In 5 days with a campervan
The scents of the air are close and a similar subtle warm honey scent is everywhere, occasionally sharper scents of the sea break through, or the air is interspersed with a new floral sweetness. A patch of herb Rue can be smelt but not seen in the dense cliff top vegetation. When dry clumps of a grey leaved plant are present, the air is filled with the scent of celery and curry leaves. It is like a garden; the cliff top an endless play of rounded mounds, sandy wind blown formations and an ornate patchwork of flowers.
Each day I look forward to heading out again, into the cliff top garden. There are the succulents, dense fields of plants interspersed with the rock roses and wild antirrhinums. There is one main type, a sort of triple sided 3D knife leaf shape endlessly replicating itself and growing out in long chains. The leaves are bright green, dark green, orange, yellow, bright red or dark red. I can only presume this depends on the type of sand it is growing on. Then the flowers are either cream, butter yellow, or bright pink. It is these flowers that produce the honeyed smell. What combinations of colour and shape, translucent in the glowing sunshine. But this abundant plant never dominates it just fits in with everything else. On several sections other succulents were to be found. A close spiral gherkin type shape of small bulbous, scale like leafs. It’s stems revolving like a DNA spiral. Its leaves sometimes rusty brown and sometimes bright green or grey. And another with small fleshy pencil like leaves, producing endless bundles of pink flowers. Juniper, thymes, rosemary, lavender and pink cornflowers cram in and now seem everyday next to the more unusual cliff top plants. There were many more plants I cannot name. Every now and then the path veers off the cliff top or beach and heads deep into the woods or the in between area where dunes are forming, the plant life here is like the cliff tops but caught in their own particular liminal changing world.
Like a paint box of earth colours the sand underfoot changes from deep yellows to lead white to burnt sienna, raw umber and yellow ochre, sometimes within a few metres of walking. Sometimes the sand is dark with iron deposits. The rocks look like gritty iron rounds. The going is either ungainly steps through deep sand (good without shoes) or fast walking is possible on hard compacted or fossilised sand. You can hop from worn chalky rock to grippy sand stone rock, everything mixed up. There is some limestone, it sits above or below in shelves or is mixed with the sandstone. More than once I would glance up and find I was walking past the most dramatic folded cliff formations or see a hovering kestrel overhead because I am too focussed on the deeply coloured ground beneath my feet.
The backdrop to all this is the azure sea of the Atlantic. On not so sunny days the sea is a grey heaving block of limitless power. The waves are big, and surge in with weight and force, breaking on rocks and throwing great arcs of spray into the air. In the sunshine the sea sparkles in an endless azure and white seascape. Wide, flat beaches of perfect sand occur, unmarked by human feet are are sometimes part of the route. Small beaches in tight coves, have natural harbours or shallow portals through the rocky shores that skilful fishermen can enter and leave through. A few times we spotted treacherous rocks where fishermen stood, having lowered themselves down the cliff face on a rope, or they clung to a ledge to fish the sea. There were fishermen’s huts too, the timber constructions windswept and denatured. Sometimes it looked like surfers had decorated them, ringed as they were with plaited coloured rope, shells and the odd, old surf board. A beach bar vibe, perched on a sliding cliff.
We have nearly finished this walk and rather than attempt to define sections of it, I have written it as one experience because it is all incredible and most landscapes are to be found in one walk. There are cliffs, dunes, amazing folded rocks and plants you have never seen before and an incredible variety of bird life to see every day. New plants to smell, new birds to see, rocks to touch and new sands to tread on. Even if you try and focus on one facet of the abundance of life around you you will soon see some new thing that you didn’t see yesterday.
We did the following walks or circuits, sometimes using bikes to take us to a destination to walk from, returning later with the van to collect the bikes. On a couple of days the weather was intermittently wet and so we did a shorter section.
There is a very good map of the walk available in local tourist information centres and a web site describing each section with recommendations for places to stay. It is ideal as a point to point walk with a back pack. The trails are well marked with distinctive blue and green colour scheme.
Day 1 Cabo de São Vicente (Telheiro), circular
Day 2 Carrapateira, circular, Odeceixe, linear
Day 3 Cavaleiro going South
Day 4 Cavaleiro to Almograve
Day 5 Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes, linear