The coastal hiking path “Trail of the Headlands” was inaugurated in 2018. Just like its sister trail; The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, this route offers amazing views of the unique seascape in southern Portugal.
It’s our 2nd favourite hike in Algarve and will bring you close to dramatic cliffs, pristine beaches and natural sculptures. It may be a stretch to declare it a walk on a cloud, but it’ll definitely get you closer to the heavens.
The practical stuff
The Trail of the Headlands follows the contour of the coast and extends for 6 km, between the car park at Praia do Molhe, next to the mouth of the River Arade, and the beach of Paraíso, near the village of Carvoeiro. However, the last leg of the trail, just before Carvoeiro, is inaccessible due to unstable cliffs. In the video I make the mistake of saying that the trail starts in Portimão, which is incorrect, as it starts from Praia do Molhe in Ferragudo, southeast of Portimão.
Despite the fact that it’s not a circular walk, we weren’t bored with the trail, nor the views that are magnificent. You’ll traverse more than 300 vertical metres, and at the highest point you’ll be staring 49 metres down into the crashing waves.
Allow 3-5 hours for the hike and bring along food, water and snacks. There are not many restaurants open during low season. However, we found that the oceanfront restaurant Rei das Praias (translates to King of the Beaches) at Praia dos Caneiros is also open in the wintertime. Here, only 500 metres from your car, you can contemplate your successful hike while savouring a lunch, warm cup of coffee or cool drink in hand.
A rugged coastline
The coastline of the areas of Lagoa is rugged with a continuous line of steep cliffs over to the ocean. This morphology is defined by a very peculiar geology, slowly shaped by rain, waves and wind.
First, the cape of Ponta do Altar advances 260 meters into the sea. Heading east from here, a succession of headlands alternate with rocky ravines, sheltering small beaches, or boulders resulting from ancient landslides. However, the cliffs are the dominant element in the landscape, revealing amazing reliefs of a unique beauty
These cliffs are carved in a limestone massif of the Miocene period, easily chiselled by the fresh and salty waters, creating a so-called karst landscape. At this section of Algarve’s coastline, you’ll encounter geoforms, caves and grottos resulting from the underground circulation of fresh water.
Along the trail you will find information on panels about the geology of the area, marine ecosystems and coastal vegetation, along with testimonies of the ancient human occupation of the coast.
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Pirate precautions and bird refuges
The Torre da Lapa was built in the 17th century, in stone and mortar as a precaution against pirates and privateers. It was used to watch the sea, especially the mouth of the Arade river. In case of danger, torch bearers would make smoke during the day and light fires at night, alerting the populations and other fortifications in the region.
While the razor-sharp cliffs may have been a hazard for sailors, it’s a sanctuary for the winged beasts of Algarve. Limestone cliffs, heavily fissured and inaccessible to terrestrial predators, offer refuges for birds like the rock dove, yellow-legged gull, common kestrel and even the peregrine falcon.
The scrublands that dominate these limestone beds are defined by juniper bushes and kermes oak. Along the edge of the cliffs, there are plants like the Mediterranean saltbush, which have adapted to the maritime influence.
Most of the beaches you encounter on your way are inaccessible, which makes them look pristine and paradisiacal. There are a couple of beaches you CAN access, though, and they are close to the car park at the beginning (or end) of the trail: Praia do Pintadinho and Praia dos Caneiros.
This lack of accessible beaches doesn’t affect the appeal of this trail, but in comparison to The Seven Hanging Valleys Hiking Trail, this route is a bit more desolate. Depending on your preference, you’ll either find it more astonishing or more austere. And while we still think The Seven Hanging Valleys Hiking Trail is the Most Beautiful Hike in the Algarve, this comes in second.