For those unfamiliar with Portugal, we take a look at three of the most famous travel destinations within the country and the most common reasons for visiting each of them…
So you’ve heard something about this rugged European outlier, the show-stopping beauty of its beaches, its rich heritage of wine – and in particular port wine – production, its zany customs and festivals, and romantic peoples, but you haven’t quite grasped the whole picture? In this post we explore three of the most attention-worthy regions of urban culture and natural beauty, and discuss how you might fit them into a holiday.
A beautiful beach town of red roofs and blue tiles, Lisbon – like Rome – is set on seven hills, whose slopes are now famously navigated by the city’s distinctive electricos (trams). In the 16th century the city was one of the most powerful in the world and the centre of the mighty Portuguese Empire that boasted colonies from Latin America to the coasts of Africa and Indonesia. Tragically much of its medieval heritage (not to mention tens of thousands of people) were lost in the 1755 earthquake, one of the deadliest in history, but many buildings either survived or were rebuilt: such as Saint George’s Castle or the UNESCO listed Belem Tower. On top of history, Lisbon offers visitors a rich tapestry of culture from the chance to listen to the melancholy fado music, still performed in many traditional cafes, to youth-driven electro music clubs and festivals. Overall Lisbon makes for a perfect weekend break destination, or in combination with a trip to the Algarve region in the south (see below).
Portugal’s most famous holiday destination, the Algarve, has been a mecca for tourists for decades thanks to its stunning coastline and beaches, and also a proliferation of golf courses, which attract swingers (of the sporting kind!) from all corners of the globe. When not sunbathing on famous sands like those of Marinha beach, or playing sports, travellers can also visit all manner of historic towns and limestone caves and grottoes that litter the coast. The Ria Formosa lagoon is also worth visiting, especially for budding ornithologists as the wetlands are a stopping place for hundreds of different species of birds. Light on contemporary culture and cutting edge nightclubs, but heavy on natural beauty and the good life, the Algarve is the perfect place for family holidays or general relaxation breaks. If that’s your goal, Club Med have an all-inclusive resort in the village of Da Balaia, with wellness centre, kids’ club and every conceivable sports facility (kitesurfing, diving, tennis, horseriding, flying trapeze etc), all overlooking a magnificent white sand beach. Transfers to the resort can be arranged via Lisbon.
Oozing romance and faded grandeur, the picture postcard image of Porto invariably features its epic iron bridge, the Ponte de Dom Luís I, spanning the Douro and leading you to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, with its famous port wine cellars. In fact port wine is undergoing something of a renaissance in Portugal (glass of pink port anyone?) after years of being an unfashionable tipple favoured by grannies, and visitors will want to book a tasting session or two. Back on the Porto side of the river famous sites include the Crystal Palace and the Casa de Musica, although the true joy of the city lies in wandering around its grand but decaying streets: they don’t make doors like these any more. Porto also serves at the gateway to the Douro valley, an idyllic region of terraced vineyards and crumbling farm houses that is slowly attracting more and more oenophiles for wine tasting holidays.