The history of Portugal and her cultural influences is as rich as her natural landscape is diverse and ideal for walking and hiking tours. Portugal was once, of course, a great empire, colonising large parts of Africa, China, America and Malaysia. Gold from Brazil provided for magnificent Baroque buildings and gilded altar carvings. Exotic fruits and Oriental spices changed gastronomic traditions forever, and Oporto and Lisbon are awash with the memories of the explorers Prince Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama.
But Portugal was also colonized too, by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors. Romanesque temples, castles and cobbled pathways are seemingly countless and beautiful Moorish azulejos (brightly painted tiles, a superb example of which adorns the Santa Maria Chapel near our base hotel) cover the facades of the most commonplace buildings. Indigenous Carob and Cork trees and Cacti Palm share a country where Australian Eucalyptus, American Maple, and Mexican Opuntia flourish happily. And the timeless villages of the high plateaux are totally untouched: traditional granite houses with thatched roofs and hospitable friendly locals are a far cry from the resorts of the Algarve.
To walk in the Portuguese mountains is to dip into the historical wealth and the natural splendour of a country whose identity has been shaped by the Romans, the Moors and by her conquests of other nations and continents. A country split by the majestic Montanhas and the Serra da Estrela, a natural divide between the humid and Atlantic North and the dry and Mediterranean South.