Rota Vicentina

Shortening the cold, dark north European winter is becoming an ever more important objective for me and despite a January trip to Burma, I was getting desperate for some sustained good weather by the end of February.  I couldn't afford another long haul trip and after looking at its excellent website, the Rota Vicentina in SW Portugal seemed like the ideal alternative.



The total network - which includes the Historical Way and the Fishermen's Trail - includes some 350km of walking and if you don't have the time to do the whole thing, a variety of different itineraries can be put together.  It's a new trail, has only been established for three years, but is already attracting a lot of walkers with several companies, including Inntravel, promoting it.  The website provides detailed trip notes, GPS trails and information on accommodation and using it to put together a trip couldn't be easier.
On the beach just south from Porto Covo

I started my walk on the 11th of March at the northern end of the Fishermen's trail and finished at the Cabo de San Vicente 9 days later.
Constant noise from the sea

Based on my experience the Rota Vicentina is a really good easy season walking destination and I enjoyed great weather, particularly for the first 4 days along the Fishermen's trail.  SW Portugal has mild winters and in February, March and April the sun shines on average nearly 8 hours a day.  It does rain, but not that much and the wettest months are November and December. It can be warm, almost typical English summer weather and indeed sea temperatures off the coast are similar to those found in the North Sea in June/July.
A Fisherman on the Fishermen's Trail

The best walking was the Fishermen's Trail, which run's along the coast for four days from Porto Covo to Odeceixe and then as a series of add-ons to the Historical Way as it heads south to Cabo de San Vicente.  This is an excellent stretch of coastal walking and compares well, for example, with the Pembrokeshore Coastal Path.  Much of the walk is along cliff tops, made up of stunning multi-coloured rocks, and the views up and down the coast are spectacular.  Occasionally the route drops down to the beach and if you're used to swimming off the UK coast you might even be tempted into the water.
Swimming in March
Away from the coast the scenery is not as impressive.  Fairly flat it mixes sandy heath land with pine, evergreen oak (including cork oak) and even eucalyptus forest and can be just a little dull.  It is a good trail, however, involves very little road walking and passing through the SW Alentejo and Vicentina Natural Park is very quiet.
Endless Eucalyptus
The flowers were particularly impressive all along the route and even in March created a spectacular multi-coloured display.  Apparently they get even better and the perfect time to experience them is towards the end of April, beginning of May.
Hottentot Fig

Bud Orchid (?) 
Also impressive, particularly along the cliff tops was the bird life.  I've seen lots of storks nesting on chimneys and churches in Spain, but here the sites are more natural, typically on rock stacks located defensively away from the main cliff face and from where the huge birds launched themselves into graceful, wind assisted flying displays.
Stork

The Rota Vicentina is very easy and accessible walk, well defined and marked and with few significant ascents.  In places, however, it is sandy and although generally speaking, it's easy to beat the times suggested on the website, the sand will slow you down.

Accommodation is plentiful, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and is as good value as it is in Spain.  Food and wine are also very good, although beware portions can be enormous in Portugal and sometimes it makes sense to share a plate.  If you like good seafood, then you will enjoy the food on the Rota Vicentina.

One thing that did surprise me was how popular the walk was.  It's a nice walk, but part of its attraction must be the fact that it's accessible so early in the year.  If you want to walk in the sun, out of the snow, in February or March, and you like good food and wine, then SW Portugal is one of the few places to go in Europe.

For daily trip diaries follow the links below:

Day 1 - to  Vila Nova de Milfontes on Rota Vicentina
Day 2 - Rota Vicentina to Almograve
Day 3 - Rota Vicentina to Zambujeira do Mar
Day 4 - Rota Vicentina to Odeceixe
Day 5 - Rota Vicentina to Aljezur
Day 6 - Rota Vicentina to Arrifana
Day 7 - Rota Vicentina to Carrapateira
Day 8 - Rota Vicentina to Vila do Bispo
Day 9 - Rota Vicentina to Cabo do San Vicente

18 comments:

  1. Hi John,

    The trip looks great. Just out of curiousity, how crowded was the lodging? I was thinking about making the trip but might want to do two stages some days. So I'm reluctant to make reseravations ahead of time.

    Any thoughts? I also thought about bringing an ultralight tarp for a bivouac, but everything I've read says that is not allowed.

    Thanks!
    Tyler

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    1. When I went March it wasn't crowded and there was quite a lot of it. On camping if its the same as Spain camping near the beach is frowned upon but a blind eye is turned to it elsewhere. Usual rules of thumb I guess, away from houses and camp late and leave early.

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  2. Good to know about lodging and that's about what I expected in terms of camping. Thanks!

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  3. Hi John,

    What footwear would you recommend for this trail? Walking boots, trainers and/or sandals? I've never hiked on sand before over a long distance and I'm not sure what the best method is. Does the hardest terrain here warrant walking boots?

