Final day in Carrapateira

For the last couple of nights, we had the hotel to ourselves. Each afternoon, a man appeared and lit the fire despite the under floor heating and warm weather. Rebecca, a Welsh horticulturist and chef has cooked just for us and, after dinner we whiled away the evenings sharing a beer with her. She has tales to tell from saffron farming in Australia to personal chef for world class yachtsmen in New Zealand and the wealthy in Tonga.

On our final morning, John took a stand (which was really a seat). He’d had enough walking and was going to sit and read for a few hours. Kim hatched a plan to walk up to the next hamlet of Vilarinho with Rebecca, the sun was shining so John was left in charge of a very nice hotel.

The cork oaks really have been a highlight this trip. By the time Kim had walked up the valley, Rebecca knew all there was to know about them too!

On the way, a group of enduro riders passed us, John was suitably miffed to have missed them. All week, he’s been wittering on about how good the trails are for off road motorcycling.

Just before 2, our taxi turned up. Isobel’s son was driving but she’d come along for the ride. When she collects people from the airport, she likes to check they’ve had a good time…….and make sure her son drives safely. He must be at least 30!

We chatted all the way to the airport, mainly about Brexit, the EU and it’s effect on Portugal and of course Donald Trump. It’s been interesting to hear some European views, at least everyone agreed that Trump makes the US look dafter than the UK does.

There is one person we met who we haven’t mentioned and he deserves a name check for when we re- read about our trip. Thursday, at the cafe in Carrapateira, our path crossed with Yanni, a French Canadian from Montreal. He’s in Portugal for three months cycling and wild camping. He’s done the same across the Canadian Rockies and was quite clearly bonkers. No sane person would cycle and wild camp, would they? Especially somewhere with wild bears? He told us all about the website which is a hospitality site for touring cyclists and we started to think perhaps he wasn’t so daft after all.

Finally, we arrived at Faro Airport and saw some of the gifts made from cork, these include shoes, ties, purses, hats and umbrellas. It becomes incredibly soft and flexible..

We also managed to find some of the elusive bolo de amendoa cake, a traditional cake made from almonds, figs and Alfarroba. We’d tried it in Vila do Bispo but this version took it to a whole new level of sweetness.

We have had the most amazing time, the scenery was stunning and we’ve explored a part of Portugal that remains quite rural despite its proximity to the sea. Attention to detail by Inntravel in terms of both itinerary and accommodation has been perfect and we’d certainly use them again for an activity holiday.

One of the hotels even had special boot cleaning flannels for walkers.

Finally, remember those pots?

They are specifically designed for catching octopus. They are dropped to the sea bed and the octopi seek them out for shelter, mean but effective.

Carrapateira to Bordeira

We know you’ve woken up to snow and thought this might cheer you up….

We decided to attempt the suggested 15km walk to Bordeira. The last 5-6km would be a challenging walk through sand dunes and the map showed a path to cut that out – we had a plan and were suitably smug.

We started out on the main road through Carrapateira, you can see how busy Portuguese roads are.

The first 3km took us back along stony paths with a fair few steep ascents and descents.

At one point we could see back across the valley to our hotel which appears a lot larger when viewed from a distance.

We negotiated a couple of stream crossings and were grateful that despite the heavy overnight rain it’s been so dry here. We’d been warned about wet feet on a couple of our walks and bought a small travel towel especially! Out feet have remained dry as has the towel.

2 hours and 5.5km later, we reached the village of Bordeira in the sunshine, found an open cafe and sat down with a cuppa, home made soup and ginger cake (all for under £5).

The heavens opened, and the local tradesmen made a dash out of the rain for their lunch.

This is the first cafe we’ve visited since leaving Vila do Bispo where there has been a genuine sense of hospitality. We’ve debated whether the surliness is a result of the hard life Portuguese people endure in remote rural areas or is it more cultural? Today’s cafe was run by a young couple so perhaps it’s a generational thing?

We whiled away almost an hour as the weather went through a cycle of torrential rain and sunshine. Finally we just had to make a move!

On the way out of the village we saw this.

This is the first public toilet we have seen, there are none on the beaches or in towns or villages.

