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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

Photo: AndyMumfordphotography

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

Photo: AndyMumfordphotography

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.