Tatu Kolehmainen (right) and Lossman (left) after the marathon

The 1916 Olympic Games, that were supposed to take place in Berlin, were cancelled because of the World War I. After the war hiatus, and with Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire banned from competition, as they were blamed of causing the war, the 1920 Olympics took place in Antwerp, Belgium, where the Olympic Flag and the Olympic Oath did their first appearances.

Hannes Kolehmainen was born in Kuopio, Finland, and was one of four long distance running brothers. He completed his first marathon when he was 17, and run a few more until he was 19, when he focused in shorter distances in the track. In the 1912 Olympic Games he won 3 gold medals, in the 5000m, 10000m and the 12k cross-country race (that would be later discontinued), plus a silver one, in the cross-country team event. His brother Tatu competed in the marathon, and although an early leader, he was unable to finish the race.

After the 1912 Games, Hannes moved to the United States, where he worked as a bricklayer, and started competing again in longer distances. In 1920 he won the marathon trial event in the United States, although he had to compete for Finland instead of his adoptive country, as he had already represented them in the 1912 Olympics.

In the Antwerp marathon, the course was determined to be 42.75k, although it was later estimated to be only about 40k. The marathon started with cool weather and about 50 participants. The South African athlete Gitsham, silver in the 1912 Olympics, which has been training several weeks in the course, and Belgian Bross were the early leaders. At around the midway point Hannes moved to the forefront, running with Gitsham for around 10 miles, until he withdrew because of a leg injury.

It was not going to be an easy victory for Hannes, as the Estonian athlete Jüri Lossmann was slowly closing the distance between them. Finally, Hannes won for a narrow margin, in a time of 2.32.35, which became the world record (although over a wrong course distance). Lossmann crossed the finish line only 13 seconds behind the winner, with Italian Valerio Arri completing the medal positions. Hannes´ brother, Tatu finished in 10th position.

After the Antwerp’s Games Hannes moved back to Finland and broke a few world records in distances ranging from 20 to 30k, although he didn´t run any more marathons. In 1924 he missed the marathon qualifiers for the Olympic Games of Paris, although he convinced the Finnish selection committee of his fitness doing a 17 miles solo test. Therefore, he started the 1924 Olympic marathon, but couldn´t finish the race. A tireless athlete, he also tried to qualify for the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but already 39 years old was unsuccessful, and retired afterwards closing a remarkable running career.

Installed in Finland, he did many jobs, and was again in the limelight when he was chosen to light the Olympic Flame in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, after taking the flame from another legendary Finnish runner, Paavo Nurmi.



Tatu Kolehmainen (1920)
Tatu Kolehmainen (1960) with some of his trophies


Sunset from Urgull hill
Cycle track and running expo
Anoeta sports centre

Back in San Sebastian for a third time, after last year experience and a distant participation in 2002. It is a race already in its 41st edition, that has become more popular with time, especially among foreign runners, that make for about 40% of the total number. Because of this popularity it is difficult to find affordable accommodation, as hotels take advantage and push prices higher than usual, even booking well in advance.

The race headquarters are located in the Anoeta Stadium area, a multicentre sports facility located in the outskirts of San Sebastian. The Anoeta cycle track allocates the runners expo and also the baggage check for the race. The race start is located in front of the football stadium, and the finish line inside the athletic track between the stadium and the velodrome. After a long queue to get my number I go to the hotel to leave the luggage.

Weather is good, and the city offers popular tapas in many bars and restaurants, and beautiful beaches such as the popular La Concha, but also Ondarreta and Zurriola. The evening is good to walk over the Urgull hill, which offers beautiful sights over the coastal area.

During the night it rains quite a lot, and the day starts cloudy with 10-11°C, as I walk towards the bus stop to catch one of the buses to the start line, and free for everyone until 1pm. Arriving early there is still time to take some pictures, delaying as much as possible the undressing as weather feels unpleasant. 

We start at 9am, with 3000 runners going for the marathon, and an extra 2500 for the half marathon. There is also a 10k race, although they started 15 minutes earlier, and follow a different course. Learning from my previous marathon mistake, I let go the 3.30 pacing group from the start, aiming for a more realistic time, considering my fitness level and the long season behind.

The course is flat and roaming through the main areas of San Sebastian, with some sections along the coastline offering pleasant views, despite the wind. I cruise easily until we return back to Anoeta, where half marathon participants take a detour towards the finish line. I cross the half marathon point in a net time of 1.51.44, 3 minutes above my last two marathons, but with much more energy. Probably a combination of the slower pace and maybe also my breakfast change. I exchanged my usual chocolate milk drinks for a Maurten 320 energetic drink (more detailed review coming soon).

