The Via Algarviana
The Via Algarviana is a hiking trail that runs across the Algarve region of southern Portugal, from the Spanish border in Alcoutim on the Guadiana River to Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most southwest point in Europe. The Great Pedestrian Route (GR 13) is 300 km (186 miles) in length, and runs mostly though the mountains of the Algarve, not reaching the coast until the very end at Cabo de Sao Vicente. The terrain on some of the sectors is challenging, with elevation changes exceeding +/- 1200 meters in a single day.
One of the sectors near the towns of Silves and Monchique is closed due to damage from the 2018 wildfires.
Common sights along the way are olive, almond, fig, carob and cork oak trees under active cultivation and growing "wild" in areas that have been depopulated by emigration. Similar to Ireland, there are many areas with abandoned/vacant farmhouses and outbuildings. Other areas have citrus (oranges, lemons, tangerines) under active cultivation with irrigation and/or cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. In some areas, the livestock is open range. Portugal is a leader in renewable energy, producing more than 25% of its electrical energy via wind power, so wind turbines are also seen on many sectors.
I walked the Via Algarviana in a 14 day period during January 2020. At many of the albergues I was the first hiker of 2020. I saw only one other through hiker, going the opposite direction, during the two week period. There were occasional day hikers, mountain bikers, dirt motorcycle riders, 4x4 trekkers seen along the way, particularly on weekends. The lodging, transfers, and other logistic arrangements by One Foot Abroad and Proactivetur were flawless. I can wholeheartedly recommend their services.
My 2020 Via Algarviana log and photos:
Sector 1 - Alcoutim to Balurcos, 24+ kilometers. Alcoutim is on Guadiana River, directly across from the Spanish town of Sanlucar de Guadiana. The towns jointly celebrate a Smuggling Festival (Festival do Contrabando) that memorializes the centuries of smuggling across the river that preceded the European Common Market and Union. Alcoutim also has an imposing and picturesque 13th century Moorish castle.
Sector 2 - Balurcos to Furnazinhas, 14+ kilometers. Furnazinhas is a very small town that seems to have more landline pay phones than most other places in Portugal. That's because you have to go up on rooftops or climb a large hill outside town to get cellular telephone reception.
Sector 3 - Furnazinhas to Vaqueiros, 22.6 kilometers.
Sector 4 - Vaqueiros to Cachopo, 15 kilometers.
Sector 5 - Cachopo to Barranco do Velho, 29.1 kilometers. This sector has elevation changes of +1280 meters and -1160 meters and is quite challenging.
Sector 6 - Barranco do Velho to Salir, 16 kilometers. This leg starts off on top of a large east-west ridge. I was treated to the impressive sight of many thousands of migrating sea birds (looked like large terns) flying parallel, but far below the ridge, until they crossed the trail at a slightly lower section of the ridge.
Sector 7 - Salir to Alte, 17.2 kilometers.
Sector 8 - Alte to Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, 19.5 kilometers.
Sector 9 (modified) - Sao Bartolomeu de Messines to Funcho Dam, 15.2 kilometers. Ordinarily this sector would extend to Silves, but is terminated at Funcho Dam to avoid areas that were damaged by the 2018 wildfires.
Sector 10 (modified) - Caldas de Monchique to Monchique, 10.5 kilometers. Ordinarily this sector would run from Silves to Monchique, but an area between the towns that was damaged by the 2018 wildfires is skipped. Instead, a regional trail (PR) that runs from the hot springs of Caldes de Monchique over the mountain to Monchique is substituted. The vertical climb of +668 meters was challenging.
Sector 11 - Monchique to Marmelete, 15 kilometers. This sector starts with an almost 700 meter climb out of Monchique, which brings you almost 500 meters higher than yesterday's route.
Sector 12 - Marmelete to Bensafrim, 30 kilometers. After an initial climb out of Marmelete, there is a half-day descent of 800 meters. Walking this sector in the opposite west-to-east direction would be extremely challenging.
Sector 13 - Bensafrim to Vila do Bispo, 30 kilometers. The penultimate stage of the Rota Vicentina also ends in Vila do Bispo.
Sector 14 - Vila do Bispo to Cabo de Sao Vicente, 16.6 kilometers. Highlights included being almost run down by double-timing open range cattle that were being herded by a dog and a very happy horse, a large sheep/goat herd managed by 5 dogs and one person, and the stunning views of the coast near Cabo de Sao Vicente.