By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador


Portugal - Marvao


Portugal is European elegance and medieval mythology, culinary excellence and fabled wine-making tradition, granite ramparts, endless rivers, and temples of skulls and bones. Portugal is a nation of quixotic charms, one best explored on foot, at a pace that allows for a deeper appreciation of people, place, and culture (not to mention wine – delicious, bottomless barrels of wine). With two feet and a heartbeat, I set out with Country Walkers on an expedition from one end of this Iberian playground to the other, on an adventure that was truly immersive, experiential, and fully Portuguese.

Portugal - Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamede

Portugal - Castelo de Vide 3

 Castelo de Vide

Portugal - Castelo de Vide

Castelo de Vide

Portuguese is a lyrical language, and the most common refrain is bem-vindos, or welcome. I heard bem-vindos day after day, no matter where we wandered on our walking tour. We were welcomed at cobblestone cafes in the historic heart of old Porto. We were welcomed by local farmers when wandering through the cork forests of the Parque Natural de Serra de Sao Mamade. And we were welcomed by the happy people of the cozy, red-tiled village of Castelo de Vide. In part, we were welcomed wherever we went because Portugal is a friendly, vibrant nation – but the fact that we spent so much time on our feet, trekking from one destination to the next, allowed us a unique opportunity to travel deeper into the essential nature of the Portugal experience.

Portugal - Quinta Nova 2

Quinta Nova

Portugal - Quinta Nova

 Quinta Nova

Portugal - Douro


We had time to wander Arraiolos, a postcard perfect little village known for exquisite tapestries, made locally since the Middle Ages and based on Iranian designs. We spoke with artisans, explored shops and museums, and even had an opportunity to thread some needles ourselves (pro-tip: don’t use your thumb as a thimble). Out among the sun-splashed vineyards of the Douro Valley, we wandered into medieval-era orchards on the sprawling Quinta Nova grounds, plucking from the trees oranges, pears, and cherries. And Country Walkers made time for long, leisurely dinners, the sort people have been enjoying in Portugal for centuries. We dined out among the stars, were entertained by local concertina virtuosos, and feasted on national fare, like amêijoas à bulhão pato, a type of clam stew, alheira sausage, notable for including proteins other than pork, and, of course, delicate bites of famed Iberian ham. Fabulous table wines accompanied every meal, while port put an exclamation point on each evening; we sipped on wines from legacy producers and craft artisans like Dow’s, Cockburn’s, Taylor’s, … and more.

Portugal- Herdade do Esporao

Herdade do Esporao

Portugal - Evora


My Country Walkers experience was a throwback affair, a glimpse at travel in Europe as it may have been a generation ago. It was an opportunity to disconnect, enjoy the countryside of the rolling Douro and the rugged Alentejo, and immerse myself fully in the unique tapestry of local life. I felt welcome with every step, and can’t imagine traveling through Portugal in any other way.

Portugal - Douro (2)


Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey?  Read more about it on the USTOA blog and check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.

By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador


POR - Douro (4)


POR - Sao Pedro do Corval

Sao Pedro do Corval

Portugal is the little things. It is whistling ceramic roosters hand-made in a studio in Sao Pedro do Corval. Portugal is stomping grapes in an ancient lagares in a family-owned vineyard in the Douro Valley. It is walking miles over dusty dirt tracks between 2,000-year-old olive trees, while a towering castle stands sentinel on a nearby hillside. Portugal is grassroots agriculture and temples of skulls and bones, ancient monolithic sites and world-class cuisine, textiles and pottery and long walks over cobbled streets. Portugal is all these little things and more, little things you can only experience when you slow down and fully immerse yourself in the mystery, majesty and allure of the Iberian Peninsula. Recently I traveled to Portugal with Country Walkers, the global leader in small-group guided walking adventures, for an expedition from historic Porto to modern Lisbon, with stops to experience the pastoral bliss of the Douro Valley, the rugged hillscapes and castles of the Alentejo, and countless local wonders in between.

POR - Quinta Nova 3

Quinta Nova 

POR - Quinta Nova 4

Quinta Nova 

POR - Quinta Nova 5

Quinta Nova 

I knew that my Country Walkers expedition was going to be a different sort of travel experience from the moment our party stepped foot in the Douro. A UNESCO World Heritage darling, the Douro Valley region has become a tourism darling in recent years, and it’s easy to see why – from our elevated position high above the river, the Douro is a postcard-perfect vision of Old World Europe. We spent our first day walking among a verdant carpet of old wine vines, and stopped to visit an olive oil mill, and, of course, a family-run winery with a history that stretches back centuries (all the way to Britain). Too many trips are focused on checklists, when they should be focused on experiences. Country Walkers doesn’t want their guests to “see this, this, and this,” and is instead focused on “experiencing this, fully, and completely.” Our group dinners at Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo epitomized this ethos – our candlelight dinners were characterized by Chef Jose Pinto’s unique take on traditional fare, and included extended wine tastings, wonderful conversation, and concertina music.

