In focus: photographer Sam Walker talks us through his recent Portugal trip

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My interest in adventure photography and filmmaking started early. Growing up, my twin brother and I made freestyle skating videos together with old mini tape cameras. After college, I put it to the side for a while and ended up with a marketing job. The bug kicked back in when three friends and I embarked on a major cycling trip through sub-Saharan Africa. 

We traveled from South Africa to Botswana and I basically had a camera in my hand the whole time. It reminded me of what I truly love. So, after the adventure ended, I ended up quitting my job and started freelancing under my own name, Sam Walker. The trip was the reset I needed. I decided to take a risk or two.

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There were so many unique places and activities in the mix

Nowadays, I produce films and photography for a mixture of outdoor, travel and corporate brands. My recent assignment in Portugal was my first working with Flash Pack. I’ve been to the country on a few city breaks, but I never dreamed of an experience like this. From tucked-away wine hotels in the Douro Valley and incredible off-roading in Sintra, a Unesco World Heritage site, to surfing and yoga – there were so many unique places and activities in the mix. Add in a brilliant group of people and delicious wine tastings every day, and I was fully on board. 

On day two we took a cycling trip along the coast of Porto, the ocean on one side and freestyle rambling houses on the other. It’s such an evocative city with a real sense of faded grandeur. Each building seemed to have its own character, with splashes of pastel blue, blush pink or burnt orange, and distinct balconies and gables. We bumbled along on our bikes out of Porto, stopping for fresh orange juice and pastel de nata.

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You could see sun-dappled vineyards stretching for miles

The next day we decamped to Portugal’s legendary Douro valley, one of the world’s oldest wine regions. We learnt about different production techniques. It was amazing to see how much time and effort goes into making the varieties of red wine and port from independent wineries. From a bird’s-eye view using my drone, you could see dreamy, sun-dappled vineyards stretching for miles towards the horizon.

We stayed at the spectacular Quinta de Casaldronho Wine Hotel, surrounded by rolling vineyards. The setting was ridiculous; so photogenic and peaceful. In the morning, it glowed with the rising sun. Everyone agreed it was the favorite hotel of the trip.

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We had sangria by the pool and the vibe was great

By this point in the adventure, everyone in the group had become really comfortable and friendly with one another. We’d had a very busy day touring the Douro wine region, lunching at a traditional quinta (wine estate) and taking a river trip through the vineyards. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, everyone headed to the rooftop pool to relax. We had red and white wine sangria and the vibe was great; we all got on brilliantly.

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Eva, our Pack Leader, shared a fresh perspective with us

At the heart of it all was Eva, our Pack Leader and guide. Eva led us from start to finish. She was so friendly, warm and welcoming. Even the neighborhood cat was a fan. 

Eva is Spanish but she moved to Portugal five years ago to be with her boyfriend. She said that one of the things she really liked about leading our adventure was that, until very recently, she herself had felt like a visitor to the country. She was able to share a fresh, outsider’s perspective with us all.

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Most of us hadn’t surfed before, so all learned together

Moving onto Portugal’s Atlantic coast, we got to grips with the region’s world-famous wave conditions learning to surf. It was quite a chaotic session – every time I turned around, someone was flying through the air. 

Yet, you can see by the smiles, we all enjoyed it so much. Most people managed to stand up at least once by the end. It was quite a bonding activity for the group. Most of us hadn’t surfed before, so we were all learning together.

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At our sunset yoga session, we had the place to ourselves

After cutting some moves on the waves, we wound down with a sunset yoga session on the beach. We were in an amazing little cove; it was so peaceful and serene. There were a few people on the beach when we started, but within half an hour they had gone and we had the place to ourselves. It was great as it was just us, the instructor and the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. Everyone was truly relaxed.

We then left the zen behind for Sintra, a Unesco World Heritage Site, filled with ancient palaces and rugged, jungle-like terrain. The landscape was really enticing – lush hills and old, sometimes, derelict villas and churches. It was all quite mysterious and unexpected.

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The jungle-like landscape of Sintra was really enticing

The expedition to Sintra included an off-roading adventure in an open-top 4×4, driven by two young men who grew up there. They took us to the spots only they knew, including the lesser-known Parque e Palácio de Monserrate. 

We then took a bumpy ride along the Cascais coastline to Lisbon. The guys were fairly heavy-footed on the accelerators, so there was a lot of dust, but it was exhilarating blasting around the bends.

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We took a bumpy ride along the Cascais coastline

On the last night of the trip, we gathered for a sunset cruise across the bay of Lisbon. Everyone was in a happy, reflective mood. We looked back together on the amazing eight days we’d shared in Portugal. We had wine and snails as we watched the sun go down over the sea, with the iconic Ponte 25 de Abril bridge – modeled on San Francisco’s Golden Gate – lingering in the background.

Sam Walker is a professional photographer who recently shot Flash Pack’s Portugal adventure

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveler like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Sam Walker 

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