Walking The Algarve Way (Via Algarviana)

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Written by: | Last updated on September 19, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 13 minutes

The Algarve Way (or Via Algarviana) is a 300 km walk that starts in Alcoutim beside the River Guadiana near the Spanish border and continues until Cabo de São Vicente near Sagres on the far Western tip of the Algarve. It is part of the European Footpath Network (Route GR13).

Although the walk is based on a pilgrimage (relics of St. Vincente were found in Sagres), the walking route has only been open since 2009. While it has had some international coverage, it’s nowhere near as popular as other walks in Portugal – especially the Portuguese Camino de Santiago.

The Algarve Way takes you into the “real Algarve,” far from the bustling beach resorts and golf courses that the region is often associated with. It’s perfect for those in search of an authentic taste of traditional Algarve life.

Highlights along the route include the Serra do Caldeirão and Serra de Monchique, two mountainous ranges, the towns of Alte and Silves, and the Costa Vicentina Natural Park at the end of the route.

Because the walk starts on the Portuguese-Spanish border, this route gives walkers a chance to spend some time in Spain at the start of their trip and combine two countries into one trip.

If you have even more time, you could consider walking a little bit of the Rota Vicentina, which begins where the Algarve Way ends.

Route sectors

The Algarve Way is normally split into 14 sectors, and most people complete the walk over 14 days. The distances vary each day, but there are quite a few days where you’ll be walking around 30 km per day (around 18.6 miles).

Sector 1 Alcoutim – Balurcos (24.2 km)

The Via Algarviana journey begins near Alcoutim Pier, with the River Guadiana and a statue commemorating the area’s smuggling history. The route intersects with the PR3 ACT and GR15 paths in Alcoutim, initially following the river’s scenic banks, dominated by active dryland orchards. The path veers west, passing through Cortes Pereiras and leading to the Lavajo Menhirs, then southwest to Afonso Vicente, showcasing traditional houses and gardens. The trail continues through forests, reaching Alcoutenejo Gorge and then Corte Tabelião, eventually leading to the EN 122-1 road to Alcoutim. The route then heads south, intersecting with the PR2 ACT path, and both converge at Balurcos, marking the end of the Via Algarviana’s first sector.

Sector 2 Balurcos – Furnazinhas (14.3 km)

The second sector of the Via Algarviana begins in Balurcos and winds south through paths bordered by drystone walls, showcasing subsistence farming properties. The terrain transitions from gentle hills to the distinct Algarve uplands, leading to the well-preserved Foupana Stream after the IC-27 road. In Palmeira, traditional architecture, including wood-fired ovens and whitewashed houses, is evident. The journey takes you to the ruins of the “Moinho da Rocha do Corvo” water mill and challenges you to cross the potentially treacherous Foupana Stream. A steep climb through a dense holm oak forest leads to Corte Velha, where traces of farming and grazing remain. The route concludes in Furnazinhas, a preserved mountain hamlet that embodies the cultural traditions of rural Algarve.

Sector 3 Furnazinhas – Vaqueiros (20.3 km)

The third sector of the Via Algarviana starts in Furnazinhas, leading north through rugged terrains dotted with pastures, rockrose bushes, and occasional vegetable gardens. Amidst the maritime pine groves, hikers will encounter nearly deserted settlements like Monte Novo and Monte das Preguiças, the latter offering a scenic rest spot by a dam. Traditional upland houses are notable in Malfrades. The path, dominated by stone pines, offers panoramic views from a fire lookout tower and later intersects with the PR8 ACT path. The journey is accentuated by the Vaqueiros Dam’s scenic backdrop, culminating in Vaqueiros, a historically rich village with Moorish origins, Roman archaeological sites, and self-sustaining inhabitants.

Sector 4 Vaqueiros – Cachopo (14.9 km)

The fourth sector of the Via Algarviana begins in Vaqueiros, intersecting with other paths before heading south-west past traditional vegetable gardens and stone-walled watercourses. The landscape is marked by dense rockrose areas and stone pine groves, offering rugged relief and natural viewpoints. The route passes through quaint settlements like Monchique, Amoreira, and Casas Baixas, intersecting with two footpaths, and showcasing subsistence gardens, traditional houses, and other historical structures. The locals’ warmth and adherence to rural traditions enhance the journey’s charm. The path from Casas Baixas to Cachopo winds through a picturesque cork oak forest, concluding in Cachopo, a village retaining its traditional architecture and housing the pilgrimage site, the Church of Santo Estêvão.

