I have walked several trails of the Rota Vicentina since January, with a mix of new and old ones. After a few years of walking in this wonderful SW region, I have a few favorite routes, including this one. Looking at my records, it was the fifth time that I have walked this trail since 2019; in fact, I do this trail every year. So what makes this route so special? In my opinion, if you want to experience the character of the interior region of Odemira, this trail is perfect. It takes you along beautiful rural landscapes, where you can find very old cork oaks, typical farm houses, and panoramic views from the top of the hills.
Spring is a good time to visit, with the fields covered in green grass, and several wildflowers in bloom. Of course I had my camera with me, and of course it was a challenge to try and come away with different photos from the other visits… I have seen this landscape at the end of summer, when it is dry and brown, and at the end of winter, when it is wet and green. What follows is a collection of the photos I made during this latest visit, with my trusty Fujinon 33mm lens, a standard for the APSC format.
As I mentioned in my last blog entry, this month I have walked two routes of the Rota Vicentina for the first time. Today I want to write about route 19, which is located near the village of Bordeira, as indicated in the map below. It is actually located close to route 21 which I have described before, near Carrapateira.
This is one of the longest circular routes but it does not have any steep inclines, so it is easy going. The village of Bordeira is nested in the flank of a gentle hill, and has several interesting points, like its church, which dates from the middle of the 15th century.
Leaving Bordeira, the path quickly enters a forested area, where cork oaks predominate. The weather is slightly overcast, with the clouds acting like a giant umbrella, softening the light.
Near the middle of the trail, there is a nice valley which is covered in green grass, surrounded by large oak trees. There are also some flowers that have bloomed in the fields. I spend some time here, before resuming the walk.
My next stop is in a lake created by a small reservoir used for the cattle. The wind creates ripples in the surface of the water. I rest for a while and make a few photos.
The path continues to climb in a gentle fashion, until it reaches the top of the mountain. The wind is stronger now, and the vegetation is scarce; in the distance I can see a sliver of the ocean near the horizon. A good part of the walk goes along the top, before descending into another green valley.
As I approach a group of abandoned farms known as Samouqueira, I notice a couple of bikers on the road. I take the opportunity to make a few interesting photos. Once they disappear in the distance a complete silence descends again over the landscape.
From Samouqueira only a few easy going km remain until arriving back in Bordeira. This part of the walk follows the Bordeira valley, parallel to the black top road. This was without a doubt another excellent route to walk, and for sure I will return in the future.
Just a few days ago I had the opportunity of walking a couple of new (for me) circular routes in the Rota Vicentina. Today I want to describe my experience in route 21, which is located near the village of Carrapateira, in the western coast of Algarve. This is a popular destination, thanks to the several spectacular beaches in the vicinity, like Carrapateira, Amado, and Murração. There are several routes that follow the coastal areas, but this one heads off towards the mountainous interior (see map below).
Before arriving in Carrapateira, you will notice that the topography changes, with the appearance of rounded hills covered in short trees and shrubs. In between these hills there are valleys where ephemerous creeks run after rainy periods. It had rained a few days before I walked this trek, so the landscape was greener than usual, and even some flowers had appeared.
After parking the car in the village, it is easy to find the beginning of the trail. The initial km follow a dirt road that climbs gently between hilly terrain, before reaching the top of the first mountain; from here it is possible to see a few beaches in the distance. I make a few photos along the way, the day is sunny but cold, with crisp air and a stiff breeze. It is interesting to appreciate the dual nature of this region, characterized by the close proximity between the coastal and rural areas.
Continuing to walk inland, I arrive at a nice viewpoint that affords a fantastic view over the Serra Algarvia, with the Monchique mountain in the far distance. The nearby mountains are covered with cork oaks, pines, and arbutus. From here, the trail descends steeply into the Vilarinha valley, where a few houses make up a small village. Some cattle is grazing in the fields. This is a wonderful part of the walk, as it crosses lush land. The only people I meet are a couple of cyclists and a farmer tending to the cows.
