Walking in Alentejo

Alentejo means ‘Beyond the Tagus’ (this is the river known as Tejo in Portuguese) but it might as well mean ‘beyond civilisation’ given how, after just a few hours on the trail, you’re going to feel completely immersed in the scenery and a million miles away from the pace of regular life. The region straddles south and south central Portugal, bordering the Algarve, and some walking vacations combine the two, allowing you to compare them both.

In the interior you’ll walk through aromatic pine groves, over gently rolling hills and plains that are studded with cork oaks, eucalyptus, olive trees and grapevines. On coastal sections there will be virgin sand dunes, deserted beaches off which storks nest on sea stacks, and fishing villages where you can stop for a bite to eat at a traditional seafood restaurant. This is Portugal’s main agricultural region, and the pastoral landscapes are at times like something from an Old Master, the green vegetation, fields of golden wheat and deep blue skies bringing on a mesmerising effect.

Rota Vicentina

The Rota Vicentina, tapering through western Alentejo, is a 450km network of walking trails that includes the Historical Way, and the sublime Fishermen’s Trail that follows the sandy coast. It’s among the most popular options for Alentejo walking vacations with a number of routes available. You won’t bump into too many other people – this is no Camino de Santiago – but the local people are reliably friendly, seeing you on your way with a nod and a smile.

Practicalities

Our walking vacations in Alentejo are mostly tailor made and self guided. That means you have flexibility on your travel dates, and the route you take can be organised by the operator according to your interests and abilities. You will want to be in reasonably good shape, as you’ll be averaging around 20km a day, and on coastal routes there can be a lot of walking on sand which can be quite taxing. But generally estimates of walk durations are pretty accurate, and if you’re making good time you can stop off for a relaxed picnic or paddle whenever and wherever you like.

Before setting off you’ll be provided with detailed route notes, maps and guidebooks, along with a GPS. Routes are well marked, however. Rural hotels and guesthouses will be booked along the way for you, with your luggage transferred between them so that you need only carry a daypack.

When to go walking in Alentejo

Alentejo tends to be pretty warm and dry most of the year. We recommend giving late July and August a miss, as it’s not unknown for summer temperatures to hit 40°C. It’s usually substantially cooler on the coast than it is inland of course. If you’re able to, spring and autumn are the best time to walk in Alentejo, with mild weather and not too much chance of rain, and of course the landscapes are absolutely glorious.

“Temperatures in Sept were perfect for walking but if one is interested in flowers then better to go in late spring as I imagine the colours would be fantastic then.” – Margaret Skuce in a review of her Alentejo and Algarve self guided walking vacation

“Meals can be huge; often 1 main course, especially whole fish, will be enough for 2 people. Sometimes you can choose a small or large portion. You don't have to have the Couvert (e.g. olives, fish paste, cheese, bread) brought as a starter but be aware that it is not complimentary – you pay for what you eat). Everywhere was surprisingly green and each season has a different beauty, but if you wish to see storks on their cliff top nests and lots of flowers, go in Spring. Take time to look and absorb and enjoy! It's not a race!” – Denise Anne in a review of her Alentejo self guided walking vacation

Walking in Alentejo travel advice

Ricardo Estêvão from our supplier Aventuractiva on the highlights of walking in Alentejo:

Rota Vicentina

“The Rota Vincentina is a network of marked trails network divided in two routes, one exploring inland areas and landscape and the other the sandy paths of the Atlantic coastline. They complement each other, revealing the true spirit of southwest Portugal. It’s the result of a local project called the Rota Vicentina Association connecting local suppliers and entrepreneurs and allows guests/hikers to have an authentic experience away from the massive tourism destinations. The attractiveness of the landscape, and the natural, historical and cultural heritage make it a place to discover step by step.”

What to eat on the way

“The Alentejo is one of the best places to try seafood and fish dishes along the coast, all villages have their own harbour and the menu depends on the daily catch, there is no frozen fish around this area! Gooseneck barnacles (quite unique) and clams, octopus and cuttlefish, once they are really tender and tasty are good to eat, as are the Sea Bass (Robalo) and the Bream (Sargo). Inland but also by the coast you can have “maybe” the best pork meat ever - “Porco Preto” - Iberian black Pig, an animal that scavenges acorns and roots.”

Alentejo terrain

“Alentejo is quite flat, even near the ocean which makes it very doable, but expect to walk along sandy paths near the cliff and beach areas. Bring a good pair of trekking boots and a swimming costume. Inland you can count on easy dirt tracks. There are many gorgeous unspoilt places to discover and explore, but I love the drama of the flower-covered cliffs and springtime aromas near the Sardão Cape where the storks make their nests using the sea rocks.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Alvesgaspar] [Intro: Wojtek Scibor] [Rota Vicentina: Justraveling.com] [When to go walking in Alentejo: Kent Wang] [Ricardo Estêvão Quotes: Jeremy Keith]
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