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Experiencing Portugal Is All the More Vivid on a Walking Trip

By Flash Parker

Nov 14, 2017

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Photo by Flash Parker

The sights, sounds, and smells of Portugal are all the more vivid when you’re walking, as AFAR Ambassador Flash Parker recently discovered.

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Portugal is best enjoyed with two feet and a heartbeat. At least, this is what I learned on Country Walkers’ Porto to Lisbon walking tour, which took me deep into some of Portugal’s most enchanting rural landscapes and small towns. 

We began in Porto, where the medieval Ribeira district revealed an Old World labyrinth of baroque churches, antediluvian wine cellars, and cobblestone terraces—a place that harkens back to a more languid way of life. We were dazzled by the Douro Valley’s rolling vineyards and pastoral charms, centuries-old quintas (estates), and festive dinners that lasted long into the night. The Alentejo—a region known for making many of Portugal’s cured meats and cheeses—impressed us with its hilltop castles and forests of cork and olive.

As our small-group tour continued on, I came to appreciate that exploring Portugal on foot is accompanied by a palpable sense of excitement and expectation—and this has everything to do with the way Country Walkers designs its tours. Many of the most memorable moments were the ones that could have only happened while taking it slow. 

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Some days we walked five miles, and others we walked 15, as we did when we visit the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, close to the Spanish border. Local farmers tossed us oranges and almonds as we passed, always accompanied with an earnest bemvindo, or welcome. At the end of the long country road was the Castle of Marvão, known for its towering keep, manicured gardens, and gigantic cistern, often used to host summer concerts and events. The castle’s battlements provided a panoramic view of our long journey, a feat we toasted over dinner at the Pousada Mosteiro do Crato, a beautiful hotel that was once the Flor de Rosa Monastery.

Walking through an old olive oil mill and miles of Douro Valley vineyards elicited a yearning for good wine, a thirst quenched not once, not twice, but thrice, while touring some of the region’s most highly regarded quintas. Our days in the valley were spent trekking through 18th-century orchards, onboard traditional barco rabelo boats navigating the Douro River, and wandering medieval fortress towns. The evenings featured multicourse meals with delicious Portuguese specialties (bacalhau, salted cod; enchidos, or cured sausages; pork tenderloin; and octopus carpaccio), local wines, port, and concertina music. Each accommodation was a tranquil pastoral escape: hillside estates, converted monasteries, and boutique urban properties with river views.

The Country Walkers program has a lived-in feel to it; each experience feels personal, as though this version of Europe is ours and ours alone. We experienced Portugal’s charms extending far beyond the wines of the Douro or the country’s famous port. While trekking, we encountered granite castles and ancient forests, vinho verde and custard tarts, riverside cafés and community tables, and genuine hospitality. Portugal is countless experiences—each of them best encountered on foot.

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Flash Parker traveled as part of AFAR’s partnership with the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, and peace of mind to destinations across the globe.

>>Next: A Literary Trip to Lisbon Is the Best Way to Uncover Portugal’s Hidden Beauty

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