We overdid it slightly last night. Soon after our arrival at the very pleasant Hotel Burgau, it started raining again and by the time we ventured out to eat it felt more like rainy Wales than the sunny Algarve. Burgau appeared deserted and we chose Restaurante Matias simply because it was open and close. Within half an hour of us sitting at our table, the restaurant was packed with entirely English-speaking clientele. In fact, it got busy to the point that people were standing around waiting for tables, so we offered to move tables to free up our larger one for a family group. After a delicious meal and a bottle of wine, we came up with the great idea of going on someplace else for a nightcap … as you do … which is how we ended up in a mostly English-speaking bar drinking lager.
After cold showers (which we probably needed but would have preferred to avoid), we settled down to a delicious continental breakfast. One of the admirable things about the family-run Hotel Burgau is its determination to get guests interested in the area’s geology and history with a series of weekly lectures and regular walks to the dinosaur footprints between Porto de Mós and Salema beach and the Roman ruins at Boca do Rio.
Our night on the tiles had left us feeling somewhat lethargic and it wasn’t until ten that we garnered sufficient energy to get going … straight up a nearby hill to rejoin those clifftops. From here, we had a clear view of the coastal route we had avoided yesterday. It certainly looked steep and the slippery clay surface would have been lethal in the rain.
The paths on the east of Burgau were wide and clearly well-walked, with far sparser vegetation than yesterday. The constant water runoff had badly eroded the red clay and created all sorts of fascinating gullies and folds, which made the walking quite absorbing as we worked out which gullies to avoid. We hadn’t gone far before we came across a large section of collapsed cliff, which served as a frightening reminder of the unstable nature of this beautiful landscape.
Having climbed steadily for a while, we now found ourselves gazing down at an interesting topography where luxury villas and their manicured gardens were juxtaposed with natural vegetation, vineyards and even several clumps of pampas grass growing wild. A myriad of footpaths took you in any direction you care to choose and, for a full five minutes, Harri and I wandered off in different directions, eventually rejoining one another when our respective paths merged.
We hadn’t gone far when a dog walker resting on a bench asked us if we had happened to come across two brown dogs? It transpired that a professional dog walker had that morning ‘mislaid’ two of her charges and was frantically trying to establish their whereabouts. From then on, we kept our eyes open but to no avail. Soon afterwards, we spotted the poor woman up on the cliffs, calling out the dogs’ names. I just hoped that, in their exuberance at being off the leash, they hadn’t had the misfortune to drop off the edge of the cliffs and into the waves below. We shall never know.
We were approaching Praia da Luz and the ocean front villas were getting more and more luxurious and the landscape gardeners at work needed sit-on excavators rather than spades. It was difficult not to feel a tad envious at those people who wake up in rooms with balconies overlooking these stunning coastal views.
Luz may no longer be a fishing port, where tuna were caught, processed and canned, but the old village remains a charming place, with a beautiful tiled promenade lined with palm trees and plenty of upmarket gift shops to attract the eye. Despite the lack of sun, there were plenty of people enjoying a stroll along the seafront or relaxing in one of numerous cafe bars. Of course, Luz, as it is generally known, had a head start in the Algarve tourism league; it became popular with the Romans almost two thousand years ago and the remains of a small Roman baths complex was excavated in the early 1990s, along with an aqueduct and fish salting tanks.
At the far end of the beach, the basalt headland of Rocha Negra (Black Rock) rises imposingly. This soaring rock was created by lava flowing from the Serra de Monchique around 190-135 million years ago, although the outer, eroding strata are sandstone. And it’s this crumbling sandstone that presents an ongoing problem, especially after rain
We climbed out of the main town on a steep, cobbled lane and joined an area of municipal land which – so far at least – has avoided development. Most people were taking the track to the left with a gentler gradient, but true to form Harri opted for the one on the right. After a tough climb, we finally reached the beacon marking the top of Rocha Negra. From here, the views were far-reaching and magnificent; however, it was also very clear how far up the valley development has encroached. In a few years, there will surely be nothing to gaze at below except a patchwork of terracotta roofs.
We took the obligatory photographs, including one of me next to the beacon so I could show it to a club mate who visits Luz regularly and runs up here in the hot summer months!
Thank goodness, the terrain had now levelled out and we found ourselves walking along a wide track with the most incredible coastal views (which slows me down considerably because I keep stopping to capture the scenery for this blog – and posterity). From this point on, the walking was effortless and it wasn’t long before we reached the outskirts of Lagos and Praia do Porto de Mos, the farthest point we walked from Lagos in October 2015. Back then, I’d taken an instant dislike to the place on account of the beachfront car park and the incredibly ugly fencing that surrounded a large development site. Rather than stay, we’d returned to Lagos by bus and headed to the wonderfully unspoilt Meia Praia instead.
My feelings towards the backdrop of Praia do Porto de Mos hadn’t changed; however, this time we were just passing through. We joined the beach and searched for the footpath that would return us to the cliffs. We were on the verge of giving up when Harri noticed some steps adjacent to a beach restaurant terrace. From the outset, the path was badly eroded with several collapsed steps; however, it wasn’t until we’d been following it for about ten minutes that things got really hairy and we were suddenly faced with a steep descent to … oblivion. Well, that’s what it looked like, although the terrain made it impossible to see any distance ahead without continuing on the path and it suddenly seemed imperative that we didn’t. Harri registered the look of terror on my face and agreed (he insists reluctantly) to turn back. (I have to admit at this point that some local people passed us and did not subsequently return; neither did we hear about any fatalities on the cliff path near Lagos so I guess it looked worse than it was … either that or I’m a complete wuss!)
Having passed the beachfront restaurant several times now, it would have been rude not to join the other sun-worshippers for a pint on the terrace (I only ordered a half pint, honest, but the waiter got our order wrong). Yes, amazingly, at the eleventh hour on our last day the sun had finally deigned to shine. In fact, now we were too hot and had to strip some clothes off!
The remainder of the afternoon’s walking was along well-walked footpaths across the crumbling cliffs of Ponta da Piedade where the municipality council has embarked on a scheme of works, which the environmental organisation Almargem calls ‘lamentable destruction’. At first, we thought the idea was to keep people away from the dangerous cliff edges, i.e. the work was being undertaken for safety purposes, but Almargem believes the project will pave the way – quite literally – for more large-scale development along this popular and unspoilt stretch of coastline and it’s hard to disagree with them. Great swathes of coastal land have already been fenced off and advertised for sale, e.g. near the O Camilo restaurant. We loved the fact that the wire fence there looked like it had been cut down many times by the spirited Portuguese (and subsequently repaired by the landowners).
We rolled into Lagos earlier than anticipated, perhaps because most of the day’s walking had been so straightforward. On the whole, we’d enjoyed our four-day venture west; however, as we basked in the late afternoon sunshine we just wished the weather had been a little kinder to us early on.
Check out our route at Viewranger.
The Via Algarviana: walking 300 km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon and is priced at £2.99 (Kindle edition) and £5.99 (paperback).
Never too old to backpack: More Algarve hiking by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon and is priced at £1.99 (Kindle edition) and £3.99 (paperback)