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ABOUT WALKING IN SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
Spain is a country of vastly contrasting geography and landscapes and an abundance of
Perhaps the most famous walk in Spain is the Camino de Santiago, the route that pilgrims
follow from the French border, crossing the northern provinces of Spain, to reach Galicia and
Santiago de Compostella. Those who undertake this trail find it an uplifting experience and a
challenging walk, if only because of the distance travelled and the imperative to realize the
expectations that are placed upon it.
There is however much more to walking in Spain. It is a very popular pastime throughout the
country and, particularly in the holiday seasons, there will be a mix of foreigners and locals on
the many routes and trails that can be found almost everywhere.
Some of the best walking is in the Pyrenees, the Picos de Europa, and the Sierra Nevada. The
many national parks, natural parks and other protected areas have well developed systems of
tracks and trails. There is also a developing network of long distance routes, particularly in the
north, and throughout the country are many short trails or loops, ideal for day walking.
We have included on this site a short description of our walking in Catalunia, Andalucia,
Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria and their Iberian neighbour Portugal.
Inspired by the French Grandes Randonnees, Spain has its own GR's but here they are Gran
Recorridos. There are some impressive routes. The GR 7 starts at Algeciras in the south and
crosses the whole length of eastern Spain to reach Andorra and join up with its French
equivalent. The GR1 crosses the country from the Golfe de Rosa to Cabo Finistere. The GR11
crosses the Pyrenees on a parallel route to France's GR10. And there are many others, not
always linked but venturing into some of the country's most beautiful country. As in France,
the GR's are marked with red and white painted signs.
There is also a wide network of paths and trails called the Vías Pecuarias. These are historic
pathways used over the centuries to move livestock to and from seasonal pastures. They wind
through isolated countryside and link small towns and villages. While some are overgrown and
almost forgotten others function as small local roads. We understand them as "rights of way"
and they have been institutionalised in Spanish land laws from as far back as the 13th century.
Traditionally to be used at least twice a year they have been the source of many disputes
between landowners and herders and in modern times between modern day developers or
landowners and those maintaining the old traditions. Interestingly they cannot be legally
extinguished and there is a strong movement to see that they are maintained in public use.
Local information offices and guidebooks will advise on these routes which are often marked
with green posts.
In addition there are Pequenos Recorridos (PR) or little trails and a range of local trails with
their own individual marking, often painted in horizontal bands of yellow and white.
Recreational walking in Portugal does not have the high profile it has in Spain or France, being
generally more popular with visitors than with the locals. But although it is a small country, it is
full of contrasts and there is wonderful walking in many different landscapes - from gently rolling
hills to bleak mountains, from the white-washed cottages and citrus orchards of the South to
olive groves and the marble villages further north, lush green valleys, ancient woodlands and a
Perhaps because there are no national walking clubs, it wasn't until the late nineteen-nineties
that Portugal started the construction and marking of hiking paths.
Long distance hiking trails are still rare. The major GR's, known in Portugal as Grande Rota,
are yet to be fully developed although the European long distance hiking trail E7 (GR12) is
close to being connected to the Spanish routes. The GR11, the Camino Portugués, now runs
from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela.
As a good alternative there is a range of shorter trails, the Pequena Rota, or PR's which are
found in all national parks, protected landscape areas or some local areas. These walks are
waymarked in red and yellow.
There is one national park in Portugal, 13 natural parks and many other areas designated as
natural reserves, protected landscapes and specially classified places. Those most popular for
walking are the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres, Parque Nacional da Serra da Estrella and
the Parque Natural de Montesinho. Other popular walks are the Via Algarviana from Alcoutim
on the Spanish border and Cape St. Vincent (the most south-westerly point in Europe), the new
Rota Vicentina in the Alentijo, bordering the Algarve east and south of Lisbon and the Atlantic
islands of Madeira and the Azores. In the north the area between the Lima and Minho rivers is
also very popular for organised escorted or self guided tours.
In Spain, the different levels of trails are the responsibility of different agencies, ranging from
the National/Natural Park authorities, regional juntas and local administrations. This,
predictably, leads to a certain amount of confusion, especially in areas where track
development has been carried out but printed information has not caught up.
To add to the confusion maps, booklets and brochures are produced by all the authorities but
are frequently inconsistent. While Spain's IGN, Instituto Geographico Nacional, publishes
maps at a suitable scale for walking, these may not reflect the latest routes or those preferred
at a local level. Sometimes maps are available locally, sometimes you will be told they are
only available in Madrid! Ironically, some of the most reliable information is found in walking
guides published overseas. For example we found Charles Davis's book, Walk! The
Alpujarras, in the Discovery Walking Guide series, to be a most reliable guide.
A major initiative has been undertaken in Andalusia with a website now specifically devoted to
the GR7. This was produced in conjunction with a major overhaul of the GR7 carried out in
2007. The route was re-signposted with fresh paint and new signs and the path re-routed in
many places. This means the GR7 footpath in Granada is now one of the best signposted and
easy to follow parts of the GR7 in Spain. Let us hope that this is a good omen for the future.
Signage can also be a challenge. In some areas it is excellent, even though it may not tally
with the map you have! In others it may not be consistently well maintained over a whole route
and walkers may have to fall back on intuitive use of your maps and guides, irrespective of
In Portugal also the walker can experience difficulties due to outdated maps and the poor
condition of some paths and markings. Details about local itineraries are likely to be readily
available but comprehensive mapping is more difficult to find and should be bought on line
or in major centres.
In spite of these minor frustrations a sensible walker will always muddle through. Seldom are
you so far from civilisation that you can't retrace your steps or see your way to an alternative
The flourishing business of recreational walking is nothing new to the Iberian Peninsular. There
are many, many enterprises, both local and foreign, offering walking tours throughout the
If making your own arrangements the internet will be your planning companion. Accommodation
can usually be found in all major towns. Smaller towns may be more tricky but a range of
simpler lodgings will frequently be available. In rural areas holiday accommodation for tourism
has become a feature, sometimes in large resort hotels but also in rented cottages and villas,
which are ideal as a base for day walking. Mountain refuges are a feature of many of the parks
and reserves in Spain.
Even the smallest village has a bar or restaurant. Sit down and order a drink and it will be
accompanied by some small delicacy which is likely to take the edge off your appetite. Then
order a meal and quickly become aware of the difference between tapas (smallish), raciones (a
meal sized portion) and portiones (enormous). You won't ever go hungry and, as you consume a
huge feast, it can be justified on the basis that you will walk it off the next day.
Planning and Accommodation
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