With some sections run in both senses, I keep about 150 metres ahead of the 3.45 pacing group. Around the 30k I get integrated into the pack, where an enthusiastic pacer controls the timing. Within the group I meet an old friend from high school. The talk and the nearby finish line make the kilometres go by. By the 38k, I start to fall slightly behind, although I manage to keep the group in sight.

We approach to Anoeta Stadium, with numerous public in the streets giving support. Entering the mini-stadium, the last 200 metres are run on the athletic track. I finish in a net time of 3.46.00, and in 1483 position out of 2347 finishers. This time I managed to keep my strength in the second half of the race. Happy with the time, although far from my best in San Sebastian, in 2002, where I managed to set a PB of 3.20.20 at the time.

With San Sebastian finished, I achieve my 2018 purpose of completing a Grand Slam, after running 12 marathons in a calendar year, for the second time, after doing it also in 2014.


Score: 5 (out of 5)

Pros: flat course; organization; free buses to/from the start/finish line.

Cons: hotel prices skyrocketing because of the high occupancy; for some unknown reason, I didn´t realise on Saturday that my t-shirt was missing in my running kit.

Maurten in the finish area
Finish line
Pintxos/ Tapas


Performance in endurance events is depending on many parameters, and any improvement could mean the difference between a good runner and an elite one. Besides training, nutritional strategies and supplements are extensively studied in the pursuit of any further potential benefit.

Beetroot juice (BJ) is a natural source of nitrate, an important precursor of nitric oxide, a signalling molecule whose availability is directly related to vasodilatation (better muscle oxygenation), mitochondrial respiration and glucose uptake, factors involved in exercise performance.

Supplementation with nitrate has been extensively investigated during the years. It was found that nitrate supplementation increased time to exhaustion during short duration (less than 30 minutes) exercise tests, especially in untrained or moderately trained individuals. It was hypothesised that muscle fibres of type II, which are mainly involved in short duration and higher work rate exercises, would be the most benefited of the enhanced nitric oxide levels.

To investigate the influence of exercise duration on performance changes, a recent study recruited a group of trained males, supplemented them with BJ (140mL of concentrated 3h before the exercise), and studied the performance in a 1500m and 10k tests using a treadmill. BJ significantly enhanced uniquely the 1500m treadmill performance, without any significant improvement in the 10k. The ergogenic effects of the nitrate supplement would be moderated by the exercise duration and work rate.

In another study, with middle and long distance elite runners, a group consumed BJ (70mL) for 15 days with their breakfast meal, while another group consumed a placebo drink with exactly the same packaging, smell and taste, but without nitrates. Using an incremental speed test on a treadmill, the subjects supplemented with BJ didn´t show improvements in running economy and muscular power, although they had higher times to exhaustion and lower perceived exertion. The group that consumed nitrate-rich BJ had a larger percentage of oxygen saturation in their muscles, which could contribute to lower levels of fatigue-related metabolites.

Using BJ as an ergogenic agent could be especially useful to improve the performance in short races, with more intense efforts, by delaying the fatigue perception.

Being the beetroot a common and cheap product in supermarkets you can try to prepare the juice yourself, and avoid the usual concentrates (less healthy and more expensive). As nitric oxide causes vasodilation, be cautious if suffering from low arterial pressure, although it would be beneficial if you have hypertension. Try adding extra water, if it is too thick, or combine it with rocket, also very rich in nitrates, that gives a different touch. Intake should be 90 minutes before exercise, as the peak of nitrates is reached after 2-3h of ingestion.

Important also: do not use mouthwash immediately after BJ consumption. The mouthwash interferes with the bacteria in your mouth converting the nitrates to nitrites. Nitrites are converted into nitric oxide in the next step, taking place in the stomach.



The effects of beetroot juice supplementation on exercise economy, rating of perceived exertion and running mechanics in elite distance runners: A double-blinded, randomized study.

Balsalobre-Fernandez C, Romero-Moraleda B, Cupeiro R, Peinado AB, Butragueño J, Benito PJ.

PLoS ONE (2018) 13(7): e0200517.


Dietary nitrate supplementation enhances short but not longer duration running time-trial performance

Shannon OM, Barlow MJ, Duckworth L, Williams E, Wort G, Woods D, Siervo M, O’Hara JP.

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017 Apr; 117(4):775-785.


Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review.

Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, García-Fernández P, Serra-Paya N, Estevan MC, Herreros PV, Garnacho-Castaño MV.

Nutrients. 2017 Jan 6; 9(1): 43.


      No Comments on (MY) ESSENTIAL MARATHON KIT

Trying to make lists is always hard work. Each person has different experiences and what may be useful for someone can be an absolute useless for another one. What follows is a personal list about what I use for a race, although I would like to read in the comments what is useful for you, before your training or competition.

Bananas. First part of breakfast, it is a useful source of carbohydrates and potassium (to prevent cramps).

Chocolate milk drink. Useful for hydration, and rich in carbohydrates also. About 500 millilitres, combined with 2 bananas makes for easily digestible breakfast 2-3 hours before race time.

Vaseline. Many uses for a runner. In your feet to avoid blisters, and maybe also in armpits, waistline and nipples. In a long race, any rub can become unbearable painful.

Energetic gels. To keep your glycogen levels and avoid a decrease in your energy (or the wall). For a marathon, I usually take 5 gels, one every 30 minutes after the first hour.

Gels carrier. Not every running pant offers a big enough pocket to carry your gels. Lately I changed my mobile holder for a running belt, that accommodates them easily.

Sunglasses. A “must” for me. I can´t remember the last race without them.

Mobile phone. Always connected, probably a race could be the ideal time to forget about your phone, right? Yes, but facilitates to contact your family/friends after the race and offers a help line if running a trail. You can also listen to your music, although I like to enjoy the surroundings.

Running mobile holder. If we run with the mobile phone, we need something to carry it. I go for an armband, that you can find cheap in every size.

Money. It is not a bad idea to carry some money with you. A note is weightless and may be useful. I always carry one inside my mobile phone (if you manage to open its back).

Small backpack. To keep some dry clothes, keys, etc at the finish line (if it is possible, or you are with someone). And a small plastic bag to keep your dirty wet clothes apart.

Wet towels. Not many races offer showers facilities. They can be handy to clean yourself until you arrive home, sometimes even hours later, if you have travelled far for the race.

Protein bar. To eat after the race and help muscular recovery. It can be replaced for the previous chocolate milk drink, as they are also rich in proteins (besides the carbohydrates).


It is clear from many studies that exercise is beneficial, although it is not well understood why some people are irresponsive to these exercise-induced benefits. The term “non-responders” would be used to talk about these people.

In the United States there is a nationwide program (“Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans”) which investigates the responses to supervised exercise (aerobic and resistance) in thousands of individuals, trying to elucidate the reasons of the response heterogeneity among them, and if it is linked to physiological, genetic or epigenetic factors. A better understanding of the mechanisms driving exercise responses would allow a personalised exercise prescription for each individual, instead of the general training regimes “for all”.

The non-response to exercise in one outcome doesn´t mean that every other outcome is missing.  The studies must take this into account in order to really identify a clinically relevant individual response. Therefore, the importance of using right models and appropiate statistical analysis.

Improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness are usually determined studying changes in the maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) or exercise power output (Wmax). Inter-individual changes in VO2max values in response to exercise went from 0 to 40%, with around 20% of healthy individuals classified as non-responders, using the current exercise dose recommendation of 150 minutes of endurance exercise per week.

Some recent studies have pointed out that there are no “non-responders”. These individuals would need a change in the volume, type or intensity of the exercise to get a response, and become “responders”.

One study, using Wmax as indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness, took a group of healthy young individuals and divided them into five groups, depending on the number of 60 minutes exercise sessions (from 1 to 5, combining moderate continuous exercise and high intensity exercise intervals) per week. The length of the exercise training was established in 6 weeks.

After the six weeks of training, researchers found higher improvements of Wmax in the groups with 4 or 5 training sessions per week (24 and 32%) when comparing with the individuals doing only 1, 2 or 3 sessions (1, 5 and 7% improvement). They also found that 20% of individuals doing 1, 2 or 3 sessions per week could be classified as “non-responders”, but there were none in the groups with higher levels of exercise.

The second part of the study had those non-responders complete an identical 6 weeks training program, this time including an additional two extra training sessions per week. Not surprisingly, after this extra period with higher levels of exercise all “non-responders” became “responders”, with improvements in the Wmax values.

The main conclusion is that most individuals need levels of exercise in excess of 180 minutes per week to get any benefit, well over current medical recommendations.

Exercise prescription levels for healthy individuals would need to be re-evaluated. Running more could be a first step in the right direction.


