A Short Guide to Walking in Mainland Portugal

Andy Montgomery, 07 January, 2020
Our range of Portuguese walking holidays stretches from the country's northern border to its southernmost tip. Each region has its own identity and charms, as our expert routefinder Andy Montgomery explains here...

Hugging the western edge of Europe from where its endless golden beaches enjoy long, hot summers and temperate winters, Portugal's appeal as a holiday destination shows no sign of abating. Although its ancient and culturally-rich cities retain fascinating remnants of what was once one of Europe's wealthiest and most powerful countries, it's only by taking to its paths, tracks and quiet backroads that the country's true nature is uncovered. From easy coastal paths to thigh-testing mountain tracks, Portugal has it all.
Costa Vicentina & The Algarve
Beyond the popular tourist developments lie mile upon mile of glorious sandy beaches backed by towering cliffs; a green interior of forested hills and whitewashed villages, and historic towns whose Moorish trophies shine against a seemingly perpetual cobalt sky.

The walking: Comfortable walking on coastal paths dominates, taking in infinite ocean views, secluded coves and quaint fishing villages. Inland, on the forested paths and tracks of Monchique, the walking is more challenging and the landscape is a tapestry of cork oaks, wild flowers and scented cistus.

What makes it special? The glorious climate that rarely disappoints; storks nesting on sea stacks; wild flowers; breathtaking coastal views; bird-watching in the Costa Vicentina National Park; dining on fresh fish and piri-piri chicken.
Sintra has been attracting Portugal's royalty and noblesse to its luxuriantly-wooded hillsides since Roman times, their legacy of ornate palaces and sumptuous gardens proving an indefatigable magnet for visitors to this day. Teemed with Lisbon's summer retreat of Cascais and an unspoiled coastline of dramatic cliffs, this area is a veritable national Portuguese treasure.

The walking: Unchallenging coastal walking along clifftops and across sandy bays gives way to eucalyptus-scented woodland paths and some leg-stretching to hill-top monasteries and through secluded valleys.

What makes it special? Palaces, convents and gardens of Sintra; a dramatic coastline; Europe's most westerly point; superb accommodation; Sintra-Cascais Natural Park; and the seaside town of Cascais.
Arrábida Natural Park
The Setúbal Peninsula is home to one of Portugal's best-loved natural parks where three mountain ranges plunge 400 metres to white-sand coves lapped by the ocean. Far below the radar of mass tourism, despite its proximity to Lisbon, Arrábida is an undiscovered cornucopia of cultural, natural and gastronomic pearls.

The walking: From headland paths, through cork oak forests and stone pine valleys, to windmill-peppered ridges, there are plenty of ups and downs but nothing unduly testing.

What makes it special? Sesimbra; fish & seafood restaurants; the village of Azeitão; choco frito (fried cuttlefish); wines, wines and more wines; Azeitão cheese; Azulejos tiles; and a Pousada in a 12th-century castle.
Between the Douro and Minho rivers in the north of Portugal is the mainland's greenest, and arguably most beautiful region. Within the Lima Valley, rolling green meadows carpeted in vineyards host Portugal's oldest town of Ponte de Lima, and a smattering of 15th- and 16th-century mansions whose owners provide consummate hospitality and a taste of Portugal's 'to the manor born'.

The walking: Unchallenging, leisurely walking along parts of the Portuguese Caminho de Santiago, through traditional villages and bucolic landscapes, to the River Lima with its companion ecovia (walk/cycle path).

What makes it special? Beautiful manor houses, including the ancestral home of the Count of Calheiros; vinho verde; Roman bridges; picturesque Ponte de Lima and its garden festival; and the Caminho de Santiago.
Douro Valley
Tracing the production of Port wine from the cask cellars of Porto to the impeccable rows of vines that weave the steep slopes of the Douro valley, it's hard to exaggerate the beauty and drama of this unique landscape which, like a good vintage, you won't want to leave.

The walking: Moderately challenging walking on tracks, woodland paths and country lanes, up hills and down valleys, along ridge tops and riverbanks while unfolding splendour stops you in your tracks.

What makes it special? Porto and its bustling river scene; the Port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia; the scenic train journey from Porto to Pinhão, considered one of the most spectacular in Europe; the extraordinary landscape of the Douro itself; Port tastings and riverside wineries.
Portugal's only National Park, bordering Spain in the north-east of the country, walking in Peneda-Gerês is like stepping back two hundred years to a simpler time when cattle, horses, bears and wolves freely roamed the mountains. Today, the bears have gone but the rest remain in this untamed landscape of granite peaks, mountain lakes and forgotten hamlets.

The walking: Testing ascents and descents along mountain trails, forest tracks and pilgrim paths, for the most part gloriously devoid of other users. One for experienced walkers rather than first-timers.

What makes it special? Epic landscapes; sequestered sanctuaries; granite villages; Cachena cattle and Garrano horses roaming free; last refuge of the Iberian wolf; mountain lakes; river valleys; the Geira Roman road; and a magnificent Pousada in a 12th-century monastery.

Further information

Self-guided holidays in Portugal
More details on all the regions mentioned in this article, and on our self-guided cycling breaks and rail discovery journeys, can be found by following the link below.
More abour our walking, cycling & touring holidays in Portugal >
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