The Rota Vicentina, a 220km walk, through coastal Alentejo and Algarve, is also known as The Fishermen’s Trail.
For centuries, these trails have been used to access the best fishing along the coast but these days you’re more likely to come across surfers and camper vans. The seascape is spectacular, a fierce Atlantic with huge waves, battering sheer cliffs and embracing long sandy beaches. Rota Vicentina is not a difficult walk, more of a gentle meander.
The Rota Vicentina trail starts in Porto Covo, south of Lisbon and ends in Cape St Vincent, the most south-westerly point of Portugal and mainland Europe. The whole walk takes nine days, but I’m missing out the first three due to lack of time, and starting at Zambujeira do Mar. I get there by taking a slow train from Lisbon, often on a single track, through the desolate regions of Alentejo and then take a taxi.
Donning my walking shoes I leave the little Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar and head along the main beach before continuing on the cliffs above. There’s a light drizzle but it’s warm and the biggest problem is the sand underfoot which makes walking hard. Soon I’m back down to the beach and the surf school at Praia do Carvalhal before a few more ups and downs to reach the delightful fishing village of Azenha do Mar. From here it’s a marvellous cliff walk to reach the Seixe Estuary and then inland to Odeceixe.
Next day, the sun is shining and I follow the river back to the estuary before climbing up on the cliffs. The track sporadically veers away from the coast, perhaps because erosion has made it impassable, and by lunchtime, I’m in the inland town of Rogil, really just a string of houses along the main road. It’s then back to the sea before crossing over a bridge and reaching the hilltop settlement of Alijezur. A castle overlooks its cobbled streets and this was the last town in the Algarve to be captured by the Christians from the Moors.
In the morning, I visit the castle to admire the wonderful views, then I’m soon in the forest, the trees scorched by recent fires. I pass the holiday village of Vale da Telha before taking the road to Praia de Monte Clerigo. It begins to rain heavily and I battle the strong wind as I follow the clifftops. At Ponta da Atalaia the sea below is in torment, visibility is almost zero but I battle on and the rain eases. Arrifana is still an active fishing village and has a good surfing beach. The sun comes out just when I reach my hotel for the night.
My fourth day dawns fine and on the cliffs, I’m overtaken by motorcyclists scrambling down the loose rocks to the stony beach of Praia do Canal. I climb inland then take an undocumented track on a deep sandy trail which brings me back to the coast. It gives my feet a tough workout but it’s worth it as I’m away from traffic and bikers. Bordeira Beach is one of the largest on my walk so far and I climb over the dunes to reach the town of Carrapateira.
It’s the penultimate stretch of the Rota Vicentina. I start on Praia do Amado, a large beach full of surfers before climbing up the cliffs. I pass a number of deserted sandy coves and the views are some of the most spectacular of the entire walk. At Praia da Barriga, I kick off my shoes and enjoy the cold water on my toes. The downside is a 4km road walk inland to Vila do Bispo.
The final leg of the Rota Vicentina seems a bit of a slog, partly because the landscape is bereft of trees, all flattened by the strong Atlantic winds. Still, there are the usual surfing beaches and the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent in the distance gradually gets closer. After the solitude of the last few days, it’s a bit of a shock to find coachloads of trippers at the Cape, all out for a view of the end of Europe. I take a few pictures, before walking the final 6 km of the Rota Vicentina to Sagres and enjoying a celebratory seafood dinner.
Tell Me More About walking the Rota Vicentina
Cicerone’s Portugal’s Rota Vicentina is an indispensable guide.
Rota Vincentina has information about the route.
Visit Algarve has information about the region
Visit Portugal has information about the country.
TAP Air Portugal flies direct from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon up to 10 times a day, prices start at £92 return including all taxes and surcharges. For further information, visit www.flytap.com.
Camino Ways has a Zambujeira do Mar to Sagres trip, from £648 per person sharing, including 7 nights’ accommodation, breakfast, luggage transfers and holiday pack with practical information, as well as access to 24/7 support. Flights, lunch, dinner, transport or insurance not included. Airport transfers can also be arranged from Faro Airport.