The Rocha da Pena is a fine outcropping of rock outside the village of Pena in the Algarve, perfect for the serious hiker and some serious hiking. The smaller settlement of Rocha lies at the foot of the rock, and is the recommended starting point of the trail. The trail is a circular one of about 7 kms. It climbs up one side of the hill, takes you across the top and then down the far side to Penina (“little” Pena), before bringing you on the road back to Rocha. I thought I’d walk for about an hour or so and see what progress I was making, and if slim, retrace my route. But I had all morning ahead of me.
So off I set. Unless you are pretty fit, this is an exhausting climb! It’s 2 kms to the top and it took me about an hour. But I didn’t get to where I thought I was going! I had reached instead the North Belvedere. The view was spectacular, across the valleys and hills to the north. But over the edge was the unmistakable “X” indicating “not this way.”
The signage in general is pretty good, but not always. I retraced my path looking for the turning I had missed. I found it, but not before seriously considering forgetting the rest of the trip. The path almost doubles back on itself, and you have to look around the clearing at the top of the main climb to find it.
But once found, you are on a wonderful path across the top of the Rocha. Far from easy to follow for the first part, though it is comforting to see the markers. You spend a lot of time watching your feet to avoid the many embedded rocks and stones. The path is narrow and winding through scrub, with some small climbs and drops, but then you emerge on the top of the cliff, looking out south over the parking lot where you have left your car, and beyond to the Atlantic. To your right you will see the Iron age defensive stone wall, and in front, across the saddle you will clearly see the wider path you will shortly be following. Kind of neat. You have struggled and probably sweated to get here, and there’s the clear path ahead. Not a soul around (nor another human being) and you are on top of the world!
One still has to watch one’s feet, but there is little doubt which way to go. It took another hour or so following my feet, including a side trip to the very top, to return down to Penina. The way I went, anti-clockwise, is probably the best way to go, since the down slope is steeper than the way up: going down is always easier than going up!
It took me about 3 hours to complete the circuit, at a leisurely pace. There is a lot to look at as you climb if you are interested in flora, fauna and rocks. The more you look the longer it will take you. I didn’t see much: watching one’s feet means that all you see is the ground.
Ahh, but the pleasure of a cappuccino in the cafe in Rocha when you get there. But if you want to discuss the weather or politics with the cafe owner, your Portuguese had better be pretty good, since the owner speaks no English!
This guest post was provided by Colin Griffiths, a fellow Canadian. Colin is a Brit, living in Ontario, who recently enjoyed a month’s holiday in the Algarve, walking here and there, drinking the wonderful local wines and eating their super cheeses, and revelling in the early spring bird watching.