The 23 destinations in Portugal that you must visit in 2023
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I will begin our journey in the Northern Minho Region, and work our way South towards the Algarve Region, ending up in the islands of Madeira and the Azores.
1. Vila Nova de Cerveira
Founded in the 14th century by Dom Dinis, on the condition that one hundred residents would be brought together to form the community, the town took the name of Cerveira due to the colony of deer (cervos) that were to be found in the region.
Situated close to the border with Spain on the banks of the River Minho, where there is a ferryboat linking the town to Goyan in Galicia, Vila Nova de Cerveira has a wide variety of monuments, testifying to its rich past.
Since 1978, Vila Nova de Cerveira has been famous for its biennial exhibition of visual arts, an important national event whose fame has now spread to other countries and has begun to attract many international artists.
A fortified border town situated at the mouth of the River Minho, where several battles were fought between Portugal and Spain, Caminha now enjoys much more friendly relations with its neighbour and there is a daily ferry-boat linking the two banks of the river.
Standing on a tiny island in the middle of the estuary are the ruins of the fort of Ínsua, built to defend the entrance to the river in the fifteenth century.
But this region lives from much more than just its past. Vilar de Mouros, a picturesque spot in the most beautiful countryside, roughly 6 km to the north of Caminha, is the setting for a highly popular festival of modern music, held every August and the first of its kind ever to be organised in Portugal.
3. Viana do Castelo
Viana do Castelo is one of the most beautiful cities in the north of Portugal. His participation in the Portuguese Discoveries and, later, in cod fishing show his traditional connection to the sea.
Viana do Castelo is quickly accessed from Porto, or from Valença for those coming from Spain. From Monte de Santa Luzia you can see the city's privileged geographical position, next to the sea and the mouth of the River Lima. This breathtaking view and the Templo do Sagrado Coração de Jesus, a Ventura Terra revivalist building from 1898, can be the starting point for visiting the city.
Viana was enriched with coat-of-arms palaces, churches and convents, fountains and fountains that constitute a heritage worth visiting. At the Tourist Office, you can ask for a brochure and take routes inspired by Manueline, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Deco or tiles. Walking through some of the streets of the historic center, you will always arrive at Praça da República, the heart of the city. This is where the 16th-century Misericórdia building and the fountain are located, as well as the old Town Hall. Not far away is the Romanesque Sé or Igreja Matriz.
Facing the sea that made the history of Viana, a baroque church keeps the image of Senhora da Agonia, of the fishermen's devotion. It leaves every year on the 20th of August to bless the sea at one of the most colorful festivals in Portugal, where the beauty and richness of the typical costumes paraded during the festivals are worth mentioning.
Viana - also known for its gold filigree - has been able to maintain its traditions, as can be seen at the Museu do Traje (costume and gold), at the Municipal Museum (special emphasis on the typical Viana crockery that is on display here) or on the ship Gil Eanes. Built in the Shipyards of Viana do Castelo to support cod fishing, the ship is now moored here again in memory of the maritime and shipbuilding traditions of the city.
But Viana do Castelo is also considered an “Architecture Mecca” thanks to the many important names in contemporary Portuguese architecture that sign the city's facilities and spaces. This is the case of Praça da Liberdade by Fernando Távora, the Library by Álvaro Siza Vieira, the Youth Hostel by Carrilho da Graça, the Hotel Axis by Jorge Albuquerque or the Cultural Center of Viana do Castelo, by Souto Moura, among many others.
In the surroundings of the city, you can take a walk along the coastal or river cycle path or along one of the many marked trails, as well as practice surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and bodyboarding on beaches of fine, golden sand. And still go jet-skiing, sailing, rowing or canoeing on the Lima River.
4. Ponte de Lima
The Roman bridge that crosses the Lima River at this location gave the name of this ancient village. The first charter was granted in 1125 by D. Teresa, the mother of the first King of Portugal, even before the founding of the kingdom.
In the center of a rich agricultural region, where the famous Vinho Verde is produced, its heritage includes a large number of manor houses and palatial houses, many of which currently offer accommodation in the form of guesthouse tourism.
Every fortnight, this traditional village registers great entertainment on the riverbank sand when the fair originating from the Middle Ages takes place, where another traditional event "A Vaca das Cordas" also takes place in June. In September, the village once again registers great animation with the holding of Feiras Novas, the county's festivities.
Ponte de Lima is one of the four municipalities that make up the Lima Valley. In this region, walking the Route of the Giants is a way of discovering the birthplaces of four great historical figures who took Portugal to the four corners of the world.
Fernão de Magalhães, the Navigator, from Ponte da Barca, commanded the first circumnavigation voyage, proving that the Earth is round. Blessed Francisco Pacheco (The Saint) was born in Ponte de Lima, Messenger of the Society of Jesus and one of the first Jesuit missionaries in Japan. João Alvares Fagundes (the Discoverer), from Viana do Castelo, explored and discovered Newfoundland in the North Atlantic, an important cod fishing area. Originally from Arcos de Valdevez was Father Himalaya, the inventor, scientific scholar of renewable energies who represented Portugal at the Universal Exhibition of St. Louis, in the United States.