Inter-Individual Responses of Maximal Oxygen Uptake to Exercise Training: A Critical Review

Williamson, P.J., Atkinson, G. & Batterham, A.M.

Sports Med (2017) 47: 1501.

Exercise training response heterogeneity: physiological and molecular insights

Sparks, L.M.

Diabetologia (2017) 60: 2329.

Refuting the myth of non‐response to exercise training: ‘non‐responders’ do respond to higher dose of training

Montero D, Lundby C.

J Physiol (2017) Jun 1; 595(11):3377-3387.

EAT & RUN (Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman, 2012, 250 pages)

Scott Jurek in 2014

“The inspiring story of one of the best runners of all times”

Easily readable, and not a very long book, it is a mixture of a biography about the life of ultra-runner Scott Jurek and a recipes book. The book is divided in 21 chapters, with most of them including a recipe at the end.

The book combines Jurek´s main ultra-running races, exposed in chronological order, with his memories, that go back and forth a few times.

Jurek explains his relationship with his mother, suffering from ELA since he was a teenager, and how it conditioned much of his life, giving him extra responsibilities to assume at home, and as a motivation for his running achievements. He also mentions the rest of his family, and his difficult relationship with his father.

We follow his first victories, and how he pursued longer and more exigent trainings regimes, making himself a name after winning 7 consecutive Western States 100-miles race. We also know of his economic difficulties before he became better known in the ultra-running world, and also when his first marriage finished.

We meet some of his training partners, what he learnt from them, as how they pushed him beyond his comfort zone. Special mention to Dusty, that accompanied him in many occasions, although they got into a disagreement at some point, unsolved by the end of the book (at least at publication time).

We know how he discovered vegetarianism, and its search towards an eco-friendly, natural and healthy lifestyle.

The recipes break the book rhythm. It could have been easier to include all of them in an annex at the end of the book. If you are not interested, you could skip all of them. Generally, they are quite complicated, and ingredients may not be easily accessible outside the United States.

Score: 3 (out of 5)

Pros: easy to read; motivational; know about races I had never heard before; approach to a healthy lifestyle.

Cons: book structure; recipes hard to follow; little attention to his rivals in competition; with a last chapter referring to 2010, the book feels a bit outdated (it would benefit from an update).


Jurek with taharamura runner Arnulfo Quimare

Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes Nice-Cannes (04/11/18 – 71)

Marathon information
Running expo entrance

First participation in this marathon, taking advantage of a long weekend (All Saint´s Day) and a visit to some friends in nearby Monaco. I had never visited the Côte d´Azur, and this marathon offers a perfect opportunity to combine tourism and sport in the French district 06, that is trying to get the Alpes-Maritimes recognised as World Heritage by Unesco.

The race starts in Nice, in the popular Promenade des Anglais, that made headlines in 2016 for all the wrong reasons after a terrorist attack. From Nice and following the coastline towards the East, it finishes in Cannes, crossing some villages in their way to the finish line 26 miles ahead. There are a few modalities in offer with the usual marathon: a breakfast run one day earlier (4 miles), a 2×21 relay, and also a 6 stages relay (longest of them over 10k). Therefore, plenty of choices available for every runner level.

The runner expo is held in a temporary pavilion in Massena Square, one of the main sights in central Nice. It has a good deal of brands and races, and together with my running number I also collect my transport wristband, an optional 1-day train pass (6€), that allows to use all trains in the area. Being in Nice for the night I need transport to get back from the finish line in Cannes to Nice after the race (and later from Nice to the airport to go back home).

The start is at 8am, with warm temperature, a cloudy sky, and maybe some rain in the forecast. I am located quite upfront as I registered with a time target of 3.30, and it only takes me a few seconds to cross the start line. Not bad considering that we are over 5000 runners. For the first time I am using a running belt, that I bought in the running expo, to carry my gels.

Promenade des Anglais (where marathon starts)
View to the start
Ready to go

Again, as in the last marathon, I stay with the 3.30 group. At that stage I didn´t know yet that unfortunately the race would follow exactly the same pattern than in Burgos. I go easily in the group, crossing the 10k timing point in 50 minutes. After 2-3 miles I start losing contact, although I get to the half marathon not too far behind, in 1.48. From mile 19 the wall hits me in full force, and I decide to forget about times and enjoy the magnificent views.

Probably it didn´t help that my last training was 6 days earlier. In my case, usually a light training in the previous 2-3 days before the marathon helps my legs to be more relaxed. The 3.45 group reaches me with still 6 miles to go. These last miles feel much longer, especially when my legs decide to keep their own agenda and go on holidays, but Cannes is already within reach.

