Rota Vincentina Walking Holiday on Portugal's SW Coast
The group that manages the magnificent trails along the stunningly beautiful SW Portuguese coast of Alentejo takes care of about 450 km of trails along some of Europe's most well preserved coastline. It's too hot to hike these trails in the summer, so plan to go between late September and late April (November and December are the wettest months, but it doesn't get too cold here). These well marked trails include:
The Fisherman's Walk
Walk along the coastal trails used by the local fishermen and villagers, to see incredible cliffside vistas! However, this is not a trail for someone with vertigo or fear of heights. These impressive and often imposing cliffs can be tall!
But so worth it: This 125 km trail is considered one of the most beautiful in the world! The trail is well blazed to hike in either direction from Porto Covo to Odeceixe and then as part of the Historical Way, to Cabo de San Vicente.
As in all nature, but particularly with the Atlantic ocean battering the coastline, the cliffs are in a constant state of change and are affected by erosion, so each person who walks this trail can see a different landscape as the coastline changes over the weeks and months.
Always running along the coastline, the Fisherman's Trail follows the trails used by locals to get to the beaches and ‘hot' fishing spots.
The Fisherman's Walk is made up of five sections with four adjacent circular walks, which today's podcast guest, Julianna Barnaby of The Discoveries Of blog. recommends that you detour to take as often as time permits. Each section is a day's walk apart. There are accommodations at the end of each section.
Julianna says she never felt unsafe while hiking the trail, but said the cliffs can be quite tall so you have to watch your step. Often one of the hardest parts is when you are walking directly in the sand, since it requires more effort to lift your feet.
I give this a difficulty grade 3 out of 5 for this reason (you will be on sand 60-70% of the time, with one of the days being particularly challenging). Also, note that since you are directly on the coast, winds can be strong.
This is a popular ‘pedestrian only' trail. It is too hot to hike the Fisherman's Trail in the summer, so walk it from fall through spring.
The Fisherman's Trail connects with the Portuguese ‘Historical Way' pilgrimage trail in Porto Covo, Odeceixe and Arrifana.
The Portuguese ‘Historical Way' to Santiago
While not as well known as the Spanish pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostela, the Portuguese Way is another important pilgrimmage route from the Middle Ages. The Rota Vincentina folks have recreated the historical path from Santiago do Cacém to Cape St. Vincent on a path that takes you through multiple villages where you can visit the churches and old country homes, meet the townspeople and others also on the pilgramage. You will be able to see the sea from the Sierra summit.
The Historical Way trail in Portugal is made up of twelve sections over 230 km. Each section is a day's hike and there are accommodations at the end of each. It interconnects with the Fisherman's Trail a couple of times so you have the opportunity to walk a bit of both if you want as you pass through the Vicentina Natural Park.
Unlike the Fisherman's Trail, this path is open for both pedestrians and mountain bikers (as is the Spanish Way – see Episode 006 of the Active Travel Adventures podcast).
This trail takes you through towns and villages, through oak forests (including cork oak) and eucalyptus, mountains and valleys, and over rivers and creeks – stunning! This trail is not only beautiful, it adds a cultural and often spiritual dimension to your adventure. Go in the spring to see the most wildflowers.
Portugal is known for its cork, as the magnificent cork trees cover 8% of the land. And on this land, Portugal produces over 50% of the world's cork!
In 2016, this trail was awarded the title of a Best of Europe Leading Quality Trail by the European Ramblers Association.
In addition to the two trails above, you can also take some circular routes that are off shoots from the main paths. There are eight circular routes from which to choose. You can either walk or mountain bike these trails. Walking takes a half day or less for each. The total distance for all the circular trails combined is 89 km.
Julianna recommends taking as many as you can, as they all offer something special.
Or, if you don't have time for a long distance hike but want to get a taste of the beautiful SW coastal region of Portugal, then a great option is to do one or more of these circular paths.
