To the beat of a tribal drum, Portuguese supporters shout “Ugal! round trip through Estádio Algarve. The football stadium is at a quarter of its capacity due to Covid restrictions and almost the entire crowd of 7,000 at this World Cup qualifier is Portuguese. In a sea of red, green and gold flags, there is a single flash of green, white and orange as a lone Irish supporter sings “Go boys in green” alongside a tricolor banner .
This voice is heard, but despite the lead of the Republic of Ireland and the work of Troy by Irish goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, Cristiano Ronaldo is ruining our hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in the dying moments.
I leave the stadium disappointed but proud of a young Irish team who I believe have played with style and endurance.
I console myself at the Tertúlia Algarvia restaurant, with the cataplana – a tasty dish of sweet potato, octopus and cockles – accompanied by a local Barranco Longo wine. The soft night air was almost enough to allay my disappointment, the pedestrian streets glistening with tiles laid by hand centuries ago. I think of the men who carried out this backbreaking work and of the teams who continue to restore the old tiled streets today.
Then I walk the short distance to my house for the night. On an unassuming side street, a decorative door leads me into a courtyard and a brand new tourist apartment complex, Cardeal, whose stylish two-bedroom apartments, with wraparound terraces, are the perfect choice for two couples or one family visiting the small but striking capital of the Algarve.
The owners opened the resort during the lockdown, and as part of Portugal’s Clean & Safe program, their immaculately clean apartments provide a welcome and affordable return to overseas travel.
I am in the southwest of Portugal to travel part of the Via Algarviana, a 300 km route that crosses the interior of the region from east to west, passing through the cork forests and Barrocal, the area of transition between sea and mountain.
The route includes the Portuguese equivalent of the American route 66: the national road N2 which crosses the country and the unforgettable natural park of the Costa Vicentina.
As we walk the local guide Joao Ministro talks about the two Algarves; the rich tourist coastal areas and the poorer interior where villages were abandoned from the 1970s to the 1990s when residents emigrated or migrated to the coast to work in tourism.
Depopulation is still a problem, but slowly the Via Algarviana is bringing a rejuvenation. Like the Spanish Camino, this route cleverly takes walkers to villages they would otherwise ignore: in those too small to justify a restaurant, locals cook dinner for hikers, while young entrepreneurs set up different businesses throughout. along the way.
It takes an average of around 16 days to walk the entire Via Algarviana, with most people spending six days walking and adding a few more days to relax in Faro afterwards.
After the walk, I plan to check in at the centrally located four-star Eva Senses hotel, watch water sports enthusiasts do their work on the island of Faro, or visit Capela Dos Ossos, a decorated church. bones of medieval monks.
My first day of walking takes me through Barranco do Velho, an area steeped in cork production. An important industry in the Algarve region, harvesting cork is a long-term investment for producers with a 30-year gap between planting and first harvest, followed by a gap of at least nine years between subsequent harvests.
The Algarve region is also famous for its production of medronho aguardente – fiery water that saw increased sales during the lockdown as people believed it would help fight the Covid infection.
I end a walk along wide paths at Casa dos Presuntos, a restaurant specializing in meat dishes like wild boar stew, pork cheeks and lamb stew. It’s the Algarve that most vacationers don’t expect or experience.
The second day on Via Algarviana takes me to Monchique, an attractive artisan town with an alternative vibe. Ceramists like Leonel Telo are part of a community of craftsmen here alongside 72 medronho producers.
The Greeks, Romans and Moors all passed through this region, leaving their cultural imprint. The name Algarve derives from the Arabic Al Gharb, which means west. At present, an archaeological excavation taking place at the nearby Alferce Castle is expected to reveal important relics, but the daily legacy of the Moors lies in the local dishes made with honey, almonds and oranges.
The Romans and Moors called Monchique “the sacred hill” because of its abundant thermal waters and lush vegetation, but it is an area that has also seen losses: from the earthquake and tsunami of 1755 to the fires of forest of 2018 and now the fallout from Covid.