I cross the finish line in 3.53.24, in 1695 position out of 4973 finishers, receiving a beautiful medal and the finisher t-shirt. After wearing some dry clothes, time to get to the train station and back to Nice.

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Pros: sceneries; medal.

Cons: webpage should be improved, as English version not always offered full information; long queues in Cannes station to board the trains.

Extras: we shouldn´t add pressure on times when we keep competing continuously for long periods. Running bell definitively a comfortable choice for gels transportation,

Box of free samples
Medal and t-shirt

Burgos Marathon (14/10/18 – 70)


Second time in Burgos to run its marathon, after last years’ experience. It combines a half marathon, and running over the same course for another lap, the marathon.  Number of runners choosing the full distance is still low, for a race going for its third edition.

Arriving on Saturday, there is plenty of time to get the bib number just before lunch. There is no runner expo as such in the Coliseum Sports Hall, where I pick my runner bag, with a t-shirt, some local products and a free entrance to the Cathedral. The Coliseum will allocate tomorrow the start and finish line, and it is 20 minutes walking from the town centre, following the Arlanzón river course.

After a tasteful lunch in the central area around Sombrerería Street, the evening is used to visit the Cathedral (normal entry 7€), a Gothic master piece with UNESCO World Heritage Distinction, that also distinguished the town of Burgos with such honour. A perfect opportunity to combine sport and tourism. Also recommended the modern Evolution Museum, whose visit can be combined with the Atapuerca Archaeological Site, a key place for the study of our ancestors.

Although weather is still good, forecast is not promising. The storm Julie coming from the Atlantic is going to enter the Iberian Peninsula with hurricane winds and rain starting on Saturday night, and the worst conditions expected on Sunday morning.

Despite a cloudy sunrise, temperature is around 15°C as I walk towards the start area, where people are gathering slowly. Race starts at 9 with around one thousand participants, many of them going for the half marathon. Course leaves the stadium area, crosses the river, and following its course, passes Las Huelgas monastery (with a few hundred meters on cobblestones) and the University area. Then it crosses the river again, heading towards the quiet Costa Rica neighbourhood, where is the turning point towards the Cathedral and the city centre, and from there to the Coliseum.

It starts raining occasionally, although it doesn´t bother much. I keep the 3.30 pacing group in front of me, while miles start passing and temperature drops.  Runners groups are still big, but finishing the first lap spaces become wider. I cross the half marathon in 1.47. If I am able to keep this pace it could be a good time. Nevertheless I am slowly falling behind the 3.30 group, as my legs don´t feel as strong as they should be, despite taking my energy gels as usual and banana in the drinking stations.

Totally wet, the friction of my right foot´s sole on the running shoe starts feeling painful. It looks that I will finish with a blister souvenir.  With long gaps between runners I am also surpassed by the 3.45 pacer about three miles from the finish line, without much energy left in my reservoir to pursue him. A last effort, let me cross the finish line in 3.47.17, no far off from last year time. Overall position 95 for a total of 148 finishers.

It makes for the 10th marathon of the year. It could have been a better time, but I run the second half of the race 15 minutes slower than the first. A bit disappointing, although it makes me think that I could still be able to get below 3.30 with proper training and resting times.

Next stop: Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, in France.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

Pros: good organization; facilities close to the start/finish line.

Cons: water stations could be improved (I missed 2-3 because they didn´t have enough volunteers); distant surroundings had no public; cobblestones area; lack of running expo.

Extras: Cathedral Square will allocate the start and finish area in 2019 & 2020.

Cathedral interior
Coliseo Sports Hall


MSM is an organosulfur compound, extensively used in alternative therapies, under an extensive range of names (dimethyl sulfone, sulfonylbismethane, dimethyl sulfoxide, etc). Before its clinical use was used as a solvent, as it was its compound of origin, the much better known in the chemical industry dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO).

In the late 70s was patented its use for smoothing of skin, strengthen nails or blood diluent, although in only a few years its uses had extended well beyond: stress management, pain reliever, energy and metabolism activator, improve blood flow or improve wound healing, with potential role in arthritis and inflammatory disorders, among them, exercise induced inflammation.

Oxidative stress and muscle pain always appear with exercise at a certain level. Many runners report tiredness and pain as the main reasons to change, or even interrupt their training plans, with the subsequent effect on the training planned in advance. MSM has been studied extensively, because of its high absorbancy and absence of secondary effects.

