Western Algarve – Vila do Bispo to Burgau

Vila do Bispo, Western Algarve, Portugal
Retracing our tracks on a slightly drier trail

We awoke to better weather, although there was little reason for cheer: more rain was forecast for around noon.

The owners of Casa Mestre have been gradually renovating this large property and each time we’ve stayed here we’ve witnessed improvements. On our first visit, in May 2015, the exterior walls were unpainted and an unappealing shade of concrete. Five months later, we were back and the building’s facade had been transformed with a coat of deep yellow masonry paint. This time around, there were more surprises: a new swimming pool had replaced the plunge pool in the gorgeous lush courtyard.

We sorted ourselves out with breakfast in the community kitchen – chocolate croissants, tea and fruit – and bade our final farewell to the Dutch couple, who were following the Via Algarviana to Cabo de São Vicente. They hadn’t firmed up their plans after that so perhaps our paths would cross again.

Vila do Bispo, Western Algarve, Portugal
There was a hint of brightness in the sky this morning

We set off in the opposite direction, retracing our steps back to Raposeira for a few kilometres. Today’s territory was completely new for us; we were heading to the sea then following the coast east to reach Burgau.

By the time, we set off the morning was blustery and grey, but at least it was dry at the moment so we were better able to appreciate the beautiful, undulating western Algarve landscape with its sweeping, unfenced fields of rust-coloured soil. Fortunately, the ground underfoot was drier than yesterday; however, it was still impossible to avoid picking up clumps of clay on the soles of our shoes.

At the fork in the track, we turned away from Raposeira and the Via Algarviana and continued towards some rocky outcrops that looked more Cornwall or north Pembrokeshire than Algarve. Harri joked that we would be walking off piste for a short time until we linked up with another waymarked percurso route. The plan was to stick with the PR4 until Ponta da Frisga, after which we’d follow the coast.

Labradors barking, Algarve
You get used to barking dogs in the Algarve

Two bored-looking Labradors barked furiously as we passed their gorgeous home via a steep, stony track which eventually emerged on a wide stony road. Here, Harri was annoyed to see the villa’s owners had disingenuously erected a privado sign, presumably in an attempt to stop people like us using it.

Now the scenery changed dramatically and we found ourselves following a wide, winding stony road through a beautiful ravine reminiscent of the Costa Brava landscape we loved so much. This landscape was very different to anything we’ve previously hiked in the Algarve. The cliffs were covered with impenetrable juniper and pine, and swallows swooped to a river we knew was down there but couldn’t see through the scrubby vegetation.

The ravine leading to Praia do Barranco, Raposeira, Western Algarve
The ravine scenery was stunning – and unexpected

The rough surface finally gave way to a firmer surface. Now there were unsecured concrete tiles with small stones filling the gaps inbetween – a design which we guessed prevented the entire road surface being swept away in heavy rain. Every now and then we were forced to step out of the path of an oncoming vehicle. The sun, having finally made an appearance, felt warm on our skin. This was the kind of hiking I most enjoy: exploring a beautiful, unspoilt landscape in the sunshine.

Road to Praia do Barranco, Raposeira, Western Algarve
The tiled road leading from Praia do Barranco

We joined the coast at Praia do Barranco – the closest beach to Raposeira – where the car park had been transformed into a surfing community overflowing with camper vans, motor homes and old buses converted for beach living. What a wonderfully simple lifestyle … sun and surf in an unspoilt coastal location.

At the coast, we were briefly confused by the waymarking, which was directing us back inland through a narrower gorge. It’s at times like this that I’m happy to put my trust in Harri’s homing pigeon instincts. His feeling was that we should stick to the coast, although one glance at the towering cliffs to my left was enough to warm me the day’s easy walking was over.

 Praia do Barranco, Raposeira, Western Algarve
Praia do Barranco where surfers have established a community

It was a hard slog clambering to the top, but the views made our efforts worthwhile. At first, we couldn’t work out why the coastline was so undeveloped compared to other parts of the Algarve, then Harri realised we were still walking in the protected Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina. The park covers over 100 miles of coastline, from Porto Covo in the Alentejo, to Burgau where we were staying tonight. Apparently, it’s one of the last places in Europe where otters live in a marine habitat … I vowed to keep my eyes peeled.

We weaved our way along the clifftop, pausing every now and then to look down and marvel at the courage and skills of the surfers riding the waves. Their all-over fitness must be phenomenal!