Being one of the oldest cities in the country, Braga is a vibrant city, full of young people studying in its universities.
Built more than 2000 years ago “Bracara Augusta” was precisely founded by Augustus, located on one of the main Roman roads of the Iberian Peninsula, as it was the administrative headquarters of the Empire. The Diocese of Braga, Roman province of Galécia, now Galicia, is the oldest in Portugal and, in the Middle Ages, rivaled Santiago de Compostela in power and importance. One of the Caminhos de Santiago passed here, when this cult began to have greater expression, with the Christian reconquest and the foundation of Portugal.
The Sé Cathedral is also the oldest in the country and was built in the 12th century by the parents of the first king of Portugal, D. Henrique and D. Teresa, who have their tombs there. Braga continues to be today one of the main religious centers in the country, where the Festas da Semana Santa and São João are a high point in the liturgical and tourist calendar.
In addition to the Treasure-Museum of the Cathedral, it is worth visiting the Museu dos Biscainhos, housed in a Baroque palace, the most outstanding period in Braga's heritage, or the Archaeological Museum D. Diogo de Sousa, as the city is also rich in remains from Roman times. I propose a leisurely stroll through the historic center to visit some of the many churches, appreciate the houses and historic buildings, such as the Palácio do Raio, the Theatro Circo, the Arco da Porta Nova, or have a coffee in the emblematic Brasileira with a view of the hustle and bustle from Central Avenue. But this is considered the youngest city in Portugal and among its contemporary landmarks stands out the Estádio Municipal de Braga, designed by Souto Moura, one of the most notable Portuguese architects, winner of the Pritzker Prize.
Anyone visiting Braga cannot miss going up to the Bom Jesus Sanctuary, an icon of the city, with its monumental staircase. In the middle of green spaces, it offers an excellent panoramic view over the city, as well as two other churches in the surroundings: The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro, an important place of Marian worship in the country, and also the Church of Santa Maria da Falperra. Outside the historic centre, the Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães and the Chapel of S. Frutuoso de Montélios are also worth visiting for their beauty and historical importance.
Among Braga's gastronomic specialties, mention should be made of Bacalhau à Braga, Narcisa or Minhota, roasted kid and Pudding Abade de Priscos. Nightlife in this city of students is not to be missed, with entertainment for all tastes.
Recently, the establishment of the University and the quality of contemporary architecture in Braga brought a boost of youth that gave this millennial city an unexpected modernity.
Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal because Afonso Henriques, who went on to be the first king of Portugal, was born here. The historical centre in the area that was within the Guimarães city walls, is associated with the formation and identity of Portugal, and was classified a World Heritage site based on the originality and authenticity applied in its restoration. The city still has a harmonious, well-preserved heritage that is evident in the graceful iron verandas, granite balconies and porticos, mansions, arches connecting the narrow streets, paving slabs smoothed by time, towers and cloisters. For a moment you might imagine yourself to be in a mediaeval setting, where the nobility built their houses over time, such as the Mota Prego house, the Vila Flor and Toural palaces, and the many others that give Guimarães its unique atmosphere. You can start from the heart of the city, Largo da Oliveira, where you find the Padrão do Saladoand the Collegiate Church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira, which houses the valuable Alberto Sampaio Museum. Passing the Paços Municipais (City Hall), crowned with battlements, enter the Praça de Santiago which in the Middle Ages welcomed pilgrims bound for Compostela, just as today it welcomes residents and tourists in its restaurants and terraces. The Convent of Santa Clara, the Casa do Arco and other stately houses are in Rua da Santa Maria, which links with the upper city. Go up this street or the Avenida Alberto Sampaio, bordered by the remains of the ancient wall that continues into the upper city, between the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança and the castle. On your way to the castle at the top, you will find this palace, a 15th century monument in which it is possible to see the influence of French seigneurial architecture, the Monument to King Afonso Henriques, the Romanesque Chapel of S. Miguel and finally the Castle, which dates back to the 10th century and is closely linked to the foundation of Portugal.
But you must also discover another central point in Guimarães, so go back down to the Largo do Toural, with its 16th century fountain. Rua D. João I, which in the Middle Ages was the road to take to Porto, boasts old houses with wooden balustrades and 17th century facades. Skirting the Church of the Convent of S. Domingos, now in Rua de Paio Galvão, you will find the neo-Romanesque Martins Sarmento Archaeological Museum, which extends into the cloister of the Convent. Just ahead is the old market hall building, which today houses the José de Guimarães International Arts Centre, with a retrospective of the work of this renowned artist, who was born in the city.