In one ot these studies (Withee et al 2017) they took a runners group compiting in a half marathon. Blood was collected and surveys about levels of tiredness carried out, one month before the race, and after completion (15 and 90 minutes, and also after 1 and 2 days). Among the factors studied were several oxidative stress markers, and also muscle damage, and muscle and Joint pain. Runners were separated in two groups, one taking placebo (rice flour), and the other one MSM (at a dosage of 3g/day) from 3 weeks befote the race until 2 after it. It was found that MSM supplementation attenuated muscular and Joint pain, although it didn´t change oxidative stress markers or the muscle damage that the race caused. Nevertheless, the authors pointed out the limitations of their study, because most of the participants were female, and it didn´t take into account the diet, training levels or goals of the participants.

In other of the studies (Nakhostin-Roohi et al 2011) MSM supplementation took place in untrained individuals for 10 days. Afterwards they had to run 14 km, and measurements of oxidative markers realised in plasma samples. It was found that the individuals that had taken MSM (dosage of 50mg/kg/day) had lower levels of oxidative markers when compared to the runners that had only taken placebo.

To conclude we can say that MSM has an extensive potential as micronutrient in the physical performance area, because of its lack of secondary effects and absorption facility. Its improvement of inflammation and pain could be useful in training and competition. It would also make a good ally in the physical recovery alter injuries, because of its capacity for improving blood flow to affected tissues. On top of everything else, it has been pointed to an improvement of the energy levels available.

Maybe the supplement to rule them all? More studies will be needed to determine this point.


“Effect of chronic supplementation with methylsulfonylmethane on oxidative stress following acute exercise in untrained healthy men”. Nakhostin-Roohi B, Barmaki S, Khoshkhahesh F and Bohlooli S. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2011 Oct;63(10):1290-4

“Effects of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) on exercise-induced oxidative stress, muscle damage, and pain following a halfmarathon: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial”. Withee ED, Tippens KM, Dehen R, Tibbitts D, Hanes D and Zwickey H. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2017) 14:24

“Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement”. Butawan M, Benjamin RL and Bloomer RJ. Nutrients 2017, 9, 290


Berlengas location

In the central Portuguese coast, just 6 miles west of Peniche, it is located the Berlengas archipelago, a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It consists of 7 small islands, although only the largest one, Berlenga Grande, is available for visits.

Most of the tours (available from many companies) depart from Peniche, and operate mainly during the summer. Because of the island small size (0.9 miles long x 0.5 miles wide), visitors at any time are limited. I decided to get a fast boat (Pássaro do Sol, 22€ and 20 minutes), being offered three slots: 10.00-14.30, 11.30-16.00 or 16.00-18.30, choosing the one departing at 10.00, that was also the longest visit. I also included, for 6€ extra, a 20 minutes tour of the caves, in a glass bottomed boat. Being on the top of high season, and booking a couple of days in advance, many companies had already sold out their tours.

Information about Reserva Natural Berlengas

A short and bumpy trip, despite the good sea conditions, get us to the harbour, near to the small beach and the fishermen neighbourhood, a tiny settlement that offers a restaurant, a small coffee shop and a set of simple houses. We only have time for a short walk before visiting the caves.

View from the harbour area (Berlenga Grande)

The tour in the glass bottomed boat, although short, is really worthy. We get to see the island rugged seashore, with caves offering shaped outlines (the Elephant for example), and the clean seafloor, where we have the chance of watching some fishes (although we don´t see any dolphin). We disembark in the St John the Baptist (São João Baptista) fort that stands since the XVIth century on the grounds of an even older monastery that was abandoned because of the frequent pirate attacks.

Bridge to the fort
The Elephant
View towards fort and lighthouse
Lateral of São João fort

The fort is only accessible by boat or crossing a narrow bridge after a steep set of stairs. It allocates a hostel offering overnight accommodation, the only facility doing so in the island besides the small camping in the harbour area. From the fort we follow the walking trail around the island, unique one where visitors can walk, to avoid alterations of the flora and numerous nesting birds.

Access and São João Baptista fort

The walking trail is an easy hike, besides some steep stairs. Travelling around the whole island, doesn´t take long. We arrive to the lighthouse (closed to visitors), and going behind the fishermen village, where it is quieter and tourists are scarce, there is a chance to have a close look on the nesting birds.

View of the harbour area (Berlenga Grande)

A nice summer half-day tour, especially if the weather conditions are good.