Post-Pandemic Nature Fix - Places to reconnect with Nature 26 - 50
By Rob Butler
With the gradual easing of lockdown, we need something to shake off the cobwebs from a long confinement and reconnect with the natural world once again. While screen time is the easier, more popular choice, it’s important to set aside time for the outdoors. Finding time to go for a walk in nature is hugely beneficial for children. Researchers have found that time in nature can improve your child’s happiness, learning, sleep and self-esteem. Also, studies are consistently suggesting that kids who play outside are often smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.
With online schooling, lock-down restrictions and access to their friends only via gaming, it is safe to say that your child is spending a large proportion of their day in front of a screen. Don’t beat yourself up about it either - it has happened to us all. Yet, once the restrictions are relaxed further we will need to get our children out of a lock-down routine that serves a purpose but will be no longer required or beneficial. Prepare for a battle - as those devices, apps and games are designed to be addictive!
Let’s face it - too much time in front of the screen has increased dramatically since the pandemic., especially for children. It has become so extreme that many kids spend very little in nature and most of it indoors. Students I teach admitted to spending 4 to 5 hours a day in front of a screen on average even before Covid-19 and the lock-downs. If screen time stays the same then it will mean that this generation of children will be the first to have a disconnect with nature. This crisis already has a name: Nature deficit disorder.
Finding time to go for a walk in nature is hugely beneficial for children. Researchers have found that time in nature can improve your child’s happiness, learning, sleep and self-esteem. Also, studies are consistently suggesting that kids who play outside are often smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.
The W.H.O. has described the current situation as a crisis and is very concerned with children's inactivity and lack of time in nature. Here is a brief summary of how time in nature helps children:
Confidence - Letting your child choose how they play in nature means that have the power to control their own actions - it has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play. It builds confidence and responsibility. This is an opportunity for your child to try new things, to develop new skills, and test themselves in unique ways such as climbing a tree.
Responsibility - Being in nature entrusts a child to take care of the living parts of their environment meaning they’ll learn what happens to nature when it is destroyed, mistreated or not respected. Living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and their time in nature will reinforce this.
Imagination and Wonder - Kids will naturally design their own games and activities, and approach the world in inventive ways. The questions soon start when kids are in nature, as time in nature makes them think and wonder about the earth and the life it supports. This will encourage them to find out more about the natural world and nurture learning.
Stimulation - Nature may seem less stimulating than Minecraft or Fortnite but in reality, it activates more senses—you can see, hear, smell, and touch outdoor environments. It also serves as an auditory sensory activity - identifying sounds and discriminating them will help hone their listening skills.
Exercise - A walk in nature will get the senses working and blood pumping, be great for their bodies and the completion of the walk will give children a sense of achievement. This is especially beneficial for kids who find it hard to focus or have 'ants in their pants'. Exposure to nature has been shown to lower the risk of obesity and decreases blood sugar and cortisol, both of which are also associated with obesity.
Stress Relief. A walk in nature will be a distraction to the everyday stress of school life and grades. Natural environments help with fatigue and the constraints of having to sit behind a desk and comply with a rigid schedule. Study results show that nature positively affects people’s mental, spiritual and physical health and promote a feeling of well-being.
As a Dad, a teacher and author of the best selling hiking guide to the Lisbon region, I am combining my knowledge and needs to help parents bond with their kids in nature. To get outside and have some fun in some awe-inspiring locations.
It’s time to get outside and have some fun in some awe-inspiring locations.
26. Parque Urbano Penhas do Marmeleiro, Cascais
In between Cascais and Malveira da Serra is Murches’s park. It has panoramic views from above the children’s play park. The trail down takes you to the stream and to an impressive limestone valley. It is possible to walk here from Cascais market, although the current trail ends at Alvide it will be officially extended which will also provide a link to Quinta do Pisão. There are wooden stairways making it both easier and safer to reach the top – giving you a good workout at the same time.
27. Praia da Foz, Meco
This is a very unusual beach as it has a very impressive cliff to its north and a flat limestone platform to the south. It is a beautiful sandy cove, which is well-known for the fossilized oyster shells that can be found in the rocks, giving you a glimpse of an ancient fossilized desert sand dune. Access to the beach is easy.
28. Pegadas de Dinossaurios, Praia Grande
The cliffs at the south end of Praia Grande are some of the most impressive in the whole of Portugal. Take some time to consider that the stunning vertical cliffs were once horizontal at a time when dinosaurs were enjoying this region. If you want proof of this, then head up the recently restored steps to see a number of dinosaur footprints that are believed to be over a hundred million years old.