A little further away from the city centre, the cascading gardens with Summer Houses and rocaille decoration, at the Vila Flor Palace and Cultural Centre, are well worth a visit; as is the Baroque Church of Nossa Senhora da Consolação e dos Santos Passos at the far end of Largo da República do Brasil.
For another view of the city you can go up in the cable car to Monte da Penha, to enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas in the north of Portugal, where you will find the Shrine of Our Lady of Penha.
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7. Vila do Conde
A quiet city that gained in importance and increased its prosperity as a ship-building yard at the time of the Maritime Discoveries.
The sea has always had a major influence on the life of the local inhabitants, inspiring the motifs used in the famous bobbin lace that has been produced here at least since the seventeenth century. Later, the techniques and knowledge of this remarkable art spread all along the rest of the northern coast of Portugal as far as Galicia itself, and some of its beautiful products can be appreciated at the local Lace Museum.
The important role played by handicraft in the life of this city is not limited to its lace-work, however, for each year in July / August, Vila do Conde plays host to the National Handicraft Fair, one of the most important events of this kind in Portugal.
Capital and gateway to the northern region, Porto is an ancient city that gave its name to Portugal and a wine known in the four corners of the world… Port Wine.
With a magnificent location next to the mouth of the Douro and an architectural complex of exceptional value, the historic center of Porto has been a World Heritage Site since 1996. It is the capital of the North and the 2nd biggest city of the country; its enterprising population, with a marked mercantile vocation, has always asserted its will against impositions and invaders, which is why Porto is also known as the undefeated City - Cidade Invicta.
In addition to its patrimonial value, it is interesting to discover in Porto its strong city personality and its very unique human character.
To get to know the city better, it is advisable to walk around it slowly and admire the typical houses and granite monuments, take a tram ride along the riverside or take a boat trip under the six bridges, enjoying a different perspective. I suggest two itineraries, different proposals for two days of sightseeing, which seek to highlight the impressive contrasts that the city offers. The "Baixa" - Downtown of Porto, with its pulse of city life, movement, intense commerce, its peculiar expression that combines the atmosphere of a Nordic and mercantile city with the spiritual and intense baroque. In contrast, in Parque de Serralves, you will find the modernity of the building that houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the romantic and bucolic atmosphere of a leafy park.
9. Vila Nova de Gaia
Standing on the left bank of the River Douro, this city had been inhabited since very remote times, although it was not until the eighteenth century that Gaia was to gain its present-day prosperity with the building of the Port Wine Lodges.
It was here that the wine was brought by the barcos rabelos and left to age in the cellars until it had acquired the particular qualities that have since made it famous world-wide. It is impossible to come to the city without taking the time to pay a visit to one of the many wine lodges along the banks of the river in order to discover more about this truly unique wine and enjoy the opportunity to appreciate its different varieties.
Amongst the architectural heritage of Gaia one may highlight the monastery of Serra do Pilar, whose privileged setting has resulted in its being used as a fortress, and from where visitors can enjoy one of the most spectacular views of the city of Porto.
The capital of the Ria, a vast lagoon where the freshwater of the River Vouga joins with the sea, Aveiro is intersected by canals, genuine streets of water, along which can be seen gliding the brightly coloured boats known as barcos moliceiros. Originally founded in the time of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Aveiro is now one of the most interesting cities on the Portuguese coast.
Due to the large numbers of web-footed birds that once inhabited this lagoon area, the city's first name was Aviarium.
D. João I (1383-1433) gave Aveiro to his son, Prince Pedro, who ordered the city's first walls to be built, although these have since disappeared. Later, D. João II (1481-1495), gave the city to his sister, Princess Joana, a lay sister at the Convento de Jesus, which now houses the Museu de Aveiro.
In the 16th century, the development of the salt industry, agriculture and fishing and the first cod-fishing expeditions to the distant Newfoundland in 1501 brought Aveiro a period of great prosperity, which led to its being awarded a charter by D. Manuel I in 1515.
However, in the winter of 1575, heavy storms destroyed the deep channel that had once linked the Ria to the sea, this was where the great ocean-going vessels would dock in Aveiro thereby destroying the maritime trade, fishing and salting businesses.
Barra Nova was built in the 19th century. Being opened to the ocean in 1808, it gave rise to the formation of a wide channel measuring roughly 264 metres across and about 4 to 6 metres deep. This channel opened the Ria to the sea and restored the source of the region's life and its very survival.
The Ria is linked to Aveiro via three canals: the Canal das Pirâmides (marked at its entrance by two stone pyramids), which extends into the Canal Central, the Canal de São Roque, which marks the limits of the city to the north-west and separates it from the salt-pans; and the Canal dos Santos Mártires (or the Canal do Paraíso) which leads to the south-west.
