23 Nov 2017
Consider an affair of the Iberian kind in Portugal. A good neighbour of Spain, Portugal offers a breathtaking line-up of places to see and things to do. This little corner of Europe has also left an indelible impression on the world. There are no less than thirteen UNESCO World Heritage sites in Portugal. Offering a coastline of sun-kissed beaches studded with end-of-the-world cliffs, medieval castles, picture-perfect villages, flower and vine-covered hillsides, meandering rivers, some of Europe’s best golf courses, historical cities, amazing food and drink and an array of accommodation options, Portugal leaves even seasoned travellers a longing to return.
Perhaps most well-known is lively capital, Lisbon and its northern sibling, Porto. Both cities offer an enticing urban life, with bohemian cafes, enticing restaurants, magnet-like shops, stylish clubs, fine hotels and lively streets intersected by trams and broad plazas. At the mouth of the River Douro, hilly Porto from where the good drink Port derived its name, presents the visitor with cobbled medieval alleyways, baroque churches and port lodges.
The Douro Valley offers breathtaking vistas with hills falling steeply down to the banks of the River Douro. The world’s first demarcated wine region (est. 1756), its best appreciated aboard a relaxing week-long Douro river cruise – a byword for relaxation. Many cruises also visit the Spanish city of Salamanca, home to one of the oldest universities on the planet.
Smaller towns offer their own enchantment. Evora, once residence of the Portuguese kings is dotted with museums. Sintra with its Romantic architecture was a favourite of Lord Byron, and remains a popular day trip from Lisbon. Braga is a lively university town with a magnificent cathedral. Coimbra – Portugal’s Oxford offers marvellous Roman ruins nearby. Historical Guimaraes is considered the cradle of Portugal and offers many cultural riches.
For active types, Peneda Geres National Park is carpeted with pine forests, crossed with idyllic rivers and ripe for hiking. And, the famous Algarve is dotted with beach towns including popular Lagos.
Beyond the mainland, you’ll find the unique tropical-like island of Madeira and the Azores.
And, on the final subject of tarts, it would be most sacrilegious not to hoe into a Portuguese custard tart. Known locally as a pastel de nata, this national desert features delicate and sweet baked custard encased in flaky pastry. Only the very restrained stop at one tart. Wash down with a vinho de Porto.