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Getting to the trailhead, Santiago do Cacem, April 20

Red poppies in front of castle in Santiago do Cacem, Portugal.
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After a couple of lovely days in Lisbon, it was time to head to the trail head of the Rota Vicentina in Santiago do Cacem. The trip would be easy with just a short walk from our hotel to the metro and on to the bus station. Walking on the edge of the market, I had a spectacular fall, catching my foot on a packing strap from a crate of vegetables. My hands and one knee got a bit banged up, but amazingly it didn’t seem to be any worse.

Close up of blue and brown tile, Lisbon.
Azulejo in Lisbon.

We made it to the station easily and in time to catch the noon bus. I had expected ticket machines, but instead there were very helpful staff and the two hour trip (14 € each) was comfy. Quickly we left the busyness of Lisbon behind and rather than suburbs seemed to be in rural countryside straight away.

We had just started to look for our hotel, not yet into the routine that later made it easy, when we looked up and saw its name, Residencial Gabriel, painted on a wall. The lovely proprietor of this old fashioned hotel (50 € with breakfast, twin room—no doubles) showed us to our room and then we went out searching for lunch. It seemed to be a town of bars and pastelerias neither striking our fancy just then, so instead we picked up bread, cheese and fruit and made a picnic, realizing that would soon be our mid-day routine and we might as well start. We also stocked up on nuts and dried fruit which would be our hiking staples.

Feeling refreshed we headed out to explore the town and wandered over towards the castle, which I hadn’t quite realized was the official start of the trail. We walked around the castle and meandered through the garden below, and noted where our path for the next day would start.

Castle in Santiago do Cacem.
Castle in Santiago do Cacem.

We decided to splash out on a fancy looking restaurant above the market and it turned out to be a fabulous choice. Our experience in Spain two years earlier had taught us the portions could be larger than we wanted so we slipped into our routine of sharing. Although less done here than in Spain with its tapas tradition, most restaurants were happy enough to oblige and by sharing we got to sample a wider variety—salad, fish soup, chicken stroganoff and flan for dessert, and with a glass of house red all for 24 €.