In the heart of the Vicentina coast

The Vicentina coast in southwest Portugal is considered one of the remaining “wild coasts” in Europe. Together with the Alentejo coast to the north, it is part of a Natural Park. I wrote about it before, for example in this previous post from April 2021:

This coastal region is famous, amongst other things, for its beaches (many of them only accessible by footpaths or 4WD vehicles), the majestic tall cliffs dropping into the ocean, and the many species of birds. It is also very popular with surfers, who visit the area all year round. There are several walking paths that belong to the Rota Vicentina network, which are one of the best ways to explore the region. I have recently walked along route 24, a circular trail path the connects the town of Vila do Bispo to the coast and back. Along the way, it is possible to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in the area, like Barriga, Cordoama, and Castelejo. The distance is 15.5 km, which takes around 5 hours to walk at a normal pace.

Map showing trail number 24 of the Rota Vicentina (in orange color).

I normally do not carry much photo gear in these walks, but this time it was different. I knew I was going to need a wide-angle lens, besides my normal standard lens. I also wanted a tripod, for some late afternoon shots. So I packed my Fujinon 14mm and 35mm lenses, plus the Fujifilm X-PRO3 and X-T30 cameras. Still, the whole gear was still pretty light and fitted in my trekking backpack nicely.

The landscape in this coastal area is characterized by a large plateau at around 120 m above sea level. However, this flat terrain is a bit misleading, because there are several creeks that have, through time, cut deep and narrow valleys in the topography. The first few kilometres of the trail cross this plateau, along rural countryside, and where the vegetation is short. The winds are strong here, so the trees do not grow very tall. Pine trees and shrubs are common.

The countryside, and the sea in the distance.

After a while, the path turns westwards, towards the sea, before arriving at Barriga beach. This part of the walk is wonderful, as the coastal plateau abruptly descends to the beach. The vertical cliffs are made of black Paleozoic rocks, in strong contrast with the light colored sand and the deep blue of the ocean water.

View of Barriga beach.
Along the trail.
On the Barriga beach.

When the tide is low, it is possible to walk from Barriga to Cordoama, as the beaches are connected. But today I wanted to keep to the trail, so after visiting Barriga, I turned back inland. This was the first steep ascent in the walk, going back to the top of the plateau, but the view is wonderful. One of the highlights of this route is when the path reaches the coast again, affording a fantastic view of Cordoama and Castelejo beaches to the south, and the Carrapateira headland to the north.

Trail marker at the top of the Cordoama cliff.
View of Cordoama beach from the top of the cliff.
The trail reaches the coast at Cordoama.
Tall cliffs, small people.

The beach is a good place to rest and have a picnic lunch. A few surfers are around, trying the waves. This is a long stretch of connected beaches, which in the past was only accessible by dirt roads. Today, there are narrow tarmac roads that start in Vila do Bispo and come to Cordoama and Castelejo.


From here, the trail goes up again to the top of the cliff, in a steep ascent. There are some rough parts with loose rocks, so be careful. Once in the top, you will be in the Cordoama viewpoint, where there is a small car park. My plan was to complete the trail and come back at sunset for a few more photos. From this point onwards, the walk is easy, leaving the tarmac road a few hundred meters away, to cross the Castelejo pine forest. This part of the trail is also nice, because this forest is a preserved area, with relevant local fauna and flora species.

The town of Vila do Bispo at the end of the route.

Returning to Vila do Bispo, I rested a few minutes in the nice café near the market. If you are hungry I can recommend a local delicious pie, made with three regional ingredients: carob, figs, and almonds. After this resting stop, I drove to another local landmark, Torre da Aspa, the highest place of the Algarve coast, at 140 m above sea level. You need to drive along a dirt road, which may not be in a very good condition, so after a while I parked and decided to walk. It is an easy walk, so soon I was again looking at the ocean below. There is also a curious abandoned house, which belonged to the coastal police a few years ago. I explored the area for some time, being careful when approaching the edge of the cliffs. In several places, there is a sheer vertical drop into the sea.

