Between mountain and sea

This small essay describes another wonderful trail that is part of the Rota Vicentina network in southwest Portugal. This time, I have walked route 17, a circular path that starts near the village of Carrascalinho, which is located close to the small towns of Maria Vinagre and Rogil. The walk is of moderate difficulty, mainly because it is 14 km long and crosses a hilly countryside that buttresses part of the Algarve mountain range. The following figure shows the location map.

Location map for route 17 (in yellow).

All the details can be found in the ensuing link.

https://rotavicentina.com/trilhos/carrascalinho/

This route is already inside the Algarve province, which is normally associated with sunny weather and golden beaches. Here in the western coast, the beaches are sunny, but the influence of the Atlantic ocean is stronger, with stronger winds. It was my first time walking this route, and what attracted me was that its path goes through the interior of the region, touching the mountain range of the Algarve. This is probably one of the most less-populated areas of Portugal, where some remnants of the Mediterranean flora still resists against the onslaught of the intensive eucalyptus growth. There are large areas of cork oak trees, pine trees, heather, and arbutus. Some of these cultivations are essential to the local economy, to produce the famous honey (from heather and arbutus) and the arbutus brandy. As usual, I carry a minimum amount of photo gear. This time I decided to take along only the Fujifilm X-Pro3 with the 35mm lens. A standard lens is a good choice for general photography.

The initial part of the route crosses some farmland, followed by a large pine tree forest.

Near the beginning of the trail.
Pink heather.

After a few kilometres, the terrain becomes more rugged, as it approaches the mountains. The weather is very nice, with a slight breeze and a deep blue sky. Along the way, it is possible to spot some Autumn colour, and even a spider waiting for its next meal.

Autumn colour.
Waiting for its prey.

The arbutus shrubs become more abundant, and this time of the year the fruits are ripe, displaying their typical orange and red colours. This fruit is very important for the local farmers, especially for making brandy, which fetches high prices.

Arbutus.

The highest point along the way affords a panoramic view over the entire region. To the west, there lies the ocean, whereas the rest of the view is dominated by the rugged mountains that are covered in green. This is a nice spot to rest and have a picnic lunch.

The ocean in the distance.
The Algarve mountain range.

From this high vantage point, the rest of the trail starts to descend, crossing a few isolated settlements and farms. The silence is pervasive, being only disturbed by the wind and the occasional bird song. Thus far, I have not seen any other person.

Interior isolation.

This part of the walk is easy, and soon our starting point is visible again. This was another wonderful route, that crosses a beautiful region that is often disregarded in favour of the more popular coastal area. Even though it lies a mere stone throw’s away from it.

Near the end, with Carrascalinho in the distance.
Local windmill.
Small farm.

Autumn in the interior of Odemira

Autumn is a wonderful season for being out in the field. As nature transitions between Summer and Winter, the days get shorter, the air is crisper and the colors are richer. As I mentioned in my previous article, in early November I spent some days in the Alentejo coast, taking the opportunity to make a few photo walks. The coastal region of Odemira’s municipality is beautiful, but so is the interior area. So, one afternoon I drove a bit to the interior, along the road between Odemira and Sabóia.

It is surprising how the character of the landscape changes abruptly from the coast to the interior; just a few kilometres inland, the terrain is characterized by rolling hills, with some deep valleys, where large trees are abundant. There are the typical cork oak trees, dotting the hills, but along the river Mira valley, ash trees and elm trees predominate. And during Autumn, they add an extra layer of color to the landscape.

The road follows the course of the Mira river, so it is easy to find a parking spot and then walk down to the valley. For this walk, I selected a part of the river that bends around a hill, atop which there is an abandoned farm house. Unfortunately, these are quite common in the area, as making a living from agriculture is increasingly difficult. Below is a simple map from this area, which is crossed by one of the trail routes from the Rota Vicentina.

Trail route between Sabóia and Odemira, with red circle indicating the general location for the photos.

After arriving, I walked down to the valley, but unfortunately the river was dry. As usual, the Summer was scarce in rain, and the Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, just a few kilometres up river, captures most of the water. This water is used for irrigation and domestic uses, so not much is left to run its free course. I walked along the dry river bed for a while, making a few photos of the bare trees.

Dry valley floor.
Looking up.
Dry river bed.

