Getting Away From The Crowds In Portugal's Parks

Getting Away From The Crowds In Portugal's Parks

While parks may not be Portugal’s primary tourism draw, this Iberian state’s protected lands have both natural and historical features in spades. From boulder-strewn slopes to ruins of hill top castles, Portugal’s parks have some fascinating spots to explore. Here’s the catch; the most well documented sites in these parks, especially those detailed in guidebooks, are most often over run with tour buses. Fortunately, for those who wish to get away from the crowds, there are lesser-known spots to explore. Just two of these five sites I’ll share with you even garner a mention in any of the major guidebooks.

National Parks versus Natural Parks

Protected parks in Portugal fall under differing classifications based on a range of factors including  biodiversity, scientific, and educational value. Portugal’s only National Park, Penada-Gerês, was created in 1971 as a result of national and international scientific interest to conserve it's existing characteristics. In Penada-Gerês, you’ll find a couple of park offices with helpful information on hikes and sites to visit.

Natural parks on the other hand are far more informally administered. You’re unlikely to find current maps and won’t find a park office. These regions are designated based on the preservation of biodiversity as influenced by human activities. In both types of parks, gateway towns will be fairly bustling and the key sights mentioned in every guidebook are likely to be crowded to varying degrees.

Santuario da Peninha | Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Santuario da Peninha | Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Santuario da Peninha | Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

Santuario da Peninha | Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

In perhaps the most highly trafficked of all four parks I’ll cover, it’s challenging to escape the crowds in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park due to its proximity to Lisbon. While you could spend days exploring the castles in the hills above Sintra, you could also detour west to take in some of the best views on the central Portuguese coast.

Situated at the highest point of the Natural Park, the Santuario da Peninha was built in the 17th century and became a site of pilgrimage for the wives of sailors due to it’s birds eye view of the sea. Walking up the rocky road to the site from an unmarked dirt parking area, the views down the coastline to the city of Cascais improve with every step. From the outside, the chapel itself is unremarkable compared to a lower structure, built in 1918, which is painted a bright canary yellow and offers a fantastic patio. It’s a photographers dream. 

Castle of Castro Laboreiro in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês
Castle of Castro Laboreiro in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês
Castle of Castro Laboreiro in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês
Santuario da Senhora Do Numão in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês
Santuario da Senhora Do Numão in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês
Santuario da Senhora Do Numão in Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês

The Castle of Castro Laboreiro & Santuario da Senhora Do Numão | Parque Nacional Penada - Gerês 

While most guidebooks have a section on Portugal’s only National Park, the northern half generally receives a just a short mention without much actionable information. By basing yourself in Soajo as opposed to the more well known hub of Gerês – you’ll set yourself with better access to the less crowded areas of the park.

Just a short hike from the small village of Castro Laboreiro are the ruins of an eponymous castle built around 955 and later rebuilt in the fourteenth century. Dating as far back as it does, the subject of castles’ original builders is in some dispute – with varying sources claiming either the Romans or the Moors. Seated on a hilltop overlooking a valley, like all good castles do, you can wander through doorways and atop the walls imagining centuries of different people doing so before.

In a nearby valley, down a long unmarked dirt road, is the Santuario da Senhora Do Numão. Previously used as a place of worship for Celtic peoples and unspecified ancient cults, the boulder-strewn site now houses a Catholic chapel built in 1663. A rock pulpit and spring add extra curiosity and charm to the site, making a perfect spot for lunch – complete with picnic tables under shade providing trees. 

Covão do Boerio & Covão do Meio in Serra da Estrela Natural Park
Covão do Boerio & Covão do Meio in Serra da Estrela Natural Park
Covão do Boerio & Covão do Meio in Serra da Estrela Natural Park

Covão do Boerio & Covão do Meio | Serra da Estrela Natural Park

Most guidebooks will mention the centrally situated Serra Da Estrela National Park, specifically calling out the highest point in Portugal; Torre, and suggesting a hike down the Zêzere Valley. Just about three kilometers down the hill from Torre, towards Seia, a rough and rocky trail dips down into the westward sloping Loriga Glacial Valley. While there are a few small parking pullouts nearby, you won’t find any other signage directing you down the path.

For those lucky few interested in exploring, the roughly seven kilometer trail will lead you past the ruins of various abandoned stone buildings and infrastructure, past an upper marsh area to a dam and reservoir – Lagoa do Cavão do Meio. At the time of our visit, mid-September, the dam was deserted and the reservoir nearly empty. In this state, you can make loop traveling in front of the dam and across the dry lakebed back to the trail.

