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Walking in Monsaraz, Southern Portugal

Walking in Portugal, the Azores and Madeira is a rewarding and relaxing way to discover their unspoilt natural beauty, picturesque villages, ancient monuments and fascinating wildlife.

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Portugal is one of the least populated, and consequently least built up, countries in Europe. So even in popular tourist areas like the Algarve you'll be pleasantly surprised by how quickly you find yourself in peaceful countryside. Agriculture still plays a significant part in Portugal's economy and, away from the main towns, you can enjoy tranquil villages and traditional ways of life.

Walking in Candal, Northern Portugal

Walking in Portugal is stimulating as, although it is a small country, it is full of contrasts and there are always a few surprises in store- a stunning view here, an unassuming café serving local delicacies there... for our dogs bouncing round a bend in Northern Portugal it was their first, very close, encounter with a herd of cows making their independent way home for milking!

Whether you are sauntering through gently rolling hills, white-washed cottages and citrus orchards in the South, photographing bleak mountains, granite farming villages and lush green valleys in the North, or admiring ancient woodland and a dramatic coastline, each region has its own distinct identity. As you explore more of the country you will find an abundance of different landscapes, habitats, architecture, lifestyles, festivals and of course yummy, local food. As a general rule, if you love to unwind by feeling miles from anywhere the further North or inland you go the more remote the country becomes.

The Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores are a walker's paradise with their spectacular beauty, warm climate and civilised pace of life. Subtropical Madeira is known as the 'floating garden' thanks to its exuberant flowers and plant life, while the venerable forests of the Azores are home to many unusual native species. As you hike along the hill tops, keep an eye on the sea below as dolphins, whales and countless sea birds also relish the peace of these islands.

Walking in the Azores

There is one national park and ten natural parks in Portugal which are are renowned for having some of Europe's richest wildlife habitats with a wide variety of animal, plant and bird life. They provide an important haven for both larger mammals such as wild ponies, boar and deer and for many rare and indigenous species from the elusive Iberian lynx and odd wolf, through birds of prey and storks, to interesting reptiles and delicate orchids. So keep your eyes peeled and don't forget your binoculars and camera. The parks generally offer basic accommodation, are crisscrossed with ancient paths and are a great base for walking holidays.

Long distance walkers should set aside some time for the newly inaugurated 240 km (150 mile) Via Algarviana (Algarve Way) from Cabo de São Vicente on the Western coast of the Algarve to Alcoutim in the East. You'll soon fall in love with the unspoilt parts of the Algarve that most tourists never see.

As you meander through Portugal you can trace the country's history through megalithic ruins, medieval villages and walled towns, the Moorish-influenced architecture of the South, winding cobbled streets, azulejo tiled churches, ruined hill top castles and elegant stately homes. To experience life as a Portuguese aristocrat, why not spend a night at a pousada? These beautiful, antique-filled, manor houses, are not hotels as such, but family homes that take in guests in order to fund their upkeep. Many have lovely gardens or even flourishing vineyards. Whatever your budget and wherever you choose to stay you will generally find the Portuguese people friendly, hospitable and mildly curious!

Walking by Costa Vicentina

Tips for Walking in Portugal

Recreational walking in Portugal is more popular with visitors than with the locals and hiking shops are few and far between so its best to bring any equipment you need, such as boots, with you.

Walking with a guide who knows all the local beauty spots, hidden gems and habitats is a great way to get the most out of your trip. If you decide to walk independently, then you will find that, within the natural parks, trails are fairly well marked and maps are sometimes provided. Outside of the parks there are few official footpaths but you can follow traditional paths and explore the beaches and country lanes and don't forget to ask your local host for suggestions. There are several good guides to walking in Portugal on the market that as well as providing detailed instructions also help you identify interesting sights, flora and fauna.

If you are driving to remote areas be sure to take a good map as Portuguese road signs can leave a lot to be desired!

It is possible to walk in the Azores and Madeira all year around. In Central and Southern Portugal, it is best to avoid walking in the height of summer (June to end August). However autumn often has pleasant sunny days, winter in low lying areas is generally mild but sometimes rainy and in spring (February to April) the countryside is at its best awash with delicate flowers and blossom. In Northern Portugal, the best months for walking are from April to mid June and from September to early November.

a hiking holiday

coming soon: guides to walking in Northern Portugal, Lisbon and the surrounding area and the Algarve.

Walking in Portugal photos copyright: José Manuel, Jorge Vicente, Associcão de Turismo do Açores, Região de Turismo do Algarve, Paulo Magalhes

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