Portugal is a country that hides in plain sight. Overlooked by many as a tourist destination, especially outside of the Algarve, Portugal seems to just sit there, a bit unloved, at the edge of Europe. Then there is the active holiday side. Nobody in Portugal hikes or cycles, 'the great outdoors' is not in the national psyche, so what would there be to offer to the visitor who wants to get on their bike or stretch their legs? The answer to this, obviously, is that Portugal is rich in natural beauty, full of landscapes begging to be explored and has hidden paths that are crying out to be discovered.
Starting with the quieter, western edge of the Algarve, my time in Portugal has taken me into the heartland of Alentejo, the vivid and multifaceted cities of Lisbon and Porto, the natural splendour of the north and the wild irreverence of Sintra. While each of these places is diverse in their nature the constants that run through them are the main reason for going back again and again, the Portuguese people and the food. Two utterly joyful constants that make every trip to Portugal a sheer joy.
If you are looking to get active in Portugal, here are the best places to get stuck in.
The Algarve - Not all beaches and cocktails (though we do recommend a bit of both)
The Algarve is spectacularly rich in natural beauty, local culture, outstanding cuisine and fantastic walking and cycling. I know, I didn't believe this either until I went! There is so much to discover in the Algarve and on our Authentic Algarve by Bike, you get a chance to see a lot of it. After the first section of exploring the coast and the beautiful town of Tavira, you head inland to see the less explored parts of the Algarve, before hitting the coast at the Western end to finish up at Cape St Vincent. On our Algarve Coastal Trails, you will get to explore this western end more as you walk along burnt-orange clifftops above the azure Atlantic, visiting little whitewashed fishing villages, eating, drinking and relaxing.
The Camino Portugués - A spiritual walk through Portugal
The Camino de Santiago is one of our most popular trips, a walk across the north of Spain to get to Santiago de Compostela. However, there are many Caminos and another popular one starts off in Lisbon, takes you through some of the most amazing cities in Europe as well as beautiful coastal walking and visits parts of Portugal that most people never see. While the Camino Portugués is a 5-week epic journey, you can split it down and take it a section or two at a time.
Rota Vicentina - Quiet coastal wilderness
Technically, all of Portugal is on the Atlantic coast, the Mediterranian only officially starting at the Rock of Gibraltar, however, the Rota Vicentina is on what you would imagine to the be the Atlantic Coast proper, the west coast. This trip is split into two sections, The Fishermen's Trail which is in Alentejo, the region north of the Algarve and then the Wild Algarve, which takes you down to finish in Cape St Vincent. This is a complete getaway. The towns and villages are small and rarely visited by tourists, the walking is stunningly beautiful, utterly peaceful and has a wild tranquillity not found on many other walks.
Porto and Lisbon - Two outstanding cities
While the only walking trip that links these two is the Camino Portugués, you can visit either at the start/end of a couple of our active trips which are packed with their own delights. From the bohemian, friendly capital, Lisbon, you can travel for an hour and start Walking Sintra to Cascais. Sintra is full of architectural oddities and is so worth a visit, especially as you then walk from it through national parks to wander down some spectacular coastlines. Porto is a beautiful success story of community and rebirth, a UNESCO world heritage site and well worth a visit. However, combining it with a walking trip in the famous Port producing Douro Valley makes for a holiday packed with great scenery, food and drink.
The islands - The Green Azores and Levadas of Madiera
While the mainland is great, the two sets of Portuguese Islands are a treasure trove for active holidays. The Azores are about as remote as it gets and their unique location means that they are a haven for wildlife. The seas are teeming with whales, the rich green rainforest gives way to volcanoes and waterfalls and you can explore it all on our Azores Island Hopping trip. Or there are the manmade levadas of Madeira, irrigation channels that cut through the dense wilderness of these Atlantic islands. Madeira has a great culture, unique wines and some of the lushest rainforest walks in all of Europe which you can explore on our Flower Island trip.
Wherever you decide to explore in Portugal, you will definitely find more to this glorious country than you expected and it is entirely likely that, like me, you will keep going back year on year.
Check out all of our holidays in Portugal here.