Location: Lagoa, encompassing the coastline between Marinha Beach and Vale Centeanes Beach; Lagoa municipality; GPS Coordinates : 37°05’24.635″N / 8°24’46.181″W (start); 37º05’28.799″N / 8º27’14.762″W (finish); Grade: moderate/medium-high difficulty; some stretches can be more difficult for elderly or very young visitors; Type: linear trail (out and back); this trail is signposted; Length: 12.000 meters/ 7.46 miles (out and back, total); Average Completion Time: up to 4-6 hours; Best Time to Visit: all year round; may not be advisable on stormy or windy days; Activities: nature walks and hikes; birdwatching; swimming in summer
Elected as one of the very best hikes in Europe by European Best Destinations, this scenic route runs from Praia da Marinha in the east to Praia de Vale Centeanes in the west.
Among others, it offers a string of notable stops at the Alfanzina lighthouse, and at the Benagil and Carvalho beaches (please see the map below). The walk takes place along the top of coastal cliffs with sculpted shapes and beautiful ocher and yellow hues.
Strikingly, the colours of the rock layers change through the day as the sunlight paints them in shades ranging from bright orange to darkened copper.
Crowning the cliffs near Praia da Marinha, the dense juniper and mastic undergrowth provides shelter to a variety of animals that include rabbits, foxes, mongooses, warblers, owls, and several species of butterflies. This greenery bursts into flower in early spring, making for an especially perfumed and colourful ambience.
Praia da Marinha is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. The sweeping view over this beach reveals an array of outstanding landforms such as grottoes, stony arches, natural bridges and precarious sea stacks where seabirds nest and rest.
At the bottom of the cliffs, a contrasting palette of azure and yellow is formed between the shallow waters over the gently sloping sand and the sprinkling of rocks that attract sea life and a few happy snorkelers. Seagulls and cormorants crisscross the blue atmosphere above, before landing accurately on the vertical rocky walls.
This meandering hike then uncovers a series of hidden surprises like deep gorges, secluded coves, forested patches, and huge sinkholes where it is possible to hear the ocean waves reverberating down below.
At Benagil, visitors can jump aboard one of the skiffs offering trips to these spectacular sinkholes and sea caves. Such trips usually make several stopovers, including at the large, light-filled dome of the famous Benagil Cave.
Contemplating sinkholes as natural skylights within a sea-sculpted cathedral really is a rare and gratifying experience. Skiffs depart from most of the major beaches between Carvoeiro and Praia da Marinha.
For thousands of years, the wind and the waves nibbled away at the rock faces curled around the coves along these shores. At the same time, the shoreline was also sliced by seven seasonal water streams which, over time, originated the appropriately named ‘hanging valleys’.
Indeed, the steep valleys are now ‘hanging’ because the calcareous coastline has receded quite abruptly in the past, leaving the watercourses’ mouth not on the beach but perched on the cliffs higher above.
Before Centeanes Beach there’s one last valley where visitors can rest and take in the blissful scenery on a wooden belvedere. Along the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, the turquoise ocean conspired with the golden cliffs to create the quintessential Algarvian seascape – and one of the most memorable walks along the sun-kissed coastline. Enjoy!
Still, visitors should keep a safe distance from the cliffs’ and sinkholes’ edges at all times (most notably when accompanied by children). In summer, do not forget a hat and sunscreen, and always carry enough water with you. A one-time return trip will take about 4-6 hours, but there are a number of different access points – at Benagil and Carvalho beaches, for instance – that allow a phased visit to each of the segments of the walk.
There are several car parks along the length of the route, and there’s also a picnic area slightly to the east of the Alfanzina lighthouse. Most visitors won’t need a guide to navigate this outstanding trail. Have fun!