Castelejo Beach
Looking south towards Castelejo Beach

Walking three beaches near Vila do Bispo

I begin this with an apology to all those who live in the West Algarve. The beaches of Castelejo, Cordoama and Barriga are their secret. The usual visitor to the area drives down the EN125 to Cape St Vincent and Sagres, and then returns by the same route. But for those willing to take a little time to explore, there is a spectacular beach walk waiting for you and only 4km from the main road.

These three beaches are linked at low tide and offer clean, golden sand with, to the east, tall (over 100m) dark cliffs and, to the west, rolling breakers of the Atlantic Ocean. The best place to park is in the small carpark just above Cordoama. Although there is parking also above Castelejo, it is much more restricted.

Barriga Beach
Looking north towards Barriga Beach

You may arrive at Cordoama and feel disappointed because of the number of vehicles parked up – don’t be! This coastline is popular with surfers and surfing schools, but the beach is so vast, it can never ever feel crowded, even in the height of summer.

From the carpark, walk over the sand down towards the sea. The size of the beach and its sheer beauty cannot be appreciated until you reach the water’s edge. Just stand and admire to the left and right.

My suggestion is to turn to your right to walk along the beach. Soon you will be able to appreciate not only the sheer size of the cliffs but also their dark, almost black, colour.

Vila do Bispo
Folding in the rocks

The rock type that dominates here is a carbon rich shale and these are some of the oldest rocks in the Algarve (210-265 million years). Interspersed within these shales, you should be able to make out slightly lighter, more prominent bands of rock. This is a grit stone and, throughout the whole cliff-face, white ‘veins’ of the mineral calcite can be seen.

As you progress down the beach, you should also notice that these rocks are showing folding and bending in their layers. Amazing considering their hardness. These deformities indicate that at least once in the very, very distant past, the rocks were subjected to extremely strong pressures related to tectonic movements.

A good 1km along the beach you will come to a clearing – this is now Barriga beach. This spot is popular with local fishermen who come to try their luck as the tide turns. If you stray off the beach here in spring, the grassy cliff slopes will be covered by the petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium).

Vila do Bispo
Rocky outcrops on the beach

Once you have reached the end of the beach, you retrace your steps. At low tide, there will be rock pools to explore and sharp jagged rocks standing proud above the sand; what exactly is on offer depends on weather and wave conditions over the previous weeks. This is one of the great things about coming here – you just never know what to expect. No two walks down the beach are ever the same.

Once you have returned to Cordoama, I strongly urge you to walk past and continue along towards the rocky outcrops ahead. As you reach them, you will see in front of you the beautiful semi-circular beach of Castelejo. Because of its sheltered nature, it is very popular with families and surfers.

Local Fisherman
Local Fisherman

Just as you approach Castelejo, you will notice a very distinct rock on your right with a dark black shale base and an orange sandy top, this is known as Pedra da Laje. Amongst the rocks here, goose barnacles (perceves) and mussels thrive, and locals will take many a risk to collect them to sell to nearby restaurants.

Head back to your car when you are ready; it is just over 6km if you walk the whole length of the beach and return but, of course, just do what you feel able.

It is important to only walk the beach around low tide because at high tide the water can constrict the beach and you could find yourself cut off. The tide times can be checked on many different web sites. A good one is www.magicseaweed.com

Castelejo Beach
Pedra da Laje, near Castelejo Beach

How to reach Cordoama carpark

If driving along the EN125 from Lagos, take the second exit for Vila do Bispo, follow the brown signs for the ‘Praias’ and the road will lead you out of the town. After about 2km, the road forks and you go to the right; almost immediately there is a track straight ahead and a surfaced road that goes right downhill. If you take the track, you will come to a viewing point (miradouro) on the clifftop where you will have a wonderful view of the beaches below. For the carpark, you go right and just follow the road until it ends.

Julie and her team 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 www.portugalwalks.com or in the diary section of the Portugal Resident.

Coming up

  • Tuesday, March 22
    – Let’s Walk close to Loulé
  • Friday, March 25
    – Let’s Walk along the Ribeira de Algibre
  • Tuesday March 29
    – Let’s Walk in the foothills, near Portimão

By Julie Statham

|| features@algarveresident.com

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.