Post-Pandemic Nature Fix - Places to reconnect with Nature 1 - 25
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. A break from all those screens and domestic routines of daily life is much needed. In these troubled times of ours, we need a place that is open to the elements, has fresh air and is wild enough for us to feel the muscles in our legs stretch once again. Fortunately, Lisbon is quite possibly the best-located capital city in the world and is surrounded by nature. We have chosen 50 off-beaten track places that are all well within an hour’s drive from the centre of Lisbon and an alternative to those places we all know that are certain to be full of people once things start to relax.
Too much time indoors has increased dramatically since this unwelcome pandemic and enforced lockdowns, especially for children. It has become so extreme that many kids have spent very little time in nature and most of it indoors. On average, children were spending 4 to 5 hours a day in front of a screen even before online schooling was a reality! If we are not careful this will become a crisis for the younger generation who now have a disconnect with nature. This crisis has a name: Nature deficit disorder.
Lisbon based clinical psychologist Sofia Correia Alegria describes this below:
The month of March defines the one year benchmark since Portugal was faced with COVID-19 and the consequent idea of compulsory confinement for all of us. Deprivation became the watchword. And, little by little, the need to overcome overwhelming sensations such as lack of freedom, isolation, and the atrocious fear of contagion - for many completely unknown. It became urgent to find new strategies, to reinvent "within possibilities". And, in this, nature assumed and assumes still an extremely important role.
Last March, I remember welcoming spring from my balcony - usually noisy and polluted - and finding fascinating the tranquillity then found in a space that had been transformed into storage over the years. Suddenly, Lisbon had birds everywhere and the air was breathable. Only it didn't last long, and soon that balcony was facing a (too) busy avenue again. And I was not the only one to turn to nature at that time. Many were those who found comfort in hygienic walks or even moving to rural and greener areas. There is something poetic about experiencing freedom through the roots of a tree and knowing that we are connected by much more than the size of a hug.
More than poetic, contact with nature is, in fact, necessary. And it has often emerged as a "recipe" among clients and friends due to man affiliation with nature’s numerous advantages (1, 2 and 3). First of all, it is essential as a tool for repairing emotional and cognitive processes. On the one hand, it helps develop the so-called positive emotional states - such as mental strength, enthusiasm, optimism - on the other hand, it allows an increase in attention and focus capacity (1). We now live times when we have few differentiated stimuli. What's more, we are tired, even fed up, with the worn-out routine and this can motivate attention and memory complaints. Being in contact with nature can help restore these capacities.
Stress and anxiety complaints have also become more and more frequent. In general, people are tired, irritated, even angry, and it is inevitable that this does not manifest itself in social contacts. We should accept these emotions, respect and listen to them above all. Then we can think of different physiological and psychological responses to those same stressful stimuli, and thus feel more in control (2).
Through contact with nature (urban or even digital, but mostly wild nature (1)), we can train cognitive skills such as an increased focus on the present, attention and memory, but also consciously develop more effective stress-reducing and impulse-control responses (2). Also, it seems to be as important to feel belonging to a social group as it is to nurture contact with nature (2), which easily strikes us as a (scientifically) valid alternative to replace the lack of social contact that is imperative today.
It is therefore easily understandable that contact with nature helps improve cognitive functions and mental health of people in general and particularly children and young people who are still developing neurologically (3). We can, and should, see these times as an opportunity to promote more outdoor activities wherever possible - both for us adults and also, and especially, for our children.
It’s time to get outside and have some fun in some awe-inspiring locations. All free! All within an hours' drive from the centre of Lisbon!
1. Granja dos Serrões and Parque da Segueteira
The standing stones found within the parish of Pêro Pinheiro are unlike anything else in the region and well worth a visit - these weirdly sculptured rocks look otherworldly. Segueteira Park in the village of Maceira contains two of the most interesting examples, one of which is known locally as the ‘Elephant rock’ due to its trunk-like structure. The rocks are just above an ancient spring, which is steeped in local folklore.