After crossing Vilarinha, I find a nice spot to have a picnic lunch and I rest for a while. The rest of the trail continues along the top of the hills, affording some good views of the surrounding landscape, before descending into Carrapateira.
After walking this route for the first time, I can say that it became one of my favourites. On the way back home, I made two extra stops, the first one in the iconic beach of Arrifana, and the second one in the windmill of Rogil, another local landmark. Arrifana is simple a beautiful beach, more so in a winter afternoon, with only the surfers around. I waited there for the sunset, and made several photos.
I was lucky to be at Rogil a few minutes after sunset, when the sky was filled with soft pink and purple colours. It was an excellent way to finish this wonderful day.
This is one of the many routes of the Rota Vicentina network in southwest Portugal, and passes through the villages of Santa Clara-a-Velha, Sabóia and Totenique. The area is characterized by a rural landscape, where small farms can be found dispersed in the hills. Details can be found in the following link:
A general map is shown below as a quick reference for this 13.5 km walk.
The trail starts in Santa Clara-a-Velha, a small village near the river Mira, following the river valley along the first half of it. You can park your car near the tourism office and perhaps get some supplies from the local café. From here, the path crosses the river in a pleasant wooded area. There has been a drought in the last couple of years, so this part of the river is normally dry, but due to recent rainfalls, the water is running again.
The first few kilometres of the trail are easy to walk, crossing hilly terrain before arriving at the Santa Clara and Sabóia train station. From the top of a hill, the scenery is nice, with a succession of green valleys and mountains.
After so many months of drought, the rainfalls in December have changed the landscape completely. The ground is covered with green grass, and there are many patches of flowers. Looks like spring has arrived during the winter, a feeling that is reinforced by the balmy temperatures. Leaving the train station behind, the trail then crosses several farms located in a valley, and I stop here and there to make some photos.
Even though it is mid morning, the winter sun is low in the sky, and as I climb the shaded side of a hill, I notice many spider webs in the ground. These are covered with water droplets from the night’s moisture and morning dew. Mushrooms are also conspicuous, and come in different varieties.
It is almost time for a picnic lunch, so I take a well deserved rest near the small group of houses that are known as Totenique. Most of them are abandoned, but the fields are still cultivated and there is some cattle grazing nearby. The name comes from the nearby creek, one of the river Mira subsidiaries. As I cross a small bridge, I notice the pattern of the sunlight’s reflection on the surface of the water, almost like dancing ripples.
The last part of the trail traverses the Totenique valley, before a steep climb reaches the top of the mountain. From here there is a nice view over the valley to the west, and it is an appropriate time to take a breather.
It is also worth admiring the view towards Santa Clara-a-Velha in the east, before descending into the village, where this circular trail ends.
When I visit this place, I like to go to the Santa Clara-a-Velha dam, where the water from the river Mira is captured, forming one of the largest lakes in Portugal. With the approach of sunset, the temperature dropped a bit, and a stiff wind started to blow, creating ripples on the surface of the water. I was glad to see that, compared to summertime, the level of the water seems to have risen about 5 or 6 metres, which is great news.
Another local attraction worth visiting is the Dona Ana bridge, a medieval structure close to Santa Clara-a-Velha. This is an old stone bridge over the river Mira, but unfortunately only half of the span remains. Depending on the season and amount of water in the river, it may be more or less difficult to walk down to the bank. This time I was lucky, as the river had plenty of water.
As always, in terms of my photography, I like to keep things simple. For this walk I carried only my wide angle (Fujinon 16mm f/1.4) and standard (Fujinon 33mm f/1.4) lenses in my backpack. This was another happy day in one of the trails of the Rota Vicentina.
I found myself spending a few days after Christmas in the southwest coast of Portugal. After a couple of weeks of heavy rain, the weather became sunnier, so it was perfect for walking in the many local trails of the Rota Vicentina. One of my favourite routes is number 24, a circular path that starts in the town of Vila do Bispo and heads to the coast. I have done this trail a few times before, but I like it so much that I don’t mind repeating it. In fact, this route takes you into direct contact with the essence of this land: a high coastal plateau characterized by hills and deeply cut ravines, leading to some of the best wild beaches in Europe.
