I love getting off the beaten track, especially on foot, so I was excited to be invited to spend a week exploring the countryside on a small group guided walking holiday in the Algarve.
Our accommodation for the week was a luxury villa overlooking the Funcho River and reservoir, an idyllic hideaway in natural settings with stylish, comfortable facilities and an infinity pool.
As this particular walking holiday allows for plenty of time to relax in the afternoons and enjoy the tranquil surroundings, being in such a stunning location is one of the keys to its success.
(You can book this accommodation as a private luxury villa rental even if you don’t want to do a walking or painting holiday – click here to make an enquiry.)
The food is another essential for a wonderful vacation and lived up to expectations. It was mostly vegetarian with some fish and plenty of variety; I loved Graham’s vegetable mousaka and the amazing salads.
Cheryl and Graham Smith are excellent hosts; both are welcoming and easy to talk to. I really appreciated the thoughtful touches, such as the home made oat biscuits and pot of lemongrass tea, which Cheryl grows in the garden, waiting for us when we got back from the first day’s walk.
Algarve walk 1: Pine cliffs to Vilamoura, beach and cliffs walk
(Linear 15 km, moderate)
For the first day of hiking in the Algarve, we set off for the coast to meet John, our guide for the day. He divided the walk into alternating clifftop and beach sections so we got to see the amazing colours and shapes of Praia de Falesia’s sand formations from above and below.
Both perspectives are incredible.
Although the weather was cloudy in the morning, it brightened up later, offering a marvellous contrast between the terracotta and ochre cliffs, golden sand, blue sky and green pine trees.
I’m guessing that Praia de Tomate (Tomato Beach) is named for the deep red colour of its cliffs , whereas the crags of Praia de Falesia are a range of white, golden, pink and orange hues.
The turning point of this Algarve coastal walk was Vilamoura Marina, a purpose-built marina and town designed and built for tourists.
If you like fancy boats, Irish bars, shops and restaurants, Vilamoura may appeal more than it did to our group. Our little group were all happy to return to the beach to sit on the sand and eat our packed lunch while watching the waves.
On the way back along the beach to the Pine Cliffs Resort, the tide was in so I took my shoes off and dodged the waves, passing fishermen with rods stuck in the sand and children having a blast in the waves.
After the walk, John drove us to the beach at Olhos de Agua, a smaller and more appealing village than Vilamoura with a small beach with fishing boats and a few shops and eateries. The best way to celebrate the end of the first of our hikes in the Algarve was, of course, with a dip in the ocean.
Make an enquiry about the next open group dates or book your own private walking holiday in the Algarve.
Algarve walk 2: Villages and countryside
(8.5 km easy circular route plus time in Alte)
We met our friendly local guides, Charles and Maggie, in the village of Esteval do Douro for this relatively short walk.
The route is through limestone and red earth countryside dotted with wonderfully twisted carob and olive trees as well as orange orchards in Esteval and avocado plantations a bit higher up.
The limestone creates intriguing rock formations, including one shaped like a duck!
As we climbed gradually away from the village, the views opened up to distant hills and valleys, all covered in evergreen trees and plants of one kind or another, including stone pines, cistus plants and juniper bushes. Tiny white and pink flowers and the occasional yellow ones provided dots of additional colour.
Around the highest point of the trail we passed through the abandoned village of Rocha Amarela (Yellow Rock), where the crumbling houses offer insights into the lives of the former inhabitants.
After this village, and throughout the descent, the views of the valley and beyond are impressive.
After a short drive to the village of Alte, we met Baltazar the donkey then went to a local restaurant for lunch before strolling through the village.
Always a favourite spot for me in the Algarve, I noticed that there is even more urban art in Alte than before, mostly in the form of sculptures made using local rock and the black and white murals by Daniel Vieira.
As well as the crafts shops, we popped into Merceiaria da Fonte Pequena, which sells local produce including carob in the form of powder, bars and syrup as well as local honey, olive oil and other goodies.
Before leaving Alte, we walked to Fonte Pequena, a small riverside picnic area with a water fountain and murals of local poet Cândido Guerreiro’s works
Algarve walk 3: Historical Battles trail
(circular 12.5 km, moderate)
For the third of our Algarve hikes, we set off on foot from the villa to walk along country lanes, passing a horse farm and riding stables before climbing through pretty woodland of cork oaks. The deep red earth and sandstone creates a different landscape from the limestone of the day before.
