Day 1 of the Rota Vicentina
The Fisherman’s Trail
Porto Covo to Vila de Nova Milfontes 20 km/12.5 miles
Anna and I arrived in Porto Covo in the dark on a bus from Lisbon to begin our journey on the Rota Vicentina.
It was a chilly January evening and we wandered the streets to find some dinner before heading to bed. I always find it hard to sleep when I am about to begin a new adventure.
We woke up to pink skies over the village of Porto Covo, and after a quick bite of breakfast, we headed out to begin our walk.
The pink sky turned bright blue before our eyes. Between the sun and the walking, we quickly warmed up, feeling smug about what a good choice it was to come to Portugal in January.
The Rota Vicentina is a network of walking routes in Portugal that includes the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical Way (as well as several circular routes that are day hikes). It was named after the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, a protected coastal area in the south of Portugal where most of the trails are situated.
The Rota Vicentina is a fairly new trail in Portugal. Most of the trails have been there for a long time, but the linking of them together and the promotion of it as a national trail has only been around for a decade or so. Of course fishermen have accessed the trail for ages, as well as beach goers, but it is only recently being discovered as a long-distance trail for tourist walkers like me. I mention this because one of the things Anna and I marveled at every day was how it seemed like we had the entire trail to ourselves. We met very few other walkers, and passed more empty beaches than we could count. (I do think some of the beaches fill up in the warmer seasons.)
The views along the trail out to the sea are so gorgeous that I think this trail will quickly grow in popularity. In fact, the trail association is actively promoting it in travel fairs across Europe this year. All that to say, if you’re looking for an incredibly beautiful, but quiet coastal trail, get yourself out to Portugal soon to walk the Rota Vicentina!
As we set out, we made our way to the restaurant we had found the night before that was overlooking the sea.
From there we followed the signs into the bright blue day.
The first hour or so we were taking photos non-stop. We just couldn’t believe the beauty.
Since Anna and I had both traveled from dark, winter climates, we were so excited to strip off layers in the sun. If we stopped, we would cool down quickly but as long as we were moving, we were plenty warm.
The trail twists and winds along the cliff edges, often dipping deep into the land to circle around a cove or a place where the sea has cut into the rocks.
For the first hour we watched an island in the distance get closer and closer.
Soon, we could see that there was some sort of fortress on the island.
Much of this trail was on sandy pathways, which can be a bit slow going.
At one point the trail dipped all the way down to cross a wide empty beach.
After walking across the flat beach, we climbed back up above the sea.
Like many coastal trails, this is a theme, you dip down and then go back up. Then down and back up.
It is strenuous but somehow, it doesn’t feel as hard as when you are mountain climbing. On the Via Alpina, for example, most days you climb all morning and then descend all afternoon.
If feels better to me to have the up and down broken up all day long. You almost don’t have time to grow tired of one before you switch to the other.
And then of course, you also get long stretches that are almost level along the cliffs.
And again, I cannot overstate how incredible the scenery is on the Rota Vicentina!
On our first day, we didn’t plan well for how few facilities are along this trail between the stages.
There really isn’t even a place to get water. We passed a couple of beachside cafes that were closed for the winter. We still had over 3 km to go and we were out of water when we passed the last one, but Anna found a hose behind it that we used to fill up our water bottles. Lesson learned: We would definitely carry more water for the rest of the days.
We had a few energy bars with us as well, and we were glad.
We powered through the final miles after our water was refilled and soon we were sitting at a cafe in our destination: Vila de Nova Milfontes.
After a drink, we walked through town to find our hostel.
We stayed at a place called Selina that we really enjoyed. It’s a chain of hostels…there is actually one in Chicago!
The Selina in Milfontes had a rooftop lounge where you could sit and watch the sunset over the sea.
And they had a hot tub! We were delighted to make this discovery and headed there quick after checking in.
In the hot tub, we chatted to the only other gal we had seen on the trail that day. She was from Holland, walking the trail by herself.
After we watched the sunset, we went into town to find some dinner.
Per the recommendation of the waiter at Paparoca, we had the special of the day: Pataniscas bacalhau com arroz de feijão
Like many traditional Portuguese dishes, salted cod is the main ingredient. You mix the fish with flour and egg and fry it into a kind of fish pancake. You serve it with beans and rice. It was delicious. We also ordered salad and house wine.
We were grateful to our host for his recommendation and told him how much we loved it.
With happy, full bellies, we headed back to the hostel. We sat in the common room for a while and played a few games. Then we crawled into our beds to rest up for the next day.