2. Arriba Fóssil da Costa da Caprica
This protected coastline between the popular seaside resort of Fonte da Telha and the Albufeira Lagoon is one of the most interesting in Europe. Popular with walkers and birdwatchers, all along the coast are rocks and formations of stunning beauty showing how the sea has progressively pulled back over millions of years, producing such magnificent coastal scenery. The cliffs here are among the most important examples of sedimentary rock strata in Western Europe and as have been a protected area since 1984. These fossil cliffs are evidence of the former coastline and around 10 million years ago the sea reached the very top of the cliffs, which have been progressively eroded over time.
3. Boca da Inferno, Cascais
Portugal is blessed with many stunning sea caves, particularly in the Algarve: although most are difficult to access, often requiring a boat. Boca do Inferno is different as it is a short walk from Cascais marina. When the swells are big and the tide is high, massive waves crash into the cave and surrounding cliffs, causing jets of water to shoot up in spectacular style, which is a truly impressive sight.
4. Praia da Samarra, Serra de Sintra
Praia da Samarra is a stunningly beautiful beach that has everything nature lovers would want. It is an unusually narrow beach that faces northwest, with cliffs on both sides offering shelter from the prevailing winds. The beach has a stream (Ribeira da Samarra), which is at its deepest by the mill and then flows into the sea, enhancing the beach’s natural beauty. Praia da Samarra is rich in fauna and flora and has been popular since pre-history, with evidence of a human presence for over 4000 years.
5. Ponte Romana, Rio Lizandro
Following the well-trodden trail beside the Lizandro river, leads walkers through the untouched beauty of the wild valley, and plenty of spots for picnics and adventure. The highlight of this walk is the so-called Ponte Romana that is the ideal place to stop and take it all in. For those who want to make this trip into more of an adventure, then the waterfall - Cascata de Armés is a 25-minute walk but well worth the effort. Following the river north from the Ponte Romana will take you to the village of Cheleiros with its impressive ancient bridge.
6. Lapa da Santa. Margarida,Serra da Arrábida
Close to the golden sands of Portinho da Arrábida a short walk down some steps will take you to a mysterious hidden cavern containing a tiny chapel and some remarkable rock formations. There’s a very special atmosphere in the cavern which was used as a natural shelter well over 30,000 years ago by early human communities, possibly even by Neanderthals, at a time when the sea lay 60 metres below the present level. The cave, which has access to the sea, has witnessed human activity ever since.
7. Lagoas de Sintra
Starting at Convento dos Capuchos there is a 5.5km linear walk which offers some of the best trails in the whole of Serra de Sintra. You enter a forested trail from which connects two of Sintra’s best-known attractions - the Convento and the Palácio de Monserrate. The trail leads to a number of small lakes. The first of which is the picture-perfect Lagoa dos Mosqueiros. Going down the hill will take you via more lakes. On the way. look out for the wooden sculptures hidden in the woods.
8. Espaço Interpretativo da Lagoa Pequena
Freshwater streams flow into the lagoon, creating three basins that have a maximum depth of 15 meters. The tidal conditions in combination with the constant flow of freshwater make it ideal for migratory birds. The lagoon, in fact, is a National Ecological Reserve and is popular with bird-watchers. There are wooden walkways that take you to some of the best spots to observe the birds.
9. N379-1, Serra da Arrábida
The stunning scenery along the N379-1 makes it one of the most beautiful roads in Portugal. It’s probably because of its breath-taking beauty that it was selected as a backdrop to scenes in the James Bond film, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. It is also one of the most fascinating natural regions in Portugal with a clear Mediterranean influence: it features a micro-climate and unique habitat for rare wild flowers, ferns and wildlife.
10. Cascata de Fervença
Sadly, one of the most beautiful and photographed places in the region is still used as a rubbish dump! It's not difficult to work out who the perpetrators are!!! After the rains, Fervença is truly spectacular and is well worth a visit. Hopefully, this waterfall will get the same attention Anços received and become a place for families to unwind and see the full force of nature.