Using the Canal Central as the city's main axis, I suggest two tours of Aveiro:
- On the Left Bank, begin by admiring the graceful Art Nouveau buildings, which are beautifully reflected in the canal, stroll through the Mercado do Peixe (Fish Market), wander around the Beira Mar district and along the canal banks and savour the gentle sea breeze.
- On the Right Bank, visit the city museum housed in the Convento de Jesus. Monuments and churches, as well as the hustle and bustle of city life taking place under the diffuse light of the Ria, all add to the charm of this coastal city.
Evidently, all visitors will also want to discover more about the Ria de Aveiro. The two suggested itineraries will introduce you to the labyrinth of canals, the white sand dunes by the sea and the vast expanses of salt-marshes with their pyramids of white salt.
If you enjoy nature trekking, the Reserva Natural das Dunas de São Jacinto is truly irresistible.
With a privileged geographical situation and excellent accessibility, the municipality of Mealhada is, without a doubt, the most precious jewel in the Bairrada Region. Its agricultural landscape is defined by the extensive vineyards that have given it the deserved prominent place, for many decades, in the Demarcated Wine Region of Bairrada and by the majestic Mata Nacional do Bussaco.
Mealhada is also closely linked to gastronomy – which gained new momentum with the launch of the project “Àgua | Pão | Vinho | Leitão. The 4 Wonders of Mesa da Mealhada”, a strong brand created by the Municipality in 2007, which reinforced the positioning of these gastronomic products and distinguished those that guarantee authenticity, tradition and quality.
Of its typical dishes, the fantastic Roasted Piglet stands out, the famous Mealhada bread, still baked in wood ovens, but also Chanfana and associated dishes, such as degalos, ensopado or minced meat. The tasting of such a princely repast must be accompanied by Bairrada Wines, which should not be forgotten, to exalt the “king piglet” and the “bubbly” natural sparkling wine.
The romantic Mata do Bussaco, with an unrivaled secular forest that surrounds the Monastery of Carmelitas Descalços and its Palace Hotel, ex-libris of the municipality, which provide moments of true emotion in each of the its most enchanted corners and are an open door to the countless challenges of nature tourism.
The county is also historically associated with thermalism and the Termas de Luso. Completely renovated, the differentiating facilities of Termas de Luso bring a new dynamic to national thermalism through an innovative concept of Medical Spa, supported by three complementary valences: Thermalism, Thermal Spa and Medical Centre. Surrounded by the indescribable beauty of the Serra do Bussaco, with its centuries-old trees and the welcoming hotel offer, they allow the recovery of the perfect balance between Body, Mind and Soul.
Complementing this experience is the permanent cultural offer that exists in the municipality. Culture assumes an unavoidable importance and constitutes itself as an aggregating element and enhancer of the countless local dynamics. The existing activities are numerous and take place throughout the year in the most varied corners of the county. From the well-known Luso-Brazilian Carnival, to FESTAME, passing through Meajazz to each of the gastronomy festivals that take place in the parish headquarters, passing through the countless parties, pilgrimages and ancestral festivities, live music performances at Cine Teatro Messias, conversations with authors, book launches, film cycles, exhibitions, workshops, conferences, historical recreations, the entertainment offer is a constant.
On the banks of the river Mondego, Coimbra is famous for its University, the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest in Europe, which over time has shaped its image to become "the city of students".
I begin this visit, precisely at the university founded in the 13th Century and which UNESCO has placed on its list of World Heritage sites, in a classification that also includes Rua da Sofia and the upper part of the city. It's well worth climbing its tower, which houses the bells that signal the start and end of classes, in order to appreciate the superb 360º view of Coimbra. But there is much to see at ground level, too: the Pátio das Escolas courtyard, the Sala dos Capelos hall where the most important ceremonies are held, the Chapel of São Miguel with an imposing Baroque organ and the Joanine Library, which has more than 300,000 works dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries arranged in beautiful gilt-covered bookcases. The buildings occupy the place of the Palace where the first Kings of Portugal lived, when they made the city the capital of the kingdom.
There are several monuments from those times that display the splendour of Romanesque art. In the shopping area and area of historic cafés in the City Centre, visitors really must see the Monastery of Santa Cruz, which houses the tomb of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, and on the other bank, the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, recovered and rescued from the waters of the river that invaded it over the centuries. The Sé Velha (Old Cathedral), too, on whose steps the monumental serenade takes place in which students dressed in black capes sing the Coimbra Fado with heartfelt emotion. This is one of the events in the Queima das Fitas ritual (Burning of the Ribbons) every May, in which newly graduated students celebrate the completion of their course, at a very colourful party. This liveliness is felt throughout the year, however, in the many pubs, restaurants and “Repúblicas” (student residences), examples of community life.
But there is much more to see. The Machado de Castro National Museum contains the Roman Cryptoporticus among a collection of great value that introduces you to the history of the city. There are many gardens not to be missed, too, such as those at Choupal, those at Quinta das Lágrimas, the setting for the story of D. Pedro and Inês de Castro, and the Botanical Gardens. Children (of all ages) will love Portugal dos Pequenitos (Portugal for the Little Ones), a park that reproduces the main Portuguese monuments on a miniature scale.