Sector 5 Cachopo – Barranco do Velho (29.1 km)

The fifth sector of the Via Algarviana offers a challenging journey through the Mú Hills, presenting rugged landscapes, panoramic hilltop views, and serene valleys. Starting from Cachopo, the path winds through forests of cork oaks and strawberry tree bushes, passing settlements like Currais, known for its local produce, and Alcaria Alta, with its captivating views. After crossing the picturesque Odeleite Stream, a steep ascent leads to Parises, a gateway to the historic town of São Brás de Alportel. The route continues through various gorges, offering expansive views from Cerro da Relva, and intersects with multiple walking paths. Upon reaching Barranco do Velho, hikers can explore the hamlet’s cork-based economy, local eateries, and a “medronho” brandy distillery.

Sector 6 Barranco do Velho – Salir (14.9 km)

The sector intersects with the PR17 LLE – Barranco do Velho Walking Path, leading to the panoramic Faranhão Windmill viewpoint. A descent into Carrascalinho reveals a picturesque ravine and dense cork oak groves, transitioning to the barrocal landscape marked by dryland farmland and drystone walls. The journey culminates in Salir, a significant hub in Loulé, situated between the Barrocal and the hills. Salir’s ancient origins are shrouded in mystery, with Moorish legends deeply embedded in its cultural fabric, such as the Legend of the Enchanted Moorish Maiden. Orchid enthusiasts will appreciate this sector, especially during spring bloom. Additionally, Connection 2 links the Via Algarviana to Loulé train station.

Sector 7 Salir – Alte (16.2 km)

The seventh sector of the Via Algarviana begins in Salir, distinguished by its castle ruins. The path, bordered by drystone walls, traverses settlements like Almarginho and Cerro de Cima, showcasing historical farming remnants like norias. The prominent Rocha da Pena landscape, rich in biodiversity, is accompanied by the legend of Gil da Pena. The journey continues through Benafim, preserving its traditional architecture, and ventures north through the Algarve Barrocal’s orchards to the Freixo Stream. The sector concludes alongside the melodious Alte Stream, leading to the picturesque fountains and the charming village of Alte, renowned for its authenticity and local shops.

Sector 8 Alte – Messines (19.3 km)

Alte, a quintessential Algarve village, boasts whitewashed houses and traditional architectural details. The journey from Alte showcases the Algarve barrocal’s rural landscape, dotted with almond, carob, and fig trees. In Perna Seca, a nature-rich trail leads to Torre, a village valuing handicrafts. The route progresses past Rocha de Messines Hill and through Vale Gorge, highlighting vegetable gardens and their watering mechanisms. Spring travelers will relish the orange blossom aroma near the Meirinho Stream, a scenic, shaded path. The sector concludes in São Bartolomeu de Messines, a centrally-located Algarve town with 17th-century houses nestled by the Caldeirão Hills.

Sector 9 Messines – Silves (27.6 km)

Sector 9 of the Via Algarviana begins in São Bartolomeu de Messines, passing the street of renowned poet João de Deus and traversing the town to the railway. The path, bordered by drystone walls, showcases rural landscapes and cork oak forests. As hikers approach the Arade Stream, they follow its scenic course, enjoying views of the river valley and hills. A picnic spot near the Funcho Dam offers a respite before a challenging uphill segment. The route winds through a eucalyptus-filled valley to Enxerim, dotted with ponds and orchards, leading to the historic city of Silves. This ancient Algarve city is distinguished by its iconic castle and cathedral, both constructed from reddish Silves sandstone.

Sector 10 Silves – Monchique (28.6 km)

The 10th sector of the Via Algarviana starts in Silves, historically the Algarve’s capital, and is marked by its Moorish castle and cathedral, both crafted from red sandstone. The trail leads towards the Monchique Hills, passing through citrus groves and landscapes of rockrose bushes, eucalyptus, and pines. As hikers traverse the hills, they encounter the ruins of Carapinha and Romano and approach the Odelouca Stream, surrounded by small farming villages. The Monchique Stream area offers a scenic break before a challenging ascent to Picota. Along the way, landmarks like the ancient thermal complex at Fonte Santa and the dense cork tree groves stand out. The sector culminates in Monchique, after offering panoramic views from Picota, the Algarve’s second-highest point.