The following map shows the trail, which is around 16 km long.
The morning is sunny, and even though it is winter, the temperature is forecasted to reach 23 Celsius, which feels more like springtime. After the rain the land is covered with green grass and yellow flowers; it does look like spring. The trail is easy to follow, and after a couple of hours, it starts to approach one of its highlights, the descent towards Barriga beach. It is impossible not to stop to admire the view, with the hills transitioning abruptly to the azure of the ocean.
Take some time to stroll in the beach and enjoy the surroundings. The dark schist cliffs are still covered by the morning mist. When the tide is low, it is possible to walk for several kilometres along the sand.
Leaving Barriga beach, the trail climbs up the steep hills, until it reaches the second highlight of the day, the viewpoint over Cordoama beach. From here it is possible to admire a good part of the Vicentina coast, starting at Arrifana in the north, and extending into Castelejo and beyond, to the south.
These beaches are a fantastic place to spend the rest of the day, but after a picnic lunch, it is time to return to the trail. It is a steep ascent from the beach to the top of the hill, but the view from is well worth the effort. From here, the rest of the walk is easy, crossing a quiet woodland in a secluded valley, before arriving at Vila do Bispo.
On the way from Vila do Bispo to my house, I stopped at another one of my favourite beaches, Arrifana. I wanted to make some photos at sunset, so I parked the car, and went looking around, trying to find a good viewpoint. There are several places from where to make good photos looking down onto the beach, but I chose one that is not so obvious, near the edge of the cliff. Even though I have been here so many times, I always feel elated every time I return. The tall dark cliffs, with their folded rock layers, are constantly buffeted by the waves.
This coastal region is a treasure trove for Nature lovers, and is beautiful all year round. Walking the many available trails is the perfect way to experience it. A final mention about the photo gear I had in my backpack, which included a wide angle lens (Fujinon 16mm f/1.4) and a standard lens (Fujinon 33mm f/1.4).
December in Portugal has seen a lot of rain (finally!) across the country. In the beginning of the month I spent a few days in my house in the Alentejo coast, putting some time aside for photography. The weather was overcast for the most part of my stay, but I decided to go out and photograph in Vila Nova de Milfontes just before sunrise. I really like to stroll along the beach, where the river Mira reaches the Atlantic.
What follows is a collection of the photos I made that morning, using just one camera (Fujifilm X-T30) and one lens (Fujinon 16-80mm f/4), plus the tripod. I walked along the sand near the river bank, photographing the village and the scenery as the morning light shone through the clouds. In about one hour, the blue hour transitioned into the golden hour, creating nice conditions to photograph.
After visiting the Gerês and São Mamede natural parks, I have returned to my usual forays in the southwest coast of Portugal, namely in the region around the villages of Longueira and Almograve. I enjoy walking along this coastal region all year round, but Autumn is a special season. Day time becomes shorter and the light acquires a special quality, as the sun sits lower in the horizon. Temperatures during the day are still balmy and nice for long walks on the nearby beaches. Therefore, I decided to visit the beaches of Brejo Largo and Almograve on two different afternoons. Conditions were great, with low tide occurring at sunset.
Brejo Largo, a few kilometres north of Almograve, is a beautiful beach, that can be easily reached by foot. On these walks I like to carry only a camera and lens, plus the tripod. This time around I carried my Fujifilm X-T30 camera and 16-80mm f/4 zoom lens. This offers a great flexibility for composing when walking along the coastal cliffs, where the room to maneuver is scarce. Photographic subjects are abundant, from exotic rock formations to tide pools.
I spent a couple of hours making several photos along the beach and in the nearby rocky coves. At sunset, the colours became quite vivid, especially in the clouds. After a few more photos, I walked back home; it had been an excellent afternoon.
