Sandie Randall and Richard Hickman are regular Inntravellers who have sampled several of our walking routes over the years – from Malta to the Moselle, and from the Dordogne to the Douro. They always have an interesting tale or two to tell, and here share their reflections on one of our newer holidays across Portugal’s unspoiled south-west corner, 'A Coast of Many Colours'.
"This is a new Inntravel walking holiday in south-west Portugal, and we were keen to try it as it provides a partial link between the two existing Inntravel walks in the area – 'Algarve’s Coast & Hills', which covers the south coast, and 'Along the Costa Vicentina', which goes northwards along the west (Atlantic) coast a bit further north.
'The Coast of Many Colours' is a classic 6 day grade 1-2 walk, with no required transfers and about 12-15 kilometres of moderate walking on most days. It comprises about two days walking on the south coast; about two days traversing the dry and lonely interior hills; and about two days exploring the section of the west coast that lies a bit to the south of the start of the Costa Vicentina walk. This is a very varied itinerary, and the holiday could well be described as a 'route of many contrasts'.
We started with a very easy taxi transfer (about one hour) from Faro airport to the small village of Salema, towards the western end of the south coast. The accommodation here is spacious rooms with floor to ceiling windows and large balconies facing the sea, set within a small modern block. Our host gave us a warm welcome, and then took us up to our room where he drew back the sliding door to show us a marvellous view down to the centre of the village, where we could see and hear the surf breaking gently on the beach. The balmy evening and the tranquil setting made it difficult to remember that we had left a very chilly Edinburgh only that morning.
We dined (not included) at the recommended Atlantico restaurant, a spacious establishment directly adjoining the village square and beach, only a couple of minutes walk from the accommodation. It is more or less the only option in November, as the other waterside restaurants are taking their winter break. The holiday notes give helpful guidance on Portuguese food and drink. We chose the cataplana, a steaming cauldron of stew of fish, prawns and clams for sharing.
Breakfast (included) is taken at the Pastelaria Sol Mar, a café on the village square. This has sheltered outdoor seating where we were served delicious freshly squeezed orange juice as well as the usual items, finished off with pastel de nata, the small baked tarts that are the national speciality.
The two days of walking on the south coast traverse light scrubland along high cliffs, giving wonderful views of the sweeping golden beaches below, interrupted by occasional descents and ascents to cross river valleys.
The walking notes provide meticulous instructions on finding the way, easily related to the large scale military maps supplied in the holiday pack. We arrived at the tiny fishing and surfing village of Burgau in time for an outdoor lunch on a terrace overlooking the beach.
Our route left the south coast during the afternoon of the second day of walking, heading across scrub-covered hills before coming into undulating farm land as we approached Vila do Bispo, our overnight destination.
These were large open plan fields, and as we passed through on a farm track we encountered a very large flock of sheep and goats heading towards us and straddling our route. They were being coaxed forward by three shepherds and a couple of well-disciplined dogs, and our only option was to stand still and wait. Soon we were amid a rippling sea of brown backs of both sheep and goats, pushing past us on both sides, with the lambs and kids scampering past with much baaing and bleating. It was an unusual and very peaceful experience of the continuation of long established farming practices.
The next two days of walking onward from Vila do Bispo pass through the lonely interior, where we encountered hardly anybody along the way, although we did see many butterflies, southern grey shrikes and glossy black beetles.
Farming has given way to light woodland with free range grazing, with many abandoned farmsteads and cottages in these undulating hills. There are also some wind turbines, which are not out of place in this gentle landscape. We ate our picnic on the crest of a low dam, where the breeze offset the hot midday sun and we could watch ducks and a heron on the small reservoir.
The fourth night is spent at the tiny village of Pedralva, with its friendly pair of donkeys, where a number of the terraced farm workers’ cottages have been turned into hotel rooms and apartments, preserving the buildings while offering accommodation with great character.
A central building accommodates the reception office, a bar/cafe, and a restaurant. The included evening meal here allows a good choice from the interesting traditional menu. We chose the skewers of grilled black pig (porco iberico) which was delicious: tender, tasty, and succulent – a meal to remember, one of the reasons why we enjoy our walking holidays with Inntravel.
We reached the Atlantic coast towards the end of the fourth day of walking, at the majestic sweep of Amadao beach backed by low cliffs, with much more rugged terrain stretching to the south towards Cape St Vincent (the western end of the south coast walk). On the approach to the beach we had a spectacular sighting of a rare black-shouldered kite as it perched at first for some time on the top of an Agave flower spike before flying off above our heads. Another highlight of the holiday.
The last part of the holiday is based at Casa Fajara, a country hotel set in a secluded spot in the hills just outside the village of Carrapateira. This is an interesting building in a rustic style, with lots of different levels, balconies and terraces. Although it has a tennis court and a swimming pool, the clear starlit sky and chilly evenings made the cosy log fire in the lounge very welcome, assisted by the self-service honesty bar. With few guests present during our stay, the dinner menu was table d’hôte rather than à la carte, but we were able to request Portuguese dishes, and breakfast included eggs cooked to your choice.
The last two days of walking continued the variety of the route. The northern circuit was through some peaceful empty wooded hills and then along a very pretty valley back to the coast. A couple of hours walking brought us to Bordeira, the only settlement along the way. This is a tiny village where the only commercial establishment is a bar-café in the small triangular square. The lady behind the bar was happy for us to take our coffees out into the square to sit on the benches in the shade of the Mimosa tree, and she made up picnic sandwiches for us while we did so. Late in the walk, on the approach to the coast, the path passes through an amazing grove of Mediterranean (or Umbrella?) pines forming a beautiful canopy overhead. Then there is a bit of hard work on sandy tracks (all very well described in the walking notes) crossing through dune land to reach the vast Bordeira beach, to return south to Carrapateira.
The final walk is along a much more visited section of the coastline, well served by a cliff-top road but with lots of boardwalks to viewpoints overlooking the surf breaking on the rocks. The spectacular views continue, and there is a choice of two seafood restaurants, both with outdoor seating (one with fabulous coastal views) for lunch, to celebrate the completion of holiday combining exercise, a distinctive traditional culture dependent on the use of the land and the sea, and sunshine."