Pinhão – Port Wine Central
Pinhão is one of the Douro’s hidden places. A sweet village on the Douro River, it’s known for its fine wineries. Perfectly set in a valley of vineyards and olive trees, Pinhão is a gem from the 19thcentury. The old train station, decorated with Portuguese tiles, is one of the most beautiful stations in the country. The traditional rabelo boats on the river and the old balseiros, used to preserve the wine add to the charm. Taking a cruise from Porto, the village looks like a dream from the boat. From there, you can visit the wineries, try the local cuisine, and even follow the River Tua by train on one of the most historic railways in the country that recently reopened.
Trace the pre-historic rock paintings in Foz Côa
In the northeastern region of Portugal, close to the border with Spain, Foz Côais in the Coa River Valley. Here a collection of engravings dating back to the Paleolithic period bring a mystique to the already wild and beautiful region. Integrated in the Coa Valley Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can trace rock art sites and find animal figures and symbols dated between 22,000 and 8,000 BCE. Take a chance to explore the surrounding hills and ancient towns and find wineries, the shale stone villages and spring almond trees blossoms.
Portugal’s heart is made of filigree at Viana do Castelo
Set on the sea, Viana is deeply connected to fishing traditions, and was once dedicated to cod fishing. Home for major shipyards, its history dates as far back as the 15thcentury. With a strong religious heritage, the Sanctuary of Santa Luzia on a hill crowns the city skyline. Here every August, traditional festivities color the city to honor Senhora da Agonia, the protector of the fisherman. Women’s’ traditional costumes, representing their social status depending on colors and ornaments, return to the streets. Gold was a big representative of that status, and the city is famous for gold filigree jewelry. Its most traditional piece of filigree is Viana’s heart, an ancient symbol of love.
Montados: The Alentejo’s cork oak forests
Since ancient times, cork has been used as a versatile material. From Egyptians to Romans, cork was used for utensils, in agriculture and construction. The trees’ ability to regenerate and form new layers of cork turns it into an effective and sustainable source for our everyday products. Designers and engineers have been transforming the way it is used beyond bottle stoppers: you can find it in shoes and clothing or in cars, airplanes or even space ships. It’s versatile, flexible and can improve efficiency in the product it is used in. The Alentejo today is cork country, home to the largest remaining forests in Southern Europe – preserved by law – and home to dozens of native flora and fauna that thrive in the Montados, or cork forests. It is also the home to the oldest cork oak in the world, the “Assobiador”- planted in 1783.
Mértola: The Arab roots of Portugal
A small village of white, picturesque houses, set in over the Guadiana River Valley and overlooked by its castle, Mértola is the most Moorish town in Portugal. It keeps the Arab heritage alive, and the ruins of its Moorish/Roman walls as well as a former mosque that is a church today. Each year, the Islamic Festival that happens around May brings the Arab culture back to town celebrating the coexistence of the people: you can hear both the Alentejo typical singing and the drumming of darbukas.
Mirandela: Have you ever tried alheiras?
This is the “garden city,” planted on the Tua River banks. Known for its flowers, planted all over the city, its Romanesque heritage and its great cuisine, the city is especially famous for its alheiras: a kind of sausage stuffed with all kind of meats but pork. Invented by the Jewish, this was created to pass as a regular pork sausage and today it’s a very typical appetizer in the Portuguese cuisine. In its homeland, you can give it a taste while engaging in the local festivals happening throughout the year dedicated to local goods: alheira, olive oil and lamb. Mirandela also has great historical sites to discover, from the Paço dos Távoras to the Mirandela castle where there are traces of the Roman occupation.
Aveiro: City of Canals
Aveiro is surrounded by salt-flats, beaches and lagoons. The city is built on a Central Canal running through the town. The canals are dotted with the famous moliçeiros– brightly painted seaweed gathering boats that look similar to the ships of the ancient world. Located on Portugal’s Atlantic Coast, Aveirois the center of the Route of Light, known for Art Nouveau buildings, modern architecture and historic sites. For centuries Aveiro based its economy on its fishing industry, salt-flats and canals but in recent years it has undergone a cultural renaissance, with new hotels, museums, and places to eat popping up across the city. It is considered an up and coming destination.The best way to see Aveiro, however, is to catch a ride on a traditional moliçeiro and take in the sites by canal.
The Knight’s Castle: Monsaraz
A walled medieval village in the heart of Southeastern Alentejo protected by its sitting atop an impossible mountain, Monsaraz is among the oldest towns in the country. Home to kings and knights, the town was given to the Templar Order by King D. Sancho II during the Reconquista in the 13thcentury. Today, their presence lives on through the castle, the main square, the ancient stone streets or the thumb of a knight himself, Gomes Martins Silvestre. Wandering through the village also means trying the best of Alentejo cuisine, and its fine local wines. The “Alentejano” bread is a must, served with local olive oil and can go with any dish. Around the village lies a new artificial lake by the Alqueva dam, megalithic monuments you can visit and vineyards to explore.
Algarve is more than beaches – explore Monchique’s mountains
Between Southern Alentejo and the Northern Algarve, lies one of Portugal’s wonders – Monchique, set in the cool mountains. Hiking to Fóia, among oak, pine and eucalyptus trees, you can reach Algarve’s highest peak and overlook both the south and west coasts. Its hiking trails might lead you to a shepherd with a flock or a farmer, since Monchique remains quite rural. You might also find the Fountain of Love and fall in love with life after drinking from it. Thermal waters are also a famous practice at the ancient Caldas de Monchique spa. This is also the place to visit an old distillery and try “aguardente de medronho”- an artisanal strong drink made of local fruit.
Madeira is a semi-tropical island rising from sea level to over 6,000 feet. Its steep pitch gives the island six distinct climate zones. The ancient Laurissilva cloud forest at the highest elevations is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, 2/3rdsof Madeira is conservation land. It has mountain plains, valleys, high peaks, streams, rocky coastlines, and tidal pools. The island has a unique landscape accessed by a modern roadway system of new tunnels, and the older mountain roads they replaced that wind along the hillsides. The south coast is sunny, and home to the cultivation of bananas, sugar cane, and grapes. Quaint fishing towns rise off the coast, where small hotels and villas welcome guests. The east coast is home to the historic towns of Caniçal, Machico and Santa Cruz. The wild Ponta de São Lourenço reserve snakes out into the ocean with great hiking and impressive views. The north coast is rugged, and features small towns and great surf. Santana is known for its straw roofed homes and great hiking and Sao Vincente has a series of lava caves. Inland, the massive peaks of Pico Ruivo and Areiro make for wild valleys and cliffs, with lots of grazing sheep and sweeping views. To the west lies the massive flat mountain plain of Paul da Serra, which feels like the surface of Mars, and the crater valley of Curral das Freiras. The sunny west coast runs from the tidal pools of Porto Moniz to the cliffs on the point at Cabo Girão.