Unlike the Spanish, the Portuguese are not known for their great love of walking.
In fact, until we headed to the Algarve, our only experience of walking in the country was back in July 2011 when we were staying in Setúbal, a coastal city just 40km south of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.
Setúbal may have been an odd choice of location for a non-Portuguese family – indeed even the booking agent tried to talk us out of it and suggested we base ourselves in popular Caiscais instead – but it had been recommended to me by the girlfriend of a Portuguese waiter working in Caerleon (who showed me photographs of Troia’s gorgeous white sand beaches) and we refused to budge.
It was during that holiday that we began to suspect that waymarked walking trails might not yet have reached the outermost regions of the Iberian peninsula.
Interested in exploring the immediate area on foot, we’d called into a kiosk on Setúbal’s waterfront which was promoting the nearby Parque Natural da Arrábida (Arrábida Natural Park). There was, we were told, an excellent waymarked trail through the park, starting at nearby Palmela and finishing on the coast just a few kilometres north of Setúbal.
It sounded perfect, except in their enthusiasm to promote the route, the park officials seemed to have forgotten something – the waymarks. It’s a good job Harri studied the large interpretation board at the beginning of the route, because after the first kilometre or so, he was navigating entirely from instinct.
Thus, despite loving every minute of our first holiday in Portugal, I was torn when Harri suggested we might tackle the widely-publicised Via Algarviana (also known as ‘the Algarve Way’).
I’d always wanted to visit the Algarve (Harri had been to Albufeira as a teenager), and I certainly liked the idea of walking a continuous 300km trail in what would almost certainly be warm, sunny weather (no drizzly rain, no mud). The route runs from Alcoutim in the east to Cabo de São Vicente in the west and is almost entirely inland. For the first few days we’d be walking through depopulated inland villages where there weren’t likely to be many (or indeed any) English speakers.
I really, really wanted to go to the Algarve; however, I wasn’t convinced this long-distance hike was such a good idea. As far as we were aware, no English guidebook for the Via Algarviana existed; we would have to rely entirely on downloaded maps from the official website (created using GPX files on Viewranger), plus some ground level assistance in the form of waymarks.
Given our Arrábida Natural Park experience, it was hard to feel confident. What if the promised red and white lines failed to materialise? If we inadvertently wandered off the track and got hopelessly lost out there in the wilderness of inland Algarve?
I’d read that flash flooding could occur in mountainous areas and when Harri refused to rule out the possibility of wading through rivers en route, my imagination ran wild. I conjured up pictures of us battling through rapids, rucksacks balanced on our heads while we fought off attacking crocodiles . . . okay, so I made that last bit up, but you get the idea. I wanted a hiking holiday, not a hiking disaster.
In the end, Harri talked me around and we flew to Faro just one week after I’d run the London marathon. I was probably the fittest I’d ever been, but was I up to walking the Via Algarviana? I was about to find out.
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.