There’s a wonderful word in Portuguese, apaixonar, that means both the action and the sensation of falling in love.1 That’s exactly how you’ll feel once you see the blue seas, red-roofed houses and green vineyards of Portugal.
A mild climate, lovely seascapes and world-renowned wines have made this small country, Spain’s western neighbor, a popular tourism destination. Here’s your five-minute guide to the sights and flavors of Portugal.
1. Visit the vineyards of the Douro Valley. A driving tour is the best way to experience the dramatic landscape of this valley, Travel + Leisure says, with its Cistercian monasteries, medieval villages and quaint farmhouses.2 While known primarily for producing vintages that are made into port, the Douro Valley offers abundant opportunities to taste table wines as well.
2. Soak up the sun on Portugal’s southern coast. Cape St. Vincent in southwestern Portugal was thought by the Romans to be the end of the world, where the sun would crash into the ocean each night and be extinguished. The area still feels remote and magical: you’ll find welcoming villages, lovely vistas and inviting beaches. It's “beautiful, cheap and still relatively undiscovered,” Lucas Peterson writes in the New York Times. 3
3. Take a port-tasting tour of Porto. For hundreds of years, Portugal has been known for its port wine: red wine to which brandy is added during the fermentation process. If you’ve only ever had cheap port, be sure to try some fine vintages at Porto’s port houses, where the wine is made and aged in wooden casks. Here’s our complete guide to port (and Madeira) tours in Portugal.
4. Marvel at monasteries. Portugal is famous for its beautiful medieval monasteries. One of the best known is the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon, an awe-inspiring structure with lavish stonework.4 Buy a combo ticket so you can also explore the Torre de Belém. This dramatic tower was built in the 1500s to defend Lisbon from naval attacks.5
5. Explore the Azores. If your budget and time permit it, fly two hours to the Portuguese islands called the Azores. These nine islands, a beacon for eco-minded travelers, are known for whale-watching, scuba diving, surfing and treks through the volcanic landscape.6
Portugal’s hospitality industry has been working hard to match increased tourist demand, so new hotels and resorts open all the time. It’s hard to pick just a few of the best hotels in Portugal, but one standout is Areias do Seixo on the Costa de Prata. African-inspired modem décor, campfire gatherings, and green sensibilities make it a romantic and memorable stay.7
If your tastes run to the traditional, Hotel Avenida Palace offers Old World hospitality and nicely decorated rooms. Don’t miss the afternoon tea, where you can enjoy sandwiches, scones and live piano music.
An hour from Porto, the Vidago Palace hotel is a destination in itself. Soak in the resort’s thermal baths, play a round of golf, have a drink at the pool bar and leave feeling utterly relaxed. For even more intense pampering (for a price, of course), stay at Six Senses Douro Valley. This ultra-luxe hotel in a 19th-century manor house offers multi-day spa and wellness programs, fine dining and a wine library.
Portuguese cuisine means salt cod (bacalhau), fresh seafood, chouriço sausage, olives, and cheese. Ardent foodies should head to Belcanto, a critically acclaimed restaurant in Lisbon that serves inventive takes on Portuguese meals. A menu might include red mullet with liver juice and Bulhão Pato clams, or grilled red giant shrimp with rosemary ashes.
A more laid-back dining destination is Cervejaria Ramiro, a popular beer hall that serves garlic shrimp, rock lobster and other seafood specialties.8 And if you’re more interested in exploring Portugal’s wines than its shellfish, try the BA Wine Bar do Bairro Alto. This Lisbon restaurant is known for its intensely knowledgeable staff, who will recommend wine that matches your tastes and your food order.9
Before you leave on your Portuguese adventure, protect your international vacation investment with travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance.