After Pete’s plus-one had had to bail out from the Fisherman’s Trail on very short notice, Pete asked roughly two dozen friends of his if they wanted to join him instead. Fortunately, they all had to decline because of conflicting commitments. This meant that I got a chance to join him on the trip. Throughout the trip it was one of our running gags that I had been so far down the list.
Of course, I made sure that Pete got a good run for his money, too, banter-wise. Pete and I have only known each other for a short while. We met on an organised group hiking weekend in the Peak District with GO London end of last year. This dude has done some serious hiking around the world. His adventures have been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, BBC Countryfile magazine, and Culture Trip. He is one of the most fun and relaxed people I’ve ever travelled with, and I enjoyed our long conversations along the way.
WHAT’S INCLUDED – FISHERMAN’S TRAIL PACKAGE
The package includes an in-person briefing session, helpline access, planning, maps, and instructions, five nights at three-star hotels, five breakfasts, and luggage transfers. The normal price per person for twin-room accommodation would be €370.
You organise your own international flights and bus transfers from Lisbon to Porto Covo and back from Odeceixe to Lisbon. We booked our flights through easyjet for £90 and the bus with local operator Rede Expressos through busbud for £25. The two taxi transfers in Lisbon cost a total of £13 per person. We spent very little on our packed lunches, but a fair bit (prices similar to London) for huge dinners. Apart from travel insurance and a few cervejas we hardly had any further expenses during the six-day trip.
MAKING OUR WAY TO OUR STARTING POINT: PORTO COVO
Our flights from London touched down in Lisbon around lunchtime. Thanks to my EU citizenship, customs took me less than 5 minutes. However, the process for Pete took a shocking two hours. Luckily, we had allowed a lot of time for the transfer from the airport to the bus terminal. The bus takes a mere two hours, so we arrived in Porto Covo around 6pm. Ricardo picked us up from the bus station with a big smile and we walked the five minutes over to our hotel.
The owner of Vicentina Travel spent about an hour walking us through the four days ahead of us, the Fisherman’s Trail map, the leaflets. While sipping our refreshing Sagres lagers, we also learned about the conservation efforts in the area, a topic that he is extremely passionate about. We found out more about the history, the main sights, and so on. Throughout the next five days, we would bump into Ricardo on various occasions and he’d give us the latest updates about minor detours, erosion, or where to grab a bite or beer.
Pic on left (c) Peter Elia
BRIEFING SESSION AND INSTRUCTIONS – FISHERMAN’S TRAIL
Out of habit, more than anything, and perhaps as a fall-back scenario, we had one of the popular hiking apps open on our phones in the background at times. However, Ricardo’s instructions, the map you’re given, and the markers on the Fisherman’s Trail are absolutely sufficient to find your way along the coast.
There are sections where you’ll have to look around for a minute or two in order to find the path. You will need to rely on the map and bear Ricardo’s instructions in mind, but if you do, then you should be fine. Sometimes the path goes along the beach, sometimes half way up along the cliff wall, mostly along the top, close to the cliff edge, sometimes up to 3 or 4km inland for a short while.
76KM IN FOUR DAYS
The total distance for the four days is 76km, or an average of 19km (18 to 21km) per day. To those of you, who do a fair bit of hiking, this will not sound like much, and it isn’t. However, you will be walking on very soft, very loose sand 75% of the time. Pete and I both felt that this made the hike about 30% or 40% harder than if you’d walk on hard ground. You’re likely to stop every now and then to take pictures or simply to enjoy the views. So while you could rush it and do each day’s distance in 5 hours or so, we usually took a little bit longer.
FROM BEAUTIFUL TO SPECTACULAR
With every day, the scenery becomes more spectacular, and don’t get me wrong: the coast just south of Porto Covo is very beautiful. It’s just that it gets even more mind-blowingly spectacular during the following days, reaching its climax at Odeceixe beach (feature photo), where the Seixe River flows into the sea in a picturesque loop. The river here forms the border between the Alentejo region (where we hiked) and the Algarve region (further south).
Officially, the Fisherman’s Trail is much longer, than the 76km/four-day highlights-section we did. It continues along the coast all the way to Portugal’s south coast: Lagos, another 150km+ through the Algarve region. The trail is part of the Rota Vicentina network of hiking trails. This network includes plenty of day-hikes, some further inland, and two long-distance, multi-day hikes.
THE HISTORICAL WAY
Apart from the full Fisherman’s Trail, which would take 9 to 13 days, the other long hike is the Historical Way, which leads from Santiago do Cacém to Odeceixe: 120km in 6 days. Our four-day hike is part of both of these trails. It forms the southernmost part of the Historical Way and the northernmost part of the proper Fisherman’s Trail.
Pics not strictly chronological and not aligned with text.
DAY ONE OF THE FOUR-DAY HIKE
While none of the four days on the Trail were difficult, I could probably feel my legs the most on the evening of the first day. It took me some time to get used to walking on loose sand. Technique does make a huge difference in the amount of energy it takes to do it. I also felt lucky that I had remembered to bring my gaiters. They helped keep the sand out of my boots.
A good part of the first day involves walking along the beach and there are no massive cliffs. So even where you walk on top of a cliff, it doesn’t take any effort to reach it.
