Portugal has been one of our favourite destinations for many years, and it’s not hard to see why.
Barely a three-hour flight away, mainland cities such as Lisbon and Porto brim with richly decorated churches, monasteries and palaces, atmospheric old neighbourhoods and a dining scene that covers the ground from coffee and cinnamon-dusted custard tarts in blue-tiled cafés to Michelin-starred seafood in sleek waterfront hotspots.
For sun lovers, the Algarve is the place to be, its endless sandy beaches providing a key ingredient for relaxing family holidays and grown-up getaways. Head to the sub-tropical island of Madeira (closer to Africa than mainland Europe) for dolphin-spotting and whale-watching; it’s popular with walkers looking to hike the deep valleys and forested peaks as well as more gentle strolls admiring Eden-like flower gardens.
© Jose Sarmento Matos
The Azores, of course, provide their own heat thanks to their volcanic nature; think hot springs, eye-catching scenery and traditional dishes cooked by geothermal forces. And wherever you go, there are vineyards, from the famous terraces of the Douro Valley to under-the-international-radar estates in the Alentejo where you can immerse yourself in a side of the country you might otherwise miss.
Land of vineyards
The British developed a passion for wines from Portugal in the 18th century, a mere 2,700 years or so after the Phoenicians planted the first vines there. The tipple of choice of well-to-do Georgians was port, a fortified wine from the Douro Valley, whose steeply terraced slopes are now a particularly scenic World Heritage Site. Appreciate the history and unique landscape with a private cruise along the river on a traditional rabelo boat, a leisurely hike complete with a waterside picnic or, if you have the time, a few days on an established wine estate with tastings on the menu.
There’s more to Portugal than port, however, even in the Douro Valley, from full-bodied reds to fragrant whites. We can introduce you to one of the country’s oldest wine estates on a full-day adventure in the Alentejo and arrange tastings and cellar tours in the Algarve. Discover the eponymous fortified offerings from the island of Madeira at one of its longest-running wine lodges or spend a grape-themed day exploring tucked-away vineyards in scenic areas that few visitors ever see. Even the Azores has a viticulture story: Pico Island’s UNESCO-favoured volcanic vineyards, whose light whites grace the archipelago’s finest wine lists.
© Joao Silva
Portugal’s inviting cities are destinations in their own right, combining centuries’ worth of historical sights with a delightfully relaxed metropolitan vibe. Soak up the laidback atmosphere of the perfectly proportioned capital Lisbon (population 545,000) by vintage tram, cable car and, most appealingly of all, on foot. Pause your rambles for uma meia de leite – a flat white – under stuccoed ceilings at one of the city’s venerable cafés, savour an authentically delicious pastel de nata at its birthplace in the waterside Belém district, and dine at a Fado house where the food is as traditional as the music.
In characterful Porto, you can take a belt-stretching gastronomic tour that covers the ground from coffee via codfish cakes to a visit to a celebrated port house. Like what you taste? You could plunge into a hands-on cooking class and learn how to make some typical dishes for yourself. In the evening, join the locals in Matosinhos – known for its vast fish market – for super-fresh seafood charcoal-grilled to perfection, accompanied by a crisp local white wine or chilled Super Bock or Sagres, the country’s two oldest and best-loved beers. Don’t overlook the smaller towns – we can whisk you to UNESCO-listed Évora with its Roman temple, stunning Gothic cathedral and foodie specialities from the Alentejo region.
Beside the seaside
It’s no surprise that a benign climate – we’re talking more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year – combined with horizon-busting sandy beaches have helped make the Algarve such a popular destination, even in winter. But Portugal’s southernmost region has plenty more to capture the imagination than a glorious coastline. Where else can you intersperse catamaran cruises and dolphin-spotting trips with adventures through a timeless hinterland studded with ancient castles, picturesque villages and atmospheric small towns? Opt for a tour with a food and folklore theme that features a village bakery, organic farm and cork factory to see the area from a whole new angle. Or punctuate your days with ventures into the local dining scene, from laidback seafood lunches in toes-in-the-sand eateries to evening meals by candlelight featuring stylish contemporary Portuguese cuisine.
An island destination like no other, sub-tropical Madeira is a riot of exuberant plantlife, with flower-filled botanical gardens, verdant soaring landscapes and, of course, flourishing vineyards to relish all year round. Offshore, you’ll find yourself in supreme whale-and-dolphin-watching territory – more than 30 types are regularly spotted in its waters. On land, strolls beside the characteristic levadas, or irrigation channels, can take you to rare laurel forests, quaint hamlets and spectacular waterfalls. The island’s food is as distinctive and delectable as its wines; we can help you sample both with a joyous Madeiran night of speciality dishes, local wines and traditional music.
The Azores’ striking volcanic landscapes produce their own wonders, from flooded craters to geothermal valleys that bubble, steam and hiss to dramatic effect. Make the most of this geological restlessness with relaxing dips in at least one of many hot springs or a leisurely meal of Cozido das Furnas, a meaty Azorean stew cooked to melting tenderness by natural underground heat.
Feasts and festivals
Portugal’s yearly calendar bursts with all manner of festivals, from the most traditional to more recent creations. Enjoy the noise, colour and atmosphere – not to mention the street food and special dishes – of ancient celebrations such as February’s Carnival, Easter Holy Week and the 600-year Feast of São João held every June in Porto. If you’re looking for something more contemporary, the warm days of summer in particular bring an avalanche of open-air festivals across the mainland and islands featuring music, dance and other performing arts.
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