Mystical Sintra: Climbing and Surfing in the Pearl of Portugal
There are many reasons to travel to Portugal, and even more if you are a climbing and surfing enthusiast.
The great ocean waves and immense beaches attract the best surfers from all across the world, and attract both professional sportspeople and those seeking a laidback and fun lifestyle. What many might not be aware of, however, is that Portugal has a lot to offer in the way of climbing, and is enviable even when compared to some of the most renowned and visited climbing spots across Europe.
There are many possibilities when it comes to climbing in Portugal, from sporting crags, to bouldering and multi-pitch routes, and all this always in well-preserved, protected, and evocative natural environments, such as in the beautiful Sintra Nature Reserve.
This area, located just north of Lisbon, is a hub of the natural, artistic, and cultural beauties of Portugal. The capital of the area, the characteristic town of Sintra is located on top of the Monte della Luna at almost four hundred metres above sea level, and has a magical atmosphere. Nineteenth-century buildings, fairy-tale villas, and a Moorish castle led to Sintra being (rightly) described by poets and writers of the past as the most beautiful place in Portugal, Lord Byron - in particular - described Sintra as a 'glorious Eden'.
The Sintra area is quite large, over 300 square kilometres, and with a complex and varied morphology. The highly indented coast has wide beaches and stretches of cliffs up to over 100 metres high, the internal area is hilly with fairly steep slopes, and is largely cloaked by a dense forest, within which a selection of the rock jewels of the reserve are hidden. The whole area is characterised by a particular microclimate, mild in the south, and cooler and oceanic in the north. In general, however, the whole reserve is cooler than the rest of Portugal thanks to the dense vegetation and the winds characteristic of this area.
From a geological point of view - and consequently also for climbing - this area is very unique in that it features many different rock types, all of which are excellent for climbing. The main outcrops are of granite, such as the high cliffs near Cabo da Roca, which represent the westernmost point of Europe, a place defined - before the discovery of the Americas - as the end of the end of the world. Here, on the cliffs overlooking the sea, run the beautiful and challenging long routes of the sectors of Ponta Atlantica and Espinhaco.
The huge boulders scattered in the woods between the hills are also made of granite, such as the spots of Capuchos, Penina, and Malveira. But on the coast we find more than just granite, in fact near the Cabo da Guia we find the cliff of Farol da Guia, made up of excellent gray and sometimes red limestone. Heading north to Casal Pianos we find a beautiful basalt cliff, with vertical walls and full of cracks, the realm of trad climbing.
It is thanks to this variety of rock and the different morphologies of the outcrops that it is possible to carry out different types of climbing, from bouldering to multi-pitch (both trad and sport), and of course a lot of single-pitch sport climbing. Here, each spot offers truly interesting climbing, with many sectors offering a good amount of low/medium grades, well bolted, and often with short approaches, which makes them both popular and highly appreciated by climbers.
In addition, in recent years a great deal of titanium bolting work has begun on sea cliffs, thanks to the contribution of the local climbers themselves and some trade associations, thus making those climbing sectors subject to marine oxidation even safer.
On this trip we made base camp at the 'Saltyway, surf and climb hostel', the ideal place to spend a holiday dedicated to sport and relaxation. The environment in Saltyway is friendly, energized, and relaxed at the same time, here you can leave at dawn for a surf session, or for a challenging multipitch in Hisinhaco, or get ready for a bouldering night in Capuchos, or stay quietly in the hammock to read a book and listen to music. In an international environment, with guests coming from all over Europe, it is very stimulating to go surfing or climbing together, and then drink a beer comfortably in the garden. Amongst other things in the house, there is an excellent wood oven, where we had weekly pizza night with lots of music, always ending with a final ballad.
Julika, the owner of Saltyway has managed to create a good synergy between the internal staff, always friendly and helpful, and the instructors and guides of the associations that collaborate with the hostel, and is therefore able to offer both accurate and excellent services. The hostel has its own surf instructors and a good supply of boards. Praja Grande is the main spot for Saltyway's surfers, a beautiful large beach always full of waves. When the waves are too high and the surfers want a calmer day, they head to Praja Carcavelos, where the waves are smaller and a little easier to ride.
For climbers, on the other hand, the services are entrusted to the professionalism and care of the agencies 'Outdoor Adventures Portugal' and 'SintraBouldershop', both of which Saltyway has been collaborating for many years. Climbing instructors Pierre and Isabel from Outdoor Adventures Portugal offer full services including cliff tours, equipment rental, and options for beginners. Digas and Laura from SintraBouldershop, on the other hand, specialise in bouldering, and offer rental of crashpads, a tour of all the best spots, and a small shop with everything you need for climbing.
