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Walking the Rota Vicentina along Portugal’s Atlantic Coast

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Local fishermen have used these tracks for centuries to reach the best fishing spots along the coast, but these days they’ve been replaced by surfers and their camper vans. The seascape is spectacular, a fierce Atlantic with huge waves, battering sheer cliffs and embracing long sandy beaches.

The trail starts in Porto Covo, south of Lisbon and ends in Cape St Vincent, the most south-westerly point of Portugal and mainland Europe. The whole walk takes nine days, but I’m missing out the first three due to lack of time and starting at Zambujeira. I get there by taking a slow train from Lisbon, often on a single track, through the desolate regions of Alentejo and then take a taxi.

Zambujeira do Mar – Odeceixe 18km

I leave the little Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Mar and head along the main beach before continuing on the cliffs above. There’s a light drizzle but it’s warm and the biggest problem is the sand underfoot which makes walking hard. Soon I’m back down to the beach and the surf school at Praia do Carvalhal before a few more ups and downs to reach the delightful fishing village of Azenha do Mar. From here it’s a marvellous cliff walk to reach the Seixe Estuary and then inland to Odeceixe. Here I leave the Alentejo, and I cross into the Algarve.

Odeceixe – Aljezur 24 km

The sun is shining, and I follow the river back to the estuary before climbing up on the cliffs. The track sporadically veers away from the coast, perhaps because erosion has made it impassable, and by lunchtime, I’m in the inland town of Rogil, really just a string of houses along a main road. It’s then back to the sea before crossing over a bridge and reaching the hilltop settlement of Alijezur. A castle overlooks its cobbled streets and this was the last town in the Algarve to be captured by the Christians from the Moors.

Aljezur – Arrifana 19km

After a visit to the castle to admire the wonderful views, I’m soon in the forest, the trees scorched by recent. I pass the holiday village of Vale da Telha before taking the road to Praia de Monte Clerigo. It begins to rain heavily and I battle the strong wind as I follow the clifftops. At Ponta da Atalaia the sea below is in torment, visibility is almost zero on, and the rain eases. Arrifana is still an active fishing village and has a good surfing beach. The sun comes out, and suddenly the sea is swamped by surfers.

Arrifana – Carrapateira 24km

I’m slightly worried by an early morning shower but then the rest of the day is dry. On the cliffs today I’m overtaken by motorcyclists scrambling down the loose rocks to the stony beach of Praia do Canal.

I climb inland then take an undocumented track on a deep sandy trail which brings me back to the coast. It gives my feet a tough workout but it’s worth it as I’m away from traffic and bikers. Bordeira Beach is one of the largest on my walk so far and I climb over the dunes to reach the town of Carrapateira.

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