A couple of days later I went to Almograve and photographed along the coast between the beach and the small fishing inlet of Lapa de Pombas. This part of the coastline is full of rocky coves and small bays, with a large number of folded layers of rock. In the low angle and warm light of the afternoon, they make for interesting subjects. The surrounding sand dunes have been consolidated throughout geological time by iron oxide cement; in places they exhibit some strong yellow and orange colours. This contrast between the colourful rocks and the blue of the ocean is enhanced close to sunset time and can work very well in these coastal photos. Arriving at Lapa de Pombas I found the local group of cats lazing in the sun.
Sunset is always a nice time for photography, but the light does not last for long. I made a few photos in Almograve beach, also including the Moon rising over the cliffs.
Even after photographing these places for decades, I always enjoy returning to them; there is always something new to discover.
On this second part, I will summarize two days that include visits to the iconic villages of Marvão and Castelo de Vide, plus a few other interesting places.
Marvão is probably my favourite village in the region, as it lies at around 900m of altitude. It has been the site of many fights between Christians and Moors, during the early 12th century, and after that between Portugal and Spain, during border disputes. The medieval town was erected over a previous Arab fortress, which was built by Maruane in the year 884. So, as you can imagine, the cultural heritage is quite significant. The medieval houses are completely encircled by the ramparts, with the main castle to the North. Walking along the ramparts, it is possible to have a small idea of life in those ancient times. It is also possible to admire the eagles and vultures flying above the surrounding landscape. Besides the castle, there are several old churches and a museum that are worth visiting. The surrounding hills are covered with chestnut and hazelnut trees, which represent an important income for the local inhabitants. Finally, if you have the time, take the walk along PR1, a trail that connects Marvão to Passagem via a medieval road.
As you walk through the narrow streets, you will find surprises at every corner: small statues, old windows, interesting doors, and fountains.
From across the valley, the clouds had been piling up in the heat of the afternoon, and soon thunderstorms could be heard. I made a couple of photos and later on decided to convert them to black and white for the added sense of drama.
The sky was clouded, but I had hope that as the sunset approached, some light would break through the cloud cover. I was lucky and a few minutes later there was a brief moment of sunshine, and the warm light of the late afternoon illuminated the village.
I always enjoy a visit to Marvão, and this time was no exception. Leaving it behind and driving down the mountain, I made a final stop to photograph it from below. From here, Marvão looks like a perfect extension of the massive rock formation over which it was built.
The following day was dedicated to Castelo de Vide, another medieval town and highlight of the park. Lying at the top of a hill at around 500m altitude, it is almost like a sister to Marvão, as it shares a lot of common history. This history can be seen and felt walking along its narrow streets, which rise up to the large keep. The medieval quarter inside the ramparts is very well preserved, with its numerous medieval doors. Under the protection of the castle, the old Jewish quarter is also preserved, and the synagogue is today a museum. This region played an important role during the 16th century, when the Jews were expelled from the Iberian peninsula, and this heritage is still alive today.
Attesting to the prehistoric occupation of the region, there are two megalithic monuments in the vicinity that are quite interesting. The first is the dolmen of Melriça, which is located 6km away from Castelo de Vide. This funerary monument was first discovered in the late 1800’s, and today it lies in a farm.
The other prehistoric site is the menhir of Meada, and is not very far away. It was discovered in 1965, and it it is the tallest in the Iberian peninsula, with 7.52m. It has been dated to the 6th millennium B.C., which makes it the oldest in the world.
After this rich immersion in prehistoric times, why not enjoy a swim in some of the park’s waterfalls? A nice one is the São Julião waterfall, hidden in a narrow valley after the small village of Porto de Espada, south of Marvão. Along the road, you can admire some of the largest chestnut trees of the region. You can park the car at the end of a dirt road, and take a short but steep walk down into the valley. The sound of the water is like a magnet in the hot afternoon. A swim in the refreshing water was a great way to end this day, and the wonderful trip in this natural park.
