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.

The Vicentina coast in Spring

After a (second) long period of confinement, from January to April, the Portuguese government has started to ease mobility restrictions a little. As a result, I was able to spend a few days of vacation in my house in Longueira, in the Alentejo coast. As you know, this is one of my favorite regions in Portugal, and I often spend time there with the family, hiking, photographing, or merely resting.

The coastal area between Sines and Sagres is part of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, as illustrated in the figure below. During this trip I wanted to go back to a few places that I have not visited for several years, namely in the vicinity of the town of Vila do Bispo. This entire coast has many beautiful and wild beaches, some of difficult access, requiring driving through dirt tracks.

Simplified map of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park. Several places of interest are numbered.
On the way to Vila do Bispo, it is worth to stop in the village of Rogil.
Windmill at Rogil.

The geomorphology of the area is characterized by a high coastal plateau, a remnant of the latest deglaciation period, when the sea level dropped significantly, exposing the very old Paleozoic rock formations to erosion. The result is an almost flat and uplifted terrain, with gentle hills, here and there deeply cut by small rivers that flow towards the Atlantic ocean. There are many hiking trails that belong to the Rota Vicentina network; they are the best way to explore the area in detail, allowing magnificent views over the landscape.

Near Vila do Bispo, the Algarve coast reaches its highest altitude, at 156 m above sea level. Due to the strong and shifty winds, care is recommended when approaching the cliff’s edges. My first stop was at the Cordoama viewpoint, which is reachable by car. From here, looking North, one can see a series of beaches, like Cordoama, Carrapateira, and Arrifana. Looking towards the South, the magnificent beach of Castelejo lies down below.

As I wanted to try some long exposures, I walked a little bit downhill to get some protection from the wind. I then proceeded to set up my tripod as low as possible, and made several photos. The weather was nice, sunny but with some fast moving clouds; these beaches are very popular with surfers, which looked quite small when seen from this vantage point. For this trip I carried my Fujifilm kit, consisting of a couple of cameras and lenses.

The small village of Bordeira.
Cordoama beach.
Cordoama beach.
Castelejo beach.

One of the consequences of the constant wind is that there are hardly any trees near the shore. The land is covered with shrubs and small plants that are able to resist the climate. The rain quickly escapes towards the deeply cut creeks, leaving the soil dry. This leads to a normally bleak landscape, but during the Spring the hills come alive with myriad wild flowers of various colors. I spent some time photographing this colorful landscape, dotted with yellow, pink, purple, and white patches.

Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Fields near Vila do Bispo.
Old way of life, Vila do Bispo.

After leaving Cordoama, I drove north and stopped near the villages of Bordeira and Carrapateira. These are only separated by a couple of kilometres, and along the road the fields are covered with flowers, including red poppies, one of my favorites.

Spring fields.
Spring fields.

In Carrapateira, the beach is large and very sandy, located at the estuary of the small Bordeira river. Again, the (windy) view is wonderful and I spent the rest of the day time photographing, before driving back home to Longueira. There are so many things to see, photograph and experience in this region, that many more days are required to explore it fully. After the confinement, I was just happy to be able to return to the region, even if only for a short visit. This is truly a special place.

Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach.
Carrapateira beach and village.
Carrapateira beach.

Pego das Pias in the Spring

I recently had the chance to revisit another favorite place of mine, Pego das Pias, in Odemira. I wrote about it before:

My previous visits were made either in the Summer or during early Autumn, so the Torgal river was mostly dry, with no flowing water. However, this time I visited in early April, after a Winter with abundant rainfall. My expectation was to find the river bed with plenty of water, and I was not disappointed. This small river runs along a narrow valley surrounded by high hills; in the Spring, the vegetation is luxuriant and green, with many cork oak, pine and ash trees, among others. After hiking a few hundred meters along the trail, the only sound comes from bird song and the wind blowing through the trees.

After a while, another sound becomes perceptible, and that is of running water. I head to the river bed, which is surrounded by trees and ferns. Setting up the tripod, I start making some photos, framing the small river and its banks. The weather is overcast, which is good to tame the scene’s contrast. There are also many flowers along the way, covering the schist terrain: rock rose, marigolds, and many others.

Along the river bed.
Spring time greenery.
Lush greens.
Fresh flowers.
Reflections.
Tree roots.

I finally arrive at the large pool of Pego das Pias, having found no other person along the way. The sense of isolation and being only surrounded by nature is quite dominant. The large quartzite rock that lies in the middle of the pool casts its reflection in the quiet waters, which makes for a nice photo. The river here becomes trapped between the quartzite rocks, that have been cut by water over millennia.

Pool reflection.
Waiting.
Small flowers.
Inside the canyon.
Flowers and rocks.
One of the “pias”, an erosion feature (lower bottom left).

I walk a bit further upstream, where several rocks have created a few small rapids. The water is fresh and clear, a perfect habitat for the elusive otter, that only comes out at night. I make more photos framing the river, and playing with exposure times to achieve different flowing effects in the water. Before heading back, I simply sit down overlooking the pools and relaxing. This is indeed a wonderful place, and I am glad I could see the transformation brought on by the presence of abundant water and Spring.

Flowing water upriver.
Rushing.
After the rain.

In terms of photographic gear, I only carried my two Fujifilm cameras and couple of lenses, one wide angle and one telephoto. Plus the tripod, of course.

