My Boots Were Made for Walking in Portugal, with Explore

Walking holidays with Explore

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.

Tour leader Frank 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

Mercado 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.

Regaleira Palace, Sintra 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.

The 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 symbolism.

By 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!

Apple Beach Our 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 far.

Lastly, 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.

On a 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.

Beach at Sesimbra Our 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.

The lighthouse at Cape Espichel 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.

When 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.

Our 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 Lisbon.

More information

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 or contact 01252 883 629.

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