If you decide to spend some days, or simply visit, Milfontes during the Summer, you may think that it is a very busy place; negotiating the beach going crowds can be challenging, particularly in August. Even then, the little village at the estuary of the river Mira, in Alentejo, will surprise you with many interesting rewards, thanks to its beauty, pristine beaches, and friendly inhabitants.
However, it is outside of the busy season that Milfontes provides the best and most tranquil experiences. Enjoying the many treks both inland or along the coast; boarding a boat trip upriver along one of Europe’s least polluted rivers; or simply watching a sunset. Such are the simple but nice things to do in a quiet November afternoon. Recently, a short wooden walkway has been built along the northern margin of the river, just beneath the Castle; this allows easy access to the river, especially during low tide.
Such was my plan during my last visit a few days ago, that is, simply walk along the margin of the river, between the few boats that were ashore, and a couple of fishermen. At least one of the boats has been sitting there since 1998, when I first photographed it; now it is all but falling apart. Time almost seems to stand still, with the quiet waters reflecting the colours of the setting sun, and a few paddlers returning to the pier before nightfall. I just sit still, with the water lapping against the pier and the nearby boats, while the sun finally sets in the horizon, thus ending another day in the village that has earned the appropriate nickname of “Princess of Alentejo”.
The municipality of Odemira, in the coastal Alentejo region, is rich in trekking possibilities. In later years, an effort has been made to increase the number of sign – posted pedestrian circuits, which allow the visitors to get acquainted with a unique countryside. Odemira offers the possibility of experiencing the interior mountainous areas (or Serras) in close contact with the coastal regions. This brings together a very peculiar heritage and ways of living, as the local population masters both farming, animal husbandry, and fishing, for example.
In this instance I am going to write about a trek I recently made near the small village of Troviscais, well inside the mountainous countryside. This circuit is labelled as PR3 ODM, is 11.5 km long, and is categorized as “difficult” due to the topographic profile (from 200m high to 0m, and back to 200m).
The trip starts in this village, which is surrounded by cork oak and holm oak fields, interspersed with oaks that provide the acorn feed for the famous porco preto breed (black pig). This type of Mediterranean farming landscape is being revitalised, in opposition to the vast plantations of eucalyptus trees, which are less fire resistant. They also provide the sort of smaller scale production that is typical of the local communities.
It had rained the previous day, so everything looked fresh and with vivid colours. The path starts to climb towards the highest point of the trek, which offers great views to the southern Serras, climbing in the haze towards Monchique (at 900m altitude) in the hazy distance. Somewhere nearby, peaceful cows graze in the pasture. One of the most interesting parts of the trip starts as we begin to descend towards the river Mira; this is a less used part of the rural path, taking us into a genuine Mediterranean wood, with abundant oaks and Arbutus trees. The latter hold abundant red and orange ripe fruits, which are very photogenic and tasty! The arbutus fruit, called medronho in Portuguese, is locally used to make a special aguardente, or brandy.
At the final approach to the river Mira, the path becomes more elusive, as it winds its way around several lagoons where oysters are cultivated. This is part of a recent (2013) project that reactivated an important activity from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Most of the cultivated oyster is from Japanese origin, the Cassostrea gigas. Yearly production is around 1,000 tonnes, and most of it is exported to France. It is interesting to see how the water from the river is diverted into artificial lagoons. The silence is only perturbed by the cries of the birds; by the way, this is a prime area for bird watching, with several species of migratory birds, such as the pisco-de-peito-azul (bluethroat). This stretch along the river is indeed one of the highlights of the trek, and is a great place to picnic, as we are halfway along the trip.
From the river, the path starts to climb again, crossing some ruined and abandoned houses, but also some new ones that are hidden in the woods. As we climb, the views over the river valley are beautiful. From this place, it is a straight walk back to Troviscais, under menacing and brooding skies that promise thunder and rain. Luckily, they were just that (menaces), and we managed to reach Troviscais as dry as we had left in the morning.
For those wanting to visit the area, below is the link of the website that describes the trek, and from which more information can be obtained. This is a highly recommended trek, with plenty of interesting things to see and experience, well in the heartland of the region of Odemira. A fine example of “country and farm life near the coast”. It is part of the longer Rota Vicentina, a network of treks that hugs the entire coastline of SW Portugal.
Finally, in terms of photographic gear, I travel light these days, and only took with me the following: Fuji X-Pro2 with 23 f2 lens; Fuji X-H1 and 56 f1.2 lens. Nothing beats the combination of a wide lens plus short telephoto lens.
The distance between Almograve and Lapa de Pombas is not big, at 2 km. There is even a dirt road along the coast connecting the beach with the small fishing inlet. It makes for a perfect lazy afternoon walk, admiring the beautiful coastline, where the cliffs are constantly being carved by the action of the sea and the wind.
The light during Autumn is always special, and after some recent rains, the colours of the sand dunes, rocks, and cliffs had seemingly taken a new life. Deep blue skies with some clouds and haziness also created some interesting light against the mist coming from the waves.
Gone are the summer crowds, so it is possible to enjoy the quietness of the place. There are the occasional fellow strollers, or fishermen trying their luck on the cliffs. This stretch of coastline holds many small coves, where often the geology controls the topography with abundant folding of the Palaeozoic rocks. As time passes by, erosion simply carves the rock and reveals the inner structure of the landscape in numerous folded strata. These make for very interesting shapes and textures, which are enhanced by the sidelight illumination.
Lapa de Pombas is a very simple and small fishing harbour, that holds maybe a couple of boats and some wood huts. The place was eerily quiet, with a spring nearby providing fresh water, plus some cats lazing in the steps and enjoying the warm sunshine. The aroma of the peppermint is pervasive – it is used in a local fish soup, adding a special taste.
Even though I know this part of the coast like the palm of my hand, every time I visit, it always provides something new. Otherwise, simply enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the place is more than enough to recharge our batteries and lift our spirits. Is there a better way to finish the day other than admiring the setting sun while seating on the cliff, perhaps with a drink?