Perfect beaches, historic cities and dramatic landscapes
A holiday in Portugal may conjure up images of glorious beaches, stretches of promenades and coastal cafes, pretty villas with pools and perfect golf courses. Along the southern coast, the Praia da Falésia stretches for over 5 kilometres from the Praia do Barranco das Belharucas to glamorous, bustling Vilamoura – you’ll be sure to find the perfect picnic spot and plenty of space!
On the Atlantic coast and particularly in the Alentejo, beaches are less busy and gloriously unspoilt, creating picture postcard images. Think fresh grilled fish with batatas fritas on the deck of a wooden cabin, overlooking the ocean, soft, silky sand between your toes. However, venture inland in this region, for rural life, cork oak forests and simplicity, along with a tour of its fascinating, historic fortified towns: Castelo de Vide e Baixa, Elvas (with its many lively festivals), Évora Monte and Marvão are stunning examples. Prepare for uphill walks, rewarded by stunning views, photographers prepare! The highlight though, must surely be Évora with its Moorish medieval centre, Roman Temple and flourishing University, founded in 1559. Visit in late June for the Fair of St John – a lively celebration all things Portuguese.
This small country really packs a punch for history and culture. Lisbon cannot be bettered for a 4-day or 5-day break: its history stretches back several thousand years before Roman times. In the 16th century, it came to prominence and gained wealth as Portuguese mariners discovered trade routes both east and west. Lisbon is a hilly city; fortunately there are attractive, rattling vintage trams at the rescue. Pace yourself when walking, flat shoes are essential, especially if you’re exploring the Alfama, a maze of warren-like alleys full of traditional buildings. Museums and churches abound across the capital. For grandeur, The Baxia, re-built after the earthquake of 1755, displays elegance and the neoclassical style. Dive into the Bairro Alto for great nightlife, although finding your way out after a ginja or two (sweet cherry liqueur) might be fun! Spot-on for a day trip from stylish Lisbon, Sesimbra is a great choice, well-sheltered and still home to an active fishing fleet, for added interest.
Northern Porto, on the River Douro, is the starting point of popular river cruises which allow passengers to sample the delights of the different vineyards which line the hillsides along the winding waterway. If a glass of Port or wine is your fancy, you’ll be in your element here. The city itself, Portugal’s second largest, is home to energetic Ribeira, a bewildering, yet fascinating old district, with a lively daily market and somewhat ramshackle houses. In direct contrast, The Bolsa and Igreja de São Francisco are confident, even ostentatious, testament to the economic success enjoyed here in the 18th century.
Head further along the northern coast, then inland to Guimarães, heralded as the birthplace of the Portuguese nation as the first king, Afonso Henriques was born here in the early 12th century. With a ducal palace, a 10th century castle, a beautiful museum, churches and charming squares, a day or two here is the perfect complement to beach holidays. Just 30 minutes away and equally important is Braga, Portugal’s religious capital with Santuário do Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a magnificent combination of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical style. These two nationally important cities are close to Portugal’s only national park, Parque Nacional da Peneda- Gerês, where you can experience a traditional way of life in a mountainous, wilderness area. A combination trip of coast, cities and country is a great option for a week or two’s holiday in this northern region.
So be sure not to limit yourself to the undoubtedly magnificent coastline, delve into the countryside, cities and towns for an even more authentic Portuguese experience: you’ll be enchanted.
For more information, go to VisitPortugal.com
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