Day one of the Via Algarviana follows a convoluted route, initially heading north along the green, fertile valley of the Guadiana river. After leaving the river, the Via Algarviana climbs steeply west, passing through Corte Pereiras and on to the famous Lavajo menhirs. The trail then turns back to the south, crossing the Cadovais river and joining a long, steady climb up to Corte Tabelião. More undulating tracks lead up to the section finish in Balurcos.
The second section of the Via Algarviana is far shorter than the first. From Balurcos, undulating tracks wind through a delightful rural landscape to Palmeira then down to the banks of the Foupana river. This is a beautiful spot and a great place for a rest, but be aware that the river may not be safe to cross following heavy rain. Beyond the river, the trail climbs steeply to Corte Velha before crossing further gently rolling hills to Furnazinhas.
The Via Algarviana continues through a landscape of rolling hills, scrubby trees and rock rose. There are a number of hamlets and small villages along the route, but many of these – such as Monte Novo – have been largely abandoned. The largest settlement passed through, Malfrades, is still inhabited and possesses a public shelter and water fountain. Approaching Vaqueiros, walkers will need to decide whether to continue into the village or make the 2km detour to the Cova dos Mouros mining park.
Between Vaqueiros and Cachopo, the Via Algarviana crosses steep, undulating terrain dominated by cistus and stone pine plantations. However, there are also a number of hamlets – Monchique, Amoreira and Casas Baixas – where it is still possible to see small working farms surrounded by kitchen gardens and small agricultural plots. Indeed, one of the highlights of the section is the traditional rural architecture encountered. A final climb through a beautiful cork oak forest leads up to Cachopo.
The section between Cachopo and Barranco do Velho passes through the heart of the forested Serra do Caldeirão and contains some of the most spectacular scenery in the eastern Algarve. However, it is also one of the most demanding sections of the Via Algarviana, with numerous climbs and descents and a long final ascent to Barranco do Velho. Some walkers may therefore prefer to split the section in two, stopping overnight at the rural centre in Feiteira (see below for details).
The section begins with a beautiful upland walk along the Serra do Caldeirão’s southern escarpment. There are lovely wild flower meadows and extensive views – including a first glimpse of the coast. A long forestry descent leads to a ford across the Rio Seco and an abrupt change in the character of the landscape as the Via Algarviana enters the Algarve’s barrocal: the fertile agricultural region between the narrow coastal strip and the hilly uplands of the serra. Roads, tracks and meandering orchard paths take the trail into Salir.
The section begins with a pleasant stroll through a rich agricultural landscape, passing through a number of small villages and hamlets. Dirt tracks then lead towards the Cerro do Vieira and the start of a steep climb on to the hill. After a pleasant ridgetop walk and descent into Benafim, the Via Algarviana heads north, through several dry fruit orchards, before eventually entering Alte alongside a beautiful stream. A final steep climb from the village leads to the Alte Hotel.
From the Alte Hotel, the Via Algarviana passes through a cultivated landscape of farms, small villages and dry fruit orchards. The path is often narrow, bringing additional variety and interest to the walk. After a long, steady descent down the scenic Barranco do Vale, the trail veers south, through Portela, before turning back north towards São Bartolomeu de Messines. The highlight of this final stretch is a narrow path along the lush riverine valley of the Meirinho.
From São Bartolomeu de Messines, the Via Algarviana continues across an undulating landscape of farms, fields and orchards to Pedreiras. The wooded valley of the Rio Arade, dominated by a large reservoir trapped behind the Barragem do Funcho, marks a sudden change in the landscape. After crossing the dam, the trail climbs steeply into the hills – without doubt, the toughest part of the day’s walking. Wooded trails then head south towards Silves and a final road walk into town.
Day 10: Silves to Monchique
From Silves, the Via Algarviana heads north across rolling forested hills dominated by pine, eucalyptus and cistus (rock rose). The terrain is steep and undulating, but extensive views can be enjoyed from the ridges. A long descent eventually leads to a ford and bridge across the Ribeira de Odelouca and the start of a long, meandering climb to the summit of Picota. The climb is tough, but the scenery is magnificent. The Via Algarviana then descends through dense cork oak woodland to Monchique.
Once out of Monchique, the Via Algarviana climbs along a winding woodland trail, eventually emerging on a road below the summit of Fóia. The main trail bypasses the high point to the north (a detour can easily be made) then tacks back round the head of a beautiful valley to the west of the summit. It then starts to descend in earnest, leaving the open hills and plunging into a large area of woodland between Fóia and Marmelete. There’s one more unexpected climb – near the popular local viewpoint of Picos – followed by a sharp descent to a road and picnic site on the outskirts of Marmelete.
Shortly after leaving Marmelete, the Via Algarviana bears left and begins a long descent to the hamlet of Malhão. The trail then continues down the Vagarosa valley to the Odiáxere reservoir, following a quiet two-lane road for a large part of the way. After climbing away from the reservoir, there is a long, gentle descent into the beautiful Sobrosa valley, where the trail crosses and recrosses the river on several occasions. The official end for this section is in Bensafrim, where the valley opens out, but because of a lack of accommodation it is recommended that you continue along the Via Algarviana for a further 6km or so to Barão de São João.
From Barão de São João, the Via Algarviana climbs into a large stone pine forest – part of a designated protected area known as the Perimetro Florestal do Barão de São João (Barão de São João Forest Perimeter). Undulating tracks pass through a mix of forest and more open areas – including past an important wetland habitat, the Lagoa de Budens – before descending back towards the coast near Raposeira. The final few kilometres provide a foretaste of the final day’s walk through the wide open fields and coastal scrub of the Costa Vicentina.
There are two waymarked routes to Cabo de São Vicente from Vila do Bispo: the Via Algarviana (GR13) and the Rota Vicentina (GR11). The Via Algarviana heads south, across a relatively flat coastal plain, only emerging on the coast for the final few kilometres of the stage. The region’s wide open landscapes – comprised of low-lying scrub, rough grazing and arable fields – are very different from anything previously encountered on the trail. After reaching Portugal’s southern coast, the trail joins the Ecovia do Litoral, a long-distance bike path, for a dramatic coastal approach to the lighthouse and cape.
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.
Never Too Old To Backpack: The Via Algarviana by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon and is priced at £2.99.
For more photographs of the Via Algarviana visit Pinterest.