Sector 11 Monchique – Marmelete (14.7 km)

The 11th sector of the Via Algarviana starts in Monchique, passing through the town’s narrow streets and leading to the deteriorated Nossa Senhora do Desterro Convent. Surrounding the convent is a scenic cork oak forest offering views of Monchique and Picota. The trail meanders through dense eucalyptus groves, revealing mountain landscapes and leading to Fóia, the Algarve’s highest point. Along the way, hikers encounter terraced farmlands, remnants of human impact on nature, and small mountain villages like Vale da Moita and Barbelote. Approaching Marmelete, the landscape is dominated by cork oak forests, rich in biodiversity. The sector concludes in Marmelete, where local delicacies like “medronho” brandy and “melosa” offer a memorable taste of the region.

Sector 12 Marmelete – Bensafrim (30.0 km)

The 12th sector of the Via Algarviana begins in Marmelete and initially runs alongside the PR6 MCQ – Marmelete Walking Path. The route diverges, with one path leading to Aljezur and the Via Algarviana continuing towards Bensafrim. This sector, though lengthy, showcases diverse landscapes, from eucalyptus and cork oak forests to Mediterranean scrubland and limestone-rich Barrocal. Along the way, hikers pass through remote areas, punctuated by small villages like Romeiras and landmarks like the Bravura Dam. The journey concludes in Bensafrim, after a serene walk through a vast river valley.

Sector 13 Bensafrim – Vila do Bispo (30.2 km)

Starting from Bensafrim’s center, the route ventures southwest towards Barão de São João, a culturally diverse village enriched by foreign settlers and artists. The journey showcases a barrocal landscape with Mediterranean scrubland and a vast cork oak grove. Beyond the village, the path enters a significant stone pine forest, intersecting with the PR1 LGS – “Pedra do Galo” Walking Path. The terrain shifts between mountains, valleys, and fertile farmlands, leading to the Budens Lake wetland area. Limestone outcrops and pastures indicate proximity to the Vincentine Coast. The sector concludes in Vila do Bispo, offering the first sea views of the route.

Sector 14 Vila do Bispo – Sagres (17.7 km)

The final stretch of the Via Algarviana traverses the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park, showcasing endemic flora, unique coastal landscapes, and rare bird species like the redbilled chough and peregrine falcon. Starting from Vila do Bispo’s Main Church, the route meanders through abandoned fields and grazing areas, highlighting the region’s rich megalithic heritage. The path leads to birdwatching hotspots near settlements like Catalão and Vale Santo, intersecting with the GR11 – Rota Vicentina. As travelers approach the Cape Saint Vincent Lighthouse, they can savor the Atlantic’s salty breeze at Telheiro Beach. The journey culminates at Cabo de São Vicente, a historically significant cape known for its mysticism and breathtaking sunsets.

When to go

The best time of the year to walk The Algarve Way is probably spring, when the flowers are blooming and the weather is milder. Winters in the Algarve are also usually quite mild, and February and March can be good months to walk the trail.

It’s worth mentioning that, although the weather varies from year to year, April is known to be one of the wetter months as evidenced by sayings like “Abril de águas mil” (April of a thousand waters).

Autumn and winter are also good times to visit, although September and October can still be very hot. By November, however, the temperatures will have cooled and will usually be much more pleasant for walking.

Unexpected warm weather is better than unexpected rain: if it’s too hot, just get up earlier and do the majority of the walking in the morning. If it’s raining, unfortunately there’s not a lot you can do apart from pause the trip for a few days to let the rains pass.

Route markings

Although many people take a GPS device with them, The Algarve Way is well-signposted with signs that show you which turns to take as well as signs that show you if you’ve gone the wrong way.

Getting to Alcoutim

Most people will fly to Faro Airport, the Algarve’s regional airport, which is located around 95 km or just over an hour from Alcoutim by car.

Alcoutim is a little out of the way and, to get to Alcoutim from Faro Airport, you’ll need to:

  • Take the airport bus (bus #16) or a taxi into Faro
  • Take the train or bus from Faro to Vila Real de Santo António
  • Take a bus or taxi from Vila Real de Santo António to Alcoutim

Train tickets can be bought on cp.pt and bus tickets can be bought on eva-bus.com.

If you’re coming from Lisbon or another part of Portugal, take a train or bus (tickets available on rede-expressos.pt) to Faro and then follow the steps above to get to Alcoutim.

Cycling the Algarve Way

It’s possible to cycle at least 90% of The Algarve Way, and the route normally takes most cyclists around 5 days. You’ll need a good mountain bike for the route, which can be strenuous at times.

If you need to rent a mountain bike, you’ll probably need to go to a bike rental shop in Faro and then cycle onto the starting point in Alcoutim. Alternatively, you can take the bike on the train.

More info

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.

You can contact James by emailing james@portugalist.com or via the site's contact form.

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