Portugal, and the Sintra area in particular, are great places to make long-lasting memories, many who come once return thereafter. In my experience, making a base in Saltyway helped to make the trip even richer.
Recommended Climbing Spots:
- Farol da Guia
Historical sector, a postcard perfect ocean cliff in Portugal, complete with lighthouse, cliff, and sea. With approximately 80 routes from IV to 8b on excellent rock and all bolted in Titanium. Farol da Guia is certainly one of the most popular crags in the Sintra area, thanks to the large number of routes, short walk in, and many areas that offer different conditions that make it pleasant in both winter and summer. Here, in addition to the routes, there are many possibilities for bouldering among the large boulders at the base.
- Pedra Amarela
A small cliff immersed in the woods, a granite outcrop that offers slabs with fairly simple routes, ideal for beginners and climbing schools. There are about ten routes in all, almost all of which are low in grade and well bolted.
- Praia da Ursa
Near Cabo da Roca, a long and steep path leads to the splendid Baia da Ursa, a beach with huge stacks just a few metres from the shore. Behind the beach there are high walls of excellent orange granite, with two further small sectors; Placa Rosa a few tens of metres from the path in, and - in a canyon just beyond - the Cascata sector.
At Placa Rosa there are about 20 routes from V to 7a on a beautiful leaning slab but also on an overhanging portion. The Cascata sector, on the other hand, has aided routes on both sides of the canyon, and 15 routes from 6a to 7c in total, with the more technical and athletic routes in the most protruding portion.
- Penedo de Amizade
Granite fortress near the Moorish Castle of Sintra, about 80 routes from 15 to 60 metres, both single pitch and multipitch, almost all bolted and some to be done in trad. On the central panettone there are the longer and easier routes, and for this reason it is appreciated by climbing schools and beginners, while the more difficult routes run on the upper walls, just below the castle walls. This sector is the terrain of excellence for pure adherence, a very beautiful place to climb, due to the rock, the environment and from which you can enjoy a magnificent view beyond the ocean coast.
The Eucalyptus forest in the hills around Sintra is strewn with huge granite boulders with three main sectors.
One of the most significant sectors is Capuchos (name deriving from the nearby Capuchin Convent). Tall trees provide shade and make the boulders look tiny. About 60 problems on the beginner/intermediate side of things, but also with difficult and very aesthetic blocks, excellent landings and easy approach from one boulder to another, this is a very popular spot.
In this sector, the forest is a bit denser, therefore a bit cooler in summer, but it takes longer to dry after the rains. Here the grades are a bit more severe than Capuchos and the routes more athletic and compression. About 60 medium-grade problems.
Here the granite has a slightly finer grain than the other sectors and with a warmer color, the rocks emerge quite out of the wood and dry quickly. About 50 overhanging and power blocks.
In the Sintra area there are three sectors where one climbs with multiple pitches, the aforementioned Penedo de Amizade actually only offers routes of 2/3 pitches maximum in a fairly quiet environment. Instead the two sectors near Cabo de Roca, (Espinhaço and Ponta Atlântica) are decidedly more severe and wild environments. We find ourselves in the midst of these large walls overlooking the ocean, with immense waves crashing on the cliff below. There are about 150 routes in the whole area, and apart from some to be climbed totally in trad, most of them are partially bolted, however it is necessary to tackle the routes with a full set of nuts and friends. The longest routes are up to 120 metres, some with difficult pitches up to 8a + and also some projects yet to be freed. However, it remains a fairly wild place and where a possible rescue is difficult.
Special thanks to Julika who hosted us and organized the logistics alongside the surf and climbing instructors and Saltyway guests.
Greetings to Pierre and Isabella from Outdoor Adventures Portugal and Digas and Laura from SintraBouldershop.
P.s. If you go for a week in Saltyway, ask the guys from the 'house' Tina, Paul, and Finn to make the pizzas, a great party will be unleashed and fun is guaranteed.
Sintra is one of my favorite spots in Portugal, and Saltyway surf and climb hostel is the ideal place to go for your outdoor adventures.
Here you will find the best and nicest surf instructors and everything you need for climbing thanks to the collaboration with Outdoor Adventures Portugal and SintraBoulderShop.
Great article. Thanks for covering the trad area, too often articles from Europe forget that.