Portugal: 5 Reasons Why It’s Still a World Beater
The country may be out of the World Cup, but Portugal has many reasons to be cheerful. Rent a car in Portugal and enjoy superb beaches, excellent seafood, glorious light, and incredible value for money. In case you need further convincing, we’ve picked out our latest Portuguese faves:
Hire a car in Lisbon and discover a city in the throes of rebirth. In mid-2012, Lisbon’s main square, Praça do Comércio was revealed in all its restored glory. Commonly known as Terreiro do Paço because it lies on the site of the Paços da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace), which was flattened by the devastating 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, this magnificent plaza beside the Tagus river now has a shiny new cultural centre and a selection of restaurants, bars and shops.
Highlights include the Beer Museum, which outlines the various stages of the brewing cycle (tastings included) and the Lisbon Story Centre, a cutting-edge interactive exhibit that takes an hour to illustrate the fascinating history of Lisbon down through the centuries.
Get a flavour of Lisbon’s multicultural personality with a visit to the fusion market at Martim Moniz square. It nestles at the heart of Mouraria, a melting pot that remained neglected and run down for years until the intercultural market was opened in the summer of 2012. You can now browse food stalls that serve dishes from places as diverse as Goa and Angola. Live music and other performances are regular features.
Once you taste Portuguese seafood, it’s easy to see why Portugal eats the most fish in Europe (and it’s number four in the world). Fish is cooked in every conceivable way, with grilling, poaching, deep-frying, and stewing (cataplana) among the most popular methods. Cod (bacalhau) is the fish of choice, and popular wisdom has it that there are more ways to cook it than there are days in the year.
When you rent a car in the Algarve, you’ll find great fish restaurants on every corner. In Lagos, we love the aptly named Casinha do Petisco (it means “little house of delicious morsels”) , tucked down a side street, with clusters of tables laden with traditional Algarve specialties, including cataplana and steamed clams.
Then there is Taverna do Guedes in Alvor, another traditional restaurant serving perfectly cooked, glistening fish at great prices. Try the fish cataplana. In Aljezur, grab a table at O Sítio do Rio, which serves stellar food at cheap prices.
When in Lisbon, we love Cervejaria Ramiro on Avenida Almirante Reis. This is quite simply the best seafood restaurant in Lisbon. Don’t expect to linger over your meal, however; the demand for tables is so great, there’s little time for appreciating the juicy clams and giant shrimps.
The Rota Vicentina creates a new playground for outdoor lovers, with more than 340 kilometres of walking, trekking, cycling, and horse riding trails carved out along the pristine southwest coast of Portugal. Running from Santiago do Cacém in the north to Cabo de San Vicente in the south, the trail skirts protected natural areas in the Algarve, giving you breathtaking, panoramic views of the coast and introducing you to charming country villages.
The Vicentine trail traces a route historically used by shepherds and fishermen to travel the southwest coast of Alentejo and the western Algarve. You can hike along the Historical Way, through cork forests, meadows, and heath, or the Fisherman’s Trail, along a craggy coastline scattered with spectacular limestone cliffs. There are more than 30 inns and lodges along the route, several restaurants serving local specialties, and various activities and attractions to enjoy. The initiative is fostered by Casas Brancas, a non-profit sustainable tourism association that works closely with local communities.
If Portugal had a theme tune, it would be fado music. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011, fado is a musical genre that was born in Lisbon, and, with its melancholic, proud, and haunting sound, symbolises both the city and the country.
If you want to discover the background to this expressive tradition, visit the Fado Museum in the historic Lisbon district of Alfama, where you’ll find an enormous collection dating from the start of the 19th century to contemporary times.
You can also visit the home of the icon of fado music, Amália, also in the Alfama district. Amália was responsible for introducing fado to a wider audience, across Europe, captivating audiences with her charismatic stage presence and innate sense of drama.
The only way to truly appreciate fado, however, is to hear it live. Even today the best fado houses in Lisbon are in the Alfama, Bairro Alto and Mouraria districts. Go for a meal in many restaurants around these areas and you are quite likely to hear live fado while you eat. Some of the best female fado performers – including Raquel Tavares and Ana Moura – perform at Casa de Linhares, Beco dos Armazéns do Linho, 2.
They’re hardly a new addition to the menu of Portugal’s top attractions, but the beaches of the Algarve region are too delicious to leave out of any list of Portuguese highlights. And if you think Algarve beaches are all about tightly packed hordes of lobster-red tourists, hawkers, and tacky bars, think again.
Undiscovered jewels include Praia de Albandeira, 30km west of Albufeira. Completely off the tourist track, this is a miniature wonder of white sand framed by russet rocks. You won’t find jet skis or sunbeds here, so make the most of the serenity and simply lounge in the sun or retreat to the shade of the cliffs.
If you’d like something a little less isolated, there is Praia do Anção, 30km east of Albufeira. A boundless sweep of golden sand beloved by families, it offers tranquil waters, lifeguards, and a backdrop of dunes. The beach is an extension of the one at Quinta do Lago, with access via a rough track and free parking. You can rent sunbeds, parasols, and boats, and the more active can enjoy water-skiing.