We wavered for months trying to decide whether we could travel to Portugal in Covid-19 times and hike the Fisherman’s Trail. A friend had hiked it and raved that it was so great that he returned the next year to continue down the coast. We wanted a vacation that involved exercise, sun and beaches, and this seemed to offer all.
Fortunately, Portugal has handled the pandemic very well. Its military even evacuated senior citizen homes at the beginning of its spread and cared for them in a military hospital, ensuring that the mortality rate of this group remained very low. By the time we were ready to go, the number Covid-19 cases in the area we were headed was very low, with most cases in the poor district o Lisbon and in the north around Porto.
Consequently, although our flight was to Lisbon, we did not want to stay there but head directly south. There were no scheduled buses at the time we would have been able to get to the bus station, which is quite far from the airport. We decided to get transport directly from the airport to Porto Covo where we would start our hike.
I found a very inexpensive offer from a company name “GetTransfer”. However, when I checked reviews on the internet, numerous people complained that their transfer was canceled at short notice and many had not received refunds to date. I emailed a couple of taxi companies about booking a ride, but only one answered a couple of days later just asking how many passengers we would be (a different price for two people than for one person?). Internet reviews stated that most of the taxi drivers at the airport were fond of overcharging passengers and most taxis were not that clean. I tried getting a ride with Uber, but when I wanted to register, I was told that my email address was already taken although I have never used the services of that company nor have I registered with them. I wrote them asking about this, but they did not answer.
I then found an agency called Outdoor Adventures, which offers numerous outdoor activities and transfers in the region. I immediately received a response from the agency, and Frank — the owner? — arranged for our transfer with Carlos, whom numerous people in the internet had praised for his helpfulness, advice and great service. The price was a bit steep, but then he would have to drive two hours to the airport, wait for us, and then drive two hours back. But we arrived in the early evening, time for a short stroll on the beach and a great fish dinner, the first on many, with excellent wine. We also had our first taste of Portuguese appetizers, which surprisingly often consisted of cheese along with bread and olives. I was used to the French custom of cheese after dinner, so this was quite unusual, especially since cheese is filling. But the small portions of cheese were so delicious, that I quickly get used to this habit.
It was the last weekend of summer school vacation in Portugal, so there were quite a few Portuguese tourists there, but still not that many to make the village crowded. This year there were a lot fewer people taking the hike, most of whom are usually foreigners, since many people were afraid to travel, especially by plane, due to the pandemic. We stayed two nights in Porto Covo, since it is a very picturesque village with a nice beach before starting our hike down the Fisherman’s Trail. We arranged to have our packs transferred to our hotel in the next village, since we knew that the hike is quite strenuous and we wanted to enjoy it and experience just as a chore. We often passed or were passed by a group of friendly Portuguese around 30-35 years old, and they were carrying everything and sleeping on beaches. One time we met them in a restaurant in the evening, and they all had their toothbrushes to use in the restaurant bathrooms before heading back down to sleep on a beach. They all had good jobs, so they just enjoyed the adventure and it was not to save money. We booked a room in a hotel in the next village each evening, since we thought we might stay somewhere a couple of nights and wanted to have that option.
Nice beach, one of the few on the Atlantic coast where there were no big waves, so good for swimming.
The first day’s hike is the most strenuous, taking approx. eight hours, but also the most spectacular.
Off we go, passing the harbor
The trail often consisted of deep sand, which makes walking quite a chore.
Arrival at a long stretch of beach
The trail was well marked for the most part, although you had to keep a lookout in a few places where it was a bit confusing.
We were told that they are constructing new trails closer to the coast in many regions, so that long stretches of dirt roads inland can be avoided. They have even constructed a trail north of Porto Covo to São Torpes, extending the hike by one day to the north and hoping to generate tourism euros
Rangers patrolled the trail on horses, although we only saw them that one day
Stork’s nest in the background
First stop Milafontes, a very nice village. Would have be nice to stay there a couple of days, but we had just started the hike, and — since we still had a lot of kilometers to walk — only stayed one night.
Was a long walk out of town over this bridge with a couple of kilometers on a road; not so pleasant, especially since I missed the turnoff and was on the road a lot longer than necessary.
Back on the trail
The trail sometimes took us through small forests
Some parts of the trail were inland. It was very hot, so we were glad to see these sprinklers, under which we cooled off a bit.
The trail continued above the beach, but we couldn’t resist walking on it and going for short dip. Fortunately, some other hikers motioned to us after we had walked quite a distance to climb back up to the trail, because otherwise we would have had to backtrack a bit.
We climbed back up to the trail here.
The second stop was Almograve, a sleepy town. The two restaurants had bad reviews, so we wound up going to a doner kebab joint. The guy working there was Pakistani and had lived in Germany seven years before being expelled. He was extremely friendly and spoke very good German. While we were there, other Pakistanis kept coming in until the place was full. Apparently, asylum seekers are sent to this village for processing. And most people can get a three-year residence and work permit and even apply for Portuguese citizenship after five years.
