At the beginning of the preparation of our thru-hike in Europe, we thought that the Rota Vicentina was a set of hiking trails in the South of Portugal.
We now realize how far we were from reality.
The Rota Vicentina, like Via Dinarica and Via Alpina, was one of the organizations that we wanted to involve in our project. We will long remember our first contact with them, a phone call, like a message in a bottle, followed by a cheerful, welcoming and interested answer to the project Deux Pas Vers l’Autre. When searching for sponsors and partners, such an answer is priceless for the morale of the troops!
As you will have understood, our journey began in Portugal with the discovery of the Algarve and Alentejo on the Rota Vicentina’s trails. The organization officially created in 2013 has a double mission: to protect the natural resources of the region while promoting nature tourism on the Alentejo and Vicentina coasts. Through the creation and maintenance of hiking trails along the coast and inland, the organization aims at attracting responsible and environment friendly tourism. By forging partnerships with the region's hotels and cultural professionals, it completes the tourist offer for a complete and varied experience. It is an invitation to a deeper journey, without artifice, and especially around something that fascinates us: walking.
Discover our Logbook 1 about the 200 first kilometers of our journey
There are two main routes for hikers from North to South: the Fishermen's trail along the coast and the Historical trail that winds its way through the more rural area. For day trips, circular routes complete the first two, making it possible to return to its starting point and thus to live a more sedentary experience. But, as you might have guessed, we haven’t really tried them :) Overall, 450km of trails of which we travelled almost half to start our adventure. We loved discovering these two regions at the rhythm of our footsteps and the culture of this magical country.
Could we have chosen a better start?
The huge surprise of our arrival was to notice that the Rota Vicentina’s trails were much more than just a network of trails, it is above all a fantastic human and humanistic network. Employees and volunteers put all their passion (and much of their time) into this activity. Trail maintenance, communication, development of partnerships, development of the tourist offer, waste collection, etc... a lot of work!
From Cape Saint-Vincent to Santiago do Cacém
The adventure began at Cabo de São Vicente in the municipality of Sagres. Geographically, it is the South-western tip of Europe, a strong symbol to mark our first steps. Above and beyond the symbol we have found an untamed and indomitable nature. The wind, the sea and the cliffs are dancing without ever weakening.
At the end of a single straight road, an old white monastery and its red lighthouse dating from the 19th century stand out from the omnipresent blue. The Cape Saint-Vincent lighthouse, one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe, will mark the departure of our ultralight hiking trip, as it did for great explorers.
The first five days of our journey have varied between coastal paths and rural routes, with the first 100 kilometres between Sagres and Zambujeira do Mar being common to the Fishermen's Trail and the Historical Trail. A great start to discover Portugal!
Our steps led us to the small village of Pedralva with its atypical history. In the heart of a fashionable region, the Algarve, this small village was completely abandoned until 2006. A group of friends from Lisbon imagined the project to find the owner of each of the houses and buy them one by one and rehabilitate the village. During the renovations, they took great care to preserve as much as possible the traditional and typical style of the region. And the result is quite successful!
A few tens of kilometers further north, we met people who will leave their mark in our brain. Between two slices of ham at the Aljezur supermarket, as we were preparing to spend our first night in the tent, Michelle approached us by saying: "Where are you going with big bags? Istanbul?! We also did 10,000 km in Europe, but by bike. But where do you sleep? Well, come to my place!". Only a few words but already a great complicity. Arriving at home, we met Eric, her husband and Marylou, their daughter. All three of them are called Les Kanakys Roulent, a family of traveling cyclists. In 2010, when Marylou was 5 years old, they rode their bike across Europe for months. A few years later they are back on the road again, Marylou is 9 years old. Arriving near Rogil in Portugal, they decided to settle down. Since then, they have been living in a small corner of paradise and are almost self-sufficient in energy and food.
The next day Michelle walked with us and we were joined by Dora, who is doing a European Voluntary Service in the Rota Vicentina. We finished our day walk in the beautiful little village of Odeceixe.
We were also in good company for the following day as Rudolf Muller, one of the founders of the Rota Vicentina, accompanied us! A colorful day with this "more Portuguese than Portuguese" Switzerland as described here. He is above all a visionary, a nature lover and a wealth of information. At his side we discovered more deeply the fauna and flora of the region, observed storks coming back to the region before reproducing.
Check out the interview we made with him!
English, French and Spanish subtitles available
The Rota Vicentina immediately joined our 1KG FOR THE PLANET project. They distribute our reusable bags to hikers wishing to contribute to trail maintenance and environmental preservation. That day, we were delighted to find a dozen volunteers from the Rota Vicentina cleaning up a beach. The access is difficult, a small path goes down to the cliff side, it is not cleaned very often probably for this reason. Remains of picnic, surfboards’ polystyrene, fishing ropes... everything! It's true that in addition to the 25 km of walking, it's been quite a day, but we saw it as a way to give back a bit of beauty to this country which welcomed us warmly!
Between Odemira and Sao Luis, we gave in to temptation and deviated a little from the marked path to gain height. According to our maps, a bicycle path was going up a hill. "According to our maps". Instead, we find ourselves struggling in the bushes, but at the end of the day, it was clearly worth the cost! Sometimes you have to find your own way :)
Our journey led us to another unforgettable encounter: Dona Odette. After growing up in Alentejo, Odette moved to Lisbon. She decided to go back to the village of her childhood to join her aging parents. It is not really a village by the way, in Portugal they say a Monte. It is more a grouping of 4 or 5 houses in rural areas, this organization dates from the Middle Ages and aimed at pooling resources and infrastructures such as these large ovens, typical of the region. On her way back home, Odette decided to honour and share the heritage and traditions of the region by collecting all the objects of everyday life and agricultural work, sometimes dating back several generations.
So far everything seems fantastic, doesn't it? We have to tell you, there were some shadows on those first few days: the blisters at Marie's feet caused by her orthopedic soles but which were already a distant memory on the third day. We will mention a pain at Nil’s toe that could well be due to a small fatigue fracture, not much to do but to monitor. To be continued. The good news also include the breakdown of our drone that we had to send back for repair and the waiting of a parcel that forces us to stay longer than planned in Santiago do Cacém. Yes, hard to believe from here but it seems that there has been a lot of snow in France and that the postal services are falling behind! So we suffer in silence ;)
Our adventure on the Rota Vicentina stopped when we arrived in Santiago do Cacém, without a doubt the biggest city that we have crossed since the beginning. It's hard to put words on everything we've felt over the last 10 days. The excitement and sometimes the fear of the first steps of the Deux Pas Vers l'Autre adventure has inevitably given a very special flavor to everything experienced before. It does not prevent us from continuing our journey by having discovered a group of hiking and nature enthusiasts, we were struck by the beauty of the landscapes of Algarve and Alentejo, overwhelmed by the welcome and benevolence of the Portuguese, the whole embellished with Pasteis de Nata and other local specialities!
What about you? Do you know Portugal? Should you have any hint or advice, please share it with us! And again, feel free to join us on the trails :)
Talk to you soon!
Marie & Nil
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