Coimbra is not only about tradition; it also has modern buildings that are worth knowing, such as the University’s Campus II, the Pedro and Ines Footbridge, the Centro de Portugal Pavilion in the Parque Verde do Mondego. And to get a different perspective of the whole city I recommend a boat trip on the River Mondego.
According to fado sung by the students, “Coimbra has more charm in the hour of parting”, but maybe it will not be necessary to wait for that to find out.
13. Figueira da Foz
Figueira da Foz, so called because it is located at the mouth of the Mondego River, is one of the main summer resorts in the central region. Cosmopolitan and full of life, it has gained importance since the end of the 20th Century in which "going to the baths in Figueira" was a habit among the aristocracy of Central Portugal.
Figueira da Foz has a wide range of hotels, a casino founded in 1900 and an excellent beach that has a huge sandy area and offers the ideal conditions for the practice of water sports, with sailing and powerboat championships taking place here.
In the vicinity, it is worth going up Serra da Boa Viagem and enjoying the panorama from the Miradouro da Vela, where you can appreciate the city and the Salinas do Mondego, and on days with good visibility you can glimpse the seafront to the Berlengas Islands.
Nazaré beach, with a mild climate and natural beauty, has one of the oldest traditions in Portugal linked to fishing.
The long sandy beach in the shape of a crescent, which is also the seafront of the city, is known for its grandeur and for the brightly colored awnings that decorate the white sand beach in contrast to the blue of the water.
This is the beach in Portugal where fishing traditions are most colorful and it is not uncommon to come across fishmongers who still wear their seven skirts, as tradition dictates. On a late Saturday afternoon in the summer months, it is essential to sit on the sea wall and watch the interesting show of "Arte Xávega", in which nets loaded with fish arrive from the sea and women shout their sales cries. If you don't understand the words exactly, it's nothing to worry about. These are codes that often only they know.
Facing the sea, on the right side, you will see an impressive promontory. This is Sítio, where we have one of the best known panoramic views of the Portuguese coast. There are 318 meters of rock falling straight down to the sea, which can be reached on foot, for the bravest, or by taking the lift. At the top, we find the small Chapel of Memory, where the legend is told of the miracle that Our Lady performed preventing the horse of a nobleman, D. Fuas Roupinho, from throwing himself over the precipice. True or not, the Suberco Viewpoint shows the sign left on the rock by the horseshoe on that foggy morning of 1182. At Sítio, you can also visit the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré and not far away, the Museum Dr. Joaquim Manso for more details about Nazarene traditions.
From Sítio and with time for a walk, crossing Pedralva Park, you will arrive at Pederneira, a natural viewpoint with an unmissable view over the coast of Nazaré.
Currently, the great attraction of this city is the waves and surfing, thanks to the “Cannon da Nazaré”, an underwater geomorphological phenomenon that allows the formation of giant and perfect waves. It is the largest submerged gorge in Europe, with around 170 kilometers along the coast, which reaches a depth of 5000 meters.
Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara gave him worldwide visibility when, in 2011, he made the biggest wave in the world on a sandy bottom, with about 30 meters, at Praia do Norte, winning the Billabong XXL Global BigWave Awards and breaking a record from the Guinness Book. Like him, surfers from all over the world visit Nazaré every year to venture into the sea, especially during the winter. Between November and March, we patiently wait for the biggest waves to reveal themselves, during a long stage of the world championship of giant waves, the Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge. On the beach, sunbathing is also appreciated and there is an excellent audience to appreciate the feats of these young people.
To get to know Nazaré, you can't do without a relaxed walk through the narrow streets, perpendicular to the beach, and a break in one of the restaurants to enjoy a fresh seafood dish, grilled fish or an appetizing stew. And at dusk, there's nothing like enjoying the setting sun on any terrace overlooking the sea, while the lights come on and night falls.
The beautiful village of Óbidos, with white houses adorned with bougainvillea and honeysuckle, was conquered from the Moors by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, in 1148. Later, D. Dinis donated it to his wife, Queen Santa Isabel. From then until 1883, the town of Óbidos and the land around it always belonged to the queens of Portugal.
Surrounded by a belt of medieval walls and crowned by the Moorish castle rebuilt by D. Dinis, which today is a guest house, Óbidos is one of the most perfect examples of our medieval fortress. As in ancient times, the entrance is through the south door, of Santa Maria, embellished with decoration of 17th century tiles.
Inside the walls, which take on a golden hue under the setting sun, one breathes a cheerful medieval atmosphere made up of winding streets, old whitewashed houses with blue or yellow painted corners, Manueline bays and windows, reminding us that D. Manuel I (16th century) made great works here, with many colorful flowers and plants.
