Portugal: the one-stop shop for a safe and enjoyable escape
Whether you’re craving a Vitamin D boost, a culture fix or an epic hike, Portugal is perfectly positioned to tick all your travel boxes in 2021
If you’ve been dreaming of a world away from this one – where toes tuck into warm sand and the only weight you bear is the cocktail glass in your hand – it might be time to start planning a trip to Portugal. Not only does it offer a wealth of activities for the keenest explorers, but you can now travel with confidence thanks to the country’s new ‘Clean & Safe’ stamp, which features a traffic-light system on all tourist-related activities. So grab your sunnies and get set to explore four of Portugal’s most tempting locales.
This ancient Roman outpost offers more than just luscious wine and a trippy bookshop (yes, we’re looking at you Livraria Lello). Portugal’s second largest city is a mecca for hardcore historians and casual explorers alike. Climbing the 257-year-old, 75m-high Clérigos Tower is a must-do (there’s no better view in the city), as is a visit to the Romanesque cathedral and neoclassical Stock Exchange – don’t be fooled by its ordinary exterior, the inside will cause jaws to drop. Get lost among the city’s meandering alleys, and sip bica – the locals’ answer to an espresso – in Liberdade Square, before joining the queue at Santiago to try Porto’s fêted francesinha, an institution of a sandwich with melted cheese, cured ham, steak and sausage. Gastrophiles will be in no short supply of world-class fare among the city’s four Michelin-starred restaurants, while oenophiles should make haste to the Douro Valley nearby for virgin port and vineyard views.
Feet up in Faro
The Algarve’s southernmost city offers maximum calm for minimum effort. Twenty minutes from the airport is Quinta do Lago Resort a bastion of five-star luxury located in the Natural Park setting of Ria Formosa and considered one of Portugal’s ‘seven natural wonders’. Calm your mind with strolls among its verdant trails before venturing into Faro to sample the local cuisine. Caldeirada is one unmissable speciality – it’s a rustic ‘fisherman’s stew’ made up of shellfish, cod, potato and saffron. If ocean views are what you’re after, the Algarve has more than 100 on offer, from the dynamic sands of Praia de Faro to the secluded shores of Ilha Deserta. Though it’s perfect for short, resetting breaks, you might give in to the temptation of grabbing your laptop and relocating for the most calming office environment you will have experienced.
One of Europe’s oldest cities, Lisbon wields some serious historic clout. From the 2,000-year-old St George’s Castle to the imposing 16th-century Torre de Belém, visitors can spend weeks travelling back in time here. Add to that a multitude of museums, such as the National Azulejo Museum, which celebrates Portugal’s celebrated glazed tiles, plus a few hours wandering through the old neighbourhood of Alfama, and you might start looking into the local property market. With so much to see, you can bet on aching limbs by the day’s end, but the promise of a room at Duque de Loule is a worthy consolation, being a trove of Portuguese charm and world-class hospitality, whose rooftop bar offers sweeping views of the city below.
Balance the urban rambling with a visit to Sintra-Cascais Natural Park for back-to-nature bliss that’s a 40-minute train journey from Lisbon’s centre. The 145sq km park boasts sand dunes, lakes, rugged cliffs and ruins, with an 8th-century Moorish castle a highlight. The park is a destination in itself, and travellers looking to get their heart rate up can pace along part of the E9 European long distance path, a 5,000km coastal route that runs from Portugal’s Cabo de São Vicente to Narva-Jõesuu in Estonia.
Make time for Madeira
If the E9 calls to you, so too should the Atlantic island of Madeira. With year-round balmy temperatures, this archipelago is ideal for winter sun. Lace up your walking boots and give one of the island’s volcanic hiking trails a run for their money, or trek through the peaks of Pico do Arieiro and Pico Ruivo – the island’s highest points – which offer panoramic views of the terrain and glistening ocean beyond. Prefer something more down to earth? Pick a route along the old levadas that weave through the heart of the island via waterfalls, lagoons and tunnels. For ocean views, infinity pools, and a base that pleases the whole gang, try Vidamar Resorts Madeira in Funchal. It’s home to a water park, spa and a host of bars, restaurants and night spots just a short walk away.
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