This also would have been a nice place to spend a couple of days, but we continued the next day.
And back to the coast
We couldn’t resist and went down for a swim.
We reached the fishing harbor of Entrada da Barca after 18 km, with a large mosque overlooking it. but then there was a very boring stretch along the road to reach the village.
Unfortunately, we then had to walk several km along an asphalted road to get to a bridge and then the town. We met a young couple the next day who had been cleverer. The guy swam across the river, rented a stand-up paddle boat, took it back to the other side and put their packs on it, and then swam to the beach.
Odeceixe is the end of the actual Fisherman’s Trail, but the Rota Vicentina continues down the coast. We stayed two nights there to relax and walk the three km to the beach.
There were some amusing sculptures on the way out of town to the beach.
Way to the beach
The waves were powerful, but I was able to swim a bit diving under them.
We wanted to get a taxi back to town, but a woman in a bar where we had a drink said it was easy to hitch. We thought that would be difficult in corona times, but we soon got a ride.
Leaving Odeceixe, we decided to skip another walk along the road to the beach where the actual trail would start, since it then only went along the coast for a short spell before heading back inland to meet up with the historical trail to Aljezur. The path took us first to the windmill overlooking the town, one of the few there still in operation.
Great views of the town from there
But then the most boring part of the trail followed, mostly along an irrigation canal for the first half.
If we had known, we would have just taken a taxi in the morning there and then continued hiking.
The day was cloudy and there was a sudden, powerful rainstorm. We were lucky to be near a barn where we took shelter. The rain only lasted approx. 10 minutes, but we met other hikers later who got soaked.
We thought we had booked a hotel in the old town of Aljezur and followed the instructions on our smartphone up a steep hill into it, only to discover with a local woman’s help that our hotel was in the new part down below. It was a nondescript building, but at least there were some nice restaurants up a hill there.
The next stop on the trail would have been Arrifana, but we would only find dormitory accommodations. We definitely did not want something like that in corona times, so we took a taxi to the village after it, Carrapeteira. We had a lovely accommodation there, and the friendly owner let us check in in the early morning, since we were the only ones there. He even lent us an espresso machine for the small kitchen.
We stayed there two nights, taking advantage of the nice beach. Unfortunately, there were red flags up there, which meant you had to stay close to the shore.
View of the beach from the town
The next day’s hike was again spectacular. We reach Amado Beach after a couple of km where we were able to have breakfast at a small beach bar. There were lots of surfers there, so they were doing good business
Our dream beach, just for us!
It often seemed like there were long stretches on dirt roads to the villages at the end of each day: hot, dusty and boring!
Vila da Bispo turned out to be quite a charming little village where we again had very nice accommodations with a great breakfast included.
The next and last day of our hike started on a dirt road for approx. 7 km: very hot and boring and we thought it would never end.
Finally, another spectacular coastline
“… schists and greywackes more than 300 million years old, broken and folded, the “root” of an old mountain chain, that has since been devastated by erosion” quoted from the official website of Rota Vicentina.
Finally made it after hiking approx. 140 km: Cabo de São Vicente, the most western tip of the European continent.
We had been there years before (by car), and there had been a sausage stand advertising the last bratwurst before America. It was gone, and now there only several souvenir stands and lots of tourists. The trail continues to Sagres, but it is mostly along the road, so we took a bus.
Mojito to celebrate
The beach at Sagres
Although the food was almost always delicious, I was really tired of potatoes, which came with every meal. It seems like they have no rice or pasta. At any rate, we decided to try an Italian restaurant there, and it turned out to be some of the best Italian food we have ever had. They even had special pizzas with no tomato sauce, but instead vanilla, various herbs and whatnot. And the wine was exquisite!
Bus to Lagos where the great number of tourists shocked us, especially since we had hardly seen any on our hike. It seemed like 90% of the stores were for tourists. Still, we had fantastic accommodations in the old city with balcony, espresso machine, oranges and orange press, etc.
We took a tour of the town the next day led by a nice guy, but who did not give us much information other than what we already knew or had read in the internet/guidebooks. Still, it was a nice way to ramble around town and he gave us a good tip for a restaurant.
No dearth of street musicians, some of them quite good
Souvenir stands at the harbor
Replica of a ship from the days of Portuguese explorers centuries ago
Strange that this is in Chinese, stating that dreams have been destroyed and then covid-19 written below
We were supposed to fly back from Lisbon and had already book train tickets to travel there where we heard that it was declared a risk zone. This would have meant two weeks quarantine upon arriving home. Fortunately, we were able to rebook and fly home from Faro. From 30° C and sun to 8° C and rain, but we made it without getting infected by covid-19. Great to have at least one vacation this year!