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RS Heart of Portugal: How physically challenging was it for you?

I'm signed up for the Heart of Portugal tour that starts on 3 June 2019. After receiving a call from the tour folks wanting to make sure that I wouldn't be upset if I had to opt out of some things due to the hills, stairs or long walks, I went through all the reviews for this tour from today back to the first one from this year.

Knowing that assigning an activity level of light, moderate or strenuous to each day and overall for the tour is an inexact science, I read each review seeking comments around those concepts. It made me wish the review format had boxes to check like reviews for shoes, only they'd be something like Based on Tour Description: Less active/strenuous than expected, More active/strenuous than expected, and As active/strenuous as expected.

For this year so far, my interpretation of what the very few people who mentioned anything about this is: Less -- 4, More -- 11, As -- 10.

My favorite comment was this one: "This tour had the least fit people of any of our RS tours I have been on, but then, in the end, that did not stop anyone from seeing anything. It might have in fact forced us to slow down and enjoy the walking even more."

Now to my question. If you have taken this tour, how would you rate its level of activity/strenuousness? More than you expected, Less than you expected or As you expected? Your answers will definitely affect the level of "training" I do in the next few months.

Thanks in advance for your responses.

Posted by
1769 posts

There is lots of walking. Most of it is flat to mild ups and downs except Porto which has some hills like San Francisco. The paving, especially in Lisbon, is all cobblestone and similar, so wear sturdy shoes (we found athletic shoes on our feet 90% of the time) and watch where you walk. We had a few folks nearly do face plants. If you get to Lisbon early you’ll want to see Sintra, and that requires some climbing. As far as overall activity/strenuous we found Greece to be our most strenuous tour, Portugal somewhere in the middle. It was what we expected. We did back to back tours, followed Portugal with London. Now London was a lot of walking! Start walking every day, get some hills in, you’ll be fine.

Posted by
6258 posts

"After receiving a call from the tour folks wanting to make sure that I wouldn't be upset if I had to opt out of some things due to the hills, stairs or long walks"

While I have not been on this tour and thus have NO information, your above statement made me blink! I was very curious to know how that played out. Do you mind talking about this? Did they just call you out of the blue or had you contacted them with some questions?

I had read someone's opinion recently (like in the last 6 months) that the office kind of keeps records on tour members. I think maybe one of the regular posters also had also mentioned one time that he had been contacted by the office of a tour company (don't remember if it was RS or another company) asking him to be sure he felt he would be physically able for a tour after he had had some foot issues slow him down on a previous one.

I don't know why I'm feeling a little paranoid today but this sort of worried me. I do understand every private business can do as they wish with their customer base information but I guess it just makes me sad.

Posted by
294 posts

I went on the RS Portugal Trip a few years ago. For myself, no issues, but I will tell you where I noticed a few in our group having problems:

Lisbon: going up and down some hilly places- but nobody was rushed.

Coimbra: the walk up to the University was strenuous for a handful of people.

Porto: Several steep streets. Heard more about legs bothering people, but this was the last couple of days of the tour.

Looked at the tour online, remembered that there was a lot of walking on Days 6 & 7. Nothing hilly, just lots of walking.

I wore Merrell walking shoes.
Also, a walking stick might help. Recently went to England - Dartmoor- did a lot of hiking up many hills so my walking sticks came in handy. I have s nice collapsible pair that fits into my carry on luggage.

If you need anything else answered, please send me a personal message (PM).

I really enjoyed Portugal.
Have a wonderful time!

Posted by
2525 posts

Why did the tour office call you Lo? Was there prior communication from you or being part of a past tour that may have encouraged staff to discuss the level of activity for this tour? As noted in the tour description, "This is a very active tour! Most days are moderate to strenuously paced with 2–8 miles of walking, including hilly terrain and lots of stairs." What I've liked about Rick's tours we've taken is the expectation of being prompt and keeping pace. A delay by one, can be a delay for all. Surely guides can offer reasonable alternatives when necessary, yes?

Posted by
314 posts

I just returned from this tour in October and did not find it as strenuous as I was afraid it would be. There are a lot of hills but the guide was, as always, very good at stopping for people to catch their breath. We used the whisper system the whole tour and I think that tends to allow people to spread out more so you don't feel you need to be right up with the guide. There was not one in our group that had any trouble with keeping up and I never heard anyone complaining about the walks we did as a group. There were a few areas where the cobblestones got a little slippery, so I would be sure to wear decent shoes. I wore Keen sandals and had no problems but was a little more careful when walking on wet streets. I too am curious as to why the RS office called you about the tour.

Posted by
2923 posts

Wow! Thanks for the responses so far. I'll try to catch up.

Yes, they did just call me out of the blue. I was wondering about how long it was taking to get the seat confirmation, and I guess it was due to the concern over my ability to fully participate. I had not called to ask questions. I did receive my seat confirmation late last night.

