Spotlight on Portugal
02 February 2017
Portugal’s coastline stretches for 1,794 km – far longer even than its land border with Spain, which runs to 1,214 km. Little wonder then, that this European country boasts so many spectacular beaches and such a variety of wonderful resorts. It also enjoys some of the best sunshine stats in Europe – averaging 2,500 to 3,200 hours of sunshine per year. Add to that its unarguable historical, cultural and gastronomic attractions and you can see why Portugal is such a rewarding destination.
Did you know?
- Go West: Portugal boasts Europe’s most westerly point: the Capelinhos Volcano, Faial Island, in the Azores. It is also home to mainland Europe’s Westernmost point – Cabo da Roca – and mainland Europe’s most westerly capital, Lisbon.
- Despite the country having a population of only 13 million, there are more than 250 million Portuguese speakers across the world.
- The Rio Carnival may be the most famous in the world but it all started in Lisbon. Its Entrudo is a lively procession of floats which makes its colourful, noisy way to Parque Nações.
- Portugal is the world’s eighth largest producer of wine.
- When it was built, Portugal’s Vasco da Gama bridge – named after the Portuguese explorer who discovered the sea route to India in 1498 – was the longest bridge in Europe. It crosses the Targus River at Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, with a span of 17,185 metres.
- Just before its opening in 1998, the bridge hosted more than 16,000 people for lunch at what was officially recognised as the longest dining table in the world. It stretched for five kilometres, covering almost a third of the bridge, and carried almost ten tonnes of the traditional Portuguese dish of Feijoada (pork and beans) for the lunch guests – mostly local people and construction workers.
Travel Counsellor Ursula visited Lagos in Western Algarve in January 2016 and said...
"Once a small fishing village the resort has blossomed into one of the most popular on the Algarve. The town is split into the Old Town and the Marina area. The Old town is surrounded by the 16th century walls which have beautiful cobbled streets, plazas and some unique churches and historical sights to visit. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from and the Praca del Gil Eanes has children’s entertainment and music most evenings which was perfect for us each evening before or after dinner. There are also several streets off the Praca for exploring and souvenir shopping."
When to visit Portugal
- See in the New Year in style in Madeira’s Funchal harbour – it’s new year celebrations include to the biggest firework display in the world.
- February sees huge Shrove Tuesday celebrations across Portugal, including Lisbon, Torres Vedras, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Lazarim, Funchal and elsewhere.
- Spring is beautiful – almond groves fill with scented blossom and flowers dot the countryside – and ideal hiking or cycling weather.
- June marks the start of summer with many festas, including the two weeks of Festas dos Santos Populares and Lisbon carnival.
- Summer sun: June through September is almost universally sunny, with temperatures typically around the 30˚C mark.
- September is grape harvesting time and a wonderful time of year to visit Portugal’s main wine producing area the Douro valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Portugal’s Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are ideal Winter sun destinations.
Travel Counsellor Karen visited Olhao in October 2016 and said...
"As our trip was early October, the resort was quiet and we were lucky enough to share it predominately with the locals. Saying that, I sense even high season it wouldn't be a busy resort, with most people opting for the popular Albufera just down the coast. Because it's not a busy, commercialised resort, the prices are still very very reasonable. Five of us were enjoying a two course meal with wine for around R240 - R300 each.The weather was also fab, not too hot but warm enough to sunbathe comfortably. I'd absolutely go back to this lovely little gem either with friends, family or with my husband as a couples getaway."
Sights to see in Portugal
Portugal’s capital Lisbon is one of the least visited capitals in Europe – which means you can explore its fascinating sites like the Torre de Belem, Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, or the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in relative peace. Wander narrow streets winding up the steep hillsides of Alfama, the grand avenues and plazas of Baixa, admire the view from the Castelo de Sao Jorge which perches above the city, and, when you’ve had enough, take one of the iconic wooden trams back to your hotel.
Portugal has many wonderful beaches – some of which are just a day trip from Lisbon, enabling you to easily combine a fabulous city break with a beach holiday.
Despite its oldest course being established as late as 1966, the Algarve is blessed with 35 of Portugal’s 70 golf clubs, which include world-class courses and some exclusive golf resorts, including one of Portugal’s first – and still exceptional – Vale do Lobo near Loulé.
