If you have ever taken the back road to Alcoutim then you will have almost certainly stopped at Miradouro do Pontal. If you haven’t yet taken the back road and are or soon will be in the East Algarve then check out my earlier post to find out why you should! Miradouro do Pontal is one of ‘the’ places to stop to take photographs of the Guadiana and you could also enjoy an alfresco lunch here as there are picnic tables. We hadn’t stopped here for ages but two months ago we did, as Miradouro do Pontal is also the official start of the PR2 ACT ‘Ladeiras do Pontal’ trail. Like the majority of walks in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve PR2 ACT goes anti-clockwise. I wonder why so many are anti-clockwise? Answers on a postcard!
Surprisingly given my recent comments on walk directions and starting points not only did we walk it anti-clockwise we began at the official point, hope you are impressed Jo!
Less impressive was the weather when we walked this. It was a very grey day when we put on our hiking boots in April, although that was probably a good thing as the guide advises this isn’t a walk to attempt on hot days. There are lots of ups and downs and very little shelter, so also not the best walk to attempt if the chances of rain are high. Our weather forecast had said there was only a 25% chance of rain and since the guide mentioned lots of forests, orchards and woods we thought we’d probably be ok. Having parked the car at Miradouro do Pontal it is then a few minutes walk down the road to the track, from here it is all up here through the herbaceous and shrubby vegetation. Few birds at this point but plenty of flowers. Towards the top of the first hill, or was it the second, there is a path leading off to the left which takes you on the smuggler’s route back to Miradouro do Pontal. A perfect short cut if you suddenly realise your footwear is unsuitable or the day is proving hotter/wetter than you expected. However it does make it a much shorter walk so we’d encourage you to keep going on PR2 ACT. The Ladeiras do Pontal trail might be longer but is well worth it!
If you do keep going on PR2 then there are lots of up and downs, but the track is wide and easy to walk and there is so much to see from butterflies to flowers, larks, goats and of course the panoramic views. There are also other short cuts further on if you have a good map on you, don’t try them if you don’t have one as it would be easy to get lost.
Eventually we arrived in Torneiro. I say eventually not because of the length of the walk but because I kept stopping to take photographs! Torneiro is a tiny hamlet well off the beaten track although it is on the Via Algarviana, the 300km walking/cycling route which takes you from Alcoutim in the east to Cape St. Vincent in the west. It was here Presidente Aníbal Cavaco Silva visited in May 2006 as part of his ‘Social Inclusion’ programme. The hamlet felt deserted on the day we walked through, but there were signs of life and there was something about Torneiro which makes us want to return.
From Torneiro it was an easy walk through orchards and woods to Balurcos de Baixo. The official trail takes you around the village avoiding the main road. The main road is though incredibly quiet so if you wanted you could easily take a short cut and stroll along it to the trail for the second half of the Ladeiras do Pontal trail.
But if you do that you will miss out on the opportunity to peer over garden walls, visit the village laundry and listen to the glorious bells! Did you know that the shepherds simply put them on the sheep because they like the sound, nothing to do with finding lost sheep.
Balurcos de Baixo is the half way point of PR2 and so you’ll probably be wanting to stop here for your lunch. Unfortunately I cannot recommend or even mention any restaurants or even small bars as we didn’t see anything. I am sure there is one here as this is quite a large village but we were not looking too hard as we had come well prepared with a picnic in our rucksacks, plus I was more interested in saying hello to the cats I saw and photographing the village pump then looking for cafes! We were though ready to stop and so approximately 5 minutes after leaving the village we stopped for our picnic. Robert found us a perfect spot out of the wind, with incredible views and there was an added bonus of some sunshine.
After a scrumptious picnic of salad, fruit, Portuguese cheese and sourdough bread – yup so good I can even recall it today two months later – it was time to get walking again. Fortunately from here it was all down hill and our energy levels remained high as every corner we turned opened up more views of Guadiana and the Spanish hills beyond. By now we had lost the sunshine, but despite the stormy skies it was incredibly beautiful.
It was on the descent we were re-joined by the smugglers trail and shortly after this we found ourselves looking across to where the ascent started at the beginning of the walk all those hours ago. The return trail though doesn’t take you that way, instead it takes you beside the Rio Guadiana. We have mixed views on whether this is a good thing or not. Mainly I suspect because by this stage the grey skies had turned into a heavy drizzle, and so what we had envisaged would be a short stroll beside the river actually felt quite long and the river didn’t seem that close. Perhaps on a sunny day it would charming and a pleasant change from the hills, but for us it all felt too much of a contrast from the rest of the walk. Next time we’ll consider taking the short cut up the main road or retracing our steps via the smugglers path.
Still going this way in the drizzle did set off my imagination. We sheltered for a while under one of the olive trees, but I was not entirely comfortable standing under the trees. I kept thinking of Arthur Rackham illustrations of Tree Men!
Quickly leaving the Tree Men behind we followed the trail through small agricultural plots with glimpses of the river through the reeds. The trail finishes with a short but quite steep ascent up to the Miradouro do Pontal. Despite your heart and legs advising you to the contrary, the ascent is not as steep as some of the earlier trail sections but coming right at the end of your 8mile walk some of your party may complain!
Although it was an odd ending this is our favourite Algarvian walk to date, and it has almost inspired us to take on one of the Grande Rotas. Note I did say ‘almost’ we’re not quite fit enough just yet, albeit we did nearly join the GR15 in error at one point. Yup the trail markers can be confusing on this trail as they are on many other walks, but I guess this along with the wonderful wildflowers and bird life is what makes walking in the Algarve so much fun. Happy days even when it is cloudy, and if you are there now hope you have packed the sunhat, suncream and water as it looks hot!