11. Praia das Avencas, Cascais
Praia da Avencas is a truly remarkable beach that offers visitors a glimpse of what this coastline must have looked like before the Marginal was built. It is a sandy beach that immediately becomes reef-like at the water's edge. Caution is advised when swimming here as the rocks can be jagged and sea urchins are very common. Protective aqua shoes are a must when venturing into the sea. Recently, a tidal pool has been rebuilt offering safer conditions for swimming. It’s at low tide when Avencas shows us why it’s so special, as the biodiversity here is quite incredible and unlike anything else on this coast.
12. Rio Lizandro
Did you know that it possible to hike from the source (Igreja Nova) to the mouth of Rio Lizandro (Foz do Lizandro)? It will take the best part of two days though!!! Fortunately. the river provides many beautiful short walks along its banks. A cliff walk starting at Serra da Sintra’s most northern beach (Praia de São Julião) to the southern banks of the mouth of the river has the best views of the river and is one of our favourite cliff trails.
13. Monte Rodel, Serra de Sintra
Serra de Sintra has a number of granite boulder fields that can be climbed but none are as impressive as Monte Rodel. With spectacular 360° views of Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, this is a place to spend some quiet time and reflect. This particular boulder field has a very special energy that has drawn people here since prehistoric times. Not a place for those with vertigo! A fixed rope is attached for those who want to go to the very top. It is located in between Convento dos Capuchos and Palácio de Monserrate.
14. Praia do Magoito, Serra de Sintra
Praia da Magoito is a large beach so it’s easy to find a space all to yourself, especially walking south away from the entrance to the beach. Another stretch of sand can be found after passing the rocks in the middle of the beach. The waters here have some of the highest iodine levels in the whole of Europe making a swim or paddle here even more beneficial, especially for your immune system. There are also a number of marked hiking trails from the beach, one of which follows the stream through the valley and is highly recommended.
15. Parque das Merendas e Vila Sassetti, Sintra
By avoiding Sintra's ever increasing traffic, the Sasseti trail allows you to walk in peace and gives you a sense of travelling back in time to one of the most beautiful sites in Portugal. Follow the narrow lanes to a Parque das Merendas.At the entrance to the park, there is a gate signalling the start of the signposted Sasseti trail, which weaves through the beautiful gardens towards the recently restored Sasseti Villa. A steep climb takes you up to a shaded hilltop, passing some huge granite boulders, eventually leading to Sintra's main tourist attractions, the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace.
16. Penedo de Lexim
Penedo do Lexim, probably the best remaining example of a conduit of an ancient volcano which geologists refer to as the "Lisbon Volcanic Complex" Formed around 72 million years ago, it is believed that the volcanic cones rose as high as 2 kilometres and that their bases spanned over 20 kilometres, although today after tens of millions of years of erosion Penedo do Lexim now stands at 230 metres, providing wonderful views from its platform.
17. Santuário da Peninha, Serra de Sintra
A place of interest perched atop one of the highest boulder fields is the Santuário da Peninha. Overlooking Cabo da Roca and providing fantastic views of the whole area it’s a natural look out, which is why sailors’ wives went there to wait for their husbands and pray for their safe return during Portugal's days of exploration and Empire. At the back of the sanctuary is one of the best woods in the whole of Sintra.
18. Grutas De Olelas
Within one of the last wildernesses of the northern Lisbon region lies a spectacular ridge with a number of caves that were first inhabited by some of our earliest ancestors. Walking the same places as they did and exploring the caves, encourages you to reflect and provides a tremendous sense of wonder. Spending time in and around the caves of this region gives you a real sense of history. Making you wonder how the first humans, who lived in these caves 300 generations ago, made sense of it all.
