Walking and cycling the Algarve with Headwater
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The Algarve, in the South of Portugal, has
long been a popular destination for British holiday makers, attracted by the
warm weather, sandy beaches and golf courses. There’s been a lot of development
here but travel to the far West and you’ll find the wilder side, with unspoilt
nature, rugged cliffs and the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
I arrive in Faro on a direct flight from
the UK, ready for my Headwater
holiday. A transfer of around an hour and a half drops me for lunch at the Sitio do Forno restaurant,
overlooking Amado Beach where the surfers are tackling the Atlantic Breakers.
Even though it’s still February it’s warm enough to sit outside in the winter
sun and, of course, fresh fish is on the menu. Two of us share a large Sea
Bream, cooked on the grill, washed down with local Portuguese white wine.
I’m keen to get out into the countryside so
make my way to the nearby village of Carrapateira, dropping in for a glimpse of
the Land and Sea Museum, before picking up the Rota Vicentina. This is a lovely
trail through the Sinceira Valley, following the course of the river, passing
cows grazing on the lush grass in the afternoon sunshine.
My destination is Pedralva, once a thriving
village, but which by 2006 had just nine inhabitants. Now twenty four of its
houses have been painstakingly restored and each is a separate room of the Aldeia da
Pedralva. Mine is on 2 levels, with authentic rustic furniture and
remarkably comfortable. Dinner is taken in the excellent restaurant, Sitio da
Pedralva, which you access down narrow cobbled streets.
After breakfast, it’s a short 20 minute
transfer to Figuiera where today's walk begins. I climb on quiet country paths
to the headland overlooking the Praia do Zavial in under brilliant blue skies.
I’ve crossed from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, although the waves seem
just as fierce. They’re large enough to attract the surfers and as I make my
way down to the beach I pass their colony of camper vans. A family of hippies
is taking their morning wash in the sea but it’s too cold for me.
The path climbs over the next headland and
then across the Ingrina and Barranco beaches before heading up to the wild
expanse of the Sagres plateau. There’s a bit of up and down, but nothing too
strenuous. From here I get my first glimpse of Lagos and I can even see my
hotel, the Memmo
Baleeira, perched on the cliff above the bay. The last stretch is along the
wide expanse of golden sand of Martinhal Beach and I take off my boots and dip
my feet in the sea.
Sagres is nothing much more than one long
street with bars and restaurants and a fishing harbour below. Of more interest
is Cabo Sao Vicente, the most South Westerly point in Europe, capped by a
lighthouse straddling its steep cliffs. Cape Sagres, closer to the town, has a
huge fortress, partially destroyed by Sir Francis Drake and then completely
demolished in a later earthquake. The 14th century Portuguese explorer, Henry
the Navigator, built a school of navigation here, although it’s long
disappeared into the fortifications.
Next day I pick up a bike to cycle 34km
east of the town of Lagos. I’ve been equipped with the RideMyGPS app for my
phone and it guides me faithfully along the route. First I ride inland on quiet
roads, past unspoilt whitewashed villages and dilapidated windmills. There’s a
bit of cloud today so it’s just the right temperature for cycling. In the
summer it’s both too hot and busy, so bike and walking tours are not offered.
After a bit of uphill, it’s back down to
the coast at Salema where the sea looks tempting, although I conserve my energy
for tackling the next few steep climbs. Lunch is at a simple restaurant in
Burgau, where fresh fish is once again on the menu, and then I push onwards to
Luz. Here, as I cycle down the wide promenade, I begin to encounter my first
tourists. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just a bit of shock after spending a few
days close to nature.
I turn inland again, through a mass of
holiday developments, before the last push up to Lagos. My hotel, the Costa d’Oiro, is just
outside the town, on a pleasant headland, with the sands of Praia Dona Anna
just 5 minutes’ walk away. I’ve worked up a bit of a sweat and the cool sea
water salves some of my aches and pains. There’s time to enjoy a hearty dinner
before the transfer back to the airport in Faro and the flight home.
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