Leaving the valley, I climbed to the top of the hill. From here, there was an excellent view over the landscape, plus the abandoned farm house that I had spotted from the road. The sun was going down fast, and the light was acquiring a rich golden quality. I made several photos using both my wide-angle and short telephoto lenses, so that I could frame the dramatic landscape, or isolate interesting details.

Looking over the river Mira valley. Panorama assembled from 2 photos.
Some autumn color.
Trees in the valley.
Cork oak tree.
Old farm house.
Old farm house.
Open sky.
Old farm house at sunset.
Framed between the trees.

I walked back to the valley, because I wanted to make a few more photos of the surrounding trees and hills, and I wanted to catch the golden light that would not last very much. The shade was quickly spreading, so I had to work fast. I was running around between locations, as I only had a few minutes left of this high quality light.

Autumn color in the valley.
Autumn in the hills.
Old cork oak tree.
Cork oak tree and farm house in the distance.
Approaching shade.
Cork oak trees at sunset.
Last light.
Sunstar.

Dawn at Almograve beach

The advantage of being very familiar with one place is that planning for a photographic visit becomes easier. The terrain is known, as well as the best viewpoints and logistics (access, car parks and walking paths). The flip coin to this familiarity is, of course, the challenge of imagining new compositions for well known places and subjects. In the beginning of October I found myself near Almograve beach, in the southwest Alentejo coast of Portugal.

I have known this beach since my childhood, and have been photographing it for three decades by now. Thus, coming up with “new interpretations on an old subject” is not easy. But I enjoy a good challenge, and so I woke up one morning really early, and went to the beach for a photo walk. The conditions were promising: low tide, some clouds and many interesting sand patterns. I started from the southern end of the beach, and slowly made my way towards the northern end.

Nature keeps changing things, and this year the beach has seen an abnormally high amount of sand, so that during low tide, a larger than usual area is exposed. This makes for some new interesting photo opportunities, using rocky outcrops and sand patterns as foreground elements. Shortly after arriving, I made a few photos showing the overall view of the beach, with the first light of day softly bathing the cliffs.

View to the north.
Southern cliffs receiving first light.

Walking along the beach, I had no trouble finding some interesting sand patterns and rocks. In particular, there are black schist rocks crisscrossed with white quartz veins, that are common in the geology of this area. Sometimes it was a challenge to keep the tripod stable, because the sand was water logged and quite soft.

Buried outcrop.
Low tide sand patterns.
Small pool.

In the intertidal areas, the movement of the water has created small sand dunes. For someone like me, familiar with this beach, it was odd to see so much sand; I kept trying to find some particular rock that used to be exposed, and now must be buried under all the sand.

Wavy sand.
Tidal pool.

I spent more than one hour photographing in the beach, so by the time I went back to the car, the sun had crested the sand dunes in the east, illuminating the landscape. The soft purplish and pink colors of dawn were replaced by the golden tonalities of the low sunshine.

Here comes the sun.
Yellow and blue.

These photos were all made with my Fujifilm X-T3 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens, a perfect combination for this coastline landscape, where there are several linear elements that can help to lead the eye into the scene.

New trail season

In the last few years I have become an enthusiast of the Rota Vicentina trail, a network of walking (and cycling) paths in the coastal region of southwest Portugal. Many of my articles here describe and address some of the trails that I have walked in the past. During the last couple of years, the challenges posed by Covid-19 were in part mitigated by being able to still visit the region and walk along its trails, enjoying the contact with Nature in complete safety.

The trail season in the Southwest has officially started in September, when the weather normally becomes milder, with the approach of Autumn. In early October there is a national holiday in Portugal, so there was an opportunity for my wife and I to spend a few days in our house in Longueira. Of course we allocated one day to do one of our favourite trails, the one of Nossa Senhora das Neves, in the interior of the Odemira municipality. We have done this trail several times before, as described here:

We like this trail for several reasons: it crosses a beautiful countryside, where the traditional ways of rural and farm living are still present; it is possible to see very large and old cork oak trees, dotting the landscape; there are many other species of typical and local fruit trees (quince, arbutus, olive); and of course there is the magnificent view from the top of the hill where the small chapel was built.

Even after walking this trail a couple of times before, I aimed at coming away with some different photographs. This can be a challenge, as inevitably one tends to stop in the same places: the isolated farm house, the large cork oak tree, and so on and so forth. The weather was sunny and relatively warm, with some isolated puffy clouds in the sky.

