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Walking in Portugal - a guide a guide to discovering Portugal on foot
Walking is our favorite way of discovering Portugal. If you are planning to experiencing Portugal on foot, take a look at this guide, inspired by our experience of hosting Walking Tours Portugal, that showcases the best tips to make the most of your Portugal walking tour.
Portugal is known to be one of the world’s most searched holiday destinations. The country's popularity has been increasing enormously, as more and more guests visit and praise its gastronomy, culture, natural beauty and authenticity. We couldn’t agree more - after all, we live here - and we’ve been benefiting from its climate and lifestyle for quite some time now. The country is doing a great job at promoting but also at securing its identity and its culture. One of the best ways to tap into the authenticity of the Portuguese lifestyle and traditions is travelling on foot. Walking Portugal is a great way to get to know the country, especially the less urbanized areas, where you’ll find the quaint villages, the vineyards, the fresh fish, the Mediterranean cuisine and, for us hikers, a great variety of trails into nature and extraordinary settings. So, the question remains:
WHY CHOOSE PORTUGAL AS A WALKING DESTINATION?
Our guests are unanimous, Portugal is a magnificent walking holidays destination, and the most pointed-out reasons are:
Different regions are best explored at different times of the year...
In order to discover Portugal walking, you’ll find a better experience in the off-peak season – July and August can be too hot for walking, and there will be more tourists visiting during these months. You can do a walking tour in Portugal during the winter or beginning of spring, in the earliest months of the year, from February to April and enjoy the mild temperature, with an average of 16ºC to 19ºC, making it a great option for walking groups who wish discover the country in a less crowded touristic season. From April to June, you’ll benefit from the Springtime and early summer weather, making it a great season for leisure walking and hiking in the countryside, with the flowers and crops in full bloom. September, October and even November are great for walking as well, as the summer transitions into autumn for a great ending of the year - in September and October you can also witness harvest season, particularly in the wine regions of Douro and Alentejo.
HOW SHOULD YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP?
Go on a self-guided adventure or choose a walking tour from a local supplier...
Fly in: To get to Portugal, the best way is to fly to the airport that is the closest to the starting point of your walk. You can choose the airport that best suits the region you wish to start discovering - Porto airport is perfect to discover the North of Portugal, the Douro, to walk to Santiago de Compostela by the Minho region; Lisbon airport is a better option to discover Sintra, the silver and blue coasts or the Alentejo wine country; Faro airport will provide you a gateway into the south of the country, to the southwest coast and the Algarve. These are the three main airports in continental Portugal. You can also choose to fly to Ponta Delgada, in the Azores archipelago, to discover one of the most naturally beautiful destinations of the world, or to Funchal, on the island of Madeira.
Bring your walking boots and plan the route for yourself: If you are an experienced walker, looking to explore the country on your own, maybe the best option is to come and dive right in. Portugal is a safe country, that can be explored on a self-guided adventure - just make sure you have the appropriate routes, to take you on the right trails.
If you feel like having some guiding or orientation, someone that can point you the way to go, where are the best trails, quaint villages and exclusive experiences, you can go on a walking tour in one (or two) regions: There are several companies offering Portugal Walking Tours, operating in different regions. From assisted, self-guided tours to fully guided experiences, choosing to go on a planned experience gives you the opportunity to discover great trails but also hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Although the country's extension is not too big, it can take you nearly one week to fully discover a region like the Alentejo, Douro, Algarve or others. So, the best option is either book one or two one-week walking tours in the regions you are keener to discover. Keep in mind that different regions are best suited for different walkers, as they have different landscapes, attractions, and degrees of difficulty. See below for a list of regions and how to discover them on foot!
WHAT ARE THE BEST REGIONS TO GO HIKING IN PORTUGAL?
Explore the ones that best fit your hiking profile...
Portugal Walking Tour in the Saint James Way – from Porto to Santiago Compostela
When to go: May, June, July, September, October
Closest airport: Porto
Type of hiker: Intermediate
Terrain type: Mixed terrain
Duration: 8 days
The Way of Saint James is a religious experience for some hikers, but we dare to say that it is a spiritual experience for all of them. Walking the Caminho de Santiago, whether from France, Spain or Portugal is a milestone for many hikers, as the Camino leaves its mark in you. The Portuguese Way is best ridden from Porto, where you'll get to walk by the northwest of Portugal - the Minho region - and Galicia, in Spain, until you reach Santiago de Compostela.
This is a one-week long walking tour, walking the ancient trails of this world-renowned pilgrimage route. If you wish to walk the full distance from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, you’ll actually need two weeks to cover the 240 km that range between the two cities. That’s why we suggest you arrive in Porto and then start walking from Ponte de Lima - the oldest town in Portugal, founded back in 1125 – so you can walk the whole way in 7-8 days.
Once in Ponte de Lima, start walking the Portuguese Central Way, right into the trails of this epic journey. Walking the Saint James Way, you'll feel like a citizen of the world, where several languages are spoken as one, passing through amazing medieval villages like Barcelos, Valença, Pontevedra and Caldas de Reis, with typical traces from the northern Portuguese and Spanish Galicia architecture and art.