    Thanks,

    Owen.

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    1. Hi Owen

      I'm not a fan of walking boots I'm afraid but for this route in particular trainers are fine. I'm a fan of Inov8s - fell running trainers which are very comfortable and very light.

      Best wishes John

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  4. hi john- i am interested in doing this walk this july. do you have a sense of how crowded it may be then? i would prefer to not make reservations to sleep and want to figure it out as i go, but don't really want to end up with nowhere to sleep. also, do you know if there are budget options like hostels? thanks! sara

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    1. Hi Sara

      To be honest I don't now how crowded things are in July. Some of the places I stopped at were quite small with limited accommodation so I guess it could be a risk. The official website, mentioned in my blog, does have a list of accommodation, including some budget options, so it might be worth asking them the same question.

      Have a great trip

      John

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  5. Hi John, I was hoping to do the Fisherman route in late June. How easy would it be to walk into the city and find a hostel or budget guesthouse without knowing where one was located beforehand? Thanks!

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    1. Some of the places on the route are a little limited in terms of number of guest houses and could be full as the holiday season approaches. I would at least check out how many options there are before I go. Also I like to know where a place is at the day's end, can be frustrating trying to find a place when you're tired.

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    2. Some of the places on the route are a little limited in terms of number of guest houses and could be full as the holiday season approaches. I would at least check out how many options there are before I go. Also I like to know where a place is at the day's end, can be frustrating trying to find a place when you're tired.

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  6. Hi John I have a few questions for you about this trail:
    -how can you reach the beginning of the trail and at the end how is connected cabo do sao vicente to other cities?
    -do you think this is a safe trip for a lonely woman?
    -how trained have you to be to do it?
    Thank you very much

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    1. Hi there

      We flew into Lisbon and then caught a bus. You should be able to find the bus company on either Google maps or Rome to Rio. On the way back I came back via Faro but it's no so difficult to get back to Lisbon. It's a very safe route, quite popular so you will see other walkers. It's also an easy walk without any significant climb. The only challenge are the sandy stretches, walking on a soft surface can be draining. Hope that helps. Have a great trip

      John

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  7. Hey John, I just found your website. It's excellent. just wondering what gear you brought for rota vicentina trip.i'll be heading off at the start of march.

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    1. Hi Anto

      Thanks for your kind comment. On gear nothing special really. It's not cold in this part of world, waterproofs are good but hopefully it won't be wet, and light weight boots or trainers. I wore trainers and they were fine. Hope that helps.

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    2. Thanks for getting back so promptly. Really looking forward to this short break.

      Will be checking out your 'dream way' guide when i get back.physically i feel i could handle it but just concerned about the cables etc to keep me from falling.Just how dangerous does it get? I'm not a total coward and i could handle the heights of the Atlas mountains but if there was any way of avoiding the hairy bits on the 'dream way' i would probably do that. i know that may be frowned upon and my feelings may change when i got there but it does make me feel anxious.Have told some of my mates about your blog as well,hope it's going well for you.

      Regards,
      Anto

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  8. Hi Anto

    You do need a head for hieghts on the Dreamway. Not good if you suffer from vertigo. The cables actually help! Enjoy Portugal and then head for the Alps.

    John

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  9. John,

    My friend and I will be hiking the 2 trails beginning on April 15th ending on the 26th. We are starting in Santigao Do Cacem, heading west to Porto Covo and then south to Cabo De S Vincente. Looks like there are not any accommodations in Cabo, so we thought we would take a cab (?) to Sagres spend the night and head to Lisbon via bus (?). We would appreciate any thoughts on this approach. Also, we would love suggestions for accommodations in Lisbon...so many options! Weather? We were planning high 50's (F) to low 60's (F).....hiking tights and long sleeves...looks like you are wearing shorts??

    Thanks for your help! Looking forward to a beautiful trip.

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    1. Hi Debbie

      Nice to hear from you.

      I did a circular walk from Vila do Bospo on my last day and then got went to Faro via taxi and train. Lots of flights to the UK from Faro and it's a bit closer to the end of the walk than Lisbon.

      I use a web site called Rome2Rio to help me with my plan my transfers. It's usually right and it says there is a one a day bus to Lisbon from Sagres, takes 5 hours but the buses are usually very comfortable.

      I haven't stayed in Lisbon but a friend, who is also walking the Rota in April and usually does a lot of research on these things, is staying at the Browns Hotel so that might be worth a look.

      Unless you're very unlucky you will not need hiking tights. I did my trip in March and the weather was lovely. In April it should be perfect with all the flowers out. My wife went swimming!

      By the way if you see a couple of people on bikes it could be us. We're heading south from Lisbon from the 15th and cycling round the coast to Seville.

      Good walking!

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