29. Casal dos Pianos, Serra de Sintra
The impressive and mysterious rocks perched on these cliffs are one of the Serra de Sintra's best-kept secrets: they are made of basalt and were formed millions of years ago. The name comes from the fact that many of the rocks resemble the pipes of a church organ. Providing incredible views of the Atlantic, this site is ideal for rock-climbing and abseiling as well as bird-watching because the cliffs are a major spot for cliff-nesting seabirds.
30. Barragem do Rio da Mula, Serra de Sintra
Sintra's reservoir is the perfect place to get some fresh air and is a firm favourite for those looking for an alternative to the crowded and restricted beaches in the summer. There is a small ‘beach’ at the far side of the reservoir when it has water, although recently the levels have remained low. Follow the stream and enter the wooded area to find the ‘Trilho das Pontes’, which is a perfectly shaded trail that has about 20 small wooden bridges. The perfect adventure for children.
31. Anta de Carcavelos, Lousa
The countryside around Lousa is often overlooked yet it offers some of the best places to get away from the throngs of the city! It's home to some ancient history - the caves here were once occupied by our Paleolithic ancestors. Evidence of a more ancient past has been found at Gruta de Salemas, while the wonderfully named Gruta do Penedo do Gato provides the same place to sit and view the valley as our Neanderthal cousins once did. Anta de Carcavelos is a beautifully located place where you are very unlikely to see another living soul.
32. Praia da Ursa, Serra de Sintra
Sintra's most iconic and photographed beach is famous for its stunning sea stacks – Ursa and Gigante - and is considered by the Michelin Guide to be one of the most beautiful in the world. The beach itself really does have a special remote feel and the cliffs and surrounding countryside provide incredible views and some fantastic hiking country.
33. Monumento Natural da Pedra da Mua, Serra da Arrábida
With its massive cliffs, wild landscape, impressive sanctuary and some of the best preserved dinosaur footprints in Portugal, Cabo Espichel is among the most interesting attractions of the Arrábida National Park. There are two sets of prints on this cape: one, at Pedra da Mua and another at Lagosteiros, separated by Lagosteiros Bay - and, astonishingly, by millions of years!
34. Quinta da Ribafria, Sintra
One of Sintra's hidden little jewels - Quinta da Ribafria is not on the typical tourist itinerary and subsequently has fewer visitors. Built in the 16th century, the grounds here have a pleasant walk through the shaded gardens. There is also a children's playground and places to relax. The tile covered chapel is impressive. There is no entrance fee.
35. Cascatas de Anços, Montelavar
The magical waterfalls near the town of Anços in the northeast of the Serra de Sintra National Park plunge delightfully over cliffs into the lush gorge of the Rio Mourão. There are very few waterfalls in the Lisbon region and this particular one is a stunning example of nature at its best – a welcome surprise when so close to a major capital city.
36. Quinta dos Ingleses, Carcavelos
Quinta dos Ingleses could be the perfect place to escape the stresses of the pandemic. A walk in nature is proven to treat mental fatigue and is beneficial for mental health. The advantages of turning this 'Quinta' into a park are obvious - so that future generations can nurture their everyday connections with the natural world and for them to have a place to breathe. Selling this place for short term profit is a criminal act and will be judged by our children as such.
37. Duna da Cresmina, Cascais
Immediately north of Guincho is the Duna da Cresmina. It offers over 2kms of raised wooden paths around the impressive sand dunes. Most people head for the café at ‘Núcleo de Interpretação da Duna da Cresmina’ which is super popular during sunset. It’s easy to get away from the crowds by walking towards the sea. The walk from the sand dunes in the direction of the lighthouse at Cabo Raso is well worth and possibly the best place to witness the full force of the enormous waves that break here.
38. Penedo, Serra de Sintra
Penedo is a picturesque village that has wonderful views of the countryside and surrounding coast. It is also the perfect place to head into the forest and reconnect with nature. Fortunately, you really don’t have to go far out of Lisbon to find yourself in the wilderness and these walks around Penedo are perfect for those who want to avoid their mobile phone and their 'to do' lists for a few hours. It has a number of unmarked trails that provide the perfect escape from the sun and the crowds,
39. Cascatas, Bucelas
The hike between the two waterfalls of the Bucelas region is one of the most pleasant of the entire Lisbon region. Offering scenery that is more similar to Italy than Portugal, perhaps due to the views of the vineyards. These waterfalls are obviously best visited in Winter or Spring as in summer they are an unimpressive trickle. Cascata do Boição has a series of waterfalls that is the perfect place to sit and take it all in. Cascata de Santiago dos Velhos is a little more difficult to find but well worth the effort.