Our route took us briefly inland along an old stone path whose cobbled steps had long ago collapsed. Everything looked so green and lush – the large cacti were interspersed with pine, lavender and deliciously-scented cistus (rock rose) plants with their notoriously sticky leaves (something I know about from bitter experience).

Coastal scenery, Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, Algarve, Portugal
Wandering along the unspoilt clifftops

Now we walked in single file, listening to birdsong and watching the bees settle on the tiny lilac flowers that lined the cliffs. We were mindful of the stripey millipedes that frequently strayed across the path and were careful not to step on them. The incredible beaches – long sandy stretches and tiny little bays – just kept coming, their inaccessibility keeping them safe from commercialisation. I can’t speak for Harri, but I was in paradise.

It was time for lunch, but first we faced a steep climb down to the beach. I wasn’t sure about this – I don’t like these very steep descents and from where I stood this one looked particularly hairy, especially as the clay soil becomes slippery after recent rain.

Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, Algarve, Portugal
Overhead, the clouds were starting to darken

The problem was there was no alternative so in the end, I had to resort to swinging down the path like an Algarvian Tarzan, clinging first to one branch of a pine tree and then another. There was a terrifying moment when the pine trees ran out and the muddy branch of a shrub I was clinging to snapped in my hand. I almost lost my balance and went head over heel, but fortunately I managed to steady myself and stay upright (just).

As we neared the bottom, the impossibly steep footpath turned into a ski slope. Seeing the terrified look on my face, Harri told me to stay where I was while he clambered down, dumped his rucksack on the rocks and returned for mine. It was easier to balance without my rucksack and I did a little prayer of thanks when I was finally standing on solid ground again.

Though there were several grey clouds overhead, we had avoided the predicted midday soaking. Taking comfort from the fact, we found a sheltered spot on another quiet beach to enjoy a late lunch. No sooner had we settled our bottoms down than we felt spots of rain on our bodies. Drat! Within minutes, the sky darkened and there was a heavy downpour. We – and everyone else (apart from the surfers) – found ourselves taking part in a mass rush up the beach to avoid a drenching (sort of the opposite to the Porthcawl Christmas Swim we took part in a few years ago!).

Surfing, Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, Algarve, Portugal
We were in awe of the surfers’ skill (and courage)

Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long. Back on the clifftop, the Algarve coastline stretched for miles in both directions, with the sprawling hotels of Sagres far behind us and what we decided must be Quarteira (or maybe Vilamoura) far ahead. Lagos and Portimao – though far closer – were tucked out of sight; however, we could now see Salema in the distance. The difficult terrain since joining the coast meant our progress had been slow. Now Harri was getting concerned we might run out of daylight hours. He always carries a torch, but the idea of navigating these often treacherous footpaths with only a spotlight to guide us was too scary for words.

Coastal scenery, near Salema, Western Algarve, Portugal
The beautiful, unspoilt beaches just kept coming

Salema is undoubtedly a pretty little resort, but it was grey and raining when we trekked through its narrow streets. By now, neither of us had any inclination to continue walking on the clifftops so we joined the road out of the resort. Having anticipated a rather boring route from this point on, we were delighted to find ourselves crossing a wide valley with a vast area of marshland and – even better –on the far side there was a waymarked escovio route to follow, which would keep us away from traffic.

Budens Marsh extends for about 1.3 square kilometres from the coast between Salema and Burgau. It’s quite an incredible to witness this wide valley of freshwater streams, tall reeds and bulrushes and it realise it’s so close to popular Algarve resorts but has no sign of human habitation whatsoever. The marsh is apparently popular with bird watchers who comes here to watch species like the Western Water Rail (sounds like a form of transportation to me!), Savi’s Warbler and the intriguingly named Purple Heron.

Thank goodness Portugal is introducing new laws to limit eucalyptus planting in February, or this whole area might one day be at risk of being ‘drained’ by the ubiquitous trees.

Budens Marsh, near Salema, Western Algarve, Portugal
Budens Marsh was an unexpected – but delightful – end to our day

We’d seen so many different and interesting landscapes over the past three days. It brings it home to us again – as if we needed any reminded – that the Algarve isn’t just about beaches and resorts. There is so much more to see if you put on your hiking boots and just get out there.

If you’re looking for a challenging walk with great views, here is a link to our full 13.6 mile (roughly 22km).

More Algarve Hiking by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon in digital and print format.

 

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