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Pick one region from the map or from the list and start exploring!
The region around the capital of Portugal is an exciting destination that can just by itself keep you busy for a week. Besides the city of Lisbon, with its vibrant light and colours, hilly landscape and the memories of a glorious sea-faring past, you will also find here the magical town of Sintra, that served as the old kingdom’s royals’ favourite summer retreat; the quaint seaside resorts of Cascais and Estoril; the surfing hotspots of Ericeira and Guincho; the breathtaking landscapes of Cabo da Roca promontory and Arrábida mountains; and the great wines of Colares and the Setúbal Peninsula. Find out more.
This region has developed around the outlet of the River Douro, and it has historically been a hotspot of entrepreneurial activity, from international trade to crafts and industry. Porto (Oporto in the english fashion) is a historic city, the second largest of Portugal, with a variety of picturesque settings, from its maze of narrow worn-out cobblestone streets in the ancient Ribeira quarter by the river front, through the grandeur of the upper city’s Trindade district. Departing the city, a variety or river cruises are available for those seeking a different perspective. Across the river, Vila Nova de Gaia hosts the rich heritage of the Port Wine trade, as seen on the multitude of cellars that are a major tourist attraction. Nature lovers and hikers are also treated with great points of interest, such as the impressive walkways of the river Paiva valley, in the Arouca municipality. Find out more.
This area is defined by the wine region of the Douro river valley, to the south, and the highlands of the Trás-os-Montes region to the north, as well as the Spanish border to the East. Steep hill slopes laboriously sculpted into spectacular terraces with vineyards exposed to the sun are the trademark of the Douro valley, where wine has been king for centuries. This region has grown in popularity among travellers over the past few years and the level of accommodation and restaurants has been greatly elevated too. Navigating the Douro river, or driving along its shores is an absolute delight for the senses and an experience that shouldn’t be missed. To the north, the rural highlands hold many riches. Since classic antiquity, gold has been extracted from these highlands. Nowadays locals toil for a different kind of treasure, the “green gold” — fine olive oil. But also almonds and honey, that are produced here as a labour of love by the people who are keen to preserve their mysterious folk traditions. Find out more.
Drive 20 minutes north of Lisboa and you’ll find yourself already on the West region, an area that is heavily effected by the temperamental Atlantic coastal climate. This fertile region played a vital role in the expansion of the Portuguese kingdom during the 13th and 14th centuries, as catholic monastic orders took on the organisation of the territory, its inhabitants, defense, and farming. It was in this region that the defensive lines built by English and Portuguese military have defeated and repelled Napoleon’s invading armies in 1810. Nowadays, fishing and farming still play important roles in these communities, but the amount of travellers looking to visit landmarks such as Óbidos, Alcobaça, Batalha or Fátima mean that the region is now well equipped for tourism. And if you’re into surf, you surely won’t want to miss the fishing town of Nazaré, where its gigantic oceanic winter waves keep on attracting the bravest surfers on the planet. Find out more.
Portugal’s beach resort par excellence, the south-bound coast is lined with some of the prettiest beaches in Europe, which benefit from mild-tempered ocean waters, hot summers and mild winters, courtesy of the proximity with the Mediterranean and North Africa. Nowhere as in the Algarve the rich heritage of the Moors is so noticeable, from the architecture to the people, not to mention its gastronomy. Voted for several years as the world’s best golf destination, the Algarve is built for leisure, but there’s more to it than just its coastline. The mountains on the back end of the region offer great possibilities and lovely landscapes for hikers and nature lovers who appreciate taking a break from the often busy beachfront. Find out more.
Once called the “Green Coast”, owing to the predominant colour of the landscape, this region occupies the northwestern corner of the country and was the birthplace of the kingdom of Portugal in the 12th Century. It’s an incredibly versatile region, where people, nature, food and wine converge for a memorable experience to the visitor. The natural park of Peneda-Gerês is a source of year-round beauty for the nature lover. This region is proud of its traditions, that can be experienced in places like Braga, Guimarães, Viana do Castelo, Barcelos, Valença, Monção, among others. This is also the home of the elegant “Vinho Verde” (Green Wine) that complements what is arguably the country’s richest gastronomic palette. No visit to the north of Portugal is complete without spending some time in Minho. Find out more.
Perhaps one of the lesser-known regions for those just starting to learn about Portugal, this area stretches from the south of the Douro Valley into the mountainous region of Serra da Estrela, the highest point of continental Portugal. This is a place of rough natural beauty, where throughout history men and women had to work hard to find any suitable stretch of arable land and pasture among the harsh landscapes of granite and shale. This was also a frontier territory often fiercely disputed between Portugal and the Spanish kingdoms, as attested by the remains of numerous medieval castles in the region. Perhaps the country’s most authentic and unspoilt region, with character, generous people and delicious homey cuisine, chestnuts, cherries and wine (the important wine region of Dão is here), and something interesting to see in every little village along the way make the visit to this region a worthwhile surprise. Find out more.
Occupying the central portion of coastal Portugal, the main references of this region are the cities of Aveiro, to the north, Leiria, to the south, and, at the heart of it, the historic city of Coimbra, Portugal’s second capital, home of one of the oldest universities in Europe and where the traditional elites of Portugal have been educated. In this diversified region, secular forests, curative springs, and long sandy beaches meet priceless treasures of architecture and history, together with fine crafts of porcelain and crystal. Renowed by its sweets, the gastronomy here is split between robust meats and fresh fish, while the wines of Bairrada area are getting more and more attention. The region is worthwhile a visit on its own, or if you’re travelling between Lisboa and Porto, at least worth spending some time here. Find out more.
