Portugal’s wonderful walking potential is all the better because so few people know about it. The country’s hiking heartland is Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, Portugal’s only national park. But, there are a number of smaller ‘natural’ parks hidden away in the country’s inland region. There are also some great day hikes a quick hop from prime tourist areas, meaning even casual strollers (rather than seasoned ramblers) can set foot in Portugal’s pristine countryside with ease. Here’s our pick of some of Portugal’s best hikes.
300km (186 miles), 2-3 weeks
If you’ve had enough of lounging on one of the Algarve’s postcard-pretty beaches, a hike along part (or, if you’re really brave, all) of the 300km Via Algarviana is the best way to appreciate the magnificent landscapes of this region. The trail stretches from Alcoutim in the northeast to Cabo de São Vicente in the southwest, with some of the most beautiful sections around Monchique, where splendid vistas open up as you climb through cork groves to the Algarve’s highest peaks.
For a two-day taster of the trail, stay in Monchique, walk up to Picota and back one day, and up to Fóia and back the next. Avoid high summer, when temperatures can be extreme and fires can pose a hazard.
Castro Laboreiro Loop
Located in the lesser-visited northwestern corner of Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, the picturesque ruins of Castro Laboreiro’s namesake 16th-century castle, built in 1505 on the foundations of a 12th-century Moorish castle, are easily accessible from town via this straightforward 1.6km loop (one hour).
Following signs marked ‘Accesso Sul’, you’ll climb the rocky outcrop to the castle’s southern end and enter through an arched stone gateway with green wooden doors. Little of the original castro remains beyond the bases of a few massive granite external walls and the foundations of a square stone tower, but the mountain views from within are magnificent.
Piódão to Foz d’Égua
4.5km (2.8 miles), 1 hour
A trip to the tiny village of Piódão takes you deep into the Serra de Açor (Goshawk Mountains), a remote range of vertiginous ridges, deeply cut valleys, rivers and virgin woodland. The village itself is extremely atmospheric, set among steeply terraced slopes with its grey schist houses clinging to the verdant hills, but it can get busy with tourists.
To escape the crowds, and enjoy the serenity of this magnificent region, take the short signposted trail to the nearby village of Foz d’Égua, home to some lovely old stone bridges, schist houses and a precarious-looking footbridge over the river gorge.
Via Geira Roman Road
9.6km (6 miles), 2-3 hours
One of Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês’ unforgettable hiking experiences is the Via Geira, an ancient Roman road that once stretched 320km between Braga and Astorga (Spain), and now has World Heritage status. The most beautiful stretch begins at Portela de Homem, where Roman milepost XXXIV still stands.
From the milepost, you can walk southwest, following the Rio Homem downhill through the beautiful Mata de Albergaria forest. A 9.6km out-and-back trip brings you to milepost XXXI on the shores of the Albufeira do Homem reservoir. This entire stretch is littered with Roman trail markers – some inscribed with the name of the emperor during whose rule they were erected.
Vale do Zêzere
7km (4.3 miles), 2-3 hours
The relatively easy hike takes you through the magnificent, glacier-scoured Vale do Zêzere (Zêzere Valley), one of the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela‘s most significant natural features. It’s a highlight of any trip to Manteigas, although be warned: the trail is shadeless and baking hot in clear summer weather.
Starting roughly 3km outside of Manteigas (near the Vila Galé Serra da Estrela hotel), the part-cobbed, part-dirt road leads upstream through irrigated fields dotted with stone casais (huts) to a popular swimming hole, before emerging into a wide-open landscape, backed by spectacular views of the looming mountains on either side. The trail finishes at the Fonte Paulo Luís Martins, a crystalline spring whose delightfully cold water (constantly 6°C) is bottled in Manteigas and sold nationally.
Rocha da Pena
4.7km (3 miles). 2-3 hours
The Serra do Caldeirão‘s most worthwhile short walk is climbing this 479m-high limestone rock via a well-signposted 4.7km circuit (allow two to three hours return). Museums in Salir, Alte and Querença stock a basic map-guide. Carry water and snacks (the only refreshment stops are small shop-cafes at the base and in Pena village) and heed seasonal forest fire warnings.
The area has 450 different plant species, including native daffodils and bee orchids. Among the birdlife you might see are the short-toad snake-eagle, Iberian green woodpecker and Egyptian vulture. The Rocha da Pena is also popular with rock climbers.
226km (140 miles)/263km (163 miles), both 14 days
The Rota Vicentina comprises two walking trails – one coastal and one inland – and runs along the southwest coast to Cabo de São Vincente. The coastal walk (referred to as ‘the fishermen’s trail’) uses paths forged by beachgoers and fisherfolk and passes through some of the harsher, yet stunning, coastal scenery and wilderness. The inland route (dubbed the ‘historical way’) is equally appealing. It runs through the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, plus rural towns and villages, cork-tree forests and valleys.
Both trails are made up of sections, and it’s never more than 25km between villages, where you can lodge for the night (thus no need to bring camping gear). The Fishermen’s Trail has 13 sections, totaling 226km, and the walk is slightly more difficult with some passages on dunes and thigh-tiring sands. At times it runs along the cliffs, mostly single track, and only walkers are allowed. The longer Historical Way has 13 sections totaling 263 km. Trails are wider and generally the walk is easier; mountain bikes are permitted.
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