I tried to make some photos thinking about how they would come out in black and white, as I feel this would better describe the feel of the place. I was simply carrying my Fujifilm X-Pro3 camera and 35mm lens, so my mind set was really minimalistic. Below are some of the photos that I am happy with.

One of the largest cork oak trees.
Farm.
Sheep.
Fields.
Old tree.
Rural landscape.
House on the hill.
Along the way.
Tree and cloud.

I am looking forward to this next season of walking some of these beautiful trails in the Southwest.

A coastal walk

The coastal path between the Almograve beach and the Cabo Sardão lighthouse is part of the Rota Vicentina trail network. This easy walk is about 8 km long, and takes you into some of the most beautiful views and locations of this part of the Southwest Alentejo natural park. I think this path was the first one I walked many years ago, even before trekking became a fashion in this region. Since then, I do this walk several times a year, and not always with a camera and photography in mind. It is simply a nice outdoor nature experience, walking along the coastal cliffs and sand dunes, with the constant presence of the ocean and the seabirds.

Thus, one recent September afternoon, I decided to head to this trail, to make some photos during sunset time. The weather was nice, there were some wispy clouds in the blue sky, and the light was good. What I had in mind was a particular rock formation, in the shape of and arch, created by the erosional forces of the wind and the sea. The tide was going out, exposing a few beaches that are difficult to get to. Most likely, only the local fishermen know how to get down there.

Coastline at low tide, with the arch in the very background.

Along the trail, there are numerous “exits” towards the edge of the cliffs, affording wonderful views of the coast. I selected a few locations and made several photos, as the approaching light of sunset, with its golden quality, bathed the landscape.

Rock formations.
Along the way.
Rock arch.

As the sun continued its path towards the horizon, I kept moving, trying to find different viewpoints to set up my tripod. The wind was picking up, so I had to be careful in more sandy areas. Between the loose sand dunes and the rock outcrops, there are several layers of consolidated dunes; these have been cemented by ferruginous minerals and as a result have a vivid orange rusty color.

Rusty dunes.
Looking south, with the Cabo Sardão lighthouse in the distance.

A few minutes after sunset, the clouds became illuminated by a pinkish color, adding a nice touch to the landscape.

Colours after sunset.
Rota Vicentina trail marker.

At sunset, the lighthouse is turned on, and I always like to make a few photos of it. I returned to my car and drove back home, feeling grateful for another nice walk in this wonderful place.

Cabo Sardão lighthouse.
Lighthouse beacon.

Moonrise, Cabo Sardão

In this essay I return to one of my favourite places in the Alentejo coast of Portugal. The Cabo Sardão is a rocky promontory that juts into the Atlantic ocean, about 10 km south of the village of Almograve. Its lighthouse was built more than 100 years ago, and has since then been providing a beacon for a busy shipping lane. The coastline in this region is characterized by tall cliffs of 300 million year old rocks, where many seabirds come to nest and live. The white stork is conspicuous in the Spring and Summer, whereas the peregrine falcon is a bit more elusive.

I come to Cabo Sardão quite often to photograph, either around sunrise or sunset, when the light is more interesting. I planned this visit to coincide with the day before July’s full Moon, when our satellite would rise more or less at the same time as the Sun would set. Immediately after sunset, the lighthouse comes on, so I was hoping to frame it with the rising Moon slightly to the side. I arrived 30 minutes earlier, and walked to a nice viewpoint facing the cliffs. Some viewpoints are difficult to get to, especially when it is windy, so it is important to exercise due care and to be vigilant, to avoid incidents with possible falls. I selected a small natural platform in the ground to set up my tripod, and composed a few shots with my wide-angle lens, framing a large boulder in the foreground. This provided a good leading element into the rest of the scene, with the lighthouse and scarp in the distance.

Close to the edge.

I stayed in the vicinity of this viewpoint and made a few more photos after the lighthouse was turned on. Both vertical and horizontal compositions work well, using the stratigraphic layers as visual guiding lines.

The light came on.
Light’s up.

Finally the Moon appeared, rising on the left-hand side of the building. The sunset had happened only a few minutes before, so there was still a good amount of natural light, which helped in illuminating the cliffs and in obtaining a balanced exposure.

Moonrise.
Moon and lighthouse.

On the way back to the car I made a few photos in the nearby football pitch.

Goal.

I was lucky to have clear skies, as in the previous days the area had been occasionally covered with fog. I always like to visit this place, often just to rest the mind and experience the still wild natural surroundings.