Walk by the trails and dirt and gravel tracks of the Central Way, ancient roman roads and municipal backroads - it’s of enormous diversity and there’s always a surprise on every bend. Immerse in the scenario of Minho and Galicia, through the woodland areas, small villages and “pueblos” that still seem to be in the Middle Ages. Enjoy these regions’ gastronomy, rich in variety and flavour, a true feast for your senses. Taste the Port and Green wines, so typical of the Minho region and stay in some of the best hotels in the Way of St James.
Arrive in Santiago de Compostela, a designated UNESCO world heritage site and admire the shrine of Saint James at the end of your pilgrimage.
Portugal Walking Tour in the Douro wine country and historical villages
When to go: March to June; September to October (harvest season)
Closest airport: Porto
Type of hiker: Beginner to Expert
Terrain type: Hilly
Duration: Full-day or 7 days
Alongside the river Douro, in the northern region of Portugal and east of Oporto, magnificent hills cut out by man-made terraces compose a distinctive landscape that yields unique conditions for the production of wines, amongst which the prestigious Port wine.
Ever since the Roman occupation over 2000 years ago, man has produced wine in this region. Later settlements continued this cultivation, but it was only in the late 17th century that wine production in the Douro valley started gaining dimension and importance, after the British embargo on French wine boosted the demand for Port wine. Following came the expansion of production and eventually of the region itself, much of it remote and inaccessible until then. At that time, the transportation of goods and passengers to the mercantile city of Porto was made by boats — such as the Rabelo — through rapids and narrow gorges of the fast-running Douro.
Nowadays, we get to the little village of Pinhão in under 2 hours by car (or 2 hours 20 minutes by train — which is a delightful trip by the way!). Once in Pinhão, you are at the heart of the first wine region to be legally demarcated in the world and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Walking by the Douro you'll get to experience beautiful landscapes and vantage points over the Douro valley, admiring its trademark "socalcos" or terraced vineyards; the undiscovered paradise of one of the most remote areas in Portugal, the Douro International Park: never-ending olive oil and orange fields, river beaches and animal life. Visit the authentic and picturesque villages of Peso da Régua, Pinhão, Marialva, Barca d'Alva; They are all close or on the riverbank of the Douro “expressway” and were historically focused on the commerce and transportation of the grapes and the wine, to and from Porto, in the traditional “Rabelo” boats that docked in their ports.
Taste the different wines of the Douro valley wine country, from the world-famous and acclaimed vintage Port wines, which were recently nominated 2014’s best wines in the world to the prized red and white Douro wines. Experience the wine production system: help the farmers stomp the grapes in traditional fashion, visit the farms and the wineries and observe as the “Rabelo” boats carry the wine towards the city of Porto. Indulge in the local gastronomy, always varied and tasty, whether in Michelin starred restaurants or local “tascas”. Meat lovers won’t forget the “Posta Mirandesa” or the oven-baked and smoked meats.
Dine and sleep in local charming hotels, once wineries or medieval castles, but now fully equipped hotels with their very own spas and amazing amenities to make you feel comfortable. Climb aboard a boat and sail in the Douro to discover the region from a different perspective.
Challenge yourself walking the Douro, towards its viewpoints and get a privileged look at the world’s most beautiful wine-growing area. Choose everyday between shorter or longer hikes and define your own goals and pace throughout your walking experience.
Portugal Walking Tour by the Southwest Coast - The Best of Rota Vicentina, from Alentejo to Algarve
When to go: March to July; September to October
Closest airport: Lisbon
Type of hiker: Beginner to Intermediate
Type of Terrain: Mixed, with climbs around Aljezur, Carrapateira and Vila do Bispo. Mostly macadam trails and backroads.
Duration: 5 to 7 days
One of many “must do” activities in Portugal is definitely hiking along the Southwest coast all the way down to the southernmost part of the country, the Algarve region. The Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural park's peaceful atmosphere, with its pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs and delicious gastronomy and renowned trails of the "Rota Vicentina", will make you fall in love with the most preserved natural stretch of coastline in Europe!
The Alentejo and Algarve southwest coast, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, are home to some of the best oceanic views and hikes Portugal has to offer, especially in the Vicentina natural park, which starts in Sines and extends its way down south, all the way to Sagres (the southernmost point of the country) comprehending secluded beaches, cliffs, islets and isolated rocks. The Pessegueiro island, in reality, a consolidated dune, is anchored two steps from the shore, and inland, woods and moors alternate with irrigated and rainfed plantations and production woods. In the Southwest coast and Vicentina natural park, you'll find rare botanical species (mainly on the area of the Sagres and São Vicente capes), varied nesting bird fauna with the white stork building nests on coastal rocks and an important passageway for numerous other birds. Walking alongside the coastline from north to south, the constant presence of the Atlantic Ocean and the mixture of coastal sandy trails, over the dunes and amidst the fishing villages of the Rota Vicentina provide an amazing atmosphere for hiking.
