The ‘Trail of the Headlands’ (Caminho dos Promontórios) is a six-kilometre walk, inaugurated in 2018, from Carvoeiro to Ferragudo along the cliff tops, following a rugged coastline of rocks shaped by the waves and wind, which has resulted in promontories, small cove beaches and the distinctive arches, caves, galleries, sinkholes and sea stacks which are prevalent along this part of the coast.
The scenery is absolutely stunning; it is some of the best I have seen in southern Portugal. Through facts given on information boards along the walk we were able to look out for flora and fauna, although, maybe because we were concentrating on not falling over, we didn’t spot much on the day we did the walk. But you may be lucky enough to see a variety of seabirds which rest and breed in the cliffs, including the Alpine swift, common kestrel, cormorant, northern gannet, peregrine falcon, rock dove and yellow-legged gull, as well as scrubland birds such as the Sardinian warbler. The caves also make a good home for cave bats, who can hide there during the day. The coastline offers biodiverse marine habitats ranging from sand pockets and rocks to seagrass beds and encourages species such as anemone, spiny starfish and seahorses. On the top of the cliffs plants that thrive in limestone are abundant, such as the succulent Sedum sediforme, the flowering herb Teucrium polium and the more easy to pronounce broadleaf cattail, which grows in puddles found on the limestone surface, as well as lilies and orchids (Ophrys lutea, Ophrys speculum and Spanish iris) and Mediterranean scrubland plants (mastic tree, kermes oak, juniper, wild olive, dwarf fan palm, rock samphire, sea orache and beach daisy).
The walk starts in Carvoeiro by the Mar d’Fora restaurant, above Paraíso beach (with its distinctive zigzagging white steps).
Not far into the walk we came across the first, and steepest, of the inclines, which runs by Salgadeira beach, a beach that can only be reached by sea. We attempted this part of the walk two years ago and decided to abandon the rest of the walk after reaching the bottom, however, the council has now erected a rope handrail all the way down this slope and it was much easier.
As we continued the walk we got good views of the secluded beaches of Padre Vicente and Cama da Vaca, which are also beaches that can only be reached by sea.
Just under halfway along the walk we came to Vale da Lapa beach (which can be accessed from the land) and a hanging valley known as Presa da Moura, which, according to the information board, has links to Roman times when, it is thought, a dam was built there as part of a fish salting plant. The dam has now disappeared due to coastal erosion.
A bit further on we came to a large circular watchtower (4 metres high and 5 metres in diameter), the Torre da Lapa (Lapa Tower), positioned near the edge of the cliff with good views of the coast along to the mouth of the River Arade. It was built in the seventeenth century as a lookout and to prevent pirates from North Africa landing on the shore. The lookout would live in the tower and send fire or smoke signals if there was any danger. Pirates were a very real threat in those days, particularly during the fig harvest in the summer months when labourers working on local farms were susceptible to capture and enslavement, and once the pirates were on the shore they would also be able to attack and pillage local towns and villages.
Around here the ground has formed a limestone pavement, which, although flatter than some other parts of the walk, was made up of large blocks of limestone with big gaps in between and we needed to watch our feet as we walked to avoid twisting an ankle or tripping up.
Further along the walk, after passing Afurada beach and Caneiros beach is the smaller Torrado beach which is notable for the sea stack known as the Leixão da Gaivota (Gull’s Sea Stack), a large boulder in the sea which is an important breeding ground for cattle egrets and little egrets (who are best seen at dusk when they are returning from their feeding grounds), as well as being a resting place for other sea birds, and it is now a very small but important Special Protection Area.
A little further on, is the Ponta do Altar, a large promontory which separates Caneiros and Pintadinho beaches and has housed a lighthouse since 1893. The name Ponta do Altar means Altar Point and the site is believed to have been a prehistoric shrine.
The next beach is Pintadinho beach, at the back of which are two arches in the cliff which look very fragile.
The walk ends at Molhe beach which marks the mouth of the River Arade, protected by two jetties with a small lighthouse at the end of each, one jetty coming from Molhe beach and the other from Praia da Rocha on the other side of the water. From here it is a short walk into the town of Ferragudo.
The walk is 6 kilometres and can be done from Carvoeiro to Ferragudo or vice versa. There is a car park at both ends, but the walk is not a circular one so you will need to get back to your car either on foot or by taxi. If you prefer not to walk back to Carvoeiro, unfortunately there aren’t any direct buses between Ferragudo and Carvoeiro. There is a bus from Ferragudo to Portimão and from there you can get a bus to Lagoa or, occasionally, directly to Carvoeiro. A taxi is a better option, but be prepared to pay approximately 15 euros one way. If you don’t want to do the full walk, it is possible to leave or enter it at Caneiros beach or Ponta do Altar. The walk took us two and a half hours one way. As dusk was imminent we decided not to walk back along the cliffs and instead walked back to Carvoeiro following the road walk, which took another one and a half hours. There are cafés at Caneiros, Pintadinho and Molhe beaches, however, it is worth noting that we did the walk in late December and at that time of the year there were no cafés (or toilets) open at any of the beaches. In fact, we did not find a café open until we reached the outskirts of Carvoeiro.
The walk is (on the whole) well-signposted. There are a few places where it isn’t clear which path to take, but the paths are well-trodden so it is easy to get back onto the right track. However, it is a fairly challenging walk involving lots of scrambling down and climbing up the steep cliffs, which have loose stones. Shoes with a good grip are essential. We did the walk in winter when the temperatures were comfortable, but I can imagine it would be much harder in the middle of summer. 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. There are several information boards along the walk with information in Portuguese and English about the flora, fauna and geological features.