Portugal, as Nature Intended

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Q. We're planning a trip to Portugal in October. We love nature and would like ideas on the country's top natural attractions.

Maja Charles, Gaithersburg

In Portugal, the question is not where can you find nature, but where can't you? "In all regions of Portugal you have contact with nature," says Miguel Carvalho, press and public relations manager of the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office (646-723-0200, ). "People just don't know about it."

Portugal's best-known natural setting is the Peneda-Geres National Park, the country's sole national park, in the northwest. The park has mountain ridges, rivers and wolves, as well as trails that lead to a monastery, castros (Iron Age Celtic villages) and waterfalls. Campsites are available. Sintra, about 30 minutes by train from the capital, is home to Quinta da Regaleira, a palace with gardens, tunnels and grottos.

Two hours south of Lisbon is Alentejo, an area rich with vineyards, cork trees and small towns painted white with blue or yellow stripes. You can explore the area by foot, horse or bike; Easy Rider Tours (800-488-8332, ), for example, offers two "Colors of Alentejo" cycle tours in the fall. The Alentejo coastal area is also a beach haven -- like a secret Algarve. Unspoiled white-sand beaches stretch along Costa Vicentina ("No one's heard about it, except the Portuguese," says Carvalho). Beachy spots include Vila Nova de Milfontes (New Town of a Thousand Springs); Azambujeira, which has reefs and surfing; and Porto Covo, where you can camp and cruise over to the small island of Ilha do Pessegueiro.

To go completely natural, fly 1 1/2 hours to Madeira ( ), the "Floating Garden of Portugal." On the subtropical island, the Madeira Nature Reserve includes the Selvagens islands, a monk seal preserve and a marine park. Hiking trails crisscross the island; for example, the Ribeiro Frio to Portela trek parallels canals and ribbons through the Laurissilva Forest, a UNESCO site. On the softer side, there are gardens, volcanic caves and swimming holes carved out of lava. For lodging, Montado dos Aviceiros ( ) is an eco-smart retreat with an organic orchard and thatched-roof cottages.

We're traveling from New York state to Michigan by way of Canada on the Fourth of July. How much time should we allow for going through customs at both ends of the Canadian segment?

John D. Elder, University Park, Md.

When it comes to holidays, traffic along the U.S.-Canada border has no allegiance to either flag. Even though Canada does not celebrate our independence, "holidays are always a busy time on the border," says Andrea Kent, spokeswoman of the Canada Border Services Agency. "It is busy everywhere, so plan accordingly."

To minimize delays over the Fourth of July, the border control agency will assign extra officers to man the stations. But you can help on your end as well. Though the agency does not keep statistics on wait times or car congestion along the border, you can get an idea of the lines -- and prepare for your own crossing -- by checking CBSA's Web site ( ), which posts wait times with hourly updates.

Also, before you meet with the agent, prepare your documents. Have on hand proof of citizenship and a valid photo ID (starting Dec. 31, 2007, you will need a passport to reenter the United States by land). Kent stresses that children of all ages also need proof of citizenship. If you're traveling with pets, make sure you have their rabies vaccination certification. And don't bring firewood, mace, pepper spray or live bait across; they're considered contraband. Finally, "anything you have with you must be declared, even if you are not leaving them in Canada," says Kent, adding that "all weapons, including knives, must be declared." An easier option: Leave the weapons at home.

I want to take Metro to Union Station or Reagan National Airport. Can I leave my car at the Glenmont station for longer than 24 hours?

Ann Smid, Silver Spring

Three Metro stations allow travelers to park in their lots for up to 10 days -- but, unfortunately, Glenmont is not one of them. Huntingon's South Lot, Franconia's IJ Lot and Greenbelt's outdoor lot each have 15 to 20 long-term parking spots. All other Metro stations have 24-hour parking only, and officials patrol the area for scofflaws who might try to squat in the daily spots. Signs denote the long-term spots, and parking is first come, first served. All three stations provide an easy and cheap ride to Union Station and Reagan National; in addition, the B30 bus to BWI ($3) departs daily from Greenbelt.

As for the cost: Metro's a deal. Since you pay when exiting, you will be charged only for one day (about $3 or $4). And if you leave on a weekend, it's free. Info: 202-637-7000, .

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@wash, fax (202-912-3609) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include name and town.

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