I know it’s a bit late in the day to tell you, but we’ve been walking the South West Alentejo and Vicentina Coast National Park! It seems unusual not to see facilities and considering the number of camper vans we’ve seen around you would have thought keeping the National Park clean would be important!

We chose the suggested shortcut in the instructions. It saved 1.5km another steep ascent and followed it down through a lush valley. It was wet and muddy before becoming sandy and hard work underfoot.

Somewhere we had missed our shortcut back to the road and there was no escape. We had to cross the sand dunes, walk 1km across the beach and cross the Carrapateira river. The wind was blowing hard and it was an unpleasant, gritty walk.

The beach tried to compensate by looking dramatic but we’d had enough.

This came into view as we rounded a sand dune.

It’s difficult to see how the building survives in such an inhospitable environment but it must be a welcome retreat for the surfers. However its still a 2km walk back to the car park and a further 1km to the nearest cafe.

We finally made it to the boardwalk to take us up off the beach and crossed the river without getting wet!

At the top of the cliff we stopped for a selfie. Sorry, we’re not getting much better but at least the sea made an appearance in this one.

So much for our short cut! We’d been out over 5 hours and walked 14km.

Carrapateira – part 2….

…..and we are broken. Different bits of our legs have given up and we are hobbling somewhat.

At dinner, last night, we met a couple from Guernsey who are two days ahead of us on the same walking holiday. They walk, cross country ski and sail – they are not broken!

Before continuing to whine about injuries, just a few lines about our hotel, Casa Fajara. It used to be a farmhouse, has just 12 rooms and has been lovingly restored by its English owners. It is a real haven of peace and quiet and not a place we would have considered had we tried to organise this trip ourselves. The staff are warm and friendly and the freshly prepared food is superb.

Anyway, during breakfast, we reviewed two circular walks suggested for our time here and discounted both in terms of distance and uneven terrain. It was a useful exercise in comparing written instructions against map contours which we haven’t really bothered with.

Last night, we read through our Inntravel booklet and found all sorts of information which would have been of use over the last few days. There were tips on how to deal with menacing dogs, making sure you had the telephone number of the hotel you were heading for and checking written directions against the map so you knew where you were at all times. We’d taken the approach that maps are just for making the rucksack heavier!

So back to today, we decided to find our own way along the coast, following roads to minimise further limb discomfort. We followed the Carrapateira river through the sands dunes to the beach before climbing up along the cliffs.

Along the way, EU money had funded boardwalks over the cliffs and dunes to help protect fragile ecosystems, as a plus, it’s much easier than walking through mud and on loose sand.

The coastline is rugged and dramatic and you can see why it draws the surfers. We saw plenty of camper vans with surf boards in the car parks but no one actually in the sea. We thought surfers were rugged but obviously a bit of wind and rain puts them off. We came to the conclusion that they just sit in the car park and talk about surfing rather than actually trying to catch any waves.

We tried for an obligatory selfie and attempted to get the cliffs and sea in too. Obviously it’s just too difficult for us.

Despite our weary, painful legs we’d still managed to walk 8km before the town came into view. It’s certainly been easier staying on tthe road.

None of the cafes were open when we got back so we visited the Museum of Sea and Land. It was at the top of a very steep hill but had a cafe so we thought the effort worthwhile.

The museum tells the story of life as it’s evolved in the community, starting bizarrely with the story of Jonah, a sperm whale washed upon the beach in 1991.

The exhibition shows how villagers worked the land before changing to fishing. You have to wonder about the effort it took to haul the boats onto the makeshift quays and how they were constructed in the first place.

It’s clear that it’s a very hard life, with poor financial reward.

Oh, and the cafe in the museum? The curator confirmed its a publicity lie to draw visitors in! We spent ages chatting with her, covering diverse subjects as the internet and children, the impact of Portugal’s entry into the EU the Euro and the dreaded Brexit!

Quiz question of the day – What are these used for?

Pedralva to Carrapateira – 12.5 km

We woke to the sound of heavy rain partly because the Portuguese don’t seem to bother with gutters. Any rain pours straight off the roof onto the cobbled streets making a lot of noise.