Spring is here.
Pink bell flowers.
“Esteva” in bloom.

Close to home

After one month under confinement due to the third wave of the pandemic in Portugal, and with probably another month to go, it has been difficult to make any sort of photography. Compounding this, the weather has been bleak, with overcast skies and lots of rain. Still, I periodically check the weather and tide forecasts, for possibilities near my home.

Because I live near the coast on the outskirts of Lisbon, in Carcavelos, there are several beaches within walking distance of my house. A few days ago, I finally had the chance to make a small outing and take some photos during the sunset. The location is about 3 km from home, where one small creek reaches the ocean, with the water dropping off the cliffs. This is the ribeira de Caparide, and due to the recent rain, there was plenty of flowing water.

After finishing work, I simply packed my camera, lens, and tripod, and walked to this location. The weather was finally nice, with wispy clouds. The sea was still rough from a recent depression, with waves crashing against the cliffs. The coastline here has a rocky nature, which results in an interesting scenery. After reaching the place, I walked around a little, looking for possible places to set up the tripod. I tried some long exposures, but I also wanted to photograph the waves as they crashed against the rocks, casting out a good amount of spray.

It was quite good to be simply out of the house doing some photography. It helps me to keep my spirit doing these difficult times. As for gear, these photos were made with the Fujifilm X-S10 and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens.

Stay safe everyone!

Falling over.
Crashing.
Waves,
Sunset coast, with Cascais in the background.
Until tomorrow.
Flowing.

First trail in 2021- Santa Clara-a-Velha, Odemira

As I described in my previous essay, I spent the second weekend of January in the village of Longueira, on the Alentejo coast. I had the opportunity to make my first trail of this year in the Santa Clara-a-Velha region, in the interior of Odemira municipality. One of the highlights of this area is the large dam that exists near the village, which was built more than 50 years ago. I wrote about it in a post from 2019:

This particular trail is number 13 in the list of circular paths that belong to the Rota Vicentina. The full details can be found in the respective website:

https://rotavicentina.com/en/trilhos/santa-clara-to-the-lake/

Location map. The trail is the one on the right hand side of the map.

Whilst revisiting my records, I actually found out that this was the first trail I did in the region, back in February 2018. Since then, I have walked many more of them, but I have a fond memory of this one. Thus, 3 years later, I found myself again in a very cold morning in Santa Clara-a-Velha. After having a hot coffee in the local café to warm up a little bit, I started the walk near the church. With the typical white and strong blue colours of the Alentejo, the church was built in the 16th century. It was open, so I went to inside to admire the religious golden woodwork.

Inside Santa Clara-a-Velha church.
Inside Santa Clara-a-Velha church.

This interior region is already isolated and scarcely populated. The local economy, based on agriculture, cattle, and some tourism, has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. Hopefully all this will go away soon and people can return to appreciate the tranquility and the beauty of the area. After leaving the church, the path is parallel to the Mira river, following its northern bank. Because of the dam, which is upstream, the water is really quiet. The previous night was very cold, with freezing temperatures; as a consequence, there is heavy frost on the ground, with plants covered in ice crystals. I make some interesting photos along the way.

River Mira in Santa Clara-a-Velha.
Down by the river.
Farm along the trail.
Frozen field.
Frosted leaves.
Frosted leaves.

The first interesting stop is near the medieval Dona Maria bridge. The structure is not complete today, but it is possible to admire two large remaining arches. Again, a nice stop to make some photographs of the scenery. Continuing along the trail, the next few kilometres are a leisurely walk that follows the valley, surrounded by hills and agricultural fields and farms. This is a pleasant walk, enjoying the sunshine to warm up. After a while, we reach the bottom of the dam, a near vertical wall of rock. This is the first steep climb of the trail, but at the top we are rewarded by the magnificent view of the great blue lake. For those that want to spend a few more days exploring the region, there is a nice hotel that overlooks the lake.

Medieval bridge.
Old water well.
Along the trail, with the hotel at the top.
Wall.

I have seen this view many times before, but I am always impressed. Today, the strong blue colour of the sky and the water, surrounded by green vegetation and the earthly yellow and brown, result in a strong palette. From the wall, the path continues along the margin of the lake. There are several nice spots for a swim, should you be here in a warmer season. In fact, I normally come here during the summer. Today, I stop to rest a bit and have a picnic lunch. The wind is picking up, which enhances the cold even more.

View of the Santa Clara-a-Velha dam and lake.
Blowing in the wind.

The path is well marked and is easy to follow. After a while, there is a sharp turn to the left (west), and we face the second steep climb of the trail, which reaches the top of the hill. From this vantage point, the view is panoramic, over the surrounding mountains. It is possible to see a few isolated farm houses. To the south, the heights of the Serra de Monchique (the second highest mountain in continental Portugal) dominate. This is a part of the trail that I particularly enjoy, due to the rugged landscape. From here, the final leg of the journey is basically all the way down, back to Santa Clara-a-Velha.

Mountains along the trail. Monchique is the highest one on the horizon, on the left hand side.
Farm along the trail.
Back in Santa Clara-a-Velha.

Concerning photo gear on this walk, I merely carried the Fujifilm X-S10 (nice small camera indeed), plus the small Fujinon 23mm f/2 lens. I have also used a polarizer filter to help bringing up more detail in the distant hazy landscapes. A few days after this trail, we are now back in lockdown. I wish everyone to keep safe in these difficult times.