19. Castelo de Palmela
It’s worth coming here just for the view!! This impressive castle has panoramic views of the Sado Estuary, Setúbal, Troia Peninsula, Arrabida Mountains and Palmela. The castle is free and is perfect for adventures for those who have children. Although this is a tourist spot it’s the wooded area below the castle that allows visitors to reconnect with nature. Parque Venâncio da Costa Lima has many well-maintained trails and is the perfect place for a picnic in the shade.
20. Grutas da Quinta do Anjo, Serra da Arrábida
If you need a place to reflect and appreciate life then where better than a stone-age burial site! Around 5000 years ago, Neolithic communities chose this area as a sacred place. Its size and location suggest it was built for funerals and served as a communal gathering point for those who lived and farmed here. This region was significant for hundreds of years, starting at the end of the Neolithic and continuing throughout the Chalcolithic. Its continual use and location suggest that perhaps different communities buried their most important people here.
21. Praia de Santa Marta, Cascais
This tiny hidden beach is just metres from the centre of Cascais and offers both a stretch of sand that is sheltered and shallow waters that are perfect for children. The beach is easy to miss as it's close to Cascais's most popular park (Parque Marechal Carmona), behind Cascais Marina and next to a beautiful palace (Palácio do Conde de Castro Guimarães). There’s a stream (Ribeira dos Mochos) that flows into the sea from here. On a good day, it really does look picture perfect and a wonderful place for a picnic. This beach is a lovely place for children to paddle safely and explore the rocks
22. Praia de Galapinhos, Serra da Arrábida
May and September are the best months to visit Galapinhos, as the numbers visiting are much lower. While there are no lifeguards out of season, the swimming is generally safe. Like all the beaches in Arrábida however, the transparent waters and sunny conditions may give you the impression that you are in the Caribbean but a quick dip in the sea will bring you back to reality - the water temperature can only be described as cold.
23. Anta de Adrenunes, Serra de Sintra
Adrenunes Dolmen (also known as Adro Nunes) lies on a hill overlooking the countryside near Cabo da Roca and the region extending north of Sintra. It is a boulder field that seems to be aligned with Europe's most westerly cape and Romans referred to it as 'the sacred mountain' or 'mountains of the moon'. Adrenunes has been an important place to mankind since prehistoric times!
24. Castro de Chibanes, Serra da Arrábida
Quite possibly Serra da Arrábida's finest walks! Easily accessible from Palmela's bus station, this trail takes in some breathtaking views. A marked circular walk takes in the best of the region and takes around 4 hours. The walk from Palmela to Castro de Chibanes is much shorter and is a perfect family walk. Castro de Chibanes was chosen for its viewpoints and you can see why it has been used since prehistory. The remains here are very interesting and perfect for those who love history.
25. Ruínas do Sanatório Albergaria Grandella, Montachique
Another place that has so much potential! This ruin is one of the most unusual buildings you are likely to see in the Lisbon region. Originally built as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients but seemingly never finished. It is a great place to explore and to start the steep walk up to the Miradouro do Cabeço de Montachique. The trail up is not marked but can be clearly seen. The views from here of Lisbon are spectacular and is well worth the effort. Swings have recently been added which should add to its appeal.
Places to reconnect with Nature 26 - 50 Here: https://www.sintratreks.com/single-post/post-pandemic-nature-fix-50-places-to-reconnect-with-nature
Sofia is a Clinical Psychologist, who works with the expat and migrant community especially. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, emotional regulation, and personal and career development. Sofia has considerable experience with working with life changes, adaptation and crisis intervention.
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
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 'Hidden Beaches Lisbon'. Both books were published by Bertrand and are available at all good book shops and online here:
Andy Mumford is a 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.
1.McAllister, E., Bhullar, N. & Schutte, N. S. (2017). Into the Woods or a Stroll in the Park: How Virtual Contact with Nature Impacts Positive and Negative Affect. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14, 786. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070786
2.Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P. & Daily, G. C. (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1249, 118 - 136. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x
3.Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of "greenness" on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775–795. https://doi.org/10.1177/00139160021972793