In Portugal, the palaces have turrets on their turrets. Every city and village is a riot of more tints of yellow, red, and blue than Benjamin Moore ever dreamed. If you followed every local’s tip on where to find the best pastel de nata — the signature custard tart — you’d eat yourself to tasty oblivion. Believe me: I have tried! I mean it as the sincerest compliment when I say that in Europe’s sunniest country too much is never enough.
I learned years ago to listen closely when longtime Portuguese friends whisper tips in my ear. Where to find a perfect village, the finest views of the pounding Atlantic surf, the hotel that will put a current 5-star favorite to shame. As relentless tweakers of itineraries and seekers of new cultural experiences, we couldn’t resist the urge to re-craft a trip that was already one of our most popular. The results promise you a look at Portugal that other visitors can only envy.
Lisbon and Porto are the gorgeous urban bookends of your trip. As two of Europe’s oldest cities, they’re lively and essential to understanding Portugal. But during the heart of our visit our wonderful (and wonderfully well-connected) local guides will take you off the most beaten track. You’ll feel the fierce Atlantic surf pound as you walk the headlands of Cabo Espichel. You’ll also stroll around a remarkable megalithic complex; though it will remind you of Stonehenge, it’s actually thousands of years older!
You may not have heard of the Alentejo region, but you’ll never forget it. It’s a gently rolling heartland carpeted in cork oak forests and olive groves. The capital is Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with quiet cobbled streets that date back as far as the 16th century. We’re huge fans of the nature walk that shadows the Aqueduct de l’Agua de Prata, a centuries-old engineering marvel. You’ll also visit Marvão, one of Portugal’s loveliest towns, perched on a mountaintop with amazing views. The rural part of the week continues in the Douro Valley, lined by terraced vineyards that yield that famed port wine. So you know you can count on vineyard walks, wine tastings, and a river cruise aboard a classic Rabelo boat.
You’ll also connect some of the most terrific local residents we’ve met here – and that’s saying a lot, given the legendary Portuguese commitment to hospitality. At an organic winery, the vintners welcome you to a tasting and a sunset picnic dinner. Our friend Joaquin has one of the most unique skills you’ll ever encounter. He’s an artist at a cork factory. The story of cork (did you know it’s bark from living trees?) is absolutely fascinating. You’ll also be invited into the studio of a local clay artisan and meet the folks who make the distinctive “Serra da Estrela” sheep’s-milk cheese.
If you are a luxury hotel maven, welcome to heaven! Our new trio of accommodations includes the idyllic Vintage House Hotel on the banks of the Douro River. The Espinheiro Convent Historic Hotel is just as you’d imagine — a former convent, now with acres of gardens and one of the country’s best spas. We also enjoy a two-night stay at a long-time favorite of ours, the Penha Longa Resort, a Ritz-Carlton property situated within a 14th-century monastery in a 545-acre national park.
If this is your year for Portugal, your timing couldn’t be better! On our re-crafted itinerary, the best is even better. Stupendous palaces and castles connect you to the Age of Exploration. The wide, wild plains will open your eyes to an aspect of the country you may have never imagined. And our Portuguese friends are more eager than ever to show off the land they love. It’s almost too much to take in — and just the right amount to make an utterly memorable vacation.