Despite the fact it was still winter, February, to be precise, the temperatures reached up to around 20C degrees for an hour or two in the early afternoon. The sun was burning down on us. For most of the time, I was wearing a sun hat, a snood, sun glasses, a long-sleeve T-shirt, and a ton of factor-30 sun lotion, and I still got a good tan. Vila Nova de Milfontes is a lovely little village. Our hotel was very pleasant and right on the central square, next to the townhall.
The next morning we got up early and went for a swim in the 17C cold Mira River, in the lagoon-like section, just before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The currents are extremely strong. We made sure that we didn’t venture far from the riverbank beach and we never came closer than half a kilometre to the ocean.
After a delicious breakfast, the hotel staff gave us the location and handed us the PIN code to unlock the mountain bikes that we had arranged through Ricardo’s bicycle rental firm. We picked up our bikes from the foyer of one of the other hotels, using the codes. Then we spent two hours exploring the area around Vila Nova de Milfontes by bike.
As it was still off-season, the ferry to the other side of the river wasn’t operational yet. This meant that we couldn’t cut our hike short by 3km but had to do the full 18km to our destination, exactly as expected.
When we arrived at our B&B, about 2km further inland from Almograve, we had quick showers, then went for dinner at one of the local restaurants. Pete headed straight back to the hotel. I felt like a drink and stopped at one of the bars. I had just sat down at the bar, when a group of six fellers, roughly my age, in biker outfits, started chatting with me.
Turned out they were all old high school friends from Lisbon. Once a year their wives and families give them a week off and they go on motorbike tours around Europe. This time they were staying closer to home and doing some motocross along the coast. As soon as they found out that I had done a motocross taster course recently, my new pals kept on buying me beer. Despite my attempts to return the favour and then say goodbye and make my way back to the hotel, they insisted we keep on ‘drinking to friendship’ until 2am, when the bar closed. It reminded me of the hospitality in Porto.
DAY THREE AND FOUR
It’s really on the second half of the trip that you get to see the actual fishermen. All of the ones I spotted were too far away to take good pictures of with my mobile phone camera. Most were local men in their sixties with weather-torn faces and giant, up to 10m long fishing rods. They seemed to be in constant motion. Reeling in. Throwing the line with the bait out again. Looking for a better spot. Setting up their gear there. Starting all over again.
Another highlight are the many storks. At times we could see a dozen of these very large birds circling close above us while some others were guarding their nests on the tops of the jagged rocks.
Around the villages where we stayed for the night, we’d sometimes spot a few surfers riding the waves.
The cliffs steadily get higher. You nearly always walk on top of the cliffs near the edge. We always felt safe. However, it is important to use common sense. The cliffs do erode over time and bigger and smaller chunks do fall off into the sea on a regular basis. In some cases I chose to avoid the well-trodden main path, because I felt it was too close to the edge.
SAFETY AND COMMON SENSE
Instead, I walked ten or fifteen metres further inland. In extreme cases the top of the cliff might be overhanging by a distance of ten metres or even more. This means that if you walk nine metres away from the cliff edge, then there will still be some thin air between you on the cliff edge and the sea below you.
Remember that an overhanging cliff edge and one that doesn’t overhang look exactly the same while you’re walking on top of the cliff near the edge. You’ll never be able to tell if the cliff is overhanging or not, unless you look at it from a distance further up or down the coast.
In some cases you might be 20 metres away from the cliff edge, but the area between you and the cliff edge is steeply sloped with no holds. Choose a path that’s even further away from the edge, in order to stay safe.
TAKE ENOUGH DRINKING WATER
Make sure that you always have enough drinking water with you. I always refilled my aluminium water bottles at the tap at the B&Bs in the mornings. On some days you will not see any civilisation close-by during the day, on other days during off-season, you might pass by a beach-side café but it is closed.
Outside the villages where we stayed at night we bumped into less than two dozen hikers throughout the four days.
We timed our arrival at Odeceixe beach so that we had about an hour to find the best spot from where to take shots during sunset. Once the sun had set and we had taken our photos, we walked the last 4km to our B&B in complete darkness with our headlamps on.
CASAS DO MOINHO
Casas do Moinho (‘Mill Houses’) are located on top of a hill above town, next to a beautiful traditional windmill. Upon arrival we were given the keys and shown to our ‘casa.’ It was by far the most luxurious place for us on that trip. We had our own kitchen. My bedroom was under the roof on the first floor, Pete took the main bed on the ground floor. The communal space with the breakfast room has a lovely atmosphere to it. On the terrace you have a swimming pool.
Pic on right (c) Peter Elia
We enjoyed the by far best dinner of our trip that night at Assador Altinho (‘Steakhouse on the Hill’), which happens to be owned and run by the same good folk as Casas do Moinho. It’s very conveniently located a mere two minutes’ walk up the hill to the top. I had one of the juiciest, tastiest, most succulent steaks ever. Pete was very pleased with his roast chicken.
Both pics above (c) Peter Elia
WILL I HIKE FISHERMAN’S TRAIL AGAIN?
As soon as Ellie saw some pictures I had taken, it was clear that we’d return to Fisherman’s Trail together in the near future. This Trail is one of the best hiking experiences I’ve had anywhere in the world away from mountains. It’s so easy to get to from London. The nature is outrageously beautiful. Because of the strong winds, fierce currents, and the rocky coastline, the ocean is often consistently white like snow with breaking waves for a stretch that’s several hundred metres wide. It meanders along the coastline and creates a crisp freshness and brightness.
Vicentina Travel’s self-guided tour packages cover everything you need at a very reasonable price. 5 out of 5 in my book.