Mount Tai : Weekender from Shanghai/Beijing 

In China, where sacred mountains are a dime a dozen, the one that matters most is Tai Shan” 

China Travel Guide,Lonely Planet.

One of the wonders of the world’s modern cities is the amount of available means to leave them. With the new high speed train running between Shanghai and Beijing, being able to exit these mega metropolises is even easier. A perfect weekend away for the ardent adventurer is to get dropped off at the stop in between the cities at Tai’an in Shandong Province, the gateway to Mount Tai. This magnificent mountain is the site of an amazing pilgrimage that predates Christ. Be warned, there are over 6000 steps to the peak on this journey, the route helped along with cliffs and caves covered in carved Chinese characters, traditional poems to read on the way.

The Train

The rush to get onto the carriages of Chinese trains is similar to scenes at a shopping complex during a once in a lifetime sale. The Chinese will RUN, PUSH and BARGE all that is around to commandeer a space. This base instinct, a survival of the fittest mentality, is futile for all seats are pre-reserved with well trained ushers on hand to control any up-spurs. The train as well as being super fast is super comfortable. The dining carriage offers drinks if you are that way inclined, however it would be wise to keep the barman’s attention focused on restocking his tiny fridge whilst the contents are being emptied. Unless of course you’ve been in China long enough to be accustomed with drinking warm beer.

Tickets for the fast CRH trains can be bought at offices around the cities or through C-trip online who also deliver. Don’t bother lining up to buy tickets at the station, the wait is longer than the trip.

The Trail

China prides itself on its long history and the trail to the tip of Taishan is regarded as ancient. The climb up up up Mount Tai, passing through Taoist monasteries still in operation today. Expect to see pilgrims burning holy incense and monks chanting or just pottering around. You need to enter these monasteries in some instances as the steps keep ascending through the numerous gates of the ancient religious buildings. There is no escaping the hoards of tourists who will also be on the trail. Expect to stop for photos with excited mainlanders who rarely see ‘foreign devils ‘. At the start of the climb this posing can be fun, but just like your legs, will become tiresome as the day progresses. If you are lucky to find a local with enough English, you could ask for a translation of one of the many poems carved into the rock face.

The Peak

Give yourself an hour or two to wander around the peak, packed at the main gate and entrance, but still large enough that you can walk around the mountain and find a hidden spot to relax in solitude. The views are spectacular on a clear day. It was here that Confucius proclaimed, ‘The world is small‘ and also of historically significance, the place where China’s first emperor united the ancient kingdoms, around 200 BC. The peak is also a great place to have a Qingdao, relax the legs, take in some fresher air than found below and contemplate. Contemplate the walk down that is!

(All photos @ nickisalwaysonholidays)

Portugal Beyond Lisbon – Alentejo

 Visit Portugal’s Alentejo region for an outdoor adventure complemented with fresh local produce and breath taking walks.

Portugal strikes back! After nearly a decade in the clutches of the GFC, the South West Coast of Portugal is striding forward towards a new future with an invigorating push into Nature Tourism, well supported by the local community and council. The houses and buildings in every street have been given a fresh lick of paint, bright white with blue, orange or pink trimmings so that when you enter a town you feel like you’ve stumbled onto a film set.

Forget the Algarve for a beach break, the Alentejo region is full of activities for those looking for outdoor adventure. The jewel in the Alentejo crown is the Fishermans Trail, a four day walk along the Atlantic Coast line that, from north to south, starts at the market square in the old town of Porto Covo and finishes on the tranquil beach of Odeceixe.


Add to your time here fantastic fresh seafood, affordable local wines and cheeses, plenty of municipal markets (mercados) and a bounty of Portuguese patisseries, there is more than enough fuel to keep you going along the trail. Keep an eye out for the rated DOC cheeses (queijo) from Nisa, Evora and Serpa regions, all made from sheeps milk with their own regional flavours. Wines from Enoforum, Herdade dos Grous and Cartuxa are all high quality and affordable made from the lesser known grape varieties grown in Alentejo. Broadly, the whites are light, zingy and refreshing, perfect for the local seafood, whilst the reds are mostly full of fruit and also enjoyed young.


The first stage of the walk from Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes, is a 20km trail that should take about 7 hours to complete. Start by heading south from the Porto Covo fishing port onto the trail that twist and winds along the Atlantic, passing pebbled beaches and sandstone dunes. Expect to see endemic plant species that have survived the poor soil conditions of the area and exist nowhere else on Earth. Pack a lunch with drinks for this stretch as you will have the place to yourself with no conveniences on the way. From the market in Porto Covo’s main square you can pick up ripe local tomatoes, fresh bread, a small wheel of queijo and a tin or two of Portugal’s famous sardines for a picnic along the way.

(Porto Covo)

Vila Nova de Milfontes is a sleepy seaside town facing south, over looking the mouth of the Mira river and home to great restaurants and cafes. Nestled on the banks of the Mira is Quebramar Beach Bar, serving local fresh seafood. On the dunes is Conversar Comsal, perfect for sunset, with Super Bock on tap (1euro a glass) and ‘Catch of the Day’ (7euro) it’s a popular local favourite. If you plan on spending a few days here, there are surf schools, bike hire and yoga at Love Ashtanga Yoga to keep you busy.

(Overlooking the river mouth at Vila Nova de Milfontes)

Follow the trail from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve, a 15km walk along the coast. First, you can go out of town and cross the bridge and head back towards Furnas beach or knock a couple of kilometres off the day by taking the ferry straight across the river. From here head down the acacia laden path and watch local fisherman on the rocks and keep your eyes out for the small Stone Age quarries in the dunes. Turn into Almograve for another feast at one of the wonderful local seafood restaurants. There is also a ferry service from Vila Nova de Milfontes that continues all the way to Odemira for those not wanting to walk the whole ‘Fishermans Trail‘ (25 euro one way). 

The third leg from Almograve to Zambujeria do Mar is the only leg with paths wide enough to allow for bikes. This 22km stretch of trail is high and hugs close along the 100mt red sandstone cliffs, giving fantastic views down the coast. Lookout for birds nesting in the craggy rocks and keep heading to the lighthouse at Cavaleiro where you can stop for lunch. The trail leaves the cliffs edge at Bacra, where a taxi can be ordered to take you into town avoiding the last 3km straight stretch of road. Handy if you sampled the impressive list of local wines available at the Restaurant a Barca which is highly noted for their seafood soup (3euro).

Zambujeria do Mar has a magnificent beach formed by the erosion of the cliffs over the millennium. It’s a great place to stay, and you can enjoy dinner at Restaurant Rita who serve big pots of Portuguese Octopus Rice for two (19euro), and have magical sunset views over the town church and Atlantic. Local bars on the Main Street have impromptu Fado musicians throughout the night. 

(Sunset at Zambujeria do Mar)

The final leg of the trail is 18km from Zambujeria do Mar to Odeceixe where many nocturnal mammals will be at rest. Burrows and footprints can be seen on the trail, the signs of the local otter, Egyptian Mongoose and Beech Marten population. Carvalhal beach is also home to a private African zoo, a hundred metres above the Surf School and Bar. From the town of Odeceixe there are kayaks available to paddle the last couple of kilometres to the beach.


Odeceixe is the perfect beachside town to stop and enjoy the fresh air blowing across the Atlantic and reflect on the adventure just completed. Bars, accomodation and restaurants hang off the cliff with mesmerising views over the river mouth and Atlantic Ocean beyond.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays.
If you have any more information on the area PLEASE add a link in the comments.