At breakfast, the staff were delighted with the rain and proudly announced that it was raining all over Portugal. The rain’s badly needed as the rivers and land are very dry. We made it clear that we didn’t share their enthusiasm but, on a positive note, we’re growing slightly immune to the pains in our feet and legs.

Our route took us out of Pedralva, along a wide track signposted ‘Carrapateira 10km’. Inntravel like to take more scenic routes and obviously felt an extra 2.5km would be well worth the effort. We considered taking the shorter, more direct route before agreeing we were more likely to get lost.

The path took us along a lush valley, past an organic farm with an unusual feature.

Hopefully you can read the sign encouraging hikers to have a swim. The water was very grey and mucky so we declined the kind offer…..

Soon, we left the nice flat path along the valley for a steep, grassy track covered in cistus. The cistus will look amazing in the spring, today in the rain it was a energy sapping trip hazard.

We wound our way up around the valley with the weather alternating between torrential rain and mildly pleasant.

After we’d survived the challenge of the cistus, we joined a steep wide path which promised a view of the sea at the top. No such luck in today’s weather but we could just about see it as we went over the brow of the next hill. In the distance you can see the beach at Amado where we were aiming to stop for lunch.

By now it was raining very heavily and we were soaked. As we were over halfway we decided to shelter under a tree and treat ourselves to a break of fruit juice and a banana. We heard footsteps and met our first serious walker of the holiday. Helen, from Quebec, was trekking in Europe for 3 months, had started out on 12th January and was expecting to walk 300km in Portugal before heading across to Spain. Interestingly, she said it was much cheaper for her to visit Europe than British Columbia which seems bizarre. We parted company, colder and damper from standing still, and round the next bend were treated to our first glimpse of Carrapateira.

We headed down towards the beach through groves of recently coppiced eucalyptus.

The cloud lifted as we approached the beach and, although the cafe was closed, we found a reasonably dry bench to sit at and have lunch. We passed many camper vans in the car park and although a popular surfing area there was no one out surfing today.

As we headed uphill away from beach and along the cliff, the views opened up and became quite dramatic.

We followed the road round to a restaurant renowned for its fish (It was closed!) and took a path down by some restored fishermen’s storehouses. These were relocated when their original port was destroyed. The huts and quay were rebuilt with an EU grant although there was no sign of any fishermen using them.

Our final few km started with a walk through fields of agave, originally planted to weave rope from.

Followed by the welcome sight of Carrapateira through the mist.

We decided to stop in a small cafe in the square for a coffee, yet again another cafe owner who didn’t seem very impressed at having any customers. She was very grumpy and, despite a ‘No Dogs’ sign on the door, there was a grubby little dog clearly very much at home.

Cost of one bottle of beer, a pot of tea together with a slice of local orange pie was €3 (£2.60).

Suitably refreshed we headed out of town to our hotel, it’s set in a valley about a km outside Carrapateira.

There are a couple of lounges with large comfy sofas, a log fire and we have quite a nice view from our terrace.

The rest of our itinerary includes two circular walks, if the sun shines we may just stay here and read!

Vila do Bispo to Pedralva

Only 15km today, about 5 hours walking.

Breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30 so we had a leisurely start which our legs and feet welcomed.

Our packed lunch was handed over and we decided to travel light. Water was decanted into our water bottles and fruit juice in glass bottles was poured into the empty plastic water bottles! We set out in the rain past this lovely little front porch.

The first stop was in the next village of Raposeira, another essentially Portuguese village and past a field of very scary sheep. Look at those horns and penetrating stares.

The biggest lure of the village was an open cafe. There’s a theme with Portuguese cafe owners, they don’t seem particularly keen to have customers.

We had a tea and coffee, under the watchful eye of the security guard (with mismatched eyes), at the exorbitant cost of €1.50 (£1.30).

We wandered up though Raposeira and out into the valley, past lines of flowering eucalyptus trees. We’re not sure if it’s just the tree for sale…

The tracks today have generally been wider and flatter under foot which has been very welcome although still plenty of uphill climbs.

Our route took us towards a reservoir and the hamlet of Vale do Passo which was abandoned when the valley was flooded.