POR - Herdade do Freixo

Herdade do Freixo

POR - Mosteiro do Crato

Mosteiro do Crato

POR - Evora 2


I knew that we would spend considerable time walking through vineyards and olive orchards, but I didn’t expect to wander through one of the world’s only skeleton temples, which we experienced at the Igreja do Sao Francisco, a 12th century Gothic wonder in the heart of bustling Evora.  I knew we would visit castles and ancient kingdoms, but I didn’t know that I’d stand in the center of a bullring in the castle of Reguengos de Monsaraz. I knew there would be wineries and Port and table wine, but I didn’t expect to learn so much about agriculture and eco-farming at the Herdade do Freixo do Meio, a sprawling agricultural co-op known for producing artisanal meats and vegetables. I knew there would be charming boutique hotels, but I didn’t know I’d spend my mornings in beautiful gardens and atmospheric crypts of converted monasteries, like the Pousada Mosteiro do Crato, for centuries known as the Flor de Rosa Monastery. And I knew to expect cultural marvels and historical allure, but I had no idea that we would flit between rock giants at the Cromlech of the Almedres archaeological site, where 5th century (BC) monoliths still call out to the stars.

POR - Capela dos Ossos

Capela dos Ossos

POR - Cromeleque dos Almendres

Cromeleque dos Almendres

POR - Cromeleque dos Almendres (2)

Cromeleque dos Almendres

Portugal is all the things I love about Europe – the pace, the grace, the idyllic countryside and the atmospheric medieval cities – and a thousand surprises I could have never anticipated. Country Walkers gave me an opportunity to go beyond guide books and become fully immersed in local culture, lore, and legends. I can’t think of any other way to experience Portugal.


Interested in learning more about Flash’s journey?  Read more about it on the USTOA blog and check out Country Walkers’ Portugal: Porto to Lisbon.

Flash is a journalist, photographer, and author based in Wyoming. His work has been published by AFAR, GQ Magazine, USA Today, Voyeur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Get Lost Magazine, Celebrated Living, Asian Geographic, Food and Travel, American Cowboy, and more. Flash is the reigning 2016 SATW Bill Muster Photographer of the Year.


The first question people typically ask when planning a vacation is “where do I want to go?” But really…shouldn’t the question start with “why?”

Video produced by: GET Creative, a division of USA TODAY
Knowing what travelers want to get out of their trip is equally as important when helping them plan for it. The tour operator members of USTOA believe it’s critical to uncover “why,” the emotional connections people seek when exploring the destinations and cultures they plan to visit.

USTOA embarked on a journey to answer that very question – “Why do you travel” – through a collection of videos and articles that followed travelers on four tour operator member itineraries. We hope their testimonials will inspire you to ask yourself the same question. Find out some of their reasons below.

Go Ahead Tours’ traveler Ann Girres shared, “I travel for many reasons – for fun, for adventure, to better understand history, to experience other cultures, to see wondrous sites – but mostly because it helps me understand the world better.” Girres traveled recently on Go Ahead Tours’ “The Wonders of Ancient Israel, where guests tour the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv before traveling to holy lands, including one of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem. The trip also includes visits to Mount Zion and the Dead Sea.

Roberta James, a guest on Audley Travel’s “Journey Along the Silk Route” China itinerary explains she travels to expand her horizons and knowledge. “I love meeting new people, eating new foods and visiting historical buildings. For me It’s about trying to absorb the whole picture of a country,” James said. Audley Travel’s 21-day Chinese adventure follows the ancient Silk Route taking travelers through stunning desert, mountain and countryside scenery, along with fascinating architecture and cultures.

Tauck’s “Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel” 11-day itinerary, promises guests like Diane Buchanan views of Switzerland’s famous soaring panoramas and serene beauty. During the trip Buchanan said, “I travel because the world is a huge and amazing place. It makes you feel alive because you’re touching as much of it as you can.” Her trip also included a train ride to Gornergrat to view the Matterhorn, a wine-tasting cruise on Lake Lugano, and time to explore Bern, Lucerne and more.

African Travel, Inc. guest, Diane Rankin says, “Travel helps me be a better person. It gives me perspective on what’s important to other people and why.” Rankin was part of a custom trip to South Africa where she climbed to the top of Table Mountain via cable car, searched for “the Big Five” on a safari through Sabi Sand Game Reserve, visited a winery in the Cape Winelands, and more.

Whether it’s personal growth, meeting new people or gaining some perspective, USTOA encourages you to ask yourself – why do you travel?

Daniel 2- credit GET Creative

Credit: GET Creative

Visit and for more information. Travelers can follow the adventures on Instagram and Twitter using #traveltogether or by visiting USTOA’s Facebook page.