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A deep dive into the Fishermen’s Trail in Portugal

Fishermen's Trail in Portugal

You know when something is so good, you just have to have two of them? Well, the Rota Vicentina is a bit like that. It’s a 400km colossal web of natural trails and it comes in two equally perfect packages: the Caminho Histórico or Historical Way and the Trilho dos Pescadores Fishermen’s Trail. Both link Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo region on the west coast with the dramatic headland of Cabo de São Vicente on the corner of the southern Algarve coast. The Historical Way heads inland and the Fishermen’s Trail clings to cliffs, seduces you with sandy coves and beckons hikers on from one headland to the next. Join us as we cast our net out onto the Fishermen’s Trail in Portugal, as well as some parts of the Historical Way. 

You may have to stop a few times to shake the sand from your shoes, but the Fishermen’s Trail is perfect if you have itchy feet.

Walking the Fishermen’s Trail of the Rota Vicentina

The Fishermen’s Trail is our most popular holiday along the Rota Vicentina, and on this six day, self-guided holiday, we have created an itinerary that takes in the saltiest highlights. In total, the Fishermen Trail hugs the coast (aka Costa Vicentina), for 125km between Porto Covo and Cape of São Vicente along mostly pedestrian-only tracks and trails. This holiday covers 74km in total, with some transfer shortcuts to all the hot highlights along the coast. 

There’s something wonderful about just heading south, and keeping the sea on your right-hand side as you walk, knowing that you just can’t get lost. Start in Porto Côvo, a traditional fishing village in Alentejo and finish in Odeceixe, another small village just on the border with Algarve, where the River Seixe meets the sea. 

Highlights along the way include one beautiful fishing village after another, dramatic cliffs with storks nesting on sea stacks, handsome lighthouses such as the one at Cabo Sardão and a plethora of praias like Zambujeira do Mar or Almograve. All interspersed with Portgual’s formidable wines, seafood and many more local treats. 

We LOVED this walking holiday. This is our first one ever, and loved every aspect…I had high expectations (it was our honeymoon!), and those expectations were met. We will 100% book another walking holiday through The Natural Adventure.” – Claire, Cambridge, April 2023 on our Fishermen’s Trail Highlights holiday

Walking the Historical Way of the Rota Vicentina 

Given that the Rota Vicentina is derived from the Latin, Via Vicentina, which was an ancient Roman road that connected the cities of Sines in the Alentejo region and Lagos in the Algarve, it is indeed pretty historic. As well as the Romans, this path has had both pilgrim and pastoral uses. We don’t have any trips that focus solely on the Historical Way, however, opting for ones that dip in and out of both the Historical and the Coastal Way, or indeed combine bits of both of them, as you can see on this Rota Vicentina walking holiday. This takes 14 days, starting inland at the medieval town of Santiago do Cacém up north in Alentejo and finishing at Cabo de São Vicente, the most south-western point of continental Europe in the Algarve. 

As well as many of the coastal stops mentioned above, your journey includes a few inland idylls such as swimming in Campilhas Lake, walking through groves of cork oaks (sobreiros) which are very typical of the area, and strolling across wildflower meadows. You can also divide this trail into two halves, walking either the Alentejo or the Algarve section, each taking eight days. 

We really enjoyed this holiday following the Fishermen’s Trail and the Historical routes. The countryside is beautiful with amazing cliff, beach and sea views, quite spectacular. In March there were many interesting flowers and plants. I also liked the inland parts of the trek for the wide-ranging views and a bit of relief from the sand paths (on some days). The trails were clearly marked. Ricardo, the local representative, was excellent.” – Birmingham, April 2023, on our Algarve Coastal and Historical Trails holiday

The route markings on the Fishermen’s Trail are blue and green stripes, and you will see nature displaying plenty of both along the way.

When is the best time to walk the Fishermen’s Trail?

The spring season is wonderfully warm, compared with many parts of Europe, with temperatures averaging around 20C to 21C. However, as it’s coastal it can feel cooler if the wind picks up. The summer can hit temperatures of 34C, so all of our trips only run between the months of February and June, or September to December (with the exception of this cycling holiday which runs all year). 

Late-season sun-seekers can still be found sunbathing throughout the autumn, enjoying average daily maximum temperatures ranging from 26C in September to 19C in November. The sea temperatures stay between 19 and 21C in autumn too. 