I climb up to Marmelete, passing half-bare cork oaks, to reach the highest point in the Algarve, Pico da Fóia, at 902 meters above sea level. It is worth visiting just for the view, but one of the most remarkable meals of my trip is cooked at the Luar Da Fóia restaurant – cod cheeks with garlic, a delicate dish washed down with wine soft white from Alentejo.
Walking hundreds of kilometers through any region is a question of nature and monuments, but also of capturing the spirit of a place. On the third day, it goes the other way around. The spirit of the place seizes me in the form of the tourism official Marta Cabral, who heads the Rota Vicentina association.
La Rota Vicentina is a 750 km network of trails comprising the Historic Path and the Fisherman’s Trail, which takes hikers along hundreds of miles of coastal walks and cliffs through some of the most unspoiled, remote and unspoiled terrain. the most important in Europe. It is one of the most spectacular hiking routes in Europe.
Since the Via Algarviana passes through Sagres – my coastal base for the next two nights – and also crosses the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, I take this opportunity to travel the wonderful circular route of Praia do Amado with Marta.
It’s a surfer’s paradise and as we climb a dizzying section or two, I hear about local bodyboard world champion Joana Schenker surfing off nearby Ingrina Beach.
We walk with the constant scent of esteva, a hardy native plant whose leaves have evolved to create a sticky layer of protection from the sun.
Marta talks about Cillian Murphy, a sustainable tourism consultant for the Loop Head Peninsula in County Clare. La Rota Vicentina is, she says, studying Murphy’s model (which has already been adapted in Norway), which sees engagement with local communities as the way forward for regional tourism.
And it’s not just about treks – it’s possible to cycle, ride horses, and use audio tours along parts of the route, or participate in cultural experiences with locals through in the Touro Azul program (rotavicentina.com/en/touroazul).
Marta tells me that it is also possible to participate in maintenance walks and it reminds me meitheal, Irish practice of people volunteering on community projects such as repairing hiking trails.
Spring is a great time to travel these routes as flowers line the area and temperatures are cooler. At the end of August I’m as sticky as an esteva plant from the heat and relish a dip in the ocean after the hike.
Next stop is a visit to the slow village of Aldeia da Pedralva for lunch.
Aldeia da Pedralva, in the municipality of Vila do Bispo, is a village that had just been abandoned before a group of friends gathered to restore it. Today it is a holiday village made up of simple traditional houses and numerous restaurants. Lunch – local sausages, hams and salt cod – is excellent.
After my Via Algarviana experience is over, I return to the Memmo Baleeira Hotel in Sagres, a spacious hotel with wonderful sea views and a strong Covid security protocol in place. This is one of those hotels where I would happily spend all day with its excellent menus.
But it’s worth going on a high-speed Zodiac boat trip along the Algarve coast, marveling at the rock formations and passing small seaside villages such as Salema and Burgau.
On my last dinner in the Algarve, I think of the men who hand-laid the glittering tiles of Faro, of the young entrepreneurs who are setting up businesses along Via Algarviana, of the community of people who keep the Rota Vicentina and I realizes how walking the Via has given me some understanding of the spirit of the Algarve.
- Catherine Murphy traveled as a guest of the Algarve tourist office. For more information, go to visitalgarve.pt; visitportugal.com
- Aer Lingus operates a Dublin-Faro service. One-way fares from € 39.99 in October and November; aerlingus.com
- Self-guided Via Algarviana trips can be organized by Joao Minstro on proactivetur.pt from € 500 per person, luggage transfers and accommodation included. Trips can be personalized
- For more information on hiking routes, visit viaalgarviana.org; rotavicentina.com
- The Cardeal Suites & Apartments in Faro, from € 94 for a studio with 1 full bedOctober; cardeal.pt; memmohotels.com
- For Zodiac boat trips, go to capecruiser.pt; 1.5 hour boat trip to observe dolphins, € 35 per person