It seems like a simple question. But the answer isn’t as simple as you might expect.
This week, whilst pulling together images for an article we’re writing about hiking in different parts of Portugal, I noticed quite a few travel websites/publications had the location of the Costa Vicentina not quite right.
“Lying between Alentejo and the Algarve” is a description that turns up a few times. It’s one which doesn’t make any sense, and has probably come about as a result of a translation from the Portuguese. There is nothing between Alentejo and the Algarve – definitely not a no man’s land where there’s a wildly beautiful stretch of Atlantic coastline.
Other descriptions have it as being Portugal’s largest protected natural park, or that it straddles two regions (Alentejo and the Algarve).
So why the differences?
There are three factors which combine to confuse the issue of where the Costa Vicentina is actually situated.
The location of the stretch of Portuguese coastline called the Costa Vicentina is, ultimately, straightforward. It runs from Odeceixe on Portugal’s west coast, to Burgau on the south coast. Both are in the Algarve, meaning the Costa Vicentina is entirely within the Algrave region. But there’s a complication. Costa Vicentina is also part of a natural park called …
Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
This protected stretch of coastline is over 100km long, stretching from just below Alentejo’s Sines (where we had the best leitão butty we ate in Portugal – from Pingo Doce of all places), to Burgau in the Algarve. This is where much of the confusion comes in. Some people think that because Costa Vicentina makes up part of the natural park’s name, it runs for the length of the park itself. It doesn’t. South west Alentejo and Costa Vicentina are two distinct parts of the park. But there’s another factor which can add to the confusion, and that’s the …
The Rota Vicentina is a long-distance hiking trail consisting of a choice of routes. The main ones are the Historic Way and the popular Fishermen’s Trail. The more rural Historic Way begins at Santiago do Cacém and winds south, partly inland, whereas the Fishermen’s Trail begins at the northern boundary of the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina and follows the coast all the way to Lagos, therefore taking in both the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina and Costa Vicentina, plus a little bit more.
But, just in case you thought that more or less cleared it up, until relatively recently the Rota Vicentina ended at Cabo de São Vicente. An extra stretch has been added on.
In the end, these are all labels. What people who visit this part of Portugal are really interested in is being able to walk a stretch of untamed coastline which boasts desert-sized beaches, cliff-top paths, white-washed fishing villages, and storks on stacks, with the exuberant Atlantic as an ever-present companion. And that’s exactly what you get just about anywhere along Portugal’s south west coast, irrespective of what its official name is.