Friday, July 6, 2018

Portugal's Rota Vicentina - and a quick update about Spring 2018

On the Rota Vicentina

I know that we are settled because days, weeks, and now months have gone by without my feeling as if there is anything blog-worthy. But the blog has been viewed nearly 11,000 times so there is still interest, and that encourages me to keep sharing.

This spring we have enjoyed visits with friends from Las Vegas, Oregon and California. We are humbled that anyone will make the effort to come find us here in the mountains of Southern Spain and we truly appreciate the opportunity to share the rhythm of our lives with those who are interested.

Friends Mary and Richard visited from Las Vegas for Sam's birthday

Oregon friend Janelle contemplates Ronda on my birthday

California friends Linda and Toni enjoying lunch on the Mediterranean

In May we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to fly to Italy to spend time with a friend from Oregon who was returning to the village where he was born. Our time with Carlo was precious as he showed us places from his childhood and shared stories of what it was like living there during WWII as a young boy. Spending time in Italy is always magical and we took every opportunity to enjoy the food and wine while exploring picturesque villages in Tuscany and Umbria, finishing with a few days in Rome. 

Touring Carlo's childhood village

And in June I went walking in Portugal. 

Back in January my neighbor's husband decided that she and I should plan a walking holiday. We jumped at the idea but deciding where to go took some consideration. Our trip could take no more than a week, so wherever we went should be within a day's drive from home. We agreed that camping wasn't necessarily what we were imagining; a good daily walk with a shower, a cool drink, dinner out, and a comfortable bed each night sounded appealing. I did some research and then I remembered the Rota Vicentina in Portugal.

Three years ago, the day before I arrived in Santiago de Compostela, I encountered a group of Portuguese in a small bar. We seemingly became instant friends. During that first visit, one of the men, José, told me about the Rota Vicentina, a path along the southern Atlantic coastline of Portugal. He insisted that I must walk it someday and told me it was the most beautiful walk. I filed that information away in my mind where it was soon buried by other adventures, including our move to Spain. But now I looked it up on the internet and sent the link to Juliet. It was quickly decided that this was exactly what we would do!

The Rota Vicentina begins in the seaside town of Porto Covo, south of Lisbon and it follows along the high cliffs and beaches that make up the stunning coastline. The photos promised a gorgeous walk. We decided to go in June, which is late in the recommended time frame because the weather can be quite hot by June, but that was the time that we had available so I got to work planning our trip. Soon our group of two grew to four as Juliet's cousin and her friend decided to join in.

Our International group

I planned to do lots of training, as I had before walking the Camino de Santiago, but a wetter-than-usual winter and spring, interspersed with other distractions, meant that I did very little physical preparation. Three days before leaving for Portugal I loaded up my pack and walked to our gate. I was suffering from a back injury and recovering from a recent illness and as I leaned and swayed under the weight of my pack I wondered how in the world I was going to manage. So I got back online and researched luggage transport options. 

When I walked the Camino I carried my pack every step of the way discarding unnecessary items as I went making my load more manageable, but this walk was meant to be restful and fun, and clearly I was not going to be rested or have fun if I tried to carry my full pack. And so I contacted the transfer service and happily paid the forty euros to have my pack picked up and delivered each day. By the time we started walking the others decided to do the same.

Portugal also had a cooler and wetter-than-usual spring and the week before we went was rainy so we went prepared for any type of weather. But we were blessed to pick the week between the rain and the first heat wave of summer. We had perfect weather. And the result of so much rain was an abundance of wild flowers that were blooming long after the typical season. 

So much color

Lovely flowers

We met up with the others in Porto Covo and the next day we started out. The group consisted of a South African, an Aussie, a Brit and an American, which always sounds to me like the start of a joke, but we blended together easily and enjoyed each other's company every step of the walk.

The guidebook stresses that the trail is challenging and that it is not a good one for those with vertigo or a fear of heights. I think this is good advice, but I also think it is given to discourage those who really are not prepared. The physical challenge is mainly from the distances between services. We needed to carry plenty of water (one day I carried three liters) and much of the walking is in deep sand. This isn't so bad on the flats, but walking uphill in sand takes some effort. And there are certainly dizzying heights, but we were rarely in danger of falling off a cliff. So with minimal attention and good judgement, it is a safe and less-than-terrifying route.

Watch your step!

We averaged twenty kilometers a day taking seven to eight hours to cover that distance. We took hundreds of photos, stopped for leisurely picnics and made time for rest and silliness along the way. The villages that we stayed in each night were charming and we savored the local cuisine from snails to sardines to octopus. Each morning we stopped at the local bakery to purchase Pastel de nata, the typical Portuguese egg tart which made a delightful mid-morning snack.

This walk was truly one of the most beautiful routes I've ever experienced. In every direction the scenery was magnificent. The flowers painted the landscape in brilliant pinks, blues and yellows and the cliffs and beaches were honestly breathtaking. I cannot recommend this walk highly enough.

Truly stunning

The busiest time is typically April and May although this year many people canceled their trips because of the weather. But it can be walked any time of the year. (We never encountered more than ten other walkers each day during our four day walk.) I would not want to do it in high winds because of the sheer drop-offs, but a clear week in January would be a pleasant time to go. I definitely recommend the luggage transport service and booking accommodations ahead of time offers easy days without worrying about where you'll end the day.

If you are interested, all the information you'll need is available here: I ordered the guide book and map and found those useful.

For a short video of our experience follow this link:

Soon we leave for our summer trip to the States to visit family and friends, but we'll be back in Spain in mid-September with more adventures and every-day stories to share. 

Hasta pronto~

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