World Travel Guides

Portugal - Off the beaten track

Cute churches, peaceful plazas

Douro Valley

This valley is one of Portugal's scenic highlights, with some 200km (125mi) of bold, expansive panoramas stretching from the city of Porto all the way to the Spanish border. In the upper reaches, port-wine vineyards wrap around every crew-cut hillside, interrupted only by the occasional blindingly white manor house. The roads which wriggle along the banks of the Rio Douro can be crowded with day-trippers from Porto, but the river has been tamed by five dams and is now navigable along its entire length, making boat cruises an attractive way to soak up the atmosphere in peace.


The quiet highland town of Monchique, dozing on the wooded slopes of the Serra de Monchique, offers a good alternative to the hurly-burly of beach life. Apart from its beautiful setting, the town's other attraction is the Igreja Matriz church, which boasts an amazing portal - about the closest you'll get to seeing stone tied in knots. Of interest just outside the town is the sleepy spa of Caldas de Monchique, and it's worth driving or hiking through thick forest to Fóia, the 'rooftop' of the Algarve. The panoramic views from the top are terrific.

Parque National da Penada-Gerês

This wilderness park in the far north of Portugal has spectacular scenery and a wide variety of flora and fauna. It's extremely popular with Portuguese day-trippers and holidaymakers, but they tend to stick to the main camping areas, leaving the rest of the park to hikers. There are plenty of good short-distance trails with places to swim along the way, as well as facilities for horse riding, mountain biking and canoe rental.


This tiny fishing port is perched on dramatic, windswept cliffs at the southwestern extremity of Portugal. The village's proximity to Lagos means that it's not entirely devoid of holiday-makers, but the port is still a centre for boat-building and lobster-fishing. Legend has it that Henry the Navigator established a kind of nautical think-tank here, priming the explorers who later founded the vast Portuguese empire. Nearby are several pleasant beaches and the barren, throne-like Cabo de São Vicente, Europe's southwesternmost point.

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