♥ by Julien
Did you know that Portugal is becoming the new “place to climb” in Europe? We did not.
Actually when we prepared ourselves to hit the road, we thought that it would be cool to do some climbing on the way since it is an outdoor activity we really enjoy. Now the challenge for us was to be able to do climbing and to organise ourselves in a way that one of us would take care of Carlotta as well. The solution we went for was: bouldering! To practise it, all you need is: a pair of climbing shoes, a crash pad (or two), chalk and voilà. Plus, it does not take a lot of space in our camper and the crash pad is easily converted into a bench or a bed to take a nap on. We still took our climbing belts and belay devices, in case of.
We talked a bit about climbing in Sintra in a previous post. This is when we started to understand that Portugal actually has a lot of nice climbing spots.
Before Sintra, we mainly travelled along the coastline and all the beautiful cliffs we saw sort of shouted at us “Climb me! Climb me!” However, due to the nature of the rocks there and all the warning signs everywhere, it is really risky to try to climb them as they easily come lose.
But in the forest around Sintra, things started to look much (much) more promising: big boulders here and there. Sometimes just one or two. Sometimes they were covering a whole area and it would take days to try them all. On these, if you find a grip for your fingers or toes, you know you can trust it. You feel it. Not like the boulders on the beaches. So we contacted Ricardo Alves who writes for a blog about climbing in Sintra. Actually he even put together a topo guide which you can buy for 10€. Honestly, if you plan on going there to climb, even for a couple of days, do not hesitate and go for it. He kindly advised two areas in the Mata da Sintra where we could have fun. We failed to find the first (hence buying the topo is a good idea), but we found the other. And it was fun! As in great fun!
We also started to use the website 27crags.com to find climbing spots, even though not everything is listed there.
This is where we had our second climbing experience in Portugal. After New Year’s, we decided to contact a climbing instructor – Wiebke from algarveadventure.com – and booked an afternoon session. She brought us to a site near Lagos which she has actually equipped herself and on which we did top-rope climbing. We had a great time again and Wiebke introduced us a bit to the “real” climbing in Portugal: a community which has been there for decades and only started to really grow over the last years. She told us that a book was recently published which lists the different spots in Portugal (here). This has increased the interest of people to try Portugal for climbing.
Wiebke also told us that it is possible to do some climbing in Sagres.
I know that when reading these lines most people will say: “Sagres? Climbing? Whaaaat?” Well, yes, you can climb in Sagres. And it is worth it. There are only a few sectors equipped and the one we did together with Wiebke was not highly technical, BUT it was so much fun! Imagine that: You attach the rope at the top of a cliff dropping directly into the ocean, you use the rope to go down, and then you climb to the top from there. Put differently, you are climbing with the waves crashing against the rock right underneath you! Needless to say that you are in for a rush of adrenaline and amazing views.
After this day with Wiebke, we invested in the material we were missing to go on our own and went back to this spot a couple of times, that is how fun it was.
This was easily the pinnacle of our climbing tour in Portugal!
I need to write a bit more in detail about this place and our experience there since it was a bit surreal…
When we arrived there in the evening, I noticed a group of three men coming back to their car, with helmets attached to their backpacks. So I went and asked if they could recommend places to go climbing since (surprise!) we do not have a topo guide for this crag. They kindly started to tell me about different sectors suitable to our level etc. And eventually, they offered us to come along the next day and climb with them! We accepted their generous offer, of course.
On the morrow, we met with our gentlemen climbers. On the way to the spot we started to chat and this is when the penny dropped. We managed, by sheer luck, to go climbing with the most perfect guides you could ever dream of! Jorge, José and Carlos are prominent figures of the climbing community here, in Portugal. For the last 20 years, they have been climbing in Rocha da Pena (and almost everywhere else in Portugal, Spain, Italy…). They are international climbing instructors and members of SAFE. And they even have themselves opened and equipped most of the sectors in Rocha da Pena.
For readers who have never climbed, it is a bit as if you went to a theme-park and you end up going there with the people who have designed it. Or if you were to watch an Indiana Jones movie with Georges Lucas and Steven Spielberg sitting next to you. So not only did we have a great day climbing, but we had the opportunity to discuss climbing with very knowledgeable Portuguese climbers.
Now, about the Rocha da Pena itself, the place is an absolute wonder! You could spend weeks there climbing all the different routes. And it is beautiful there. And the views it offers are wonderful. The flora, the fauna, the rocks… Just everything there is amazing! You can just go there to hike, and have a great day.
There is probably only one negative (or maybe positive?) point about the Rocha da Pena: It is a place to go for the day only. There are is only one guest house at the border of the national park, there are no campsites and no hotels. Just a bar with a parking that fits maybe ten cars. And it is better this way, as at least it preserves the location as it is. So if you plan on spending several days there, better find a place to stay nearby, or a place to park close by if you have a camper.
So now, we are reaching the end of our time in Portugal and after talking with Jorge, Zé and Carlos, we know that we have missed countless climbing spots here. But where we did climb or boulder, we had the most amazing time. So if you are looking for a new climbing destination, look no further and go to Portugal. But do yourself a favour: Buy the topos!