Having sampled some of the walking trails along the Alentejo coast, I’m now completely hooked on the area. The craggy landscape is relatively untouched, punctuated here and there by beautiful beaches and small towns, such as Vila Nova de Milfontes, Porto Covo and Odeceixe.
Although I didn’t have time to walk the full coastal Fishermen’s Route of the Rota Vicentina hiking trails on that trip, I made a point of sampling sections for future reference.
I will be back, with more time, better boots and a fellow walker to share the fun. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights near Vila Nova de Milfontes and Porto Covo.
Note: If you want to stay a few nights in Vila Nova de Milfontes, see my accommodation selection at the end of this article.
For those of you who are considering a walking holiday in this part of the Alentejo coast, take a look at this one.
The lighthouse at Cabo Sardão was of minimal interest to me; it’s the landscape that made it worth the slight detour on the drive north. There’s a distinct geological shift at this point of the Alentejo coast from the dark slices of rock to the south to paler sandstone bluffs going north.
Sandy trails snake around the cliff tops but I’d heed the warnings and stay away from the edges, especially if the wind is strong. The jagged rocks that lurk at the bottom would not make for a soft landing.
What most people crane to see are the white storks that nest in the rocks. Judging by the jingle of sheep or goat bells and the burp of frogs I heard while wandering along the tracks, they aren’t the only fauna in the area but are certainly the rarest.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
Milfontes means a thousand springs and refers to the myriad of tributaries that flow into the River Mira before it pours into the Atlantic. The town has long been a popular seaside resort among Portuguese families yet most foreign visitors remain unaware of its charms.
That works out particularly well for people who prefer low-rise, low-key destinations, although it’s packed in July and August when the Portuguese are on holiday. There aren’t many sights as such but you can choose from a variety of coastal and river beaches along the estuary and either side of the river mouth.
Furnas beach, to the south, is fun at low tide because you can walk around to the caves and rock formations or splash about in the river. It was way too cold for a dip or even relaxing on the beach when I went in April so I retreated to the comfort of O7 Ocean Drive Beach Club, set back from the beach with quirky furniture on the terraced and chilled music. They also serve light meals.
During holiday periods, there’s a regular ferry service between the castle and the car park near the entrance to the beach.
I walked there from Vila Nova de Milfontes but unless you’re committed to walking the Rota Vicentina, I wouldn’t recommend it. The first 2-3 kilometres are along the main road and not fun at all, except for the views from the bridge. It’s much better once you turn into the fields but I found the signage confusing at one point and ended up going out of my way before finding a path to the beach.
I was very relieved, and lucky, to catch the ferry to Vila Nova de Milfontes and avoid having to walk all the way back. I was so taken by the pretty little boat and its friendly owners that I did a deal with them to join their river trip later that afternoon.
Even their dog seemed to enjoy the views as we glided calmly past the buildings, under the bridge and into green landscapes. I spotted a couple of interesting-looking rural tourism establishments overlooking the river, as well as a fisherman or two. Mostly, it was just a treat to put my feet up and relax for a while.
Back on dry land, it’s worth walking to the lighthouse (farol) for views along the river and the coast. There’s a quaint café-restaurant to the right of the viewpoint that’s built out of wooden fishermen’s shacks and is perfect for watching the sunset. I mentioned a castle but don’t get excited – it’s privately owned so you can only see the exterior.
The town centre itself is pleasant enough for a stroll and you’ll find more than enough cafés and restaurants to keep you happy. Unless you’re extraordinarily fussy, of course.
Fishing harbours on the Alentejo coast
If you’re following the Rota Vicentina, you’ll encounter the small fishing harbour to the north of Vila Nova de Milfontes, although you can drive there too. It’s not the most attractive of places but if you’re interested in watching local fishermen at work, this is the place to come.
You’ll find a far more attractive setting in Porto Covo, where the harbour is in a bright little bay. It’s also a lovely spot for a walk along the cliffs even if you’re not doing the Fisherman’s Route. When I went there were lots of flowers and some benches to help you to appreciate the view of Pessegueiro island and the fresh sea air.
Again, the town of Porto Covo has little in the way of monuments or sights but offers a relaxing environment. The prettiest space I found was the main square, lined with restaurants, cafés, shops and a church. A cake is almost obligatory and you’ll be spoilt for choice at Marquês.
Even if the weather begs for an outdoor seat, do go inside to see the azulejo panels on the café walls. Its sister establishment, Marquês Seafood Restaurant has similarly interesting decor and appealing fare if you’re in need of a meal.
Beaches around Porto Covo tend to be smaller than the ones I encountered further south, but no less interesting geologically-speaking. Few have any facilities though.
Where to stay near Vila Nova de Milfontes
Just outside Vila Nova de Milfontes, you’ll find Herdade do Freixal, an eco lodge with an infinity pool and terrace overlooking the River Mira. From €54
Herdade do Amarelo Nature and Spa is a more luxurious country retreat near VN Milfontes. The wifi’s not great but you’d be going there to unwind and take advantages of the scenery and spa. From €130
Naturarte Rio is one of the places I passed on the boat trip and naturally has great views of the river. The modern units are self-catering but breakfast is delivered to your door. From €125
The delightful Três Marias guesthouse lies between Vila Nova de Milfontes and Porto Covo offering a bright, welcoming country retreat, although there’s no pool. From €90
If you want to be a bit closer to Porto Covo, you could stay in a beautifully renovated primary school at Cabeça da Cabra Casa do Campo. Self-catering units from €80