Coastal cliffs neat Torre da Aspa.
Coastal cliffs near Torre da Aspa.

From this location, if you look south, you will see the Sagres headland, with the lighthouse of Cabo São Vicente, and the Sagres fort. From here, facing the endless ocean, Henry the Navigator coordinated the beginning of the Age of Discoveries many centuries ago. Looking north, I saw below the better part of the iconic Vicentina coast. It is a wonderful place to spend some time enjoying the view, and to use your binoculars if you have them. You will even be able to see the Arrifana beach about 30 km to the north. It was funny to realize that I was above the cliffs that I had crossed earlier, during the trail. In fact, it was possible to see the entire area that I had walked earlier.

View of Cordoama beach from Torre da Aspa, the highest point in the Algarve coast.

I still wanted to catch the sunset at the Cordoama viewpoint, so I returned to the car and drove back there. During the last couple of hours, a few clouds had appeared, which added interest to the sky in the photos. At the end of the day, I was happy to have visited this region again, and for sure I will be back to walk a few more trail routes.

View of Cordoama beach at sunset.

Walking around Arrifana beach

The Arrifana beach, located in the municipality of Aljezur in Portugal’s southwest coast, is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph. Over the years, I have returned many times, during all seasons. The beach, located in a large bay surrounded by tall dark cliffs, is really beautiful. As many other beaches along this coast, it is popular with surfers all year round, thanks to its waves.

During a recent visit, I wanted to photograph the beach from the top of its southern cliff, which can only be reached via some narrow dirt trails that diverge from the main Rota Vicentina route that passes nearby, connecting the towns of Aljezur and Vila do Bispo. After leaving this route, I explored the area in the top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean, trying to find some nice view points. The weather was good, with blue sky and some clouds.

After walking up a steep hill, I was rewarded with wonderful views not only towards Arrifana to the north, but also towards the south. This costal region is part of a Natural Park, with the tall rocky cliffs dropping vertically into the ocean below. There are some good locations to enjoy the view and make a few photos, but some care is required under windy conditions.

The Vicentina coast south of Arrifana.
Wild coast.

It is simply magical to admire Nature’s work, and imagine the tectonic forces that have squeezed these Paleozoic rocks into such complex folded domains. Today, the erosive forces of the sea, the wind, and the rain, keep pounding these rocks.

Cliffs and waves.
Endless view. There are several beaches along the coast (like Vale Figueira and Carrapateira), some only accessible by dirt road.
Boulder and layers.

As the sunset was approaching fast, I walked back towards the look out point over Arrifana. I had with me two lenses, one wide angle and one standard, and I used both. Facing north, the wind was stronger, so I had to make sure my tripod was firmly set. It is possible to walk along the top of the cliff, exploring several ledges that offer good view points to the north over the beach.

Arrifana beach.
Boulder, cliffs, and beach.
Sunset time.

This was an excellent afternoon walk in this beautiful area, at the heart of the Vicentina coast.

The stranded boat

In December 1996, the Dutch boat Klemens got stranded in a small beach near Vila Nova de Milfontes, in the southwest coast of Portugal. This is a strange story, and to this day no one really knows why the boat ended up on the beach. Also, no one has reclaimed or salvaged the ship, so today the Klemens is a sort of tourist attraction. I had not visited this beach for several years, so I recently returned to see how the rusty boat remnants were faring.

A few years later, the ship’s hull has been broken in two, and the rusty remains continue to be battered by the sea.

The Klemens’ final resting place, in the Patacho beach near Milfontes.

When the tide is low, it is possible to go down to the beach to get a really close look. I made several photos, while trying to dodge the waves. Still, I could not avoid getting my feet wet. The rusty color under the near sunset light was quite strong.

Rusting away.
Crashing waves.
Rising tide.

With the rising tide, I left the beach, to make a few more photos from the top of the cliffs. Then I simply sat on the ground and enjoyed the sunset.

From above.
Sunset quiet.
Colorful clouds at sunset.
At day’s end.