The Southwest Costa Vicentina natural park offers its visitors the privilege of walking by the finest preserved stretch of European coastline, covering over 100 km. This park includes various unique species of animal and plant life, and are visited by many zoologists and botanists from all parts of the world. Experience a tremendous variety of beaches, including long stretches of sand and small beaches nestled between the cliffs and rocks. Beaches such as Porto Covo, Malhão, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Almograve, Monte Clérigo, Arrifana and Praia do Amado, many of them preserved in a virtually unspoiled state.
Hike from Porto Côvo to Cape of São Vicente and the nearby Sagres promontory that housed the famous nautical school founded by the Infante D. Henrique in the 15th century. With its trademark gastronomy and great wines, it’s a great opportunity to taste the amazing fresh fish and seafood that are abundant in this region, as well as the local pastries.
Portugal Walking Tour by Lisbon, Sintra And Arrábida Natural Parks
When to go: March to June; September to November
Closest airport: Lisbon
Type of hiker: Intermediate to Advanced
Terrain type: Hilly
Duration: Full-day in Sintra/Arrábida or 7 days
This is a tour fit for hikers and trail runners who want to get more out of their visit to Lisbon. A one-week hiking tour in Lisbon and its surroundings, that will have you discovering both Lisbon’s seven hills and urban parks and the natural parks of Sintra and Arrábida, as well as the romantic architecture, vineyards, secluded beaches and oceanside trails that characterize these areas. Lisbon is the starting point of this adventure, where discover this romantic city on foot; You'll also get to hike the most scenic trails of the surrounding region, in the mystical Sintra Sierra, visiting the Pena Palace, Moorish castle, and romantic gardens of this UNESCO world heritage region - Sintra owes its name not to its well-known historical town, but to its small and yet somehow majestic mountain. The birthplace of Sintra is, in fact, the grand landscape that stretches between its town and the Atlantic Ocean, to the West.
Then, between the mountains and the sea, Arrábida rises majestically, marking the landscape and the experience of the region of the Setúbal Peninsula. More than a "serra" - as it is affectionately known by the local population - Arrábida is an extensive mountain range that stretches across the municipalities of Palmela, Sesimbra and Setúbal, hand in hand with the Sado river.
A natural site of exceptional and unique value for its beauty, but also as an important witness of geological processes illustrating the history of life on Earth and a place of remarkable and unique floristic wealth, Arrábida presents itself as a unique landscape, rich in geological, ecological and cultural heritage... an organic, interdependent unit, in which natural and cultural heritage, material and immaterial, are indissolubly linked, a unique and exceptional geographical identity, which is intended to be classified and recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Portugal Walking Tour: Alentejo heritage and wine country
When to go: February to June; September to November
Closest airport: Lisbon
Type of hiker: Beginner to Intermediate
Terrain type: Mostly plains, with vineyards and forested areas
Duration: 7 days
The Alentejo is par excellence, the calling of the earth. Unlike the previous regions here the plain and calm reigns, the tranquillity of the nap under the ‘chaparro’... Or like this became famous this region, which hides a terrain of constant gentle rises and falls, very desirable for those who like to walk, designed in its eight sub-regions: Reguengos, Borba, Redondo, Vidigueira, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Portalegre and Moura, which together form the Alentejo Wine Route.
In all these sub regions, we can taste the texture of the Alentejo wine, characterized by the white varieties of Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro, Diagalves, Manteiço, Perrum and Rabo de Ovelha, and red grape varieties of Alfrocheiro, Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Castelão, Trincadeira, Moreto, Tinta Caiada and Tinta Grossa.
To walk through the details of Alentejo is to lose ourselves in the purest rurality of Portugal, but not only that. Here we seem to be making a return to the distant past of previous centuries through all the existing cultural heritage. The most famous is undoubtedly the Roman Temple of Diana in Évora. The cosiest one will be the village of Monsaraz and its 16th-century fortification.
Borba, Redondo and Vidigueira invite you to sit at the table, spending time socializing with good wine and delightful gastronomy, from the traditional Açorda Alentejana, Migas, to the Beldroegas Soup, the Ensopado de Borrego, never forgetting the convent sweets as the example of the Almond Cake of the Convent of Vidigueira
Discover the amazing history, culture and traditions this wine region has to offer. Voted Best Wine Region of the world in 2014, Alentejo is a picturesque and charming place, where you’ll fall in love with the whitewashed villages, medieval castles, sunbathed plains and the secular traditions and lifestyle. Visit the UNESCO world heritage sites in Évora, the fortified village of Marvão, the former Palace of the Portuguese Kings and the rural lifestyle of the local homesteads;
Hike by the never-ending rolling hills and the hidden trails between the fields. The car-free roads and trails of the Alentejo provide a great atmosphere for walking tours and its topography makes it a great region for beginner and intermediate walkers/hikers. You’ll have plenty of time to stop and check out the “Sobreiros” and visit the “Antas” along the way.
There are, of course, other areas to explore in Portugal, like the beautiful southwest coast, Gerês National Park, the Minho region and many others. These are our most sought after tours and the ones that we know our guests love. Contact us for more information on walking tours in Portugal at hikewithus (@) livelovehike.pt