Portugal is one of Europe’s oldest countries and a string of invasions over her lifetime have left a culturally rich land. The republic relies heavily on tourism and after wanting to visit for years, I was happy to finally be one of its annual twelve million visitors, taking in three different cities.
Starting in the capital, it was time to don the walking shoes and head out to explore. The café Pastéis de Belém is the original home of Portugal’s now iconic Pasteis de Nata – so begin your pastry search here. Next, walk along the Belem promenade where a string of impressive monuments pay homage to the country’s significant nautical history. Moving up into the historic town centre, wind your way up to the São Jorge Castle – where the first records of fortifications go back as far as the 1st century BC. A short stroll away, reward your legs with a rest at the Miradouro das Portas do Sol terrace – which offers excellent views and equally good Aperol Spritzes.
After a little research, the Wine & Books Lisboa was my firm choice to rest my head in Lisbon. The five-star hotel is located close to the tourist centre of Belem – and offers intimate hospitality with a lavish curated interior – from the double-volume entrance hall to the sunken restaurant with views of the neighbouring Igreja da Memóri. The room’s automated curtains were a slick touch, and the sauna, Turkish bath and shower circuit were very welcomed after a long day’s exploring.
Again, explore the historic city on foot – where a marvellous variety of architecture awaits around every corner. Lello Library is perhaps the world’s most beautiful bookshop – do expect some crowds though, so try to visit early in the day and buy your entrance tickets in advance. When it comes to dining, Congo serves up traditional Portuguese favourites at very reasonable prices and for a grander affair, source a table the Belle Epoque era Majestic Café and be prepared to be impressed.
Cross the iconic Luís I Bridge into the neighbouring Gaia and you’ll be surrounded by the famed Port Houses where you can taste your way through a treasure trove of tipples. In the heart of these cellars, the Yeatman Hotel occupies what I think is Porto’s most enviable position, with unparalleled views over the city and Duoro River. The Relais & Châteaux listed hotel also features a spa and then a two Michelin-starred restaurant.
After all the urban exploring I was ready to head to the post-card beaches of the Algarve. Lagos was touted as a great starting point for exploring the region, and the city’s Ponta da Piedade peninsula is home to some of the Algarve’s most dramatic scenery. Cliffs tumble into the ocean with unique rock structures free-standing in the ocean. In between the cliffs, little beaches are tucked away simply waiting to be visited. You can also explore the landscape via kayaking, or as I chose, on the net of a catamaran while the rock formations and beaches pass by. Getyourguide offers 4 hour-long excursions that include sightseeing, a stop for swimming and water sports – and then killer Mojitos on board.
Located on the Ponta da Piedade itself, the luxury Cascade Wellness Resort is a five-star escape that, well, as the name suggests – places a strong focus on wellness. See it as your retreat after exploring the beaches and hidden coves which are all a short walk away. For those wanting to include a little fitness, the resort has a driving range, pitch and putt overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, along with football pitches and tennis courts.
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