Be sure to visit the Igreja Matriz de Santa Maria, the beautiful chapel of São Martinho and, outside the walls, the Igreja do Senhor da Pedra.
Of the events that take place annually in Óbidos, the Holy Week Festivities (in which the steps of the Via Sacra are recreated), the Ancient Music Festival, in October and, for those with a sweet tooth, the International Chocolate Festival, in March, which is part of an international competition where the recipes are evaluated by an international jury of specialists.
A beautiful village at the foot of the Serra of the same name, its unique characteristics made UNESCO, when classifying it as a world heritage, forced to create a specific category for the purpose - that of "cultural landscape" - which, in this way, considers both the natural wealth such as the heritage built in the village and in the mountains. The Serra with lush vegetation, is inserted in the Sintra - Cascais Natural Park.
Since very ancient times, Sintra has been the chosen place for the settlement of various peoples who passed through the Iberian Peninsula and here left traces of their presence, many of which are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Odrinhas, nearby.
In the 12th Century, the 1st King of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, conquered the Moorish Castle and later his successors, on the remains of an Arab palace, built their resting place here, the Palácio da Vila. Here, many Arab reminiscences are still preserved, namely the tiles, patios and fountains. Its physiognomy is however marked by the two huge conical chimneys built in the Middle Ages, today the ex-libris of Sintra.
It has always been very much appreciated by kings and nobles, exalted by writers and poets of which Lord Byron is an unavoidable example who called it the glorious Eden. Sintra has a rich collection of chalets and farms, some of which currently offer accommodation in the form of Rural Tourism or Residential.
Also noteworthy are palaces such as Pena, built in the Romantic era on one of the peaks of the Serra, Seteais, from the 17th Century, today converted into an elegant Hotel, and Monserrate, famous for its beautiful gardens that have unique exotic species in the country.
A special reference deserves Sintra's confectionery, namely the pillows and the famous queijadas which, according to references in ancient documents, were already made in the 17th Century and were part of the list of payments of fees.
Nearby, the beaches (Maçãs, Praia Grande, Adraga), Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe, Colares, which gives its name to a demarcated wine region, and the picturesque village of Azenhas do Mar, embedded in a cliff, deserve special mention.
Situated close to the sea and traditionally a fishing village, Cascais enjoyed an important period of development in the 14th century, when it was a major stopping off point for boats on their way to Lisbon, turning it into a very busy port at that time.
It was, however, in the second half of the 19th century, when sea bathing became a popular activity, that Cascais was given the impetus that transformed it into a very fashionable summer resort. The great driving force behind this transformation was the king of Portugal, Dom Luís I, who, in 1870, converted the Fortaleza da Cidadela into the summer residence of the Portuguese monarchy. The king's example was immediately copied by the nobility, who built palaces and extremely beautiful villas in the town, where they spent the hottest season of the year, completely transforming the appearance of the former fishing village.
Cascais also began to attract the attention of the curious, who came here to enjoy a stroll by the seaside, and access to the town was greatly facilitated by the opening of the railway line between Pedrouços and Cascais in 1889. Nowadays, Cascais is a very lively and cosmopolitan town that still preserves a great deal of its earlier aristocratic atmosphere.
Particularly recommended is a stroll through its streets, where you will find shops of the highest quality, or perhaps you might prefer to enjoy a few moments rest at one of the many outdoor cafés and restaurants scattered about the town. The beaches continue to be one of Cascais greatest attractions, and it is possible to choose from amongst those that are situated in the town's sheltered bay or those a little further away in the area around Guincho, (already forming part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park), where there are excellent conditions for surfing and windsurfing. The Boca do Inferno (literally the Jaws of Hell), an inlet along the coast that is surrounded by steep rocks and caves, continues to be a natural curiosity attracting many thousands of visitors to marvel at the brute strength of the sea.
A special mention is reserved for the local cuisine, especially the fresh fish and shellfish dishes that are served here and which can be enjoyed in the region's many restaurants.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and the center of a multifaceted region that appeals to different tastes and senses.
In a city that has received many different cultures from far away places over time, even today you can feel the breath of a village in each historic district. We can walk through the grid of streets of Baixa Pombalina that opens onto the Tagus at Praça do Comércio and, following the river, discover some of the most beautiful places in the city: the monumental area of Belém with World Heritage monuments, medieval neighborhoods, and also more recent or contemporary leisure facilities, such as Parque das Nações or the Docks.
Continuing along the mouth of the river, we will understand why Lisbon is said to be the center of a vast resort. Along the coastal road, we will visit beaches and seaside resorts that combine villas and hotels from the beginning of the 20th Century with marinas, terraces and modern sports facilities, with particular emphasis on golf and recreational boating. Following the coast we will find world-renowned surfing spots, but also the palaces scattered throughout the cultural landscape of Sintra World Heritage.