The Algarve’s beaches range from long sandy shorelines bordered by promenades and cafes to secluded sea-sculpted coves dotted with caves and interesting rock formations and framed by golden sandstone cliffs.
Also on the Algarve, the port of Vilamora is a favourite of Portuguese footballing legend Christiano Ronaldo. Take an evening stroll around the flash marina before enjoying its waterfront restaurants, bars and nightlife.
In Madeira, wander the narrow, cobbled streets of its capital Funchal, then soak up the sun at a seaside lido. Pay a visit to Blandy’s Wine Lodge to sample the island’s eponymous wine. And spend a day or two exploring the island’s rugged interior by hiking its network of hillside irrigation channels, or “levadas”, for awe-inspiring views.
Try something a little different…
- Lisbon has many world-class museums and galleries, including one dedicated to the traditional Portuguese music of Fado. Here you can learn about the music, its stars, the art is has inspired, and perhaps even catch a live performance at its auditorium.
- Explore the sculpted shapes and caves of the Algarve’s stunning coastline from the sea: take a boat trip from Albufeira’s harbour and you may even see pods of dolphins swimming alongside the boat.
- The Oceanico golf complex at Vilamoura is one of the best, with four fabulous courses: Old, Victoria, Laguna and Pinhal.
- The Algarve beaches are washed by the Atlantic Ocean – making them ideal places to try your hand at a spot of deep sea fishing. Boat tours run from Vilamora marina – and elsewhere along the coast, including Lagos and Tavira – offering shark fishing, reef fishing and “big game” fishing.
- The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is just a day trip away from Lisbon. The pretty pastel-hued Unesco World Heritage-listed centre, Sintra-Vila, is a picturesque base for exploring. Perching above the town, Sintra’s beautiful clifftop palace is stunning inside and out – and offers a fascinating glimpse into the wealth and life of Portugal’s monarchs at a time when this tiny nation ruled the waves and this was their summer palace.
Travel Counsellor Allan visited Madeira in October 2016 and said...
"No visit to Funchal would be complete without a ride on the cable car from Funchal to Monte (or a journey between heaven and earth - as it is advertised). It costs R200 one way or R300 return. The cable car is 3300 metres long and take you over Funchal to the village of Monte. The views are spectacular, you can see all of Funchal and the harbour where cruise ships dock. P&O Azura was in overnight while we were there."
A taste of Portugal
- It is said that the Portuguese have more than 365 recipes which feature bacalhau (salted cod) – more than one for each day of the year. Look out for this cornerstone of Portuguese cooking on restaurant menus. Rick Stein is a fan of salt cod fritters, but inevitably the recipes are various.
- You might be familiar with Portugal’s most famous alcoholic export, but have you heard of Ginjinha? This sweet-sour cherry-based liqueur is popular all over Portugal, but the place to sample is it at the tiny bar A Ginjinha Espinheira, just off Rossio square, Lisbon.
- Nando’s might have exported Frango Piri Piri around the world, but this spicy chicken dish is traditionally cooked in the Algarve and, in particular, the hillside town of Guia near Albufeira. The local restaurants all claim chicken piri-piri as a speciality.
- Pasteis de Nata, wonderful flaky custard tarts, are found in every self-respecting Portuguese bakery but the best place to try them is the Lisbon bakery Pasteis de Belem which enjoys a privileged position next to the Jeronimos Monastery, and close to the Belem tower. The perfect respite to your Lisbon sightseeing.
- Buying Sardinhas Assados – grilled sardines – barbequed over charcoal in a steel drum by vendors on the quayside or on the street and served on fresh, crusty bread is a simple, cheap but tasty culinary treat not to be missed. Best sampled during Portimão’s 10-day sardine festival in August or the slightly smaller sardine fest at Olhas d’Agua (between Vilamora and Albufeira), also in August. And perfect with a chilled glass of the local Vinho Verde (white wine).
- Try some cake with your Madeiran wine: the local delicacy is a honey cake – “bolo de Mel” – traditionally eaten at Christmas, but now sold all year round.
For more ideas about what to do in Portugal, how to get there, when to go and where to stay, get in touch with your local Travel Counsellor.