A flock of sheep and goats kept us company on the walk down to the reservoir.

Lunch was eaten overlooking the reservoir, before heading down the Vale do Passo, through a wooded valley of cork oaks, eucalyptus and cistus. You could certainly smell the eucalyptus in the air. It must be overpowering on really hot days.

The cork oaks started to fascinate us.

We became a bit obsessed with them. The cork can be harvested from the trees every 7-10 years without significant harm.

The bark regrows and provides a renewable resource used in the wine industry (hic), flooring and the centre of cricket balls. As we walked through the valley, we came across trees with numbers on, we assume indicating the year of harvest. At this point someone became bored with spraying 8…

This tree had been harvested earlier and was showing signs of re-growth.

We had a lovely flattish walk along the valley to Pedralva, our home for the night. In fact, today has been a walk of mainly wide paths with fewer hills than the last couple of days.

Pedralva was once a thriving, but poor, hamlet. As tourism boomed in the area, villagers moved away for a better life. A stressed advertising executive decided he needed a change of lifestyle and went into property development. He discovered Pedralva and is slowly tracing owners of properties and bringing the village back to life as an eco friendly complex.

This is our home for the night

The view out of bedroom window

After a short walk we found the cork taken from the trees. Now many corks are made out of plastic, it’s also used to make souvenirs.

Evening meal in Vila do Bispo

We have had our first ‘experience’ of traditional Portugal!?

There are probably a dozen restaurants in town but only one was open.

Cafe Correia, opened at 7:30. We were outside at 7:20, there were diners inside and the door was unlocked so we wandered in. Only one table was occupied however it seemed that the elderly lady greeting us really, really wanted to turn us away. Begrudgingly she led us to a table and reluctantly gave us a menu. This indicated a choice of stews for one or two people served in large metal pots. We immediately discounted shrimp options, they were for two people and there was no way John was touching shrimp. That left us with chicken, rabbit or pork cheek stew. We settled for chicken! The lady however wouldn’t accept our order if we simply pointed at the item on the menu. With a mischievous look on her face, she made Kim order in Portuguese!

With help from the Portuguese couple next to us, we managed to extend our order to a bottle of red wine and include rice rather than potatoes with our stew.

Dinner arrived and was simply delicious although it contained lots of bones which we didn’t recognise as being from a chicken and was very grey in colour…..

The decor was very traditional and unlike anything we’ve seen so far, which actually hasn’t been very much. The restaurant slowly filled up, the cook wearing a short sleeved jumper and chefs hat wandered round asking if our meal was ok. A waiter appeared and it started to feel less like someone’s front room.

The couple on the neighbouring table chose a dessert made from local almonds, figs, alfarroba and spices. With their help, and that of a translation app on the phone, we managed to order it too. It was too delicious to save for a photo.

Finally the bill was requested from the waiter. He had studiously avoided eye contact, we think he’d decided our lack of Portuguese made us too difficult to deal with. The elderly lady reappeared, from where she had been washing dishes in the kitchen, muttered and scribbled some figures down on a piece of paper for us.

We finished the evening with a walk round the cobbled streets of this traditional, historic Portuguese town determined to have walked over 30,000 steps.

Salema to Vila do Bispo

10 km by road or 19.5 km on foot.

Our feet and legs were a little tired from yesterday’s walk, but the sun was shining and we had a packed lunch. We also had three maps and 10 pages of instructions.

The mad cat lady served us breakfast this morning and explained that a charity was neutering the cats to reduce the feral population. You could tell which cats had been neutered because they have a corner from an ear. It prevents distress to an animal that has already been caught and saves time when rounding up the next group.

We set out, heading west along the coast before turning inland to the village of Figueira.

The views were glorious but the paths are heavy going. Many are rocky and rutted, others are very slippery with gravel.

At Figueira, we walked past small farms and in, what looked like an abandoned field, John took the opportunity to scrump an orange.

As we climbed up the hill we could see Figueira in the distance behind us.

We then negotiated a steep, slippery descent to Praia de Furnas. We stopped at the beach for a snack. We’d been walking for over 2 hours and covered just 6.5km. We’d been looking forward to our orange. Kim carefully peeled and divided it only to spit it out 2 seconds later. It was very juicy but also very bitter, thank goodness for the apple and banana we had brought with us.