We stopped for coffee at a local café in the small, nontouristy town of São Bartolomeu de Messines before a short but fairly steep climb above the town.
At the top of the hill, the vista opens up to reveal distant mountains all around a flat valley and rolling hills. The mosaic of vegetation includes plantations of bright green stone pine as well as the ubiquitous carob, eucalyptus and cork oak.
I thoroughly enjoyed these views on the descent to the base of the valley. After that, it was just a short climb up to the chapel of Sant’Ana where Cheryl and Graham were waiting for us with a picnic of lemon risotto and salad.
The tile panel beside the ruins of the chapel depicts the historical battle that this trail is named after. Back in 1834, the legitimate claim to the Portuguese throne was hotly disputed and a battle here ended in victory for those who supported Miguel I’s reinstatement as king. Despite the result of the battle, he did not resume that role and his line of successors were permanently banned from ever taking the throne..
After lunch, and a glimpse of a less peaceful past, we had a gentle climb through the stone pines and then down again to follow the Funcho River back to the villa.
Algarve walk 4: Archaeological route
(17.5 km circular, moderate)
This was another day with lots of red earth, sandstone and great views. We spent a little while marvelling at dry stone walls and a flower farm before walking through the village of Amorosa, where we saw not just chickens but guinea fowl, as well as some fine examples of Algarvian chimney pots.
Away from the village, the views began to expand to reveal distant hills. We followed a wide dirt track through red and green countryside then reached a point were the colours of the earth became more varied.
Then it was time to leave the wide track and go grave-hunting. The first, the Necrópole da Pedreirinha, is up a small hill, where there are three burial chambers carved into the sandstone.
There is evidence that this site has been used since the Bronze Age, as well as during the Roman occupation and the Middle Ages. The fact that there are not only graves for two adults, but also one for a child suggests that this family was one of unusually high status in the agro-pastrol society of the 6th and 7th centuries.
As a burial place, Pedreirinha commands impressive views of the Fuzeiros Valley area, as does the next one we found slightly higher up the hill.
From here, it was time to walk the Vilarinha Alignment, which consists of four sandstone menhirs placed on the top of small hills in a kind of staircase arrangement. Remarkably, considering they were built some time between 5500 and 3000 BC, they are in a straight line running from northeast to southeast, which suggest that they were used for a social or religious purpose.
Again, their locations offer splendid views over the green valley and hills beyond. Part way along this trail, there is a recreation of a birthing site in the form of a spiral and other shapes marked out in stones.
As we continued, we saw more sandstone graves, some of which are in a family’s back garden!
The last part of the circular walking trail offered different scenery, an abandoned farmhouse and some fabulous patterned rocks.
Although this was probably my favourite walk of the holiday, it was quite a long one, so it was wonderful to get into the river for a soothing swim when we returned to the villa.
Walk 5: Funcho Water Views
(15 km linear, moderate)
Tracy, our guide for the last of our Algarve walks, met us at the villa. She and her partner Harry are keen walkers and have walked the whole of the Via Algarviana trail as well as countless other shorter trails in the region.
This particular hike follows much of the Via Algarviana around the contours of the Funcho reservoir. While we were close to the water’s edge, we spotted various birds, including black and white ducks, a heron, a stork and a few egrets.
Climbing to a higher level on the wide track, which snakes along the hills surrounding the reservoir, gave us splendid views from a variety of angles. The scenery was pretty similar throughout the walk, in that it was schistous rock studded with cistus plants, strawberry trees and cork oaks.
Since this is a linear walk, Cheryl and Graham met us at the picnic area near the Funcho dam with a table of tasty treats, after which we all strolled down to the dam.
I’m always amazed by these feats of engineering that hold back tons of water. On the lower side of the dam, the river was very shallow but the birds were having fun swooping around our heads.
Interested in doing this Algarve walking holiday yourself?
Although the exact itinerary may change slightly for next year’s group walking holidays, my experience gives you a good idea of what to expect.
You can also arrange for a bespoke walking holiday to suit your own group and dates.
Either way, simply complete this enquiry form to get more details from Graham and Cheryl.