40. Lagoa da Albufeira
At the southern end of the cliffs, Arriba Fóssil da Costa da Capricais is the Lagoa da Albufeira, a lagoon with wide beaches popular for its calmer, warmer waters making it ideal for parents with young children. The lagoon also provides safe conditions for sailing, windsurfing and canoeing, while the Atlantic ocean side has waves suitable for surfing. There are some restaurants that tend to get busy during the season but it is easy to find a spot just for you.
43. Brecha da Arrábida, Serra da Arrábida
Arrábida’s finest viewpoint is a short walk from the turning to Portinho. The scenery is breathtaking and draws a crowd during sunset in the summer season. Most of the year it is a great place to take in the stunning views. It is known as ‘Brecha da Arrábida’ due to the high-quality sedimentary rock that was once quarried here. It is a wild place and those visiting with children should be cautious of the cliff edge.
44.Forte de São Domingos da Baralha, Serra da Arrábida
A trail follows a signposted path (PR1) down the limestone cliffs towards some of the most beautiful scenery in the area first passing the ruined Forte de São Domingos da Baralha, which provides a perfect place to stop and take it all in. The fort gives access to the rocky outcrops that form the geological wonder of Chã dos Navegantes. It is easy to spot because it is quite different from the rest of the coastline of the Arrábida National Park.
45. Forte do Espinhaço, Serra de Sintra
Forte do Espinhaço is a forgotten defensive outpost that was built on Sintra’s most western granite boulder field. There’s is very little left of this small fort which had its heyday in the 17th century. It is a wild place that offers some of the best views of mainland Europe’s most western cape and is a welcome alternative to the increasingly busy Cabo do Roca. Access is only possible on foot from Azoia and takes about 25 minutes.
46. Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado
The Sado Estuary is the perfect place to reconnect with nature. It is a natural reserve that is designed to protect a biologically rich area of wetlands extending east and south of Setúbal. This is a bird-watching paradise as this is home to more than 250 species. There are walking trails over the mudflats. Cais Palafítico da Carrasqueira has become a famous place for photography and is a beautiful place to explore nature’s light.
47.Forte de Ribas, Fanhões
If you really want to get away from the city and not see another sole, then this is your best bet! This remote defensive fort is one of many in the area that formed the 2nd line of defence during the Peninsular War. The invasion of Lisbon by French troops was stopped at the 1st line of forts and Forte de Ribas never saw action. Most people visit for the view of the gorge and for the beautiful wild orchids that grow here. There is picnic area nearby that provides some much needed shade in the summer.
48. Fojo da Adraga, Serra de Sintra
Praia da Adraga is considered one of Europe's finest beaches. The cliffs and the spectacular panoramic views are what make it truly special, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and views of the Sintra hills and Palacio da Pena (Pena Palace) on the other. It's the perfect place for nature walks. Wedged between two of Europe's finest beaches lies a large and mysterious natural blowhole or 'fojo' that connects the cliffs to the sea. If you dare, you can look down 90 metres.
49. Quinta do Pisão, Serra de Sintra
Quinta do Pisão is the perfect example of what can be done to a previously unloved piece of land! If only Câmara Municipal de Cascais would see sense and do something similar to Quinta dos Ingleses - the last green area of the Marginal. For nearly ten years now Quinta do Pisão has provided an oasis for those who love nature. It’s a firm favourite with families, mainly due to the donkeys that reside here. The park is big enough to avoid other visitors and had marked trails for those who want to stretch their legs!
50. Castelo de Sesimbra
The PR3 hiking trail takes you from the heart of Sesimbra to its castle. It is a steep climb that follows a trail that has been walked for centuries. Alternatively, you can park at the castle and walk most of the way around the walls of the castle. Take in the panoramic views of Sesimbra and its harbour. There is a wonderful tiled chapel too. Sesimbra castle has much to offer- its views, history and natural surroundings.
Nature fixes and hikes are available all year round with Sintra Treks. For further information:
Sintratreks@gmail.com and www.sintratreks.com
Robert Butler is the author of 'Beyond Lisbon' and 'Lisbon Hidden Beaches'. Both are available at Bertrand bookstores or here:
Sofia Correia Alegria
Psicóloga Clínica - Membro Efectivo da Ordem dos Psicólogos Portugueses (OPP)
Terapeuta Familiar em Formação pela Sociedade Portuguesa de Terapia Familiar (SPTF)
T: +351 962 641 496
Andy Mumford is a Lisbon based professional photographer whose photos are in both 'Beyond Lisbon' and 'Hidden Beaches Lisbon'. His focus nowadays is on travelling, shooting landscapes and teaching photography through workshops, film-making and writing.