Forte de Almádena in Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park 
Forte de Almádena in Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park 
Forte de Almádena in Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park 

Forte de Almádena | Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park

Depending on the time of year, a visit to the large area covered by Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park may be more packed than the winding roads around Sintra's castles. Located between the Algarve beach towns of Salema and Burgau, Forte de Almádena is easily overlooked by anyone not partial to aimlessly driving the small winding roads along the coast. Built in 1632, it’s another hilltop castle with a fantastic view down the coastline ready to be explored. For those imaginative types, the remnants of the moat are still visible – so watch your footing as you explore.

Final Tips for Visiting Portugal’s Parks 

If you plan any portion of your visit to Portugal around it’s parks and prefer to get away from the crowds – you’ll need to rent a vehicle, chat with locals, and plan on getting lost. I recommend bringing actual paper maps, as cell service won’t be strong in the mountainous regions, and a GPS device to determine your location after you get yourself lost. Using this approach, you’ll hopefully find some additional ways to get away from the crowds in Portugal’s parks.


Additional Resources

Travel Guide: Portugal

Four Ways To Enjoy The Snow in McCall, Idaho

Easy Does It in McCall Idaho Photo by fugue photo

After a couple of years of combining my passions of traveling and creating in the digital space, I've found that sometimes I need to get out and enjoy myself without the pressure of creating something after the fact. At home in Seattle, it means leaving the DSLR at home and if inspiration strikes, I'll have to capture it on my iPhone instead. On longer trips, like our New Years week spent in McCall, Idaho, it means that while we may bring all our gear - we hardly ever pull it out of the bag. For the purposes of comparison, during the five full days we spent in McCall - we snapped about 45 shots on our Canon T5i and S110 combined. During the four days we spent in Tofino back in November, we came back with 506 individual shots and a whole load of video clips.

All that being said - I still have to share how fantastic McCall was for a snowy getaway. This lakeside Idaho town has two breweries, a couple of adorable coffee shops, a disproportionate number of thrift shops, and even a large indoor ice rink. Adding to the pro's of a winter time visit to McCall is the proximity of outdoor snowy fun to the downtown area. Skiing, snowshoeing, and natural hot springs are all with easy driving (and in some cases walking) distance. 


Snowshoeing in Ponderosa State Park Along Payette Lake in McCall Idaho
Snowshoeing in Ponderosa State Park Along Payette Lake in McCall Idaho

Go For An Easy Snowshoe In Ponderosa State Park

Just a couple of minutes down the road from McCall's downtown (and convienent snowshoe rentals), are the groomed nordic trails of Ponderosa State Park. The winter trail system is well marked with options for easy to more challenging grades. I recommend hightailing it, as fast as you can in snowshoes, towards the shoreline to enjoy the snowy views out across Payette Lake. Use of the trails is $5 per person plus an additional $5 per vehicle - plus tax. Keep in mind that everyone in your party will need to be on either snowshoes or cross country skies - you won't be allowed to walk the trails in your boots.

 

Snowshoeing off Lick Creek Road Near Little Payette Lake in McCall Idaho
Snowshoeing off Lick Creek Road Near Little Payette Lake in McCall Idaho

Make First Tracks with your snowshoes off Lick Creek Road

If you're ready for a more adventurous snowshoe, literally off the beaten path, head up Lick Creek Road to get some snowshoeing time in the untracked powder near Little Payette Lake. About 15 minutes from downtown is a US Forest Service parking lot on the right side of the road, marked with a sign containing exploration etiquette but no maps. From here, you can start making tracks in whichever direction looks right for you. I recommend heading west along the river towards Little Payette Lake. 

On December 30th, in late morning, the only other folks we encountered were some snowmobilers in the parking lot headed farther up the unplowed portion of Lick Creek Road. Wandering through the trees and across frozen lakes (take caution while crossing these) - we had this snowy wonderland all to ourselves during a popular time of year for a visit.

 

Ski at Brundage Mountain Resort

Ski At Brundage Mountain Resort

Located about twenty minutes north of McCall is Brundage Mountain Resort - which has five lifts, 46 named-trails, and fantastic views of McCall and Long Valley from the summit. While it may not be as large as some of the Lake Tahoe resorts where I learned to ski, there were plenty of runs to keep me busy and enjoying the snow. For my first day back on skis in over six years, I couldn't have asked for a better run than Temptation. It's just over two miles long and rated as a green circle, although the last portion may really be more along blue square territory.

