Bathed in all-year-round sunshine, soft sea breezes and natural aromas, and witnessing a coexistence of ancient relics and metropolitan liveliness, Portugal unfolds in a perfect harmony of tradition and modernity, history and nature. Moreover, the superb food and wines, extensive activities and hospitable people make it an attractive destination of the highest quality
Situated in the south-west tip of Europe, Portugal intimately leans to the Atlantic Ocean. River Tagus runs throughout the inland, with vast vineyards and olive groves spread on each side. Thanks to its mild climate, 3,000 hours of sunshine per year and 850 km of splendid beaches, Portugal is a perfect holiday destination all the year round.
Once, its forefathers set sail for unknown lands and made Portugal a strong maritime power. Several hundred years later, and its capital Lisbon has now turned into a modern metropolis, yet history still leaves its traces in every corner, from the mediaeval castles, Romanesque and Gothic buildings to the prehistoric rock fresco.
Tour the City
Stretching along the right bank of River Tagus, Lisbon is the hub of a multifaceted region that appeals to different tastes and senses. Start your journey by getting on the symbolic yellow tram of olden days to cross the city or get off at any stop to visit one of the museums and galleries. The jacaranda growing at Carmo Square shows gentle vitality and from the cafes along Alfama streets flow Fado melodies. If you happen to stop at Chiado, you will meet groups of young people, artists and scholars, normally gathering at cafes, institutes or theaters. Walk along the river past a complex of historic buildings, and you will surprisingly find yourself in Belém, the starting point of Vasco da Gama’s sea travels of Discovery. The ancient Belem Tower grandly stands by the sea, a reminder of the nation’s glorious past. Follow the river to its estuary, and you may lucky enough to encounter the legendary flamingos, as well as breathtaking views of mountains and sea. Arrabida Natural Park is located nearby, offering not only natural beauty but also plenty of adventure programs. Forty-six kilometers away is the Cape Roca, the true end of Europe continent. If you set off from Lisbon in the afternoon, then most possibly you can catch up with the most amazing sunset on the Cape Roca, a cliff 150 meters high.
Porto is another city that you should never miss. It is here that Portugal was founded in the 12th century and the Portuguese became a people and a nation. Porto, a World Heritage city, boasts diversified landscapes and cultural traditions. Start your journey from Rail Station Sao Bento where glaze paintings depict splendid historic scenes. Then cruise on the Douro River to amaze at the old houses on each bank. Time seems to have stood still and leads you back to the past. Visit the Serralves Museum, Casa da Música, or one of three most beautiful bookstores in the world – Lello to complete your discovery.
Sunshine and Beaches
There are numerous beaches in Portugal. Despite their many differences, the beaches do have something in common: their quality, demonstrated by the large number of EU blue flags awarded each year, certifying their excellent conditions and amenities.
The south regions enjoy special sunshine and warmer climate, making the beaches here more pleasant for travelers, whether taking a stroll or trying water activaties. The deep blue coastline of Alentejo features different types of beaches. Some are quieter, suitable for swimming while some others are best for surfing. Porto Covo and Vila Nova de Milfontes are most popular surfing spots in the region. There are also many unexplored beaches hidden amidst cliffs good for an adventure.
Move southward, and you will reach Algarve, the “Best Beach Destination” awarded by World Travel Awards, known as the Oscars in tourism. There are over 130 high-quality beaches with different characteristics in the region, covering 125 miles of coastline. The main features here are all-year-round warm and still waters, and unique limestone caves.
With the perennial marine corrosion and wind action, gorgeous cliffs, rock pillars and caves are formed on the sea coast of Algarve. Have a bird’s eye view of the endless ocean on the cliff and then step downstairs to the seaside. Just lie on the tender sand for a sun bath or go to explore the mysterious caves and small coves sheltered by the rocks. The most amazing ones are Marinha, Benagil and Albandeira Beach. These three neighboring beaches are set between Algarve’s capital Faro and the seaside town of Lagos.
