Our Little Blue Dot: Portugal

PORTUGAL

Portugal has a rich seafaring past, superb beach resorts, wistful towns and a landscape wreathed in olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields. Littered with UNESCO World Heritage sites and graced by one of Europe’s most relaxed and attractive capitals, it also remains refreshingly affordable. Savoring life slowly is a Portuguese passion, and much of the best is humble – traditional folk festivals; simple, honest food drowning in olive oil; music that pulls at the heart strings, recalling past love and glories; and markets overflowing with fish, fruit and flowers.

Sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve, exclusive golf resorts, medieval hilltop towns, colorful fishing villages, a cosmopolitan capital, the vine-filled valley of the Douro, wild remote mountains — Portugal has it all.

There is no better way to experience Portugal than to sit down in a street cafe with a bica (espresso) or a glass of port as you watch the world go by. And when you leave Portugal, you will probably feel saudades (a feeling of longing for something that is gone but might return).

Flowers at a street cafe in Lisbon, Portugal.
Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo rusty426

Sightseeing

Portugal’s rich heritage means visitors are spoiled for choice, with sights that range from the UNESCO World Heritage site of prehistoric art at Foz Coa to ultramodern architecture in major cities. All towns of significant size will have at least one museum, many of them containing ethnographic and archaeological artifacts as well as religious artwork, local history and an insight into the lives of locals.

The north of Portugal has the remains of several Iron Age and Celtic settlements, and evidence of Roman occupation can be found throughout the land. One of the best Roman sites is Conimbriga, near the city of Coimbra.

Throughout the country’s hills, plains and valleys, there are picturesque medieval villages where local traditions have been maintained for centuries and ruined castles that remain as silent witnesses to former battles over territory. As well as atmospheric castles with great views, there are magnificent palaces that belonged to royalty and wealthy families, many of which contain original furnishings and decor, particularly in the areas around Lisbon and Sintra.

Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal (Palácio Nacional da Pena)
Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo interlight

The larger towns and villages contain magnificent buildings including Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and monasteries, 16th-century Manueline masterpieces — the Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower in Lisbon are two outstanding examples — and Baroque churches and manor houses.

Portuguese wine is beginning to get the international recognition it deserves; each region produces distinctive wines and wine tourism is booming, making it easier than ever to tour vineyards and wine-making facilities and taste the results. Alentejo and Douro wines are especially popular, as are the young white vinho verde wines from the north. The Douro Valley demarcated wine region has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and for its unique, dramatic scenery and culture.

Vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal.
Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo phbcz

Recreation

The Algarve resorts are geared up for all kinds of watersports, but they are also great places to practice golf. Try the golf resorts of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago. Hikers will enjoy the cool mountainous region of the Serra da Estrela and Parque Nacional da Peneda Geres. For mountain biking, try the hinterland of the Algarve.

Horseback riding is offered in many regions, particularly on the Algarve and the Alentejo.

Located in northern Portugal, Parque Nacional da Peneda Geres offers numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Information on park activities, including guidebooks and brochures, is available from Sede do PNPG, located at Avenida Antonio Macedo in Braga.

Scenic view watching the sunset in the mountains, Peneda-Geres National Park, northern Portugal.
Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo sergey_peterman

Naturtejo Geopark is a UNESCO European and Global Geopark located near the border with Spain, 124 mi/200 km from Lisbon. Its geological heritage goes back millions of years, and ancient landscapes such as the Meseta Meridional Peneplain with quartzitic crests and granite outcrops can be studied up close. It has a trekking network of 161 mi/260 km of trails, both short and long, which provide a unique opportunity to discover and explore the geological diversity of the terrain. Visitors can also take boat trips or go kayaking in the Tagus and Zezere rivers, while the less active can tour by minibus. It’s not just great outdoors, though, as there are a number of historic villages that appear to be caught in a time warp.

Those who prefer their activities on the water will find the best conditions for windsurfing at the Praia da Rocha, and experienced surfers prefer the windswept beaches close to Sagres or Ponta Ruiva at the western coast. The Costa de Lisboa is also a good surfing region, especially the Praia do Guincho close to Cascais. Divers love the western coast of the Algarve, where many shipwrecks wait to be discovered.

For kayaking, try rivers such as the Guadiana and the Mondego.

Weather

Portugal’s climate varies with latitude and is influenced by the Atlantic. The southern coast has a near-Mediterranean climate, but more rain can be expected in the northern part of the country. Our favorite times are May and June, and late September and October, when the weather isn’t too hot for touring (though it can be a bit cool for lying on the beach). Days will be warm with little rain, and nights definitely require a sweater. In the summer, it can be hot on the beach, and winters are wet, often foggy, windy and really quite uncomfortable on the coast. If you’re going then, plan to spend most of your time inland. Check the weather forecast just before you pack and go prepared for a variety of temperatures and weather conditions.

Street decorated with colored umbrellas in Agueda, Portugal.
Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo Lenor

Suggested Itinerary

Portugal really requires a minimum of seven nights, which should include the following:

  • Day 1 — Arrive Lisbon.
  • Days 2 & 3 — Tour Lisbon.
  • Day 4 — Day trip to Sintra to explore the palaces and castles.
  • Day 5 — Drive to Evora and see the Chapel of Bones.
  • Day 6 — Drive to the Algarve area and visit towns or beaches. Overnight in whatever town strikes your fancy.
  • Day 7 — Algarve. Overnight in the northwestern part of the region.
  • Day 8 — Return to Lisbon and depart.

If you have three more days, visit a few towns in the center of the country, such as Coimbra. If you have even more time, spend it in Porto or eastern Portugal.

How would you like to explore Portugal?

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[SOURCE: Pocket Travel Guide App]

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