Following on from our articles about the Via Algarviana the following is information on the trail of the Rota Vicentina:
Rota Vicentina: Two Steps To Freedom
This article first appeared on the Amovate website www.amovate.com
By Matt D’Arcy
Vale da Telha has a flourishing walkers’ group, grown so substantially over the years that they were able to sell all 80 tickets for their upcoming social event “Music in the Marquee” in a matter of days. But this area is also a key point along a new initiative for walkers, which presents them with the challenge of covering 241 km of one of the finest coastlines imaginable. Backed by various local authorities the “Rota Vicentina” is a long distance path along the Southwest coast of Portugal, between the city of Santiago do Cacém and Cape St. Vincent.
Rota Vicentina comprises two new way-marked walking paths – the Fishermen’s Trail (122km) and the Historical Way (222km) – that run along the Alentejo/Algarve Atlantic coastline. Great for hiking, mountain-biking, horse riding and donkey trekking (you lead the donkey and it carries your pack), these carefully-planned routes offer travellers the perfect introduction to this beautiful and unspoiled part of Portugal.
It totals more than 340 km in all, as it meanders from Santiago do Cacém, just northeast of Sines, to the Cape, offering the opportunity to walk, in stages, along one of the most beautiful and best preserved coastlines of southern Europe.
As it reaches Aljezur the Rota Vicentina then takes the walker or cyclist onto the Vale da Telha plateau and along to Arrifana before returning to the main north-south pathway. Described as an Historical Way and comprising mainly rural trails, this is a classic Grand Route (GR), with stretches of cork tree forests, mountain ranges, valleys, rivers and creeks, in a true journey through time, local culture and nature trails.
And, depending on your preferred mode of transport—Shanks’ Pony, or two wheels—it is fully accessible not just to walkers but also to mountain bikes.
Rota Vicentina is an initiative of Casas Brancas Association, in partnership with Almargem Association and the region’s public entities.
It comprises a total of 13 sections and was set up as a project for sustainable development, inspired by a perceived need to endow the south western coast with an environmental, cultural and economically sustainable way.
Rota Vicentina results from the selection and marking of existing tracks and trails used by local populations that, when combined, form an over 340 km long itinerary to walk along the entire Southwest coast.
The region is a magnet for true nature lovers as the Alentejo and Vicentina Coast is known as one of the most beautiful and best preserved coastal areas of southern Europe, with over 100 km of Natural Park, wild beaches and a fascinating rural culture.
The Rota Vicentina’s website stresses that it offers accommodation along the route of a quality and variety for all tastes. It explains: “Accommodation on offer is mostly based on family type rural tourism units, small hotels, boarding houses, camping facilities and local lodging units. A list of all this types of lodging will be available soon.”
It also emphasises the benefits of nature tourism which it says is the essence of the South West, explaining:
“Although recent, the offer of nature activities in the region is quite varied: observation and interpretation of the natural environment, horseback riding, mountain bike riding, trekking with donkeys, surfing, canoeing, diving, fishing or boat riding.”
It goes on to say: These are the main reasons why the South West and Rota Vicentina must become a part of your life:
- Wild and pristine nature
- Surprising gastronomy
- Outdoor activities at nature’s pace
- Breathtaking views
- The region’s authenticity and rich identity
- Moments spent with old and new friends
- Contribute to the local economy
- Get to know every inch of this coast line
Mild weather year round.
So—fancy a stroll?
For more information, including maps etc, visit the Rota Vicentina website—from which all the information in this article was gathered—at:
The Historical Way:
SECTION 1: Santiago do Cacém – Vale Seco. Distance: 18km
This long distance path along Sw Portugal begins at the emblematic Santiago do Cacém Church, a city with a strong connection to the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. Since the Middle Ages pilgrims pass here coming from the Promontorium Sacrum, the mythical destination of this historic journey now recovered through Rota Vicentina.
SECTION 2: Vale Seco – Cercal do Alentejo. Distance: 23 km
This is the most arid section of Rota Vicentina. It crosses a profoundly agricultural and rural Alentejo where, in spite the proximity to the ocean, you will be able to smell the fragrances and feel the might of this inland area. At Campilhas Dam, make a pause for a picnic and a dip on hotter days.
SECTION 3: Cercal do Alentejo – Porto Covo. Distance: 18 km
This is the section connecting the Historical Way to the Fishermen’s Trail on Rota Vicentina’s northern region, allowing the hiker to feel this area’s strong connection to the ocean, as you approach the coastline and Porto Côvo, a picturesque fishermen’s village.
SECTION 4: Cercal do Alentejo – S. Luís. Distance: 21 km
This is Rota Vicentina’s most mountainous section as well as a physically demanding one, with long ascent segments on harsh and irregular terrain. But you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the plains and the Atlantic Ocean, right from the top of the hills.
SECTION 5: S. Luís – Odemira. Distance: 25 km
This is the water section, where a different, green and vibrant Alentejo reveals itself before your eyes, with refreshing water streams and ponds – Ribeira do Torgal being the protagonist – where forests of valuable species such as ash, willow and alder trees covering the water streams banks abound.
SECTION 6: Odemira – S. Teotónio. Distance: 19 km
In one of Rota Vicentina’s most accessible sections, given the nature of the track – always wide and with mild ascents and descents – you’ll walk with the Mira River and S. Teotónio’s creek for company, getting in close contact with the beauty of the inland area of this municipality, between the sierras and the sea.