Before meeting the Atlantic Ocean in Lisboa, the Tejo River — the longest in the Iberian Peninsula — crosses Portugal from East to West, creating a large hydrographic basin. This geographic barrier has historically divided north and south of Portugal, and determined the life of the populations that settled along its wide, shallow fertile valley. This region is relatively close to Lisboa, and its dominated by the city of Santarém, often referred to as “the Gothic Capital of Portugal”. Many medieval era castles are a testimony of the days when this valley was a much disputed frontier territory between christians and moorish muslims. It was in Tomar that the Templar Knights made their headquarters in the kingdom, and later, when they were converted into the Company of Christ, their headquarters housed the coordination for the formidable Portuguese maritime expansion in the 15th century. Nowadays, agriculture, horse and cattle breeding are the main activities in this region where life certainly moves at a slower pace. Find out more.
The term “Alentejo” literally means the territory beyond (south) of the Tejo river. The northern half of that vast territory is what we call “Upper Alentejo”. Mostly a rural countryside, it is known for its plains and gentle rolling hills covered with wheat, lavender, cork and olive trees and vineyards. Here, human clusters are few and far between, and the landscape is punctuated by farm estates (locally known as “montes”) and property walls painted white and lined in vibrant blue or yellow colours. There’s no rush in Alentejo, as things get done in a slow paced fashion. Hence, this is the perfect spot for those looking for tranquility, open spaces, and a change of pace. The gastronomy in the Alentejo is rich and tasty, with some unusual combinations such as pork and clams. The wines produced in this region are famous and many local wineries are open to visitors. Much ornamental stone is extracted from marble quarries near the spanish border. The historical city of Évora and its surroundings is well worth the trip, but the region has more to offer if you’re willing to invest the time to explore around. Find out more.
The Lower Alentejo region continues the theme of the Upper Alentejo, with vast plains and rolling hills, but the weather here is even warmer and drier, making farming more challenging. The east side of this region benefits from the waters of the Guadiana River, where a huge artificial lake, the largest of its kind in Europe, called Alqueva, was created. This project is quietly revolutionising the farming and tourism in the region, as irrigation ducts start taking water to previously semi-desertic sun-baked terrains, allowing for new farming projects other than the more traditional cattle breeding or cork production; and the lake allows for great boat trips, watersports and fishing. Near Castro Verde is located one of the largest copper and zinc mining operations in Europe. However, the main city of the region is Beja, which has been a relevant settlement since the Roman empire, when it was known as “Pax Julia”. Beja has a rich historical patrimony; with its own international airport, this region has an enormous potential for growth. Great wines and olive oil are being produced around here, and the producers are eager to show their products to visitors. Find out more.
Stretching 150 kms from the Tróia peninsula to the western shores of the Algarve, the coast of Alentejo is a paradise of sprawling sandy wild beaches that haven’t been discovered by mass tourism yet. With scarce population density and few top quality resorts, this coast is dominated by Sines, Portugal’s largest harbour and petrochemical industrial complex. Away from the main highways, the coast awaits the visit of those with an acute sense of pioneering curiosity. Some of its beaches aren’t even accessible by car! The coastline is punctuated by small villages who warmly welcome visitors and there’s always a cozy simple restaurant by the seaside serving fresh catch of the day. Many trails for hikers and all-terrain cyclists follow the coastline, offering mesmerising views of the formidable Atlantic – including unforgettable sunsets. Find out more.
“The Pearl of the Atlantic” is how Madeira island has been known for a long time. Located southwest of mainland Portugal, and only 700 kms from the coast of west africa, these islands are blessed with a gentle climate all year round, making them an excellent travel destination for a short break of a few days. Porto Santo, the smaller island, is the fantastic sandy beach that Madeira can’t have, because this island of volcanic origin is like a massive rugged boulder sticking out of the ocean. But what a precious boulder it is! Owing to its geographic position and orography, the lush green sub-tropical vegetation of Madeira island, coupled with its dramatic slopes, is absolutely jaw-dropping. The island’s capital, Funchal, nested on the delta of several creeks, whose harbour is a favourite stop of many cruise liners, is a major attraction for its botanical gardens and the spectacular fireworks show on New Year’s eve. A paradise for experienced trail walkers, you shouldn’t miss the “levadas”, the man-made waterways that carry irrigation water from the north part of the island to the south, across the mountains. Find out more.
Born out of formidable forces of nature, the nine Azores Islands are the visible peaks of several submarine volcanic mountains rising from the ocean floor along the north Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Located West of mainland Portugal, these islands are about two hours flight from any mainland airport, but one can fly directly from north America as well. Shaped by the volcanos, the islands’ unique geological features originated many breathtaking dramatic landscapes of steep ridges, waterfalls and lagoons, that have challenged men and women to cultivate its rich black soil in some very creative and daring ways since the earlier settlers arrived in the 14th century. Positioned along migration routes of many maritime species, the Azores islands are a paradise for trail walkers, divers and whale-watchers; surfers are also starting to discover its potential. Dairy farming is the main activity here, but the islands are also known for its tea, pineapple and tobacco plantations. For something different, you must consider visiting the Azores islands! Find out more.