Adult lift tickets run $60 for a full day and $48 for a half. The best part, on New Years Eve, usually a popular day to get some skiing in - lift lines truly didn't exist. It was a ski straight down into the marked area and onto the waiting spot for your chair!

 

Soak In Trail Creek Hot Springs

I'm the first to admit that whenever I think of natural hot springs, specifically the kind out there in the woods, the '90s movie Dante's Peak immediately comes to mind. However, on our trip to Idaho, we were traveling with a number of hot springs connoisseurs determined to get us all out to some local pools. After a considerable amount of hesitation, I swim-suited up, butt-slid down the snowy trail off Warm Lake Road, and dipped my toes into Trail Creek Hot Springs.

At first dip, the water in Trail Creek Hot Springs was far to hot for someone as sensitive as me. Thankfully, the tubs here are improved with valves to plug the hot water and let in cool water from the creek. From the perspective of a first timer - the tub was clean enough considering it's out there in the woods. By far the best part of the experience is sitting in a warm tub with friends, surrounded by snow covered rocks and trees. It was so much more peaceful and cup-filling than a more developed hot spring could ever be.

 

[Video] The Columbia Gorge Waterfall Challenge | Part One

One of the best parts about visiting Portland, Oregon is the easy access to the corridor of waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. On this visit we set out to see how many waterfalls we could reasonably visit in one day and of course, still make it back in time to enjoy a fantastic Portland dinner with friends.

Prior to attempting this fun travel challenge, I mapped as many waterfalls as I could on a Google Map - which you can view here. By starting out in the late morning, we made it to Lower and Upper Latourell Falls, Shepperd's Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls, and Multnomah Falls. We'll have to return on a second challenge to visit the rest!


Additional Resources

Travel Guide: Oregon

Create: Finding The Work You Want To Be Doing

A ramblegood infinity scarf

For travelers and creatives alike, the comparison game can be a real ambition killer. 

With my newly acquired in-my-thirties attitude and simplify as my one little word for 2015, I'm taking a step back and coming at this game from a new, more productive, angle. 

Instead of comparing my creative projects to others, I'm focusing down on the important question behind it all.

What's the work I want to be doing?

This question allows me to take a different approach to the whole comparison game. Instead of comparing my work to others, I'm instead looking for examples of great work and creators which I can strive to join. This approach also allows me to cut down on the noise and bypass comparing myself with successful creators whose work I have no interest in doing myself.

So I've started a list on my Notes app in my phone, broken down by creative medium, and here's who I'm striving to join right now.

Videography & Filmmaking

While my interested in videography and filmmaking goes back to "throwing my college career away" in high school to take film instead of english class, there was one video in particular which pushed me over the edge to get into travel videography and filmmaking; a story for tomorrow by Gnary Bay.

My equally creative husband found the Expedition Overland series and I was hooked. This is the kind of work I want to be doing, because it's the kind I enjoy watching. Give me an episode of this over any major TV show, any day.

And then this month, we both found Welcome to Union Glacier from StudioCanoe and started planning out how to purchase a few more key pieces of equipment.

Multimedia Websites

What websites do I find myself eagerly returning to for almost every new post? On the frequent content side, I totally dig Adventure Journal's varied combination of outdoor content - from the video of the day to essays on current issues facing the outdoors.

I'm not much of an e-mail subscriber, but I make one exception for the awesome family behind Our Open Road. They don't post to their website often and when they do it's a whopper of a post filled with amazing photography and down to earth stories. Whenever I get a new post from them in my e-mail, my day has been made.

Photography

In a world full of over saturated and staged photography, I very much admire Lisette Wolter-McKinney's travel photography. It's simple, crisp, and it comes across incredibly real.

On the more in your face side, I really dig Chris Burkard's work. Every photo gives an epic vibe of adventure and I particularly enjoy his style of incorporating individuals into his landscape work.

Writing

To put it bluntly, I'm having a tough time finding travel writers out there whose work I really enjoy reading. I'm not so big on travel narratives or top 10 lists, but I do enjoy the short front of book pieces, One Great Block and Roads Less Traveled, in AFAR - as well as their Spin The Globe feature.

In terms of style, I absolutely love reading everything Jennifer Snyder posts on the Journal - her voice comes through smoothly and friendly in written words both on her own site and elsewhere.

Small Business

I'm about a year and half into wrapping the idea of being a small business owner around my head, but I find myself fascinated by the work of Ethnotek, preserving culture while helping people travel well; Moorea Seal, showcasing small designers and giving back; and Our Open Road's 24 Bazaar.`


Do you have any creators are you striving to join? I'd love to see what work is motivating you!