Along the coast

The coastline between Almograve and Vila Nova de Milfontes is characterized by sand dunes, rocky cliffs, and small secluded beaches. It is a beautiful area, which can be walked easily along one of the sections of the Vicentina Trail. Even though it is a place I have visited and photographed many times before, I never tire of going back. This time around I planned to visit during low tide at sunset, to be able to access some locations where the wonderful geology exposed along the cliff faces can be seen.

After parking the car in Almograve beach, the trail follows the coast to the North. There are many interesting subjects to photograph, be it the vistas over the successive beaches, or the small flower clusters that populate the dunes.

Dune flower.
Field of rocks.
Windy.
Coastal beauty.
Low tide at sunset.
Rocks and more rocks.

At this late evening hour, there was no one else along the trail, and the sense of tranquility was pervasive. However, with the approaching sunset, I made my way back to photograph the rock outcrops in Foz beach, close to Almograve.

Foz beach overlook. The cliff face in the distance has some wonderful examples of geological folding and other phenomena.

Thanks to the low tide, I was able to reach some locations from which the views towards the rock outcrops are really nice. I am a geologist, so being able to combine my professional interest with my favourite hobby is an added bonus. There are many folds of various types, plus several exposures of fractured rocks, all bearing witness to the tremendous tectonic forces that have shaped the area.

Folds and more folds.
A close up of some folded rocks.
Last light on fractured rock.
Quartz veins filling the fractures.

The low tide also exposed the algae covered rocks, and I took the opportunity to photograph some of them. They were a most vivid green colour.

Folded layers and green algal mats.
Tidal pools.
Rising.

I stayed in the beach until it was dark, simply enjoying the experience of being there. Most of the photos were taken with the Fujifilm X-E4 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/1.4 lens; the wide angle lens is quite appropriate to the near – far compositions that I like to photograph.

Final light.

Down by the river

As I wrote in my previous post, in early June I have spent a few vacation days in my house in southwest Alentejo coastal region. I took the opportunity to visit several places and make dedicated photo sessions. This essay is about a pre-dawn visit to Vila Nova de Milfontes, where I wanted to photograph along the river Mira southern bank during the low tide.

After arriving, as I started walking along the beach, I noticed that the Moon was providing some light on the still dark landscape. I set up my tripod and started making some photos towards the East, where the pre-dawn light was slowly increasing. Because of the low tide, the wet sand was exposed, showing the small water rivulets and textures. I have also tried some longer exposures using a neutral density filter.

Moonrise.
Pre – dawn tranquility.
Almost rising.
The tide.
Pier.
River bank.

Looking West, towards the sea, there were also interesting subjects, such as the patterns in the sand and the boat pier. The sand was very wet and soft, so I had to push the tripod legs into it, and wait a little bit for the tripod to become stable before shooting.

Crossing point.
Low tide.
First light.

As the sun was cresting the hills in the East, I wanted to photograph the Furnas beach, so I walked briskly to reach the sea. The tidal small sand dunes were exposed and illuminated by the first rays of sunshine, providing an interesting foreground.

Furnas beach.
Sand waves.
On the beach.

After the full sunrise, the light became less interesting, but a light haze covered the river. As I walked back to the car park, I made a few photos of this hazy atmosphere. It was quite nice to visit the river, enjoying its peacefulness. As for photo gear, most of the photos were made with the Fujifilm X-E4 camera and Fujinon 14mm f/1.4 lens.

Santa Clara-a-Velha in the Spring

The Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, in the municipality of Odemira, is one of my favorite places to visit in the region. In fact, between 2019 and 2021 I have already written 4 essays about it. But I never tire of going back during different times of the year, as every season imparts its own particular character. Thus, just a few days ago I had the chance to spend a weekend in Longueira, and I planned a late evening visit to Santa Clara. The weather was wonderful, and the air was filled with Spring; the fields were turning from green to golden, and here and there covered with flowers.

During my last visit to the dam, last January, I had noticed a few tree trunks coming out of the water near the northern part. The water level has been lower than usual, revealing several submerged trees. In that occasion I was walking one of the local trails, and when I passed through this location I had no time to walk down to the water. So I made a mental note to come back; unfortunately, soon after Portugal entered into a rigorous Covid – 19 lockdown period, and 3 months elapsed before I could go back.

