than ever. Eventually we joined the stepped, cobbled path leading down into Furnazinhas, one of the prettiest villages we’ve yet visited.
Our hosts in Balurcos had kindly telephoned ahead so that the Casa do Lavrador was expecting us. Dona Olivia unlocked a door leading onto the street and led us into a spacious four-bedroom apartment with high ceilings, simple furniture and a very large kitchen/dining room. Incredibly this was costing us just €56,00 for the night (our delicious three-course meal with wine cost an extra €30,00 for the two of us.
After we’d agreed a time for dinner (via a phone call to the English-speaking Joao) and settled into the apartment, we did what any self-respecting hikers who had arrived at their day’s destination several hours earlier than anticipated would do – we set off on another walk. This time it was a short, waymarked local route (the PR9 CTM trail) which would take us close to the former mine and give us great views over the snaking Odeleite reservoir.
Perhaps it was because we’d left the dreaded rucksacks behind, but we really enjoyed our 7.5 km afternoon stroll which saw us returning to Furnazinhas on stony tracks through undulating agricultural land where the occasional cactus sprouted from a dry stone wall, a goat strained its neck to watch us from a wooden shack and traditional handmade baskets hung from hooks outside a traditional property.
Our dinner – cooked by Dona Olivia and served by Joao – was absolutely divine. Joao spoke good English and told us his family had lived in Furnazinhas for generations. He had extended his accommodation offering gradually and was now able to provide beds, optional dinner and breakfast for thirteen overnight guests.
We probably ate and drank far more than was wise, but after last night’s humble cheese sandwiches we felt we deserved ample portions of Dona Olivia’s delicious chicken casserole.
It was about 9.40am when we hit the pillow with full bellies and happy hearts. You could stick life in the fast lane. For us, living didn’t get much better than walking in the slow lane, here in inland Algarve.
For more information about walking the Via Algarviana visit the official website. A printed guide with individual maps of each section, plus all the link routes are available free of charge (postage is payable).
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.
A ‘Made for iBooks’ version is also available from Apple’s iBookstore.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.
For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest.