Multifaceted and welcoming are the first words that spring to mind when I think about Portugal. A while ago, I wrote a blog about the Algarve ‘off the beaten track’, and last summer I visited several other regions in this vast country. I would love to share some of the highlights with you and of course, I suggest you stay in one of my Local Hideaways Portugal. You will find some wonderful places among them….even if I say so myself :-).
My trip begins in the Estremadura, where Lisbon is located (which I have not yet visited but is high up on my to do list!). It is called Estremadura because this region marked the extreme border of Christendom at the time of the Reconquista – a period of some 800 years in the Middle Ages, during which the Christian kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula succeeded in driving out the Muslim kingdoms. I’m staying in the sleepy town of Alvados, a place where time seems to have stood still and where the only sounds you hear come from the church bells, the cattle or the local pub. The last thing you expect to find here is a beautiful and modern building, very carefully designed and perfectly integrated into its natural surroundings by using cork as a building material– with Serras de Aire e Candeeiros natural park right on your doorstep – a true Local Hideaway!
I continue my journey through inner Portugal and reach the Alentejo – literally ‘across the Tagus’, the south-central part of the country. This large region borders the Atlantic coast (where you will find the rough and as yet undisturbed Costa Vicente that reaches to the Algarve) to Spain. It is very diverse and as yet fairly undiscovered by tourists. However, the Portuguese know it well and consider it one of their favourite holiday spots! And on top of that, the renowned magazine National Geographic declared it one of the ‘must see places’ of 2014. This I found somewhat disconcerting, for I feared an invasion of tourists, but fortunately this has not happened. What’s more, even during the high season it is comfortably quiet here (although local businesses would prefer it a bit more lively!). I visited two magnificent inland Local Hideaways, very different from one another. The mainly rural landscape in the Alentejo is dominated by cork oaks and old olive groves, but there are also a large lake district and several nature reserves. I found the beautiful old monumental towns and villages particularly charming, for instance Marvão, Mértola, Estremoz and, my personal favourite, the fortress Monsaraz. The Alentejo is also famous for its great wines, so if you are a wine lover you will be able to visit the many wine estates to your heart’s content…. I particularly recommend Herdade dos Grous!
The final part of my journey consists of a trip to the north of Portugal, but fortunately, I have planned a stop-over in Coimbra….and I am deeply impressed by this city! It is home to one of Europe’s oldest universities and it is lovely to wander through all the small alleys or to sit down and watch the people while enjoying a drink.
However, I can’t stay long, for another highlight awaits me: Porto.
I am able to find a great Local Hideway here (right in the centre, reasonably priced and, above all, very friendly); I would recommend it to anybody, either on a city trip or in combination with a visit to the beautiful countryside! This city has a bit of everything: old monumental buildings; quaint little shops; the Douro River that finds its way to the Atlantic Ocean at Porto; spectacular bridges; the greatest urban beaches (be sure to check out the Foz district!); the port wine cellars where they will show you around and allow you to taste the produce; beautiful parks; the colourful old Ribeira neighbourhood… but also many lovely restaurants, pubs and coffee bars. What’s more, a refreshing wind of change is blowing through the city and creative new projects are started up increasingly often.
Last but not least, I travel upwards along the Douro river and settle in a wine hotel 2.0. The Douro valley is quite enchanting and this is where beautiful routes will take you through charming villages where time has stood still. Meandering along the river, the magnificent panoramas are a constant surprise. But the many vineyards, situated along the hills next to the river, are the real eye-catchers in this landscape..…as far as the eye can see. They are owned by the most wonderful wine estates and it is no wonder that this area not only produces the greatest wines but also some incredible port wines.
In short, there is so much to see and do in Portugal in all seasons, and the people are tremendously friendly and hospitable. But where to sleep? Just book one of my hand picked Local Hideaways Portugal!
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. November 2014