Where to go on vacation is the quintessential question I ask myself and my family every single year. The problem for me is distilling the entire globe to the perfect location. My criteria may change annually, but my methodology does not. I ask my husband, or kids if they are coming as well, various questions such as, tell me about your very best travel experience, favorite hotel, and best tour. I also ask if they want to go to a city, on an expedition or cruise, etc. Then I create a few potential itineraries. Basically, I treat my family (and myself) like my clients. So last May, after much debate, my husband and I decided to visit Portugal.
Whether you like history, food, and wine or the beach, this small but mighty country is exploding with potential experiences. Portugal has a mild climate, so anytime you visit is the right time!
Where to go in Portugal
With 290 days of sunshine a year, Portugal’s capital is close to beautiful sandy beaches where you can take full advantage of the gorgeous weather. Lisbon is known for its rich history, culture and I can’t stress this enough, the origin of the most delicious treat on the planet, Pasteis de Nata (custard tart). Lisbon has been gaining in popularity and is at the top of many best city lists. We stayed in Alfama, which has sweeping views of the city. However, if you aren’t up to climbing a steep, hilly terrain to get to your hotel, I would suggest Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon in the city center. We loved the incredible food, fado music, and gorgeous blue tiles that are found everywhere.
Sagres, Sintra and Cascais
We took a wonderful day tour from Lisbon. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with Sagres, the westernmost point in Europe; Sintra was lovely and stands out in my mind for the 19th-century Pena National Palace, which has a whimsical design and sweeping views. Also of note, is Quinta da Regaleira, classified as World Heritage by UNESCO and built at the turn of the 20th century, it is a romantic architectural complex comprised of a Palace, a Chapel, and gardens with grottos. It is something to behold. We had a lovely lunch in Cascais, a coastal resort town with beautiful sandy beaches and a marina dotted with yachts.
For me, Porto was the highlight of our trip. It’s Portugal’s second-biggest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for the Port wine. We absolutely loved our cellar tour and tasting at Calem. My only regret is that we didn’t bring back more bottles! We had dinner at Blini, A Michelin star restaurant with sweeping views of the city of Porto and the River Douro. We took one of my all-time favorite food tours of Mercado do Bolhao, a local food market filled with unbelievable delights. If you are staying, I’d suggest InterContinental Porto – Palacio das Cardosas.
The Douro Valley produces some of the finest, affordable and underrated Portuguese wines, it also offers a beautiful and magical landscapes. I’m just going to say it. If this wine country interest you, and it should, I suggest a river cruise. It is becoming very popular and there are several options. Amawaterways offers a Douro River cruise that is high on my must-do list!
With the warm Moroccan air, the southern tip of Portugal has a temperate climate all year round. The many options of beaches, lovely seaside resorts, chic villas and golf courses aplenty have all come together to make the Algarve Portugal’s best-known region. If you are planning to visit, I would suggest staying at Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel.
The Azores is a chock full of natural beauty to explore against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. The volcanic power that emanates from the earth created black lava vineyard fields, geysers, hot thermal waters, and volcanic lakes – as well as the delicious “Cozido das Furnas”, a dish slowly cooked inside the earth. While in the Azores, don’t miss the local, specialty cheese produced by cows that live on the hills (the hills also offer a great view where you can spot whales and dolphins!). Take advantage of the hiking and bird watching. If you are planning to stay, consider Furnas Boutique Hotel.
Portugal was everything I had hoped it would be. We had romance, history, architecture, art, high cuisine, and perfect weather. We dug our feet in white sand, climbed Alfama, and visited castles. We drank wines from Porto and Douro and ate food that rivals Italy. It was everything we could have wanted in a vacation.