Back up another hill and we were walking through more scrubland, similar to that seen yesterday. We continued the almost vertical climb until we could see the sea again. Round a corner and we were above Zavial beach where we saw our first surfers of the trip. This is a great area for surfing but, until now, the sea had been very flat and calm.

We followed the cliff path very carefully while pondering that you wouldn’t see a path like that at home. If you look carefully, you can see the green and blue stripes that are used as way marks.

Our route took us away from the cliff path and a longer way down to the beach. Our feet and legs complained every step of the way. We were just over halfway and had been walking for almost 4 hours.

This is the busiest beach we’ve seen and there was a vague hope the beach cafe would be open. No such luck, so we sat on the cafe steps and watched the surfers while eating our lunch which the cat lady had presented us with, it was very welcome and very nice. The cheese and ham salad sandwiches had travelled better than us.

We stopped to chat to an English surf dude who had spent the last six months here in Portugal while trying decide whether to make it a permanent move. Currently he lives here in a shed with a corrugated asbestos roof and wood burning stove and drives a very beaten up Toyota pickup (which he’d driven the 1000 miles down from England) Back in the UK, work was making him ill so he’s now living a better, simpler life.

Unsurprisingly, there was yet another steep hill away from the beach towards the next cove. It was lovely to walk almost a km on tarmac before rejoining the coastal path. The track was quite treacherous and, in places, difficult to see which route to take, this is the first time we have needed to use a compass to check we are on the right path.

We decided not to take the option for a steep descent to Praia da Barranco, It would be difficult to beat Zavial beach and we were tired and our feet sore.

It is quite alarming when you’re walking in such a remote place where we don’t speak the language. We passed a few houses in the middle of nowhere and saw less than a dozen people on the way.

At the 16km point, the route took us up another steep track, this one was through the garden of a private house. The french owners allow access for walkers we were wishing they also provided a golf buggy! You can just see the track in the left hand corner of the picture.

We endured our last 3.5 km and finally after almost 7 hours of walking Vila do Bispo came into sight.

Luckily our hotel is one of the first buildings you come to. The receptionist carefully explained that our stay included complimentary use of the swimming pool and gym but then looked at our faces and realised we probably wouldn’t be using either. Instead we have collapsed in a heap, it’s going to be a real struggle to get our shoes back on when we go out for dinner later.

Vila do Bispo is the commercial and administrative centre for the area, is has a 16th century church and, more importantly, a selection of restaurants for us to choose from.

Salema to Burgau – 15km (9 miles post Brexit)

Our view from the apartment balcony this morning, it’s a shame we’re only here for one more night.

Our day started with breakfast in the same restaurant as last nights dinner, the Atlantico. We were intercepted on our way by a number of cats followed by a dog chasing a lady on a motor scooter. She stopped to feed them and told us the restaurant was shut. We knew better! It belongs to the family who own the apartment and, as it’s the only restaurant open in town, they have a duty to keep us alive and fed. As John pointed out ‘Cat ladies are often bonkers’.

It was so mild and the sun was shining so we headed back to the apartment and swapped out sensible walking trousers for shorts. Sun tan lotion was applied and we were off accompanied by a GPS watch, map and idiot proof instructions. In reality all we had to do was make sure we kept the Atlantic Ocean on our right and we would be fine.

We walked out of town, up along the cliffs with stunning views back towards Salema, the sea is very blue, the sand very fine and the beaches very empty.

Our first challenge was crossing the river at Boca do Rio. We’d been advised to pack a towel because the river could be unreliable and stepping stones were involved. Kim is not good with stepping stones and has a habit of falling off them. After much searching we found some stones and crossed the first small river.

We were marooned on an island with deep water the other side and the rest of the stepping stones submerged below the water.

Further down river, were the remains of a broken footbridge then a 2km diversion.

In true pioneer spirit, and determined not to walk 2km further than we had to, we retraced our steps, wandered back down the beach to find the river dammed and a nice dry route across.