December is the region’s wettest month with, on average, 96mm of rainfall although temperatures rarely fall below 12C, and so this makes a wonderful Christmas escape for many of our customers especially as you get, on average, five to six hours of sunshine per day in December. Albeit with the odd bit of rainfall. 

The perfect spring break! – April is a great time to do this walk as it’s not too hot and there’s a carpet of flowers along the path. Walking 20km on sand is tiring, but the scenery is spectacular and the route is mainly flat and very well marked.” – Bones, Dublin on our Fishermen’s Trail Highlights holiday, 2023. 

How easy is it to get to the Rota Vicentina? 

The Rota Vicentina isn’t handed to you on a plate, and you do need to plan some adventurous journeying into your itinerary to get there. Beauty doesn’t always come easy, but this one is worth it in the end. If you are taking on the Fishermen’s Trail holiday, your first night is in Vila Nova de Milfontes, which is 190km south of Lisbon. Take a Metro (6mins) from Lisbon airport to Gare do Oriente (Lisbon Oriente Station), where you get a train to Funcheira, after which you have a 50km taxi ride (approx €60). Or you can take a bus directly from Terminal Rodoviário de Sete Rios in central Lisbon to Vila Nova de Milfontes. 

If you are travelling from Faro airport to Vila Nova de Milfontes (136km), take the number 16 bus to Faro’s central station and then the train to Funcheira, followed by a taxi, as above. You can also get a bus from Faro airport to Vila Nova de Milfontes, changing buses in Lagos.  

If you are taking on the combined Rota Vicentina, or the northern Alentejo section, they both start in Santiago do Cacém. Take a bus from Terminal Rodoviário de Sete Rios in central Lisbon direct to Santiago do Cacém. From Faro airport, get a bus to Santiago do Cacém, changing buses in Lagos. 

If you choose to just do the Algarve section of the Rota Vicentina, your starting point is Zambujeira do Mar which you can access direct by bus from Terminal Rodoviário de Sete Rios in Lisbon’s city centre. Alternatively, take a Metro (6mins) from Lisbon airport to Gare do Oriente (Lisbon Oriente Station) and then a direct train to Santa Clara-Saboia, followed by a 30mins taxi ride to Zambujeira do Mar. From Faro airport, take the number 16 bus to the city centre main station, and then a direct train to Santa Clara-Saboia, followed by a 30mins taxi ride to Zambujeira do Mar.

The iconic Cabo de São Vicente lighthouse in the Algarve at the country’s southwestern tip. This is one colossal corner to turn.

How difficult is the Fishermen’s Trail and Rota Vicentina?

Our walking holidays are categorised as moderate, but the terrain is not harsh, with few steep ascents or descents. However, as you are going to be walking at least five to six hours a day, you still need to be a seasoned walker and get some preparation in. There are options for shorter stages on some of the holidays. 

The routes are on waymarked paths and trails, including walking on sand, dunes and off-road tracks, and in general, the itinerary is very easy to follow. The route markings on signs are blue and green stripes, and you will see nature displaying plenty of both along the way. But do be prepared for sandy stretches, which can slow you down. 

Cycling the Rota Vicentina 

Although most of the Fishermen’s Trail is for walkers only, we do have two cycling holidays that follow different routes from this wonderful wild web of the Rota Vicentina. Career down the coast for nine days on this trip between Santiago do Cacém and Lagos, north to south, with plenty of time built in to park up and head down to the sea. Or there is a seven day version of the same, starting halfway down the route covering the Algarve only. These are both gentle itineraries, which we categorise as easy to moderate. So you don’t have to hurry a picnic at Zambujeira do Mar beach or on the cliffs overlooking the fine Cabo Sardão or Cabo de São Vicente lighthouses. They are definitely cycling holidays to just go tranqüilo. And even more so if you choose the option of an e-bike. 

Cycling the Rota Vicentina is also possible on an e-bike.

Whether you are choosing to go roaming along this Roman route in spring, autumn or winter, we hope that tales of this Fishermen’s Trail have reeled you in. If you’d like more details, please do not hesitate to contact us. And, if breezy breaks are your thing, then you may enjoy our blogs on the Best coastal walking tours and Best coastal cycling tours.