Other popular options include Meia Beach, Rocha Beach in Lagos, Oura Beach in the lovely cliff town Albufeira, and Ria Formosa Natural Park. The seaside towns in Algarve are truly worth a visit. Apart from the wonderful scenery, there is a wide range of food and wines, hotels and hostels bathed in a natural and artful ambience.
Food and Wine in Portugal
During the 15th century, Prince Henry gave an order to the seamen that they should bring back the exotic fruits, nuts and plants from the places they sailed to. Therefore, the Age of Discovery exerts a profound influence on Portuguese cuisine.
Portuguese dishes are usually cooked with olive oil and fresh vanilla. Blessed by the Atlantic Ocean, there is an abundance of seafood here. It is said that the Salty Cod, regarded as the national dish, is cooked in as many as 365 ways in different regions of the country. The most commonly seen seafood dishes include roast sardine, sea bass, octopus, anchovy, swordfish, crab and lobster. People especially love Caldeirada (soup with various fish) and Arroz de marisco (seafood risotto). Besides seafood, there are also roast suckling pig, stewed pork and clam in wine, beef kebabs with garlic, roast chicken with chilli sauce, garlic and spice.
With its mystic recipe, the egg tart sold at Pastéis de Belém has never been surpassed since its opening in 1837. And the Portuguese keep making innovations. For example, the Pasteis de nata (egg tart with cinnamon) combines the creamy custard with the spicy fragrance of cinnamon, the taste of which will definitely linger on the tongue for a long time. Besides, the egg sponge cake can be found everywhere in the streets offering different flavors such as lemon, white wine, cinnamon and orange.
“See a country through a bottle of wine,” is a depiction created for Portugal. Wrapped in vast greens, blessed soil and climate, Minho is the origin of vinho verde (a mild flavored wine) which is the best partner for appetizers and seafood. The Dão wine produced in The Dão, an inland district surrounded by hills, is known for its perfect sourness, tannin and fruity flavor. Moving to the north is the splendid Rio Douro (Douro River), 80,000 acres of fertile terraces spread across the valleys composing breathtaking natural views of the area. The all-year-round sunshine and appropriate humidity contribute greatly to grape planting and wine brewing. The result is one of the most famous wines in the world – Porto Wine. The wine features a strong taste, and the mellow aroma of fruit and mineral substance. Every September when the grapes are harvested, local people immediately begin wine brewing. As the winter comes and temperatures decline, the wine are shipped to the wineries in Porto to be blended, barreled and stored in cellars. The brewers believe that the shipping across the river is of great significance because it is there that the wines get contact with the fresh air so that they can breathe in enough oxygen before being stored. This shipping tradition has continued for over 200 years. Travelers can enter the Douro Valley by the old style train passing along the Douro River. The Quinta Nova Luxury Winery House in the valley offers not only decent accommodation but also various wine themed activities. Every morning, you can go to the Winery’s vineyard to pick grapes and learn the knowledge of wine making. Feast later at Conceitus Winery Restaurant with authentic Portuguese dishes. In the afternoon, the guide will lead you to the valley where your total being will be embraced by gorgeous scenery and grape aroma.
Melody of Destiny – Fado
When the Europeans still held the illusion that their continent marked the end of the globe, the Portuguese bravely set off to explore the world beyond the ocean. They discovered new lands and brought back legends and treasure, however, at the expense of family separation or even loss of lives. Those who were left on the Iberian Peninsula missed their families desperately. Facing the stormy Atlantic Ocean, they infused their emotions in the melodies of Fado. In 1755, a catastrophic earthquake gave a destructive blow to the people in Lisbon and they transformed their pain with the tunes of Fado. However, Fado expresses not only deep sorrow, but also the ardent passion that Portuguese are born with.
