Earlier in the year we went on a boat trip along the section of coast between Carvoeiro and Praia da Marinha, which gave us the opportunity to see the amazing rock formations in this area and to go into the caves and see the secluded coves under the cliffs. We were pleased to discover that it is also possible to walk along the top of the cliffs and that there is a popular and well-signposted walk described in the Guide to Walking Trails in the Algarve, published by the Turismo do Algarve, the ‘Seven Hanging Valleys Trail’ (Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos).
We started the walk at the top of the flight of steps to the east of Centianes beach, an impressive 45.5 metres above sea level. Due to the steep undulations of the cliffs, at certain points of the walk there are some challenging sections which involve clambering up or scrambling down the rocks. The part of the walk between Vale de Centianes and the Alfanzina lighthouse at Cabo Carvoeiro has several of these sections. The path flattens out on the approach to the lighthouse and although we could not enter the grounds of the lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1920 and standing at 23 metres can be seen for approximately 50 kilometres, it made an interesting respite.
The section between the lighthouse and Praia de Benagil is a bit more benign. It goes through an area of pine trees and leads to one of the highlights of this section, the Leixão de Ladrão (or Ladrão Stack). The pale rock, with a lace-effect on the surface, spreads into the sea resembling the surface of the moon. In a local legend set in Moorish times the lace-effect on the rock is said to have been created by the tears of a princess mourning the death of the man she loved. Nowadays a viewing platform with seats allows walkers to sit and enjoy the view and hopefully not cry over the rocks. The walk continues by Praia do Carvalho, a small cove beach which can only be accessed by climbing down a steep flight of steps and walking through a tunnel in the cliff. The beach has the English nickname of ‘Smugglers’ Cove’, and together with the Leixão de Ladrão, which translates to mean ‘Thief’s Stack’, suggests the area was rife with nefarious activities in the past. The walk doesn’t go down as far as the beach, but cuts across the car park and continues on to Benagil.
There are seven hanging valleys on this walk. A hanging valley is a geological feature formed by a watercourse flowing from the top of a cliff into the sea which erodes the limestone rock creating a small valley and Benagil beach is in one of these valleys. At Benagil the direction markers aren’t very clear and it’s easy to take a wrong turn, as we found out. When you arrive at the beach, walk up the hill and veer right past O Pescador restaurant until you reach O Algar restaurant. Turn right up some steps by the side of the restaurant and follow the path to the famous Algar de Benagil. The algar (‘vertical cave’) is fenced off for safety and is not as impressive from above as it is from below and to really appreciate its natural beauty you need to enter it from the sea.
The walk from Benagil to Praia da Marinha becomes challenging again in a few places. There is a steep crag which leads to a large area of trees that were destroyed by last summer’s forest fires and it was sad to see the blackened remains of what would have been impressive trees. Thankfully this was the only part of the walk that had been affected by the fire and on the rest of the walk we were able to enjoy, if not always recognise and name, plants that have adapted to grow in dry, salty conditions, such as juniper, dwarf palm, beach daisy, ice plant, goosefoot, thyme and rock samphire. We weren’t so lucky at sighting the birds which come to the area to shelter on the side of the cliffs. The information board promised us rock doves, alpine swifts, kestrels and peregrine falcons, but all we saw was a large group of herring gulls sitting near the edge of the path completely unfazed by the number of people walking by.
As we approached Praia da Marinha the stunning rock formations, arches and stacks came into view. After stopping for some time to take photos of these natural sculptures we reached the end of the walk in Praia da Marinha car park.
The walk is 5.7km and can be done from Vale de Centianes to Praia da Marinha or vice versa. It takes approximately 3 hours one way. There is a car park at both beaches, but the walk is not a circular one so you will need to get back to your car either on foot or by taxi. There is no bus between Vale de Centianes and Praia da Marinha. The walk can be broken up into sections: Vale de Centianes to the Alfanzina lighthouse (1 hour); the Alfanzina lighthouse to Benagil (1 hour); Benagil to Praia da Marinha (50 minutes).
The walk is challenging in places. Shoes with a good grip are essential. The entire walk is very clearly marked and the path is well-trodden, so it is hard to get lost. All direction markers have red and yellow lines: a red arrow to the left or right with a yellow line above it indicates a left or right turn; horizontal yellow and red lines indicate straight on; and crossed yellow and red lines indicate no entry. Sometimes the markers are painted on stones or are a bit faded, but they appear at regular intervals. There are several information boards along the walk with information in Portuguese and English about the flora, fauna and geological features.