I've been on 3 RS tours so far. Every single one has had at least one person who was using a cane or a walking stick. In the past I commented that 2 of the 3 tour guides for those tours had a tendency to walk very fast, leaving those who were a bit slower or were taking pictures behind to catch up. After they caught up, the group took off again.

That meant that the faster people had a chance to rest a minute or so before the others caught up but the slower ones had none. Maybe those comments prompted the questions.

The 3rd tour guide maintained a steady pace which all on the tour could manage. When I read the quote in my question, it reminded me of the differences. I'd guess that maintaining a moderate pace takes no longer than rushing and waiting.

I know what the tour advertises in terms of strenuousness, up and downs, distances and stairs, but I wanted to hear the opinions of people who'd actually been on the ground doing it. Those are sometimes not the same.

Having been both a person waiting for others to catch up and a person others are waiting for, I understand about being prompt and keeping pace. Having spent a week in an apartment in the Alfama, which required going up and down steep slopes and lots of stairs, I'm not naive about those challenges.

As far as reasonable alternatives go, those are always possible and a tour participant can opt out of any activity so long as the tour guide and their buddy knows. Public transportation or a taxi to avoid the worst walking challenges is always a possibility, but I hope my walking sticks will help me avoid having to do that.

Posted by
27 posts

We took the RS Portugal tour this spring. If you've visited San Francisco, then you will have an idea of the type hills in Lisbon and Porto. Very doable, but if you are a member of a gym, build up your stamina on a StairMaster or elliptical type machine.

Posted by
38 posts

I took the tour this spring and was travelling with my 78 year old mother who has AFib. The pace was fine for both of us, however it was less active than I had expected (I usually lose weight in Europe from all the walking but not this time). As a fast walker, I did not feel as though I was waiting for anyone more than usual, and the pauses gave me a chance to snap more pictures. My mother was worried about the hills & stairs in Portugal but she found herself in the middle of the pack everyday and had no trouble keeping up. We learned our guide made some accommodations (i.e. we took a shuttle vs. walking to Bairro Alto, took a different path) because others on our tour were having trouble with stairs. I think it was tough going for those who are generally less active. On average we walked 6 miles a day.

Posted by
242 posts

Yes, lots of stairs and some steep slopes in Portuguese cities. I have some knee issues and I was able to do it all, though at times I hung back so as to not slow up others.

I suggest bringing one of those fold-able walking sticks keeping in mind that it is an aid on some steep slope, but should not be depended on most of the time. If you need the walking stick more than 10% of the time, you probably should not be on an RS tour. Just my opinion, but I have seen some very nice older folks have to leave a tour because they could not keep up climbing over ruins.

Oh those wonderfully mosaiced streets and sidewalks are worn down to a slick surface. When wet they can be a problem, so bring good sticky shoes.

Posted by
2026 posts

Lo, I took the really wonderful RS Portugal Tour in 2017. Yes, Lisbon, Obidos, Coimbra, and Porto are all hilly places, but I did not find the tour any more active or strenuous than other RS tours I have taken. I find I usually walk more and am more ambitious during free time and on pre- and post-tour days than during tour activities, and of course during those times you can always make choices that are less strenuous, or at least less vertical.

Posted by
821 posts

Barnstormer, do you have any "good sticky shoes" you can recommend? I'm signed up for this tour next October, and if anybody's going to slip and fall on a slick surface, it'll be me!

Posted by
1550 posts

Lo, since I will be taking this tour after you do, I will be watching for any thoughts or recommendations you may have regarding the tour after your return home and currently watching this thread carefully! I am excited to have the opportunity to explore this new-to-me and fascinating country.

Teresa, I am going on an October tour also; the one beginning October 14th. We will be spending a few days before the tour begins in Lisbon and (hopefully) taking a day trip here and there. I am book marking forum topics related to the tour and possible options for free time and the days we arrive. When is your tour?

Posted by
821 posts

Hi, Andi. I'll be following in your footsteps: my tour starts the 21st. I fully expect you to leave me notes with helpful hints and tips re what to do/see in each town. :D :D :D

Posted by
2923 posts

I'll be going to Barcelona from Porto after the Heart of Portugal is over. I'll be there for 3 nights before Best of Spain starts. I'll try to do a mini-report on the Portugal tour during that time.

Back in 2011, my husband and I rented an apartment in Lisbon for a week. It was up a steep hill from the Santa Apolónia train station in the Alfama district. And it was on the top floor. We made that down and back up trek many times, so I have an idea of what we'll be experiencing.

But the entire city is not like that. We loved the tiled plazas and spent lots time underground seeing the metro stations all of which are tiled with no 2 alike.

I won't know much about the other locations on the tour until I experience them, but I'm hoping there will be some flat walking as well as stairs and slopes. My knees will have 8 more years of wear on them by June!