Skip to main content

Day 1, Santiago do Cacem to Vale Seco, April 21

Two pairs of hiking boots left to dry.
Body paragraph

The day dawned grey and drizzly which was not perhaps the auspicious start one wants, but breakfast at the hotel was simple but good--fresh buns, jam, cheese (and ham for meat eaters) and a jug of coffee and hot milk. In places where two buns each came as breakfast, we often packed one to take as part of our lunch.

The drizzle turned to more intense rain so instead of our planned early start for what was going to be a longish day, we waited in the hotel until 9:30 when the rain seemed to be easing up. It was an easy trip back up to the castle and we saved ourselves the final last climb reckoning we’d already covered that part of the trail the day before. The path at the start seemed very overgrown with long grass as we descended from the castle into a large park adjacent to town. In hindsight, it may be that lots of walkers just pick up the trail there. The park also had bathrooms and we decided now was a good time to put into effect the never miss an opportunity for a bathroom when doing a long distance walk.

It didn’t take long before the striking castle on the hill faded in the mist and rain. We were really glad that our new, smaller packs (34 litres in size), bought for this trip, came with rain covers. We made good use of them and never had wet gear even in fairly spectacular downpours. The rain itself was less of a challenge than the mud which was the striking feature of our first day. Luckily we were delighted by the thrill of finally being underway on this long-planned trip and instead of being done in by it marvelled at the lush green vegetation in contrast to the beautiful red mud. As with the rain covers, we were also really happy to have hiking poles as they proved invaluable to providing stability on the slippery mud and sure footing as we skirted giant puddles that filled the whole of the broad track.

Backpacks and hiking poles against a tree.
Gear propped on a waymarked tree.

This stretch of the trail is less travelled than the central portion and we didn’t see any other hikers (in either direction) the whole day. The Swedish couple we’d met in the hotel over breakfast had left ahead of us and we could see their footprints in the mud. We consoled ourselves that although they were older, they were doing luggage transfer and so only had day packs while we had all our stuff. It was too wet to really stop for a proper rest so we had our nuts, pears and oranges during short standing breaks. The broad track was edged with shrubs and flowers starting to bloom, creating a profusion of colours—gum rock roses, lupines, lavender and heather were constant with the thrill of orchids, irises and calla lilies more rare.

Hiking partner Nedjo on the trail.
Nedjo enjoying a break on the trail.

As the day wore on and our light packs started to feel heavier, we worried that perhaps we had missed our hotel. The trail had been incredibly well waymarked but I realized I didn’t have clear directions but had thought it was right on the trail. A quick check of our detailed route map showed we just had another half kilometre to go, and we were soon at Moinhos do Paneiro (69 € with breakfast)—right on the trail as assumed.

Our room for the night turned out to be a little cabin and so as well as a delightful end of the day shower, there was a cup of tea to be had. We turned our bread and cheese into toasted sandwiches for dinner accompanied by the fresh tomatoes we’d picked up in the only store (or really anything) we passed the whole day. Our cabin was next to the goat enclosure and we enjoyed watching them as we sat on our deck for dinner, followed by a round of cribbage and an early night.