My Boots Were Made for Walking in Portugal, with Explore
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Despite being a keen walker, I had never joined a guided
walking tour so when Explore
invited me to join a small group trip to Portugal I was excited to accept.
Explore are activity holiday specialists and have some great itineraries all
over the world. Their walks and activities are graded for suitability and I
found it a pretty accurate and helpful measure. I am a keen walker of average
fitness and this trip, classed as ‘moderate’, suited me fine.
My 5 days were spent sampling a new itinerary that Explore are
launching centred around Lisbon and including the historical city of Sintra and
ending in the beautiful coastal town of Sesimbra.
I travelled in late September and the weather in Portugal
was fabulous. Temperatures were slightly higher than usual, and days were sunny
with deep blue skies to enhance every photo opportunity.
On arrival at Lisbon airport our group were met by our
Explore guide, Frank Hopfe. Frank has travelled the world and originates from
Germany. He speaks many languages including flawless Portuguese and was an absolute
star from start to finish. He arranged taxis, tuk tuks and trams, booked
restaurants and cafes, translated along the way and encouraged us along the
trails with promises of a cool beer at the end. Looking back on our time I can
now see that Frank very cleverly built up our walking distances day by day. As
is so often the way, it is the people you encounter in life that make the
memories and Frank will certainly never be forgotten by our small group.
Unfortunately our flight was 3 hours late so our time in Lisbon on arrival was curtailed but Frank made sure we saw some memorable sights. Explore had conveniently arranged for us to drop our bags at a city centre hotel so we could stroll around unencumbered. The sun was setting, and the city was buzzing with evening revellers. We made our way to the
da Ribeira, home of the Time Out market, for dinner. This huge building has an
impressive timeline going back hundreds of years and was finally opened by Time Out Magazine Lisbon, in
2014. Here you will find over 20 restaurants and bars all offering a selection
of imaginative food. Long trestle tables fill the massive space and the
atmosphere is alive with music and conversation. It was a good place to get to
know my fellow walkers.
After a delicious supper our taxi picked us up to transfer us to the friendly Sarrazola House Hotel in Colares, a small town just outside Sintra and about 45 minutes’ drive from Lisbon.
next morning, after a generous buffet breakfast, we left the hotel by taxi and
drove into Sintra to have a stroll around before the main crowds arrived.
Sintra is a fascinating historic town in the Serra de Sintra mountains, so a
little cooler than Lisbon. The cobbled streets led us to the sparkling white
National Palace with its strange conical chimneys, and onto the Regaleira
Palace which is surrounded by gardens with quirky features, gothic towers and mystical
now the ‘day trippers’ from Lisbon were starting to arrive by bus and train so
we took a quiet trail of about 1.5 miles uphill to the impressive Pena Castle.
Our time was short, so we did not get the chance to explore this magnificent
complex – I would suggest you take a few hours to really appreciate it. Arrive
early to avoid queues for tickets!
group hailed one of the many colourful tuk tuks, which run visitors up and down
the steep hill, and we whizzed back down to Sintra where we found the
delightful Art School Café for a leisurely lunch. By now the group were getting
to know each other and it was very relaxing to sit and chat about our trip so
we took a vintage tram from Sintra to windswept Praia das Maçãs, or Apple Beach
(named after the surplus of apples that fall into the river that runs alongside
the beach). A cool beer as the sun went down whilst watching the waves was a
perfect end to the day.
guided walking or cycling tour with Explore you will stay in comfortable moderate
grade hotels and usually find that breakfast is included. This leaves you free
to make your own arrangements for lunch and dinner. Sometimes there is the
option to go off on your own but on the whole your guide will make a booking
for the entire group. Our Frank came up trump’s night after night with some
different cuisine and varied menus. We tended to discuss where and when during
lunch, but mostly followed Franks lead. Explore guides have a very good
knowledge of the areas they cover so can make great suggestions.
next stop was the seaside resort of Sesimbra, just over an hour’s drive from
Sintra, taking us through Lisbon and over the famous 25 de Abril Bridge over
the River Tagus with wonderful views including the towering statue of Christ
the King. Arriving on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon we were delighted
to find our hotel was the pretty Casa da Praca just a few steps from the beach.
After a snack lunch overlooking the sea we took taxis to the Arribida National
Park where we hiked along a clear trail with views over the sea. It was
exceptionally hot so sun hats, sun cream and plenty of water were all
essentials. Once we arrived back into Sesimbra first stop was for cold beers
overlooking the beach in the Tap Room Bar inside the Fortress of Santiago. A
generous plate of cold meats, cheeses and local delights was very welcome.
Our long walk was saved for our last day and taxis transported us to the start and finish which enabled us to walk 7 miles along the breathtaking cliff tops to Cape Espichel.
walking in a group it is easy to alternate walking along with others, chatting
as you go, or to fall back on your own if you want some quiet time. You don’t
have to feel you have to join in all the time if you don’t want to.
short taster trip was sadly at an end but with a 7-night holiday you would have
a variety of additional options including dolphin watching in the Sado River a
short drive from Sesimbra, or wine tasting in Setubal as well as more time in
Explore’s eight-day trip to Sintra and Arrabida visits the contrasting green hills and UNESCO heritage of Sintra and the rugged coastline of Arrabida Natural Park. Prices start from £1,095pp and include return flights, transfers, 7 nights accommodation, breakfast and an Explore leader. More details.
For more information on other ideas and destinations visit www.explore.co.uk or contact 01252 883 629.
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