Beyond the Beach: Portugal from the Saddle


Portugal, the quietly separate and surprisingly inexpensive 135-mile-wide sliver of land shouldering Spain, is a maritime nation that, in many ways, basks in its bigger neighbor's more tourist-trafficked shadow—less means more in this case. However, you need not limit yourself to the oceanic call of the Algarve or manifold Atlantic beach resorts. Instead opt to explore the country, dry and rugged to the south, lush and mountainous to the north, astride the muscular and proud back of a Portuguese Lusitano stallion.
The Costa Azul (or "Blue Coast"), extending south from Lisbon and hooking around the country's southwestern edge, is a savory blend of scenic cliffs, beaches, pastures, and mountains. As picturesque as the Algarve but without the tourist rabble, the Costa Azul will deliver riders to such delights as the 57,500-acre sanctuary of the Río Sado, a 36-mile stretch of downy dunes interrupted only by tranquil lagoons and fishing villages. After long gallops through the coastal surf, sturdy Lusitano horses will then clip through the pine and cork-oak forests of the Serra de Grândola. As the sun sets, unwind in the relaxed setting of a country inn, drinking in the impressive 360-degree views of the undulating Azul landscape (and the occasional vidro do porto!).
In the mid-eastern Alentejo region, Portugal's proud equestrian heritage co-mingles with a tapestry of Roman-built viaducts, verdant orchards, ancestral estates, and a wellspring of meandering creeks—a landscape ripe for a mellow, genteel canter. National stud farms and breeding grounds for fighting bulls give way to innumerable poussadas, manors of Portuguese nobles, many of which have been renovated as hotels. For architecture lovers, Évora, an ancient walled town spilling over with olive groves, vineyards, and wild flowers, provides a pleasant sojourn from the saddle.
Northeast of Lisbon lies the Silver Coast, the Costa de Prata, so called because of the shimmering intensity of the water. Inland rides into the Montejunto Mountains will offer up panoramic views of medieval abbeys, monasteries, pine forests, and the Atlantic glimmer beyond. The walled village of Óbidos so enchanted 13th-century Queen Isabel that King Dinis presented her the town as a wedding gift. As the terrain unfolds into the Atlantic, bustling fishing villages like Nazaré make for an ideal spot to savor some of Portugal's famed seafood dishes.
Of course, Portugal's sun-kissed, jigsaw-puzzled Algarve coast is well worth a visit, especially the largely unexplored interior. Beyond the touristy—but still quaint—gateway towns of Lagos and Portimão, trails through the Serra de Monchique wind through groves of olives, fig trees, and aromatic oranges. The Barragem da Bravura dam, a network of mid-mountain lagoons and lakes, is the perfect spot to tether your mount, take a cooling plunge, and drift off into a soothing afternoon siesta.

Published: 11 Mar 2003 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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