This once mighty nation ruled the waves, its great explorers, Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator, pushing the boundaries of the known world. Before this, Romans, Moors and Celts all left their marks on the countryside. Gold, slaves and spices poured into Portugal, its empire elevating it to a position of huge global power. Like now however, its fortune reversed and soon an impoverished Portugal looked to England for support, its Princess Catherine of Braganca marrying King Charles II. This started a long association with the English, which port and tourism are testament to today. This is your chance to explore beyond the Algarve and Porto however, as we’ll travel from Capo de Sao Vincente, Europe’s most SW point, to Braganca in the mountainous NE corner against the Spanish border. This journey must be Europe’s longest green lane, our recce trip clocked up 1200km with 90% of it off tarmac!
Starting on the high cliffs overlooking the Atlantic we climb through the Serra de Monchique, heading steadily NE, inland through the Alantejo plains, home to tough black bulls, cork oak, olives and grassland. This area has changed little, its remote villages, decorated white, with azulejos murals, home to ancient, black clad, widows watching time slowly pass by. Old border tensions with Spain have resulted in fortified villages clinging to hilltops, these impressive fortifications at the front of military technology, the SMART weapons of their day.
Forging north, we cross the great Rio Tejo, marking the change from the plains to the mountains. Onward to the Rio Duro, where vines march up steep cliffs, before being fermented to one of Portugal’s greatest exports and shipped to Porto. Pushing into the northern mountains we come to a timeless forgotten corner of Europe, mules are still used daily to plough tiny fields marked by huge granite boulders carved by Neolithic man. Through out the trip, bird life is plentiful, imperial eagles to bright orioles and the curious hoopoo. Deer, boar and wolves still roam these hills and spring is the best time to be in Portugal with the countryside green and fresh before the heat of the summer.