We have been up and down some severe hills, past some pretty, deserted beaches and held philosophical conversations along the lines of ‘If this walking tour is graded ‘easy’, we’d hate to take part in a ‘moderate’ let alone ‘hard” walk ‘Is this technically mountaineering?’ and ‘how long would it take Matt to run it and would he have even notice the hills?’.

At one point we lost the route and found ourselves scrambling down a scrubby hillside and struggling to find our way. When we finally managed to rejoin the route, we were rewarded with this.

It was a relief to reach Burgau, walking into town past citrus trees.

Our itinerary indicated 2hrs 15 mins and we were pleased to have managed that. It felt an awful lot longer. We had an early lunch and basked in the winter sunshine, overlooking the sea before starting the trek back.

Our return journey took us inland, through rolling hills and valleys, across scrubland and through deserted farms before following the river back to Boca di Rio where we looked at the motorhomes that were free camping by the beach. They were from Holland, the UK, Spain and France.

Our walk is billed as ‘The Coast of Many Colours’ and the Algarve is renowned for its spring flowers. The headlands and valleys are covered in Cistus, Olives, Kermes Oaks and Pistachia lentiscus. Colours are a mix of silver, through to dark green and red, it must be fantastic when fully in flower. We’re too early for that but have seen some almond blossom.

And this covers the wall around the apartments’ swimming pool.


Unusually for Kim, she made a new friend on the plane. For the last 20 years Jan has been living in Lagos, with her Austrian husband. She is keen to move back to the UK, to be nearer their daughter and grandchildren in Harpenden, and wonders if we’d be interested in a house swap for a few weeks, go Kim!!

We were collected from Faro airport by our driver Isobel and were treated to a slight detour through the backstreets to a local fishing tackle shop where a man ran out of the shop carrying a tray and passed it through the car window. Each time Isobel picks up guests from the airport, she also has to collect some special fishing bait for her husband. She was too early on her way to collect us, the bait was still being dug out of the estuary.

It was dark when we arrived in Salema and we were ushered into a simple but modern apartment, overlooking the sea. There will be photos tomorrow, we can’t see the sea tonight but we know it’s there.

Salema seems very quaint and there is only one restaurant open, the Atlantico which is owned by the same family running the apartments.

Fish featured heavily on the menu which rather alarmed John. He views all fish with deep suspicion after a bad encounter with salmon many years ago.

His choice of Tuna and Kim’s Sea Bream were delicious and went down nicely along with a bottle of Portuguese white wine.

We had a short wander through the town before heading back for the night. As you can see it’s rather wild here on a Saturday night.

Breakfast is at 08:00 tomorrow and we have the first walk of the holiday to attempt.

Introducing our first trip of 2019

The original idea was to spend a month, in a villa, somewhere hot and sunny, sipping chilled wine on a balcony. We couldn’t make a decision and then Kim got involved. We’re spending the next seven days on a walking holiday in the Algarve and not quite sure how this happened.

Our walks are self guided, we have four maps and pages of very specific directions. After reading a review, we thought we were walking the Med to Atlantic. It was only after booking that we checked a map.

It is only 11 miles between Salema and Carrapateira but we will walk about 50 miles (excluding detours – we’re bound to get lost). It’ll be interesting, what with Kim’s renowned map reading skills and a complete inability to tell left from right.

We start with two nights in Salema which includes a walk to Burgau tomorrow.

Monday we head west along the coast before moving inland and staying a night in the small town of Vila do Bispo.

Tuesdays plan is a walk to Pedralva, an abandoned hamlet which has been restored to life. We hope that means it has a pub or wine bar, a Pret A Manger and a John Lewis.

Wednesday takes us to Carrapateira where we spend our last three nights with options of two circular walks to explore the area.

Our trip started in grey drizzle at Luton Airport, thank you to Diane for dropping us off. The airport has the distinction of being voted the worst in the country for a number of years but, today, we sailed through spending just a couple of minutes getting through security and all was calm and relaxed in Departures. There are even empty seats! We can’t remember the last time we saw that at Luton. January is the time to travel.

We have arrived safely in Salema and are struggling to connect to WiFi. Updating the blog may be a challenge!