family travel

Blue feathers and transient wonders: a nature walk in Portugal

The path rises steeply behind the cottage, skirting an olive grove before disappearing invitingly into a thicket of small trees. One kid asked me where it went, and another said that it looked like a good place to find some snakes. It was time for a mini-adventure.

“Let’s follow it and see where it goes!”

It takes only a short nature walk in a foreign country to appreciate the wonderful diversity of the world we inhabit. As we started to climb, Ash pointed out that Portugal is (much) closer to Africa than it is to our native Luxembourg, and this was immediately evident upon observing the flora and fauna around us. Far from being the lifeless arid desert it first appeared, the Portuguese countryside in high summer was brimming with signs of life. Ants swarmed underfoot, butterflies – delicate wisps of nothingness – floated by on the warm breeze, and bright red and black beetles foraged for snacks on dried flower heads.

Graphosoma lineatum (aka Minstrel bug)

In front of us, something invisible scuttled under a nearby bush (a snake?) whilst some vibrant blue-and-black feathers on the path were testament to an unseen struggle.

From a Eurasian Jay perhaps?

Overhead, two huge birds of prey circled ominously; the size of kites but without the distinctive forked tail. Ash declared confidently that they were some sort of overgrown Portuguese buzzard and we all stood there watching them until our necks hurt.

Portuguese nature explorers!

It was only then that it really sunk in: this was, truly, a foreign place for us. Or, rather, it was we who were foreign here. For example, I pride myself on being able to identify most of the common wild plants in Luxembourg, but here I could name only two with absolute certainty: the ubiquitous olive tree and the occasional fig bush (sadly not yet ripe). A pretty yellow flower that Poppy wanted to pick for Mama was protected by thorns so sharp that the slightest brush could draw blood. Most beguiling of all were the delicate blue flowers blooming abundantly around the olive trees – chicory. Each of these little miracles bloom only once, and exclusively in the morning; when the burning Portuguese sun is high in the sky they protectively fold their petals into absolute obscurity, never to be seen again. The chicory plants guard their secret closely through the heat of the day, until cooler temperatures coax them into producing more of their transient wonders.

Chicory. For one day only.


Ash and Poppy never did see a snake, but they discovered a new world. Listening to them excitedly recount their adventures to Mama afterwards, I reflected – not for the first time – that kids don’t always need theme parks, organised activities or interactive visitor experiences to be happy travellers.  Simple pleasures are often the most memorable.

Daisy the bus visited Pernes, Portugal in late July 2016

(c) 2016 Jonathan Orr

Untold Morsels
Monkey and Mouse

15 thoughts on “Blue feathers and transient wonders: a nature walk in Portugal”

  1. What beautiful photos – especially the one with the feathers. There’s definitely something magical about exploring a place where the landscape is so different to what you’re used to – everything is a new discovery! Although personally I’d have been quite grateful not to have seen a snake! #WhatevertheWeather


    1. It makes you think doesn’t it: For a young child almost everything is a new discovery, even things which are mundane and commonplace for us adults. So what we adults experience in foreign situations is possibly the closest thing to a child-like sensation that we can get; perhaps that’s why so many people – myself included – love travel so much. Thanks!


  2. It sounds perfect, a proper little adventure with lots of interaction with nature. You’re completely right about not needing lots of hitech wizardry to keep them entertained. Love this post and thanks for linking up to #Whatevertheweather 🙂


  3. I completely agree! We just felt exactly the same way when visiting Croatia this past week. What ARE those beautiful flowers and what is that crazy red berry? It was fun to explore even if we didn’t know everything. The sights and even the smells of being outdoors were different. Stimulating. Interesting. Exciting. This is a beautiful post – thank you for sharing and linking with #FarawayFiles this week, cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah this is a wonderful account of simple pleasures in a foreign country. Love the chicory flowers – a brief but beautiful bloom.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We’re all for the simple but wonderful pleasures of a nature walk in a foreign country. You’ve made it sound like a marvellous adventure. The perfect post for #FarawayFiles


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