Menu

THE PORTUGUESE OPENING

We crossed Portugal as part of a longer journey: a walk across Europe via 16 countries. Between 2018 and 2020, we walked 10,000 km from Portugal to Turkey for two years. This is the Two Steps to the Other project. Discover the whole project here.

First of the 16 countries of our crossing of Europe by foot, Portugal was for us a crazy experience. We loved the coastal paths, the food and the Portuguese people! 

750 kilometers separate our first steps at the foot of the Cape Saint-Vincent lighthouse from the Spanish border.

3 regions crossed, 7 natural parks, dozens of pastéis de nata swallowed, about 40 kilos of waste collected, 2 guests welcomed...

From the cliffs of the Algarve and the Alentejo, to the mountains of the Serra da Estrela, through the hinterland of the Central region, the itinerary of our hiking tour of Portugal took us from one end of the country to the other. 

Beyond the numbers, we lived our walking trip in Portugal as an intense experience, immersed in a magnificent country, whose rural areas we crossed essentially, a country with a sometimes harsh climate but whose inhabitants were always welcoming.

Key information about our trip to Portugal

  • Country: Portugal
  • Type of route : Straight line
  • Language: Portuguese, but French and English were very useful
  • Period: Winter - February/March
  • Duration: 6 weeks
  • Distance : 750 km
  • Starting point: Sagres, Algarve
  • Arrival point: Foios, Centro, Spanish border
  • Elevation gain : 9198 m
  • Equipment: the list of our equipment
  • GPX track : Discover the route and download GPX track

Trace GPX : De Sagres, la pointe sud, à Foios vers le sytème central espagnol

Details
2PVA - Portugal

Hiking and adventure in Portugal

Sentier de longue distance : la Rota Vicentina

We spent the first two weeks of our crossing of Portugal on the paths of the Rota Vicentina. This hiking trail in the southwest of Portugal is part of the Portuguese GR11. 

The association that created the trail has been in existence since 2013.

It has a double mission: to protect the natural resources of this region while promoting nature tourism in the Alentejano and Vicentine coast.

Through the creation and maintenance of hiking trails along the coast and inland, the association intends to attract responsible and environmentally friendly tourism.

The trails of the Rota Vicentina wind through the Algarve and Alentejo regions.

State of the trails and walking culture in Portugal

Apart from the trails of the Rota Vicentina, where the paths are impeccably maintained, we quickly realized that Portugal is not a country for walkers.

All this is slowly changing, thanks to the work of associations such as the Rota Vicentina, the Schist Villages Trail or the Via Algarviana, but for the moment, when you cross Portugal by hiking, you regularly find yourself walking on the side of the road. 

The open source maps allowed us to identify routes but we had a lot of bad surprises. Trails which were in fact agricultural tracks and thus not very wild or real trails but totally invaded by brambles.

Our experience of bivouac in Portugal

Bivouacking is forbidden in all protected areas in Portugal. It is therefore forbidden on the vast majority of the Rota Vicentina route.

During our crossing of this section, we were either invited to partner lodgings of the Rota Vicentina, or invited to the homes of Portuguese people we met along the way. 

On the rest of the itinerary, we mainly camped. We were in Portugal totally out of the tourist season, which made our life easier as far as bivouacs were concerned, since there were few people outside and we didn't bother anyone. 

Territories and nature in Portugal

The Algarve

Our tour of Portugal started in Sagres, the extreme southwestern tip of the country and thus of Europe. On the coast, the nature is preserved and wild.

The wind that blows almost permanently does not make this section very hospitable for the development of mass tourism.

Good for you.

It seems that in summer, there are a lot of people and vans of surfers everywhere. But in February, the least we can say is that we were quiet. On all this coastal section, we walk the feet in the sand. It seems that it makes the buttocks. 

The Alentejo

Further north, the Alentejo region begins.

It is a very large region, covering almost a third of the country. From the Vicentine coast, the region extends eastward to the Spanish border.

The Alentejo is known for being firmly rooted in Portuguese traditions. In the small fishing villages, time seems to stand still. In the monte of the hinterland as well. Smaller than villages, the monte are those hamlets, often organized around a hill where resources, such as the bread oven, are shared by all the houses on the hill.