Both north and south of the capital, the wide variety of landscapes and heritage is always within walking distance. With beaches, natural parks, cultural routes and accommodation for all tastes, it is difficult to escape the Lisbon region on a visit to Portugal.
Fado is another Portuguese expression also elevated to World Heritage. Therefore, dining in a fado house will be another experience not to be missed. And then we still get together in lively bars and clubs, where we celebrate the arrival of those who visit us with a glass.
Before the term slow travel started trending, Portugal’s Alentejo region, about 80 miles southeast of Lisbon, was already the unintentional poster child of the phenomenon. Historically, Portuguese vacationers have looked to the area’s rolling vineyards, cork farms, and seemingly endless coastline for low-key summer holidays. It was a place where time—and the locals, as the joke goes—moved slowly. But eventually, the rest of the world figured out that Alentejo’s charming hamlets and sparsely populated beaches made for understatedly fabulous getaways. First, there was the picturesque coastal town of Comporta, which global surf and sun seekers began descending upon a decade ago. Today, rolling rice fields and azure waters surround sleek hotels, modernist villas, and restaurants from big-name chefs, while the pilgrims have moved on to Melides, Comporta’s still-unassuming neighbor to the south.
You come to this little village, sandwiched between the wild hills of Serra de Grândola and the crashing waves of the Atlantic, for the nature—specifically the beaches, like the wide, golden-sanded Praia de Melides, which is blissfully free of packed clubs and isn’t yet overrun with bars. In town, social life revolves around the mom-and-pop restaurants lining the main cobblestone square, like O Melidense, where garlicky bowls of clams tossed with parsley and crispy-fried whole sardines are served alongside tart tomato rice. It’s easy to imagine you’ve stumbled on the last undiscovered stretch of coast in all of Southern Europe.
In fact, the area isn't so undiscovered. In recent years, notables like designer Philippe Starck and architect Vincent Van Duysen have fallen hard for Melides’s untamed beauty and distinct tranquility, bought homes here, and become locals. The quiet influx of high-profile residents is largely the doing of Portuguese real estate developers building quality residential complexes and creative communities all in harmony with natural landscape.
The latest evidence of Melides’s transformation is the arrival of new developments set among cork; pine and olive trees, with angular and minimalist homes with a promise to deliver on the Alentejo daydream of doing very little in a very pretty setting. Next year, fashion designer Christian Louboutin’s, the red shoe guy, long-rumored Hotel Vermelho will finally open in the heart of the village with an on-site restaurant that promises to be the region’s next dining destination. Several other low-slung and family-friendly hotels in Comporta, are expanding to Melides in 2023, with new hotel outposts and separate beach clubs on Praia do Pinheirinho, followed by other resorts surrounded by olive groves. These developments will surely change the kind of place Melides is, but for now, change is happening just slowly enough for it to feel authentically Alentejo.
Évora, is a city that is a Portuguese art history book!!!
To visit it, the best way to do it is on foot, walking through the narrow streets, with white houses, to discover the monuments and details that reveal the history of Évora and the richness of its heritage.
Due to its peaceful and welcoming atmosphere, it will be easy to understand why this city, which originated in Roman times, was chosen by the kings of Portugal in the 16th Century to live, a fact that contributed to the development and cultural importance that it had in the following centuries. In fact, it was its long history, and the fact that it has preserved a representative urban complex from the 16th to the 18th Centuries until today, which led UNESCO to classify Évora as a World Heritage Site.
An itinerary suggestion…
To begin with, Praça do Giraldo...
It is the heart of the city and a meeting point par excellence, with cafes, terraces, shops and the tourist office. At one end is the Church of Santo Antão and the marble fountain with 8 spouts, representing the 8 streets that lead there.
Starting from the arcades in Praça do Giraldo, take a first tour of the main points of interest: the Temple and the Roman baths, the medieval walls, the Cathedral, the Church of Graça and the Church of São Francisco, with its curious Chapel of Bones .
If there is time, be sure to include the Museum of Évora, the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, and the old University, founded in the 16th Century, one of the reasons for the young and relaxed spirit that we find in Évora. It is also worth strolling through the romantic Garden where the Palace of D. Manuel is located and visiting the Hermitage of São Brás, already outside the walls.
Whether for cultural reasons or to spend a quiet weekend, Évora is an inspiring city with a lot to discover. Outside the city, it is best to follow the back roads to enjoy the Alentejo landscape. If you like archaeology, take the EN114 towards Guadalupe and discover, 3 km away, the Almendres Cromlech, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula. There are 95 monoliths, thousands of years old and with a purpose yet to be discovered.
The Cathedral Tower and the Temple are true ex-libris of the city and will certainly be part of the photo album. The Torre da Sé is easily recognizable for its particular shape, a combination of conical towers that are unusual in Portuguese architecture. In the middle of the city, it can be a good guide to see where you are. Also know that the Sé de Évora is the largest medieval cathedral in the country.