SECTION 7: S. Teotónio – Odeceixe. Distance: 17 km
This will be a memorable trekking day, where you will walk along inhospitable trails covered with well-preserved native vegetation, climb down steep valleys and back up again to the top of the hills, while enjoying the view over Odeceixe and the ocean. At the end, Algarve will be within sight as well as the connection with the Fishermen’s Trail.
SECTION 8: Odeceixe – Aljezur. Distance: 18 km
Today you will be walking along Mira’s watering channel, fed by the waters of Santa Clara’s dam. You can see for miles around you, with the mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. You’ll have a choice between two complementary circuits that will take you to the coastal cliffs and allow you to get to know Odeceixe and Amoreira beaches.
SECTION 9: Aljezur – Arrifana. Distance: 11 km
This is a short day but it may be extended by walking the Fishermen’s Trail towards Arrifana, passing by the beautiful Monte Clérigo beach and the mythical Ponta da Atalaia. In a land where one feels the power of legends and the times when Portugal was conquered back from the Moors, in this walk you will be truly travelling in time.
SECTION 10: Arrifana – Carrapateira. Distance: 24 km
Pedra da Agulha seen from Canal beach, Vale Figueiras vast sand stretch and a succession of hills and valleys, confirm the most aggressive and inaccessible side of this coastal area. Upon arrival, a privileged view over Bordeira’s sand dunes and the creek that meets the ocean here, in a setting that repeats itself over and over again in Vicentina Coast.
SECTION 11: Carrapateira – Pedralva. Distance: 11 km
This section can be easily extended by walking along Pontal da Carrapateira, where you will find several belvedere offering breathtaking views of the cliffs and sand stretches of Bordeira and Amado. Walking inland, the day ends at Pedralva, a typical south western village recently recovered without losing its original identity and traits.
SECTION 12: Pedralva – Vila do Bispo. Distance: 21 km
Deep and symmetrical ravines and hills covered by resilient vegetation that heroically resist the pounding of strong ocean winds that sweep this coast. White sand beaches sheltered by cliffs that plunge directly into the sea. This is a day that once again takes the hiker along a surprisingly wild coastline.
SECTION 13: V. do Bispo – Cabo de S. Vicente. Distance: 15km
Today, you will be walking towards the south western tip of Europe. This is a magical place where one can almost hear the echoes of the voices of sailors and pilgrims. Monumental cliffs, outstanding views over the coastline and a privileged area to watch the natural phenomenon of autumn bird migration.
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Part of the Rota Vicentina comprises what their website describes as a Fishermen’s Trail.
This is a single track along the cliffs which can only be travelled by foot, and is more demanding from a physical point of view. A challenge to a permanent contact with the ocean winds, the harsh coastal scenery and the wild and powerful natural landscape.
Following old paths still trodden by Portuguese locals, the Fisherman’s Trail starts at the sleepy fishing village of Porto Covo and ends at the most southwesterly point in Portugal, the cliffs of Cape St Vincent in the Algarve.
It provides walkers with the best views of a mainly deserted, craggy coastline with rocky coves, vegetation, golden sands and superb sunsets. Each cove brings new vistas – one particularly attractive sight is that of the former island fortress on the Ihla de Pessegueiro, sitting in bright blue Atlantic waters, with seagulls wheeling overhead and immaculate beaches completing the vista; it comes into view as you ride your horse over the hump of a sand dune.
The Fishermen’s Trail is most suitable for walking but it is possible to horse ride or donkey trek the route, too – along the beach in parts. It is also possible to go fishing around the Ihla de Pessegueiro and to scuba dive there.
The Fisherman’s Trail
The Fisherman’s Trail comprises a total of 4 sections and 5 complementary circuits, totalling 115 km in all.
SECTION 1: Porto Covo – V.N. de Milfontes. Distance: 20km
This is the beaches stage, where you will walk along the vast sand dunes area of Ilha do Pessegueiro, Aivados and Malhão beaches and discover small deserted coves that will surprise you. It is a tiring walking day though, given its extension and the constant sandy terrain.
SECTION 2: V. N. de Milfontes – Almograve. Distance 15km
This is a day to purify your soul thanks to the overwhelming views over Princesa do Alentejo (Alentejo’s Princess) and the Mira river that meets the ocean here. It is a short and accessible hiking day so that you may enjoy the area to its fullest extent.
SECTION 3: Almograve – Zambujeira do Mar. Distance 22km
Small fishing harbours inserted into the cliffs’ design, reddish sand dunes and lunar landscapes, the scent of pine tree forests and the sight, seen nowhere else in the world, of storks nesting on the cliffs make this walk a true balm for your senses.
SECTION 4: Zambujeira do Mar – Odeceixe. Distance 18km
You will be passing Alteirinhos, Carvalhal, Machados and Amália beaches on the way to Azenha do Mar, where you will find a natural fishing harbour. To top it all enjoy one of the most outstanding views in the entire territory: Odeceixe beach seen from the majestic Ponta em Branco.
Further south in the Algarve there are a series of Complementary Circuits.
According to the website:
In the Algarve and due to its harsh and rough geography, the Fishermen’s Trail is not linear but is instead composed of a set of 5 complementary circuits that may be combined with the Historical Way, allowing access to the coast walking along the cliffs. These are:
- Odeceixe beach circuit
- Amoreira beach circuit
- Ponta da Atalaia circuit
- Pontal da Carrapateira circuit
- Telheiro beach circuit
Maps and more details of the Fisherman’s Trail can be found on the Rota Vicentina website.
Downloadable PDF of the Map:Map Of Rota Vicentina