I always enjoy the drive between Longueira and Santa Clara, as the road winds between the gentle rolling hills. I hardly pass by another car, and the surrounding quietness is complete. After arriving, I parked the car and walked along the trail to the northernmost part of the dam, where I had spotted the trees poking out of the water. The sky is a deep blue with wispy white clouds. After a couple of kilometres I need to leave the trail and descend the steep incline towards the water. The terrain is covered with thick shrubs, so I have to struggle to make my way. I make some photos of the many wild flowers.

Springtime brings lavender and other flowers.
Pink.
Small flowers.
Delicate.
Overview.

I walk along the margin for a while to reach the area where the trees are. After scouting the place, I start to make some photos, checking for interesting compositions. Near one of the trees, a boat lies under water.

Tree and submerged boat.

The silence is only interrupted by the wind, bird song, and bees buzzing around. For this outing I had with me my two Fujifilm cameras and two lenses, one wide (14mm) and one short telephoto (50mm). I continued to photograph, mostly using the wide angle lens; sometimes I used a neutral density filter to smooth out the water, enhancing the quietness of the place. I also ended up converting some photos to black and white, as a way to further convey the stark character of the landscape.

Branching.
Alone.
Listening to the wind.

On my way back to the car I ended up stopping at the southern part of the lake to make a few more photos. The light was nice, with the sun starting to go down behind the western hills.

Wide view looking north.

After leaving Santa Clara I made one other stop, near a field where the hay was starting to be rolled up into bales. These days the hay bales are mostly covered by white plastic, but in some fields they are still left uncovered, which makes for more interesting photos. Along the region, one can also see some abandoned farms and the typical cork oak trees.

Abandoned.
Landscape in black and white.
Old cork oak tree.
Rural landscape.
Working the fields.
First hay bales of the season.
Lines.

I noticed that the tall hay was swaying in the wind, almost like waves, so I used the neutral density filter to achieve long exposures of around 20 seconds. This was a trial and error process, as the wind would come in bursts of varying intensity. I had to start the exposure around the same time as the wind would pick up, hoping it would last for a few seconds. In the end, I was quite happy with some of the photos I got.

Swaying fields.
Windblown.

It was already after sunset when I arrived back home, but I was glad to have returned to such a beautiful area.

A short walk in the Almograve dunes

Almograve is a small coastal village in Alentejo, that is known by its nice beach. In the summer, it is quite busy, but during the rest of the year it is a quiet place. This is when I prefer to visit, away from the crowds, when it is possible to enjoy the area in the company of Nature alone. During springtime, the coastal sand dunes are full of colour, thanks to the many wildflowers that are in bloom. Due to the recent rain, the landscape and atmosphere looks and feels fresh.

Colourful sand dunes.
Fragile.

There are several nice and easy walks around this area, but this time I chose the trail between the beaches of Almograve and Foz. This is a short walk, but it takes you along the sand dunes, with the ocean as a constant company. The littoral is characterized by the contrast between the golden and rusty sand dunes and the blue ocean water, with the dark cliffs in between. This coast is well known by its geologic features, notably the numerous folded rocks that are easier to see at low tide. The weather was a mix of sunshine and brooding rain clouds, with numerous heavy showers.

Geological textures.
Springtime in the dunes.
Sometimes the sun will shine.

The golden light of the low afternoon sun was illuminating the landscape, enriching it colours. The wind was moving the clouds fast; one minute I was drenched by a shower, the next I was photographing a wonderful rainbow. I also spent some time photographing the many flowers around me, framing them with a little bit of the background to provide some context. The dramatic light was available, and I was making the most of it.

Foz beach at low tide.
Catching the sun.
Folded rocks in Foz beach.
Double rainbow. Assembled panorama with 3 photos.
Low tide along the coast.
Long exposure of the coastline between Foz and Almograve beaches.
Moving sea and clouds.

I stayed in the area until sunset, photographing the seascape under the fast changing light conditions. I had with me a wide angle lens and a short telephoto lens, and I used both to frame a bit differently. In the horizon, the dark clouds and heavy rain showers were passing quickly, adding a bit of drama to the scene.

Passing rain.
Sunset.
Approaching clouds.
Soft sunset.

I walked back to the car park near Almograve beach already at night, but I was glad to have visited this location with such interesting weather conditions. No matter how many times I return to this area, I often come back with some new interesting photos. And if not, I always enjoy walking along these dune trails.