While returning in the land, we had more difficulty to find pleasant paths. It was less wild than the coast and the green tourism is less developed.

It is a rather agricultural region and it shows. The nicest moments were finally our passages in the villages where we always found somebody who wanted to discuss.

The Lisbon area

We did not go to Lisbon. We don't have much interest for big cities and to arrive there on foot by crossing all the peripheral zone didn't tempt us at all.

But in the Lisbon area, there are still a couple of things not to be missed. This area is full of brackish water lagoons and estuaries rich in wildlife.

The three most important for us are the Santo André and Sancha lagoons nature reserve, the Sado estuary nature reserve and the Tagus estuary nature reserve.

The Central Region and the Serra da Estrela

A little before the Spanish border, we wanted to climb the highest peak of continental Portugal: the Serra da Estrela.

As I said before, we didn't take any mountain equipment with us, but the highest point is at 1,993 meters, so we were going to go there rather serenely. Finally, once at the foot of the mountains, a snowstorm broke out and we took the decision we had to make: give up the ascent.

We were under the rain since two weeks and the forecasts did not announce any change in the next days, we thus continued our road towards Spain rather than waiting on the spot a more sympathetic window to go up.

Wildlife in Portugal

In February, we were on the Vicentine coast just at the right time to witness the return of the white storks that nest here. In fact, it is only here that you can observe storks nesting on sea cliffs.

In the less nice kind, we also met some colonies of pine processionary caterpillars. We saw whole forests devoured and annihilated by these small beasts.

Nil even got a nasty bite on his ankle. He scratched himself for weeks.

Environment

With a dozen volunteers of the Rota Vicentina, we launched a great operation of cleaning a beach.

Plastic food packaging, fishing nets, polystyrene surfboards, we found everything. In a few hours, tens or even hundreds of kilos of garbage were collected, which we then had to take up to the top of the cliff by a small winding path.

Whether on the beaches, along the trails in the countryside or on the roadside, we did not expect to find so much garbage.

Our 1KG FOR THE PLANET program made sense. While it may have been for a short time, we felt like we were making a real difference in our time there, making these trails more welcoming to wildlife and to future walkers.

It seems that by looking in someone's garbage you can learn a lot about them. We can tell you that the Portuguese have a passion for drinking yogurt!

The flora in Portugal

As soon as you enter the land, further from the coast, where the wind is dying down, you can immediately smell the trees.

Not just any eucalyptus. They are not from here but they cover almost 10% of the territory (source: Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests - ICNF). The pulp it is used to produce represents almost 5% of the country's exports. Although very profitable, eucalyptus is above all an environmental disaster.

Very greedy for water, it fetches it very deeply and dries the grounds. Its bark, its leaves and especially its oil are highly flammable. In summer, during the dry months, fires are almost inevitable. 

We crossed these devastated lands of the Centro region. The forests burned in the mist of March... We keep a rather gloomy memory of this section. 

What we discovered with pleasure are the ancient, mythical and typical cork oaks of Portugal. These funny trees look like old wise men who watch over the hills around.

Portugal is the first world producer of cork. The cork oak is protected by a very old law in Portugal, impossible to cut down a tree without an express authorization. Among its many virtues, it forms an excellent barrier against fire.

Meeting with the Portuguese

The Portuguese people made a strong impression on us! We met people who were welcoming, open and curious about each other. Is it because they were great explorers?

Or because they go abroad a lot? I don't know. In any case, it was the ideal country to start this crossing of Europe on foot. The encounters were easy and spontaneous and we were invited to sleep at the inhabitant's place much more often than we expected.

The primary goal of the Two Steps to the Other project was therefore easily achieved in Portugal.

The Portuguese we met often spoke several languages, at least French or English in addition to their mother tongue. With the others, we had to learn quickly all we could of the language, to be able to communicate with them too. 

Our most memorable meetings

Sofia and her mother Graciete who welcomed us in their home as old friends!

The Rodrigues family who came to recover us under the rain to bring us back to their home. We finally spent 3 days with them!

Pedro who saved his village from the flames during a fire and now fights to make sure it never happens again.

Culture in Portugal

In Portugal, we had a serious blow of heart for the kitchen.

