The area to the south of the town of Vila do Bispo is at the heart of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Nature Park.
Bound on both sides by tall, majestic cliffs, at its far end lie the Sacrum Promontorium of Sagres and headland of Cape St Vincent. Both places attract visitors mostly in cars or on bikes, but for those who prefer to arrive on foot, there are several well-marked walking trails.
The first of these is the GR13, or Via Algarviana, and the final stage of this long-distance route is from Vila do Bispo to Cape St Vincent.
The trail begins by the town church, passing by the cemetery before heading south between abandoned fields into a relatively mysterious landscape where there is a large concentration of megalithic monuments. Many of these have been partially weathered and broken and the majority are now covered in wild vegetation, but even if they cannot be seen, you can feel their presence.
The route then passes under the busy N125 and goes close to the rural settlements of Catalão and Vale Santo, the latter is an interesting birdwatching area. Here there are extensive cereal fields and pastures, which provide habitats for some uncommon species including the little bustard.
From Vale Santo, the marked trail lacks imagination and is, in my opinion, very, very boring. It takes you south for almost 2km along a small straight surfaced road to the main road leading to Cape St Vincent, which you then follow to the lighthouse. Forget walking the last part, just enjoy the trail to Vale Santo and then retrace your footsteps back to Vila do Bispo.
The final stage of the increasingly popular Rota Vicentina trail also starts in Vila do Bispo. The route is again waymarked in red and white (the same as the Via Algarviana), but, from the town, it leads you past the mercado heading south-west.
You climb gently before passing a transformer station on your left before reaching a crossroads of tracks; to the right, there is a sign for the Torre de Aspa, the highest point of the whole area (156m) and its viewing point a striking obelisk.
You now turn left to walk south and there are several places along the trail where other viewpoints are indicated. The vistas over the clifftops are just fantastic.
As the trail drops slightly and you can see the lighthouse of Cape St Vincent in the distance, there is a new route indicated to the right with blue and green markings – this is known as the ‘Fisherman’s Way’ and is well worth walking. Your original trail marked in red and white meets up with the Via Algarviana close to Vale Santo and is best avoided.
The ‘Fisherman’s Way’ is a harder walk because it has ups and downs close to the clifftops, but it does offer amazing scenery. As you near the Cape, the route is quite rocky and not so clear, however, previous walkers have made small stone cairns (mounds) to help guide you through this beautiful area where you can find sand dunes on top of the cliffs. If you have any doubts about the route, just remember to keep the sea on your right and you cannot go wrong.
Once you arrive at the Cape, you have time to enjoy the whole atmosphere before returning to Vila do Bispo and that is easy. During the week, the local Vamus bus departs at 3.50pm and 4.50pm to Lagos with stops both in Sagres and Vila do Bispo.
For those who want to continue walking, the Fisherman’s Way continues from the Cape to Sagres, although much of this sector is along the busy road.
Far more interesting is the sector from Sagres to Salema. Again, it is waymarked in blue and green, and the route pretty much follows the coastline and, on the way, you walk past the beautiful beaches of Ingrina and Zavial.
Some of the walking is not easy as there are narrow paths up and down the cliffs to navigate, but there are also wonderful stretches through open countryside and not a surfaced road in sight! A bonus.
Whichever route you choose, you will be rewarded with some fantastic walking along trails that are not at all busy and some of the best scenery in the whole Algarve.
Julie and her colleagues lead walks every Tuesday morning and every other Friday. All are welcome. There is a nominal charge of €5 per person and this includes a donation to charity. Full details at www.algarvewalking.com or in the diary section of the Portugal Resident.
March 21: Let’s Walk near Vila do Bispo
March 28: Let’s Walk from Boliqueime
By Julie Statham
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Julie Statham has been walking throughout Portugal for more than 20 years and now acts as a walking advisor and guide for various companies in both Portugal and Europe. She has a background in earthsciences and a Ph.D. in geochemistry from Bristol University, UK.