It’s almost as if Portugal celebrates independence and freedom at every turn, while also fiercely protecting its cultural and complex heritage. Closed to the world politically for nearly fifty years, it only opened up its natural wonders in 1976. Our Portugal tours have long respected and revered the unique peaceful nature of this small country, with a coast that not only stretches along the Atlantic but also out to the middle of it, to the Azores and Madeira islands.
Walking holidays in Portugal embrace the coastal and inland Rota Vicentina and trails of Alentejo, but also take you further north to Porto and beyond. For top cycling holidays, Portugal’s Camino Portugues takes you along paths that feel like a pedalling pilgrimage through time. With plenty of stops along the way, as with all of Portugal, for super local wine. Uncork a Portugal tour to find freedom – at its finest.
Where to go
Rota Vicentina Trails, Alentejo and Algarve
A 400km colossal web of natural trails that have been crafted over the centuries by Portugal’s rural residents, the Rota Vicentina comes in two equally perfect packages. The Caminho Histórico or the Historical Way and the Trilho dos Pescadores or the Fishermen’s Trail. Both link Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo region with the dramatic headland of Cabo de São Vicente on the southern Algarve coast. The Historical Way heads inland through ancient cork forests, remote villages and wildflower meadows, and the Fishermen’s Trail clings to cliffs, seduces you with sandy coves and beckons hikers on from one headland to the next.
Porto, Douro and the north
Although this region features on the Camino Portugues, Porto and northern Portugal invite many other worshippers of nature to its shores and vine-covered slopes and, in particular, to imbibe the fruits of the Douro Valley. Immerse yourself fully in their terroir by hiking in Peneda-Gerês, the country’s only national park. By staying in traditional villages of Lindoso and Castro Laboreiro, you have time to absorb the region’s rich rural culture, saunter through eucalyptus and oak forests, take on ascents through steep river valleys and cool down under myriad secret waterfalls.
This Portuguese archipelago of four islands is way out there in the Atlantic but Madeira walking holidays focus on the main island of the same name. Although it is only 55km long, it’s mostly the coast that has been developed, leaving an inland idyll of wilderness areas. These include the high altitude Madeira Peaks, and the UNESCO Laurisilva forests. Walkers are also gifted with unique walking trails throughout the island, called levadas, which are man-made irrigation channels dating back to the 16th century, still directing water but also walkers who follow these ambrosian arteries across the island.
An otherworldly archipelago of four islands, walkers and whales seek out this Atlantic wilderness haven in packs and pods. It’s clearly a magnet for magic, as you will find out on a walking holiday either on the largest island of São Miguel, or hiking and hopping between Pico, São Jorge and Faial island. Whichever Azores walking holiday that you choose, you can hike to volcanic craters, caldeiras hot springs, ancient coastal trails and secret waterfalls. Home to UNESCO protected vineyards, there is no shortage of opportunities to toast all the Azorean treats.
Things to do
- The Camino Portugues or Portuguese Way’s pilgrims have carved out two separate caminos en route to Santiago over the years, one inland (or Central Way) and the other clinging to the coast, or Coastal Way. The former covers approximately 280km and takes 15 days and the latter covers 230km and takes 14 days to complete.
- Seek out Portugal’s fine, ancient architecture. The ancient town of Coimbra, for example, which you can make part of your Camino Portugues, is home to the oldest university in Portugal dating back to 1290. Also a UNESCO site, it oozes tradition and excellence. As does the colourful and colossal Pena Palace at Sintra, just one of several palaces and grand houses on a Sintra-Cascais walking holiday, which takes you through the eponymous Natural Park all the way to the coast.
- Cycling holidays in Portugal are a world apart from the cols and climbs of other velo vacations. For example, cycle the Camino Portuguese the coastal way from Porto to Santiago, or follow the Lima Valley from the foothills of Peneda-Gerês National Park out to the coast at Viana do Castelo, a town packed with both architectural and golden gems, as this town has a tradition of goldsmiths.
- Portugal’s wine and food is finally having an international revolution of its own. The wines of the Douro Valley have long been celebrated, but Vinho Verde, once laughed at as a lightweight, is turning sommeliers’ noses back down again into their glasses. In addition, Portugal’s ample coast gifts us with one big seafood feast, and, with the pastel de nata being just one of the country’s many sweet treats, you’ll never be short of a pastry or two to stuff in your backpack.
Responsible travel tips
- If you are walking or cycling the Camino de Santiago, then don’t forget to pack your good pilgrim’s practices. Although it may be just a way for you to immerse yourself in Portugal’s unique natural heritage, it is a spiritual pilgrimage for many. It’s all common sense, but keeping the noise down, the route litter free and respecting people’s privacy are all part of the Camino creed.
- On a walking holiday in Portugal, you will get the chance to explore tiny rural areas, where income from farm and local produce is crucial. It doesn’t take long to seek out small-scale growers of goodies to get you on your way. Oranges and figs, almonds and pine nuts are just a few of the treats on offer.
- You may be lucky to spot whales on our Azores walking holidays, with traditional lookout points called vigias scattered across the islands. The best time to see whales on the Azores is March to mid-May for blue whales, but sperm whales are here all year round.
- Rip currents are a feature of some beaches along the Costa Vicentina and Costa da Prata. Only swim on beaches with lifeguards, ask local people for advice and take the opportunity to read up on rips and how to get out of one.
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