A final word about the photographic gear used during this trip will be quite brief. I only carried one camera and one lens with me, the Fujifilm X-T30 and the Fujinon 16-80mm f/4 lens. This makes an ideal travel combination, for low weight, reliability, image quality, and flexibility. I only had to use the tripod for dawn and dusk really low light photos.
The Natural Park of the Serra de São Mamede (PNSSM) is located in the Province of Alto Alentejo, next to the border with Spain. It is a protected mountain area with around 56,000 ha. This natural park is characterized by some gentle hills in the south, but towards the north it will rise up to more than 1,000 m, with some impressive quartzitic crests. It is home to unique and endangered fauna and flora, with particular relevance to several birds of prey.
I first visited this area more than 30 years ago, while doing geological fieldwork. I was immediately captivated by its beauty, and have returned several times since. There are many places of interest to visit, as the region has been settled since prehistoric times; there are important megalithic sites, Roman ruins in Ammaia, and the impressive medieval castles of Marvão and Castelo de Vide. This time I spent 3 days, and have visited the villages of Ouguela, Esperança, Marvão, and Castelo de Vide. I will break this article into two parts, for sake of simplicity.
We can start our journey in the small town of Esperança, in the south of the park. As usual, I took a couple of walks before sunrise and close to sunset, as the landscape is very beautiful, with rural fields where animals graze amongst the typical oak trees of Alentejo. There are several wine houses and vineyards in the region, famous for its wine. Nearby you can also visit the prehistoric site of Lapa dos Gaivões, where 3,000 years ago our ancestors took shelter under a huge quartzitic slab.
Ouguela is one of those places where time seems to have stopped. A small castle sits at the top of a hill, with the ramparts encircling a few houses. It’s history goes back at least to the 13th century, and has endured a lot of border disputes between Portugal and Spain. Today, one enters the village to reach a central square, where silence dominates. A few people still live there, and the surrounding fields are planted with olive trees.
This was a perfect way of ending this first day of the trip.
This final instalment will address days 5 and 6 of our trip. The fifth day of the trip turned out to be a very busy one. The plan was to visit some of the iconic villages of the PNPG, such as Soajo, Lindoso, and Castro Laboreiro. With a stop in between at the famous Senhora da Peneda sanctuary. I woke up before sunrise for a walk in Sobredo; I really enjoy grabbing the camera and simply go out into the fresh air and early morning light. Life in the rural countryside starts well before dawn, with the cattle being led to pastures, and the farmers tending to their crops. I walked up to the main road to enjoy the views over the surrounding landscape, with fog in the valleys and the first light illuminating the flanks of the mountains.
After breakfast, it was time to leave and head to Soajo, a small town rich in heritage and culture. Soajo is known for its “espigueiros”, small granite “houses” on top of stacks, where traditionally the corn cobbs were stored, away from the reach of animals. The group of espigueiros lies at the top of a granite slab at the entrance of the village. But Soajo has more interesting things to see, so do walk around for a while in the maze of narrow streets.
From here it is a short drive to another very interesting town, Lindoso, close to the border. Here, do not miss the castle and the group of espigueiros next to it. There is a rich history of disputes along the border, and for sure this castle played an important role, with its prominent location at the top of the hill.
Leaving Lindoso, we drove to Castro Laboreiro, located to the north. The shortest road took us through Spain, and close to the ghost village of Aceredo. Due to the scarcity of rain, the water level in Lindoso dam is so low that this town, once under water, is now emerged.
Castro Laboreiro is another place that has its roots in prehistoric times. Located in a high altitude plateau in the serra da Peneda, above 1,100m, the village is well known for its castle (dated from the XII century) at the top of a granite mountain, several waterfalls, and the Castro Laboreiro autochthonous dog race. This is an old race of dogs from this region, specifically bred for the task of herding cattle in the mountains. There are many interesting places to visit, but do not miss the short trail to the castle; at a first glance, the castle is hard to notice, because it can be easily mistaken for another group of granite formations. From its top, the surrounding view is amazing, and the only companions are the wind and the song of the birds.
