If you think Portuguese holidays are all about lounging in the sun on an over-populated beach in the Algarve, think again. The country at the western edge of Europe has so much more to offer, so read on for details of some of the highlights of this fascinating and beguiling country.
For lovers of the great outdoors, Portugal is a brilliant destination. Whether you are a fan of hiking, cycling, surfing or other activities best undertaken in the fresh air, the country will have more than enough to satiate your appetite. For instance you could enjoy some of the most awe-inspiring coastal hiking routes in Europe – rugged but eminently manageable tracks with views of the many nooks and crannies where the Atlantic Ocean hammers a perpetual barrage against our fair continent.
Once you get a little way north of the country’s enigmatic capital Lisbon, you will find wide stretches of often near-deserted beaches. They may not always have all the facilities of those on the Algarve, but for sheer beauty they are hard to beat. Especially if you fancy trying out the many watersports that flourish there.
Get away from the coast and you will discover a land of outstanding natural beauty, with a rich diversity of flora and fauna which makes walking or cycling holidays literally come to life. One area which is particularly fascinating is the Beiras region, which lies between the Douro and Tagus rivers. Its lush meadows are punctuated by rugged rock-scapes, and streams invariably lead to tiny hamlets and villages that time appears to have forgotten, much to their benefit. The region has some fabulously hearty cuisine – think roast suckling pig and big, brash stews bursting with freshness and warmth of flavour – which is perfect fuel if you’re hiking or cycling by day. And there are some very fine wines to be sampled too, especially those from the Douro region.
Organising an independent walking or cycling trip to Portugal is becoming an evermore popular holiday choice as the natural beauty and cultural benefits are becoming more apparent to the discerning traveller. And while you could no doubt work out a decent itinerary yourself (with a little help from the official Portuguese tourism website), there are now a number of companies who will take the hassle out of such a trip while retaining the best elements.
For instance Headwater.com have a fine mix of guided and independent walking and cycling holidays covering most areas of Portugal – including the fascinating islands of Madeira and the Azores. Whether you are seeking a natural escape in which you can explore on foot as you admire the varied range of bird life Portugal boasts, or you would prefer a coastal cycling trip with plenty of opportunities to indulge in the exquisite seafood feasts that are available in every fishing town and village you happen across, an activity holiday in Portugal is likely to float your boat.
Many areas of the country offer up an enticing mix of over 300 days of sunshine a year and panoramas that warm the soul, with the Alentejo region (which derives from Alem Tejo meaning ‘beyond the Tagus’) being one of the best and most accessible areas; you can enjoy haggling at the many artisanal markets, visit evocative 16th century fortresses, wander along paths that weave their way through lemon groves or over high sand dunes, and with so many coastal cafes and restaurants serving up some of the best seafood you are ever likely to sample, what’s not to look forward to from a trip to the real Portugal.