When someone mentions Portugal, we usually think of well-developed resort areas like the Algarve or busy, exciting cities like Lisbon and Porto. We don’t tend to imagine wilderness and getting back to nature. But travel author Eddi Pitcher is hoping to change that with her new book, the Wild Guide Portugal.
Eddi told me the great thing about Portugal is that you don’t have to travel very far from the big towns and cities to find amazingly beautiful and tranquil countryside. “People are familiar with the Algarve but they’re not really familiar with the north or the centre of the country,” she said. “Even people visiting Lisbon don’t have to go very far to find wild places. If you’re just going for the weekend, you can leave the town and within half an hour you can be in beautiful natural spot.”
If you really want to get off the beaten track, then Eddi says you should head north of the country’s second city, Porto, to find some amazing scenery. “You’ve got the glacial valleys and big mountains. About an hour’s drive from Porto is the beautiful town of Montalegre,” said Eddi. “There are loads of places around there for wild swimming and mountain pools to jump into. There’s also a network of Roman roads through ancient woodland. And of course, out towards the coast there are secret beaches and much wilder places to go.”
Even the busy coastal resorts of the Algarve, popular with British travellers, are just a stone’s throw from some prehistoric sites. “An hour’s drive inland is the densest region of megalithic history in Iberia,” explained Eddi. “There are standing stones and dolmans – not the kind of thing you expect near the busy coastal resort of Faro!”
Eddi lists several sacred sites in her book. In particular she recommends visiting some of the ancient burial sites. “They’re s normally in very beautiful situations, aligned with the moon and stars. You can visit them at night and watch the moon rise,” Eddi told me. “There’s a place called Pias in the Guadiana Natural Park, with a dolman sitting on the top of the hill. You can view the landscape falling away, a bit like a map beneath you. And that place is beautifully aligned with the moonrise too.”
If you want to see birdlife, Eddi told me you should definitely pack your binoculars. “There’s a huge amount of birdlife if you go towards the Spanish border in the centre of Portugal,” she told me. “There’s a river called the Rio Erges, where you can see black storks, vultures and eagles wheeling overhead. The wildlife there is magical. It’s enchanting.”
And Eddi said there’s a place on the coast, near Cabo de St Vincent, where you can walk in the footsteps of much more ancient wildlife, and it inspired a local legend. “You can see the footsteps of dinosaurs running up the cliff to a monastery. It used to be a place of pilgrimage. They used to think they were the footsteps of the Madonna. But it turns out the Madonna was actually riding a dinosaur up the cliff,” she laughed.
But even if you’re really just in Portugal because you love sitting on the beach, Eddi offers advice on where to beat the crowds. “There are more secret and hidden beaches – for instance around Peniche, just north of Lisbon. And out towards the island of Berlengas. It’s a mysterious place with several hidden beaches and caves there.”
If you’re keen to discover the wilder side of Portugal, take a look at Eddi’s book, the Wild Guide Portugal, which is available on Amazon.