On the beach

I have visited the Brejo Largo beach, near Almograve (in southwest Portugal), so many times, that I have lost count. I still remember my first visit, around 40 years ago, as a teenager; back then, the beaches along this coastline were basically empty of people. Not so today, of course, but they have not lost their beauty and uniqueness.

Brejo Largo can be reached by foot, or driving along a dirt track that is sometimes challenging. Me, I still prefer to walk there from the village of Longueira, because the countryside is nice, with some farmland and pasture hugging the coastal sand dunes. One other reason for walking is that sometimes there are surprises along the way. Like the small pink flower that I found growing in the dune.

Dune flower.

My favourite time of the year to visit is probably Autumn and Winter, when the sunset is early and the light is softer. This time I arrived a couple of hours before sunset, and given that the tide was low, there were plenty of little rocky coves and tidal pools to explore. The low tide also exposed a few interesting volcanic lodes that have been intruded in the schist during the opening of the Atlantic ocean.

Overview of Brejo Largo beach, looking south.
Volcanic lode intruded in rocks.

In the last few years, this coastal area has seen a lot of sand being accumulated, creating different beach profiles and burying many of the previously outcropping rocks. Still, there are many rocks that still poke through the sand, creating the possibility of interesting foreground to background compositions. This means I was busy putting my Fujinon 14mm lens to good use.

Low tide.
Following the volcanic intrusion.

Walking along the beach, I made a few photos of the small tidal water rivulets running in the wet sand. Sometimes the soft wet sand played some tricks and my feet would be buried in it, but it was a small price to pay.

Tidal pools.

This time, the sky was clear, with no clouds, which makes it less interesting. Still, it was a nice blue colour and crisp, so I ended up including a sliver of it in my photos. As the sunset approached, the light became warmer, bathing the cliffs and the sand in wonderful golden tones.

Reflected cliffs.
Low tide sunset.

The only other person I saw was a fisherman, who ended up appearing in one of my sunset photos.

Fisherman at sunset.

Once the sun was gone, I slowly made my way back up the cliff. The wind was picking up and was cooling rapidly, but I had time for a few extra photos, especially from the long grasses blowing on the top of the dune.

Wind on coastal grass.

It is difficult to stop photographing in this place, because new things are always drawing the attention. At dusk, I was already close to Longueira, when I stopped again to photograph the lights above (Venus) and below (Almograve village). I know that I will return to this beach many times more, probably making similar photos to the ones I have made before; but that is fine to me, because the important thing is to experience the nature and the beauty of the place.

Venus at dusk

From Odeceixe to the sea

This article is about another trail that I have walked recently, and that belongs to the Vicentina route network. It is (circular) route number 14, and starts in the village of Odeceixe (see map below).

Map of trail number 14 of the Vicentina route, in southwest Portugal.

The path goes through diversified landscapes, mixing in rural and coastal scenery. Odeceixe overlooks the valley of the river Seixe, whose source lies in the Algarve foothills. Only a few kilometres to the west, the river reaches the Atlantic ocean in the famous beach of Odeceixe. The interaction between the land and the sea gives rise to unique ecosystems and to a way of life that combines farming and fishing.

The first few hundreds metres of the trail cross the village, leading all the way up to the windmill. The narrow streets and typical houses have their own charm. From here, the view opens up over the valley. It is worth taking some time to admire the scenery.

Typical Odeceixe street.
Panorama of the Seixe river valley, assembled from several photos.
Panorama of Odeceixe village, with the windmill on top of the hill. Assembled from several photos.

Leaving the village behind, the next leg of the trail crosses some pine forests and farms. Here and there, a few cows are grazing in the fields. Making a living from the land and the sea is difficult, and the local economy is increasingly dependent on tourism.

Grazing cows along the trail.
Small farm.