Fado, meaning fate, is the soul of the Portuguese music that has been flowing on the air for over 150 years, integrating afflicting lamentation with deep longing. The essence of Fado is its evocative verses, together with musical elements of Gypsy and Africa. A Portuguese guitar, a classic guitar and a singer who sings with life and soul are everything that a Fado performance needs. You will meet it even though you don’t seek it on purpose, especially in Lisbon. Every evening, the plaintive and captivating voice of female singers flow out from bistros, cafes and clubs. If you want to explore the history of Fado one step further, you can visit the Museum of Fado in Alfama or attend a Fado concert in Chiado.
Saudade is a term indispensable to Fado, meaning longing of the soul.
Thalassotherapy and Thermal SPA
Thalassotherapy has gained increasing popularity in recent years. It is a powerful way to heal body and mind with beneficial elements from the sea. Gifted by the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal offers marvelous opportunities to experience Thalassotherapy. Sea water, sea salt, sea mud and alga are integrated into special treatments targeting different body conditions. You can also bath in sea water pools enriched with active elements and mineral traces. Further the relaxation with a body massage, aromatherapy, stone therapy, yoga or meditation. You will be left utmost harmony of body and soul.
There are specialist centers with modern equipment in various regions – Porto and the North, Central Portugal, Lisbon, Algarve and on the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo. Toning, moisturising and rejuvenating are some of the keywords that they share. Prainha Clube, located on the beach of Algarve, is one of the most time-honored wellness clubs in Portugal. The club features an exclusive Thalgo-Prainha thalassotherapy center, scientifically proved by Thalgo laboratory. The Tivoli Madeira is a luxurious 5-star hotel located in the heart of the tourist district of Funchal. With its Thalassothy’s Spa facilities, the hotel offers a range of program ideal for caring for the body and soul. Its Anti Stress Relaxation Program incorporates alga-therapy, waters-aesthetics and Sothys Digital Relaxation to guarantee an absolute feeling of comfort and well-being.
Besides the power of sea, Portugal also boasts unique thermal resources. Used for therapeutic purposes since Roman times, thermal waters are an infinite source of well-being. Rich in various kinds of mineral substances, they are effective to heal diseases related to respiration, digestion, kidney, metabolism and muscle & skeleton. Most famous hotels and resorts offer thermal spa treatments where you can indulge in a wide range of big names such as Sisley, Mandara, Caudalie, Six Senses, La Prairie and ESPA. Techniques of traditional and oriental medicine, massages, water treatments, aromatherapy and wine therapy are some of the ways they offer to help you restore a new self.
The Yeatman Hotel in Porto is the first wine themed luxury hotel in Portugal. It stands along the slopes by Douro River and enjoys a bird’s eye view of the city. Wellness experience is offered by Caudalie, the natural grape skincare and spa brand. You can try a whole body exfoliation with cabernet grapes or a bath in wine barrel. Rebuilt from a time-honored palace, the SPA do Vidago Palace boasts royal ambience and quality hot springs high in salinity and diverse in types. The essential oil used in the treatments are originated form the plants grown in the palace garden. In the middle region of Portugal, there are many excellent thermal bathing centers. Termas do Luso, set amidst Mountain Buçaco, was built in 1852. It is composed of three main sections, a mineral spring center, a thermal spa center and a medical center for cardiac and motor nerve rehabilitation. Fifteen kilometers away is the Termas da Curia. In addition to spa offerings, there are many recreational facilities as well including a big park with an artificial lake, a tennis court, a golf course and a fitness room. Inside the beautiful Naturtejo Geopark, the Termas de Monfortinho gets the quality spring water from Penha Garcia, which is well-known for its healing effect to skin, digestive and respiratory system.
It takes more time to travel around Portugal than you originally planned because there are so many surprises hidden behind the endless coastlines. Whether you are a history fan or just want to seek a seaside holiday with some of the newest wellness programs, Portugal won’t disappoint you.