Since the inauguration of the Rota Vicentina in 2013, these marked walking and cycling trails have been increasing in popularity and now attract visitors from all across Europe.
The concept is simple. Stretching from the ancient town of Santiago do Cacem in the north, to the Cape of St Vincent in the south, the Rota Vicentina is divided into two: the 120km Fishermen’s Trail (predominantly coastal paths used by locals and fishermen to reach the beaches of the Alentejo and the Algarve), and the 230km Historical Trail (predominantly a rural trail running through villages, cork forests and across agricultural land).
The Fishermen’s Trail and Historical Trail are then sub-divided into smaller one-day walks, each starting and ending in a small community where accommodation, meals and drinks are on offer. The maximum distance recommended on a one-day walk is 25km, this is the route between Sao Luis and Odemira, and the minimum distance between stages is just 6km.
The creation and promotion of the Rota Vicentina is sustainable tourism in action, with local residents benefiting from the increased spending in their area; from the protection of their natural surroundings and from a growing pride in the spectacular landscape that they call home and in the traditional customs that they can share with their guests.
Businesses are springing up along the route including new guesthouses, activity companies, transfer companies, artisan shops and restaurant/snack bars.
It has also helped to extend the holiday season in the region with most visitors choosing to walk or cycle the route (or parts of it) from September to early June, out of the heat of the summer sun. This is also the time of the harvests (September), wild flowers in bloom (March, April, May) and bird migrations (September and October).
I have recently spent a week walking five stages of the Rota Vicentina and would highly recommend it to anyone wishing to really experience the Alentejo and Algarve regions of Portugal. You will come across lone fishermen standing on the rocks; couples bathing on stretches of unspoiled and uncrowded golden sand; farmers plowing their fields; eucalyptus, cork and bamboo forests and traditional villages and towns where you will sit side-by-side with local residents enjoying their lunchtime break.
Is it easy? It depends on the route that you follow. Each of the trails is graded from Easy to Difficult so you can choose the best option for you. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes, a hat, an ample supply of water and your camera.