There are several nice places for a picnic lunch and a rest, after which we head to the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda, hidden amongst the flanks of the mountain. As always, the distance is not great, but the road is quite twisty. I remember visiting 30 years ago, when several of these roads were not yet black top. The sanctuary is located below a large granite block and a waterfall.
The day was already long, and we still had to go to Sistelo to spend the next couple of nights. Visiting these iconic places was a wonderful experience. The day ended in Sistelo, a village that became quite popular in the last few years, after winning a national contest of rural villages. Located in the lush green valley of the river Vez, Sistelo can be a center point for some great trekking, which we would try the following day.
We wanted to walk along one of the trail paths that connected the village to the high altitude “brandas”, or settlements where people take the cattle during the summer, to avoid the higher temperatures down in the valleys. Sistelo is also well known for the terraces built into the flanks of the mountains, where corn is planted. The trail starts in the main square, and initially follows the river Vez in a shaded forest. After a while, it starts to rise in altitude, with great views over the surrounding landscape.
Once at the top, the path crosses the Branda do Alhal, where some of the houses are still in use today. The day is hot, so we benefit ourselves from the lower temperatures up here.
A few kilometres more and we enter a completely different world, a forest so dense that the light barely reaches the ground. It feels like a magical place, straight out of a brother’s Grimm story. Even a white dog appears to enhance the feeling. There is a sense of mystery while crossing this wonderland.
After leaving the forest behind, the trail descends the mountain towards Sistelo. Once we are back in the village, we rest during lunchtime, saving energy for the afternoon, where the plan was to visit another iconic area of the PNPG, namely the heart of the serra da Peneda and a few of its waterfalls and lakes.
One of the best things in Gerês is the opportunity to see the “garranos”, or local horses that are still raised in complete freedom. As we were driving in the Gavieira plateau towards the viewpoint of Tibo, we saw a herd of them near the road. I stopped the car and made a few photos. They were grazing side by side with cattle, with some running in the fields.
The viewpoint of Tibo is located at the top of the mountain, and affords a panoramic view over the entire serra da Peneda. The Senhora da Peneda sanctuary can be seen in the distance, with the villages of Gavieira, Rouças, and Tibo, a bit closer. The entire landscape is made of impressive granite formations, including the Fraga das Pastorinhas, an impressive granite wall that is also know by rock climbers as the “Portuguese Yosemite”. This is really an incredible view.
After admiring this view, we drove to Tibo, where we left the car and took the footpath to the valley. We wanted to find one of the (still) hidden lakes of the area, the so-called Druids lake. The trail is not signaled, but follows a few local paths along the woods. The name of the lake is appropriate, as very soon we are crossing some wonderful magical woods, with large chestnut and oak trees. The shaded path is a welcome respite after the days’ heat. Soon we are walking near the Peneda river, that has a few waterfalls here and there. Looking up, we can see the impressive Fraga das Pastorinhas. Even though the valley is already in the shade, and the water is cold, I can not resist to take a swim. What a wonderful place.
At the end of the day, we are back in Sistelo. Our trip is coming to an end, as the following day we would be driving home. But again, I like to wake up early to check the light, and when I leave the house the next morning, the valley of Sistelo is covered in fog. I grab the camera and make a few photos with this weather. The fog filters the light and enhances the greens of the foliage.
I hope you have enjoyed tis 3-part instalment that describes a one week trip in the PNPG, a truly wonderful region. A final word about the photographic equipment that I have used during this trip. As I knew flexibility would be very important, I chose to carry 2 cameras, each with its own zoom lens. As you know, these days I use Fujifilm, so the list was: Fuji XT3 with 70-300mm f/4.5-f/5.6 lens, and Fuji XT30 with 16-80mm f/4 lens. Both lenses feature image stabilization, which is very helpful to avoid using a tripod in many instances. But of course I also carried a small tripod to use when the light levels were low, or when I wanted to make some long exposures.