Edwina Pitcher, author of Wild Guide Portugal, chooses her favourite ways to stay in touch with nature this summer.
Our busy lifestyles make it easy to lose touch with nature but with Portugal’s sunshine, glorious cool lakes, deep green rivers and hills for stargazing, a summer break is the perfect time to attune yourselves with the wild.
Here are five ways to re-wild your holidays and connect with nature in all its green, sparkling, mossy glory.
- A wild swim
Stripping bare and plunging under a clear mountain lake, a sparkling waterfall or a deep green river is one of the most direct ways to connect with nature. Portugal’s river beaches and lakes offer a wide array of dips: swim along at eye level with the ducks, float over a submerged village in Alentejo or swim into hidden sea caves.
One of our favourite places for a river swim in silky soft water is Praia Fluvial Paredes de Taboão in Viana do Castelo (in the photo above). Or canyon or canoe up river to discover wilder reaches of rivers where no roads go. Azenhas da Seda in Évora, Alentejo (www.azenhasdaseda.com +351 266 448 036) offer great river adventure packages or Montes de Laboreiro (www.montesdelaboreiro.pt +351 251 466 041) in the very northern tip of Serra da Peneda-Gerês National Park.
- Discover a Hidden Place
With rock carvings, standing stones, cave paintings and hill forts, the landscape of Portugal is a rich tapestry of sacred spaces and territorial markings. To be in these places is to rekindle a sense of awe and enchantment with our Earth. Many of these timeless places are hidden deep in ancient forest or removed high up on a hill.
Trace a path through magical woodland to Penedo Encanto (as in the picture), a whale-shaped stone covered in swirling pre-historic engravings near Castelo Lindoso, Serra do Soajo. Or see the world through Neolithic eyes at caves in Esperança, Alentejo, where ochre paintings depict hunts and dragons. Re-discovering for yourself these secret ancient places, often returned to the wild, builds a strong bond with their timeless magic.
- A Touch Stone
Crawl under a megalithic dolmen like Anta do Tapadão in Portalegre, Alentejo (in the picture above), and gaze up at the great stones rolled into place to honour the dead 5,000 years ago. Covered in moss, lichen and tiny shards of quartz, your instinct is to touch the stones.
These burial places are tactile; reverence was given by offering strings of beads, pots or arrowheads, later excavated here. They are places where the ancients would still be materially connected with the living. These stones still invite you to crawl in and touch the walls, their original use persists as we get back in touch with an ancient natural energy.
- Hike with the wild
They say that to get to know Portugal you must “feel the earth under your feet”. Walking the Rota Vicentina, a 400km signed walking route from Cabo São Vicente along the Alentejo coast north until Santiago de Cacém is one way to do this. Following fishermen’s trails and smuggler’s tracks the trail passes many secret beaches for a dip.
Look out for storks nesting in the cliff face and sand dunes buzzing with birdlife. Slow the pace further and take a donkey trek along this wild coast; with your supplies packed in panniers you can go for a few days. (See www.burros-artes.blogspot.com +37.3380, -8.7775 for day-trips to week-long donkey holidays.)
- Wild Camping
Sleeping out under the stars can be a magical experience. Set up camp as dusk is falling and bring a picnic to see in the moonrise. Watch the moon light up the hills or stargaze in Alentejo, with its lack of light pollution there are some of the darkest night skies in Portugal.
Last summer, we slept in the Douro valley and woke to the dawn chorus and low mist over the hills. If you find a camping spot near a river, clear away the cobwebs with a fresh water morning swim. Remember to be considerate, leave early and without a trace.
Edwina Pitcher is author of Wild Guide Portugal: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life published 13th March 2017 (£16.99, Wild Things Publishing). It contains over 700 secret and out of the way places, all across Portugal.