You don't have to worry about transfers as the trails start and end in the same place.
On these trails, you will see the ‘yin and the yang' of ‘progress vs history' in SW Alentejo: historical farming balanced against preservation.
As with the Fisherman's Trail and the Historical Way paths, there is an abundance of wildlife, especially birds, to observe amongst the interesting native flora.
The eight circular routes are: Almograve, S. Luís, Troviscais, Santa Clara, Sabóia, Odeceixe, Bordeira and Carrapateira, that complete the classic trails: the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail.
Get a true feel of the trail by watching this brief video of the Rota Vincentina – it'll not just inspire you to go, it'll make you drool!
‘The Discoveries Of' Travel Blog
I first found Julianna by reading her blog. In our interview today, Julianna tells us about her hike of the SW Alentejo coast of Portugal on part of the Fisherman's Trail, the Historical Way and some of the Circular Routes.
You can follow Julianna and her adventures here:
Julianna's Other Recommendations:
In the podcast, Julianna made a couple of recommendations for anyone planning to hike in SW Alentejo:
1. For a real treat, stay at Paula's Figuerinha Ecoturismo. This ecotourism lodge is an exquisite escape and respite from your hike!
2. Bird lovers will love staying at Frank's Quinta do Barranco do Estrada. With any luck, you can join Frank on a birding tour!
Get more of Julianna's recommendations on her blogpost on Alentejo Portugal Travel Spots
John Hayes Walks blog
A nice blog post on hiking the SW Alejeto area is on John Hayes Walks. John was also kind enough to share some of his beautiful photos with us – thanks, John!
Here is John's itinerary and you can read more at JohnHayesWalks.com.
The excellent Rota Vincentina website can help you plan your own itinerary to suit your tastes and timeline.
Day 2 – Rota Vicentina to Almograve
Day 3 – Rota Vicentina to Zambujeira do Mar
Day 4 – Rota Vicentina to Odeceixe
Day 5 – Rota Vicentina to Aljezur
Day 6 – Rota Vicentina to Arrifana
Day 7 – Rota Vicentina to Carrapateira
Day 8 – Rota Vicentina to Vila do Bispo
Day 9 – Rota Vicentina to
Take a Rest Day!
If you've got the time, plan to take a rest day or two so you can spend more time soaking up the local culture. Here are a couple of great towns to spend an extra day or two:
Santiago do Cacém
Visit Portugal's second largest town where you can see the coast from its highest point at 346 m. Wonderful crafts of wood, wicker, cork and ceramics. For more things to do, visit the tourism board website.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
It's hard to believe that such beautiful natural coast line is not overwrought with tourists! Enjoy the cobbled streets, whitewashed villas and outstanding food and wine!
Time Stamped Show Notes
01:30 Julianna Barnaby gets into Adventure Travel
02:45 Overview of the Rota Vicentina series of trails
05:05 Do you need to bring your day’s water
05:30 Best times to go
06:10 Portugal is relatively affordable
06:44 How to get to the trail heads
07:41 Do you see many people
10:00 Is the Way like the El Camino
11:00 Landscapes and cliffs described/ cork trees
13:10 How harvest the cork
14:25 Mediterranean plants you’ll see
15:55 Wind sculpts the landscape
16:28 How well is the trail blazed (signed)
17:15 What if you can’t speak Portuguese
18:05 Can you go solo
19:32 How difficult is it
20:06 Walking in deep dune sand
20:19 How exposed are you
22:46 Good ‘rest day’ villages
25:05 Luggage Transfer service
25:47 Advice for hikers
26:48 Take some Circular Routes
27:25 Must plan accommodations in advance
29:30 Julianna’s most striking memory
30:37 Julianna meets a fisherman
32:09 How this trip compares to others
33:15 The Discoveries Of blog Julianna writes
35:13 Julianna explains “Discerning Travel”
36:13 Final thoughts: GO!
Review the Active Travel Adventures podcast please!
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