Travel, You're NOT Doing It Wrong

Travel, You're NOT Doing It Wrong - Hiking in Kauai - Photo by Fugue Photo

Let's not bother beating around the bush, there is no "wrong" way to travel.

It's a topic which sometimes leaves me considering unfollowing most travel writers and bloggers around the web altogether. I'm so tired of the prescriptive travel advice out there which tells you that you must "travel like a local" or "travel solo" because otherwise you're "just a tourist." Don't get me started on the traveler versus tourist debate. 

No, You Don't Have To Go Solo

As a woman who travels solo at least once a month, the whole "solo female travel" movement has never resonated with me. In fact it often annoys me, (I'll let this meme speak for how I feel about the use of the word "female" in the movement) due to it's prescriptive sounding nature - making it seem it must be the only way to travel. I personally find that instead of coming across as empowering, the movement often comes off as negative towards anyone who prefers or enjoys traveling with a partner or in a group. I travel both by myself and with my husband because I enjoy traveling with him. If you like to travel with a partner and prefer it to traveling solo, do it. Traveling solo is not the only way to travel. And no, your experience will not be negatively impacted because you're not traveling solo.

No, You Don't Have To Go Solo - Hiking in Lake Tahoe, California - PHOTO BY FUGUE PHOTO

Just Check It

For awhile I considered writing a post called "Confessions Of A Chronic Over-Packer," and then I turned 30 and decided I didn't care any longer. As someone who writes a lot about travel and travels frequently, I often get asked for tips on how to pack light. The truth is, I don't pack light - I pack smart and 100% of the time that means I check a bag when I fly. There is a strong belief out there, that checking a bag is a travel "don't" - but really who cares! 

I hate dragging bags around the airport and could care less about waiting to pick up my bag after the flight - I'm not in a rush. I have no desire to purchase 3oz versions of my shampoo or to be that person struggling to fit their overpacked roller bag into the overhead bin. I'm a frequent traveler and I'd rather check a bag. Yes, I've had my luggage lost and you know what - I'm still here and everything is okay. 

I say, do what works best for you and your trip.

Local Schmocal

One of the other travel "do's" out there is to travel like a local - a dangerous thought if you think about it more deeply. As a Seattle local, I tend to frequent the same places over and over as opposed to trying new things. That's most certainly not my goal while traveling. Another definition suggests that you should do home stays or rent an AirBnB as opposed to staying in a hotel or resort - to up your chances of getting to know some locals. While I personally tend to lean toward the AirBnB route, I've also enjoyed stays at resorts and hotels. Do what feels right for you and your trip. Whether you choose to stay in an all-inclusive resort or do a home stay with a local family you probably won't have a miserable time. Just a different one depending on your choice.

Seek Solitude

Whenever I see a post or article written about why someone travels, it's inevitably all about the people. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but if I were to write a why I travel post - it would be all about the natural features our earth has to offer. I don't seek out people when I travel, it's just not about the people for me. When I read how-to articles about great travel writing, it's always about the dialogue and the people you meet along the way. Perhaps that's why I struggle to write once in awhile, since I seek solitude when I travel and my most meaningful travel moments involve the lack of dialogue.

So if you're like me and seeking something other than people in your travels - just know you're not alone and it's okay. 

Seek Solitude - Enjoying Peninha in Portugal - PHOTO BY FUGUE PHOTO

To Count Or Not To Count

There's nothing like country counting to make a traveler feel inadequate. Spencer Spellman recently wrote a great post about not caring which I think captures the gist of why I'm including this debate here. I could care less about going to every place in the world. I simply have no interest in visiting every country. Like I mentioned previously, I travel for natural wonders and that's what drives my choice in destination. It's perfectly acceptable to be a traveler with no desire to go to every country in the world and the number of countries you visit only matters if you want it to.

The Measurements

Did you visit Portugal for two weeks and not set foot in Lisbon or Porto? Have multiple people told you that you're doing it wrong? I bet they have - and in my case they've certainly told me.

Measurements such as how far away you travel, how long you spent there, where you went, and how often you travel - only get in the way of appreciating whatever travel you can do. For the U.S. based folks out there, if you're taking your two weeks of the year to visit family for the holidays - well done, you've traveled. You should never have to refer to your travels preceded with the word "just." Your travels are not insufficient, they are your travels.

The One "Right"

Are you traveling?

Yes.

Congratulations!

Travel, you're doing it RIGHT!

The One "Right" - Enjoying Polihale in Kauai