Walking the wilder side of the Algarve

A self-guided walk along the dramatic cliffs and deserted footpaths of an Algarve a world away from the beach resorts and golf courses

The hunt for octopus begins soon after we arrive in Sagres, in the western Algarve. Within minutes we find it at Restaurante Gigi, where tender chunks are served in olive oil and garlic, and garnished with sweet potato. The craving for Portuguese soul food sated for now, we wander down Sagres’s main drag of low-slung whitewashed houses towards the 16th-century fortress that looms over the Atlantic. It feels as if we are on the far edge of Europe: its most south-westerly point lies a short way north – at Cabo de São Vicente, whose lighthouse I can just about see.

I’m in Portugal to get an introduction to the western Algarve on Headwater’s four-night walking break, before the freshness of spring turns into summer’s torrid heat. This is the best time to visit for wildflowers and warm days. Beginning and ending in Sagres, the walk follows part of the Rota Vicentina, an old pilgrims’ route that has been updated and is exceptionally well signposted. Its two trails, the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail, between them stretch for over 350km, mostly in Alentejo to the north. But I’m focusing on the south-west, exploring an Algarve far away from the beach resorts and golf courses further east.

After a half-hour drive north from Sagres, our first, 17km, trek starts at Praia do Amado, where surfers catch waves from an enormous beach backed by ochre cliffs. This is a brief glimpse of the Atlantic coastal drama to come.

We continue to the village of Carrapateira, where we stop for coffee in the pretty toy-town village square surrounded by white cottages, before following the Sinceira river through cork forests, with their alien-looking half-stripped trees. The day’s goal is Pedralva, an abandoned village that has been transformed into a scattered hotel of little whitewashed houses. Rescued from dilapidation by Lisbon ad man Antonio Ferreira in 2006, the 24 cottages are rustic yet comfortable, with kitchens and a little seating area outside each one.

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