The trail is well sign posted, but pay attention not to miss the 90 degree turn to the right, that leads to the coast. From here, the path follows a narrow tarmac municipal road that crosses a land that becomes more influenced by the sea, with increasing coastal sand dunes and small trees that are bent by the wind. After reaching the coast, the trail becomes a simple sandy footpath, but it is easy to follow. The seascape is typical of the Vicentina coast, with tall dark cliffs and heavy seas.

Looking south along the coast, when the trail reaches the sea.

This section of the trail affords wonderful views of the cliffs and the sea, with the waves crashing against the rocks. These are very old rocks, that have been subjected to incredible tectonic forces and upheavals. It is worth spending some time admiring the numerous folded outcrops, especially if the tide is low.

Folded layers of rock.

The Odeceixe beach is always busy in the summer months, but in early December not so much. The view from the top is incredible, with the large area of golden sand ensconced between the cliffs. To the north, the mouth of river Seixe creates a small estuary.

Odeceixe beach.

From the beach the trail follows the valley, returning to the village. This is another wonderful walk that permits a close contact with one of the iconic areas of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast natural park.

Looking along the Seixe river valley, with the Odeceixe village in the distance.
An inventive add for selling donkeys.
Panorama of the river Seixe looking towards the sea, assembled from several photos.

Regarding photography, I always like to keep it simple on the trail. I only carried my Fujifilm X-Pro3 and Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens. When the scene required a wider angle of view, I took enough photos for later panorama assembly.

Old farm on the hill

During one of my recent photographic outings, I found an abandoned farm house on the top of a hill. I wrote about this area in one of my previous posts:

Even though I made colour photos at the time, I already anticipated that some of them could turn out good in black and white as well. So later on I decided to convert them to black and white, to confirm that impression. I thought the old and battered house would make an interesting subject in black and white, due to the character of the landscape and the quality of the late afternoon (side)light. I performed the conversion in Lightroom and Silver Effex, using simple profiles and merely adding a red filter to darken the deep blue sky. In turn, this would add more presence to the clouds, enhancing the depth of the images.

Fujifilm X-T3 and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Zeiss ZM C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens.
Fujifilm X-T3 and Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.

Either in colour or black and white, I think both interpretations reflect how I have experienced the area during this late Autumn afternoon. In my mind, these black and white versions provide a more dramatic and stark interpretation of the landscape.

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.

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.


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.

A walk along the coastline

These photos are from a walk along the coastline south of Cabo Sardão, in the Alentejo province of Portugal. I spent a few days in the area in early November, and took the opportunity to take some photo walks. On this particular day, the weather was poor, with heavy clouds and strong winds coming in from the ocean. Nevertheless, I packed my gear and drove to the Cabo Sardão lighthouse, for a sunset walk along the coastal trail.

There are several accessible viewpoints, but especially in windy days, it is important to be careful when approaching the edge of the cliffs. I wanted to portray the stormy conditions on that afternoon, with the elements incessantly pounding these very old rocks. The rocks themselves can be interesting subjects in a photo, because they are all folded and twisted, as a result of the tectonic forces that have uplifted and compressed them around 300 million years ago. I ended up using my neutral density filter to achieve longer exposure times, enhancing the special character of the seascape. I made good use of my wide angle lens (Fujinon 14mm f/2.8), which is perfect for these seascapes.

Given the weather conditions, there was not much color around, but occasionally a small break in the cloud cover would allow a sliver of warmer tone to be visible, adding a bit of life to the scene.

Endless cliffs. There is a white stork nest in the foreground, but the birds have left for warmer locations during Autumn and Winter.
A large boulder hangs on precariously over the precipice.
The folded rocks are a testimony to the immense forces that have shaped them.
The sea and wind relentlessly pound the coastline.
Tectonic forces have folded these rocks. The waves crashing against the coves made an ominous sound.
At the end of the day, feeling peaceful.

Right on cue with the sunset, the light came on in the lighthouse, providing a beacon in such bad weather. I stayed for a little while longer, making several photos of the building, and then drove back home. I really enjoy walking and photographing in this area, even with poor weather it has a unique character.

Turned on.
There is a football field close to the lighthouse.

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.