We found everything we like: variety, good products from the land and the sea, gourmet food, good bread, novelties, home cooking like at grandma's...

And the best of all: finding a bakery at the end of the day for some pastéis de nata. 

In the coastal villages, we discovered the drills (barnacle in French), this crustacean which grows on the side of cliffs and whose fishing is super dangerous.

They look like witches' fingers but are very, very good.

Among our most memorable tastes are the pork with garlic in Zambujeira do Mar, Fernanda's sardines with potatoes and onions in Ramalheira and all the oranges we were offered on the roadside. 

Would we walk another 500 km here?

Yes ! 

We leave Portugal knowing that we will return, perhaps even to spend a piece of our lives there.

It's a goodbye to these marvelous landscapes, to this language that we were just starting to learn, to all these families that are now a little ours and to these little dishes that we already miss.

Spain is waiting for us and we continue to move forward, many other beautiful surprises are waiting for us without any doubt during this crossing of Europe.


Anecdotes from our trip to Portugal

Loose fact

3 consecutive weeks of rain in a country that had not seen any for 2 years.

Cute fact

When we arrived in the small villages, all the little grannies came to talk to us. It seems that the Portuguese do not know the fear of the other.

Dirty fact

Every day we saw people throwing their garbage out of their car window

Wild fact

We saw an otter in a river. The villagers confirmed that there were some, but most of them have lived here without ever seeing one.


Preparation and organization for hiking in Portugal

When to go ?

From September to June, the heart of winter being a bit risky for the mountainous section (knowingly...)

Where to sleep?

We mainly slept in tents or invited to the house of the inhabitant. At the time we were there, no problem to camp anywhere.

What equipment? 

For this crossing of Portugal in hiking, we left with clothes for the mid-season, hiking and bivouac equipment and without mountain equipment.

Find here a detailed list of our equipmentarticle by article.

Is bivouacking allowed in Portugal?

Wild camping is forbidden all along the Rota Vicentina, at least on the fishermen's trail which is located at 100% in the territory of the Natural Park of the Southwest Alentejano and Costa Vicentina. The historical trail sometimes goes out of this protected area where the regulations are more flexible.

Are there any protected areas ?

The itinerary of our hike in Portugal passes through several protected areas:

Are dogs allowed?

This tour of Portugal can be done with a dog. Some areas require that they be kept on a leash, but there is no prohibition on the entire route. 

In the Portuguese countryside, you see a lot of dogs in gardens and yards, often chained or even locked up. The impression we got was that they are more guard and hunting dogs than pets. They bark a lot and may excite or scare your dog.

THE DRYLANDS

Nous avons traversé l'Espagne dans le cadre d’un plus long voyage : une marche à travers l’Europe via 16 pays. Entre 2018 et 2020, nous avons marché 10000 km du Portugal jusqu’en Turquie pendant deux ans. C’est le projet Deux Pas Vers l’Autre. Découvrez l’ensemble du projet here.

Before starting our trek in Spain, we would not have bet on the fact that this country was going to surprise us so much. It is a country so close to ours, that we thought we knew it, we thought that it would resemble more to France without doubt. We were wrong!

Voyager à pied en sortant des sentiers battus, c’est une manière assez efficace de découvrir un pays.

En Espagne, nous avons parcouru des territoires rudes et merveilleux à la fois, traversé un hiver 2018 interminable, visité des villages isolés, parfois abandonnés, rencontré des gens austères, voire méfiants et d’autres qui nous ont ouvert leur porte et leur cœur en quelques minutes.

Nous avons partagé notre route avec 4 invités en Espagne, des amis de longue date et d’autres que nous avons rencontrés pour la première fois.

Informations clés de notre traversée de l'Espagne

  • Pays : Espagne
  • Type of route : Straight line
  • Difficulté  : Intermédiaire
  • Langue : Espagnol
  • Période : Printemps - avril/mai
  • Durée : 8 semaines
  • Distance : 1500 km
  • Point de départ : Eljas, Estrémadure, frontière portugaise
  • Point d’arrivée : La Molina, Catalogne, frontière française
  • Dénivelé positif : 40 571 m
  • Dénivelé négatif : 39 598 m

Trace GPX : Du Système central aux Pyrénées Catalanes

Details
2PVA - Espagne