Portugal is a wonderful country for walking. The scenery is so varied from north to south, east to west.
By exploring the country on foot, you can wander over hills to discover beautiful vistas with history written into the passing countryside. Walking is just a great way to explore any country and especially Portugal.
Portugal has a fine network of local trails which are waymarked with red and yellow signs. These trails are relatively new and have been created with the aid of grants from the EU; this means that now the signs are very clear and easy to follow. However, from experience, I have found over the years that signage can deteriorate or can disappear because there has been no money provided for maintenance.
You should be able to find details of walks in your area by going to the local Câmara Municipal (Town Hall) or visiting the nearest Tourist Office.
Besides the smaller local walks, Portugal has a network of long-distance paths that crisscross the country and link up with trails in other countries. These are marked with red and white signs.
One of the most popular is the GR11, which is the ever-busy Vicentina route which covers over 400km from Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo to Cape St. Vincent on the Sagres peninsula. The route passes through unspoilt and virtually unknown countryside before following the clifftops with spectacular coastal scenery.
Another is the GR22 which extends for over 500km and is a circular trail that connects Portugal’s 12 ‘Historical Villages’ including Almeida, Belmonte, Marialva, Monsanto, Sortelha and Trancoso.
For those that wish to explore away from designated routes, then remember that there is no law of trespass in Portugal, but you should never venture on to land where there are ‘Privado’ signs or where the fields have been cultivated.
Maps are very important and there are 1:25,000 maps available for the whole country; the Algarve for example is covered by 39 sheets. The maps can be obtained from www.dgterritorio.gov.pt and some local booksellers will stock a few relating to their immediate area.
All walking isn’t without local hazards and one of the most important is the hunting season. Hunting in Portugal is still a popular national pastime and, in 1988, laws were passed to regularize what had been a chaotic situation with unlicensed shooting over vast areas by large numbers of people. Since then, those who want to hunt must apply for a licence and pass a ‘test’.
The hunting season runs from the end of August to the end of February. Hunting zones are defined by various signs in red and white, the clearest are rectangles of red and white stripes which define an area of a local hunting syndicate. But, more importantly, hunting is restricted to Thursdays and Sundays and National Holidays. During the season, it really is advisable not to walk on these days as accidents can and do happen.
Two other hazards are bees and dogs! Bees are everywhere and often a local keeper will have their hives off the beaten track. If you come across them while out, it is best to give them a very wide berth.
Dogs are common, especially in the Algarve where they can cause fear and sometimes panic. Most dogs will be kept on chains, but if you are approached by one baring teeth or with a menacing demeanor, you must do what the Portuguese do – pick up a stone and threaten to throw it. If this doesn’t deter the dog, then throw it close to their legs and they should back off! I have only been bitten once and that was by a very small chihuahua-type dog who launched her teeth into the back of my calf after I had passed by – I had no chance.
Walking in the heat of summer is not advised because of the risk of fire. Just do not walk in woods and remote countryside because you have no way of knowing. Fire is very unpredictable.
In the wintertime, heavy rains can cause the dry streams and riverbeds to fill and sometimes flood. Do not take risks trying to cross. Carry a phone wherever you choose to walk because emergencies can and do happen. The emergency number is 112 and ask for someone that speaks your language. They will assess the situation and organise help if necessary.
Nowadays, more and more people are venturing out to walk and explore Portugal. Just enjoy, you will not be disappointed!
Julie and her colleagues lead walks every Tuesday morning and every other Friday. All are welcome. There is a nominal charge of €5 per person and this includes a donation to charity.
January 24: Let’s Walk from Monte Seco
January 31: Let’s Walk around the rice fields near Silves
Julie Statham has been walking throughout Portugal for more than 20 years and now acts as a walking advisor and guide for various companies in both Portugal and Europe. She has a background in earthsciences and a Ph.D. in geochemistry from Bristol University, UK.