Very close by, in Conde Vila Flor square, stands out the great Temple of Roman origin, symbol of the imperial cult, which for centuries was thought to be dedicated to the Goddess Diana.
21. The Algarve Region
When it comes to amenities, the entire Algarve is your oyster, with all of it in easy reach. The main A22 motorway is a few minutes away, as is Fuseta train station, which serves almost the whole width of the region. This is a Region that feels tucked away but is actually extremely well connected.
It was from here that the Portuguese left to meet other peoples and cultures in the 15th century... and it is in the Algarve that we receive most of those who visit us, always in a good mood. Even in the climate, mild and with lots of sun throughout the year!!!
And also with excellent quality beaches. Sands as far as the eye can see, limited by golden cliffs, almost deserted islands that mark the border between the Ria Formosa and the sea, or small bays, snuggled by the rocks. The ocean in all shades of blue, almost always calm and warm, invites you to take a long bath and practice water sports.
There is still the mountain range. Where people live in harmony with Nature and maintain traditions that they like to share. And the cities. Silves preserves traces of the Arab past and Lagos from the Age of Discovery. More cosmopolitan, Portimão and Albufeira live day and night full of animation. Faro is the gateway to the region and Tavira is a showcase of traditional architecture.
To relax, many internationally awarded golf courses in Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo. Vilamoura, with its world class Marina was elected Best International Marina in 2022.
Or various types of treatments in the spas and thalassotherapy centers and in the Termas de Monchique. And hotels, villages, resorts, from the simplest to the most sophisticated. A varied panoply that has in common a genuine taste for hospitality.
Trails to follow on foot or by bicycle make the region known, such as the Via Algarviana through the interior or the Rota Vicentina through one of the best preserved stretches of coast in Europe. And boat trips are another ecological way to observe the fauna and flora.
At the table, fresh fish and shellfish stand out, grilled or in cataplanas. And the almond and fig sweets… or the bitter almond liqueur and medronho brandy. They are like a bit of the Algarve sun that we can bring with us.
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22. Madeira Island
Dreaming of having a holiday on an island is very close to the idea of paradise, and for those who have this motivation in mind when it comes to deciding, the archipelago of Madeira is a destination not to be missed.
Madeira, 600 years after being discovered by the Portuguese, the archipelago continues to amaze people who visit it. It has consistently been ranked the best island destination by the World Travel Awards (Worlds Leading Island Destination since 2015, a fact justified by its characteristics and its first-rate tourism services.
The year-round mild temperature, the natural beauty, the luxuriant vegetation of Madeira and the extensive beaches of golden sand of Porto Santo are great attractions that let you enjoy many outdoor activities.
Go for nature walks along the levadas, visit an ancient laurissilva [laurel] forest that is a World Heritage Site, learn about the cultural heritage, enjoy the sun and sea on the beaches and in natural pools, play golf or take part in health and wellness programmes - these are some of the options that make for a perfect holiday.
Throughout the year, there are some events that are also opportunities to enjoy the cuisine and see Madeira in festive mood: the Carnival parades, the Flower Festival, the Atlantic Festival and, above all, the end-of-year fireworks display which takes place across the island and is best seen from the sea; this show is greatly appreciated by visitors from around the world.
23. Azores Islands
In the blue immensity of the Atlantic, Mother Nature created a land full of natural beauty and ready to be explored… The Azores Archipelago!!!
To the east, on the island of Santa Maria, the beaches are warm and white-sand, and the vineyards that cover the slopes in an amphitheater resemble stairways for giants. São Miguel, the largest island, enchants with its Lagoas das Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. The strength that the earth emanates can be felt in the geysers, in the hot thermal waters and in the volcanic lakes, as well as in the tasty “Cozido das Furnas” slowly cooked inside the earth.
In the Central Group, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa Islands are harmoniously arranged in the blue sea where whales and dolphins lurk, delighting visitors. Terceira speaks of history in Angra do Heroísmo, classified as World Heritage, and also in its festivities. Faial is the fresh blue of the hydrangeas, the marina colored by the paintings of yachtsmen from all over the world and the Capelinhos volcano which, now extinct, resembles a lunar landscape. Opposite, Pico, the mountain that rises from the sea with its vineyards planted in black fields of lava. In São Jorge, the highlight goes to the Fajãs and their cheese, a unique specialty with an unmistakable flavour. Graceful in name and appearance, this green island has fields covered with vines that contrast with its peculiar windmills.
In the Western group, on Flores Island, we are dazzled by the beauty of natural waterfalls and lagoons excavated by volcanoes. Corvo, the miniature island, has a large and beautiful caldera at its center and attracts several species of birds from not only the European continent but also the American continent.
These are the Azores. Nine islands, nine small worlds, which have as much in common as they are different, but where the friendliness of its inhabitants is shared by all.
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