There are many reasons why taking your time and exploring Portugal at a slow pace is a great idea.
So, don't try to pack too much into a trip, or spend 10 one night stays always running - take it slow, enjoy - and remember, you can always go back for more!
And while the main sites are well worth the attention, there is so much more to see. Over tourism is taking a toll on Lisbon, Porto and Algarve - while so many wonderful places have been overlooked.
Here are some of the main benefits:
Experience the Culture: Portugal is a country with a rich history and unique culture. By taking your time and exploring at a slow pace, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture, interact with the friendly locals, and experience the country's rich traditions and customs.
Appreciate the Scenery: Portugal is a beautiful country with stunning landscapes, from the rugged coastline to the granite hills and vineyards of the Dão Wine Region. By exploring at a slow pace, you'll have the time to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings and truly take in the scenery. And enjoy the wines!
Taste the Food: Portuguese cuisine is renowned for its delicious seafood, hearty stews, and delectable pastries. By taking your time and exploring at a slow pace, you'll have the chance to savor the local cuisine, try new dishes, and indulge in the country's world-famous wines.
Relax and Unwind: Portugal is a country that values relaxation and taking time to enjoy life's simple pleasures. By exploring at a slow pace, you'll be able to slow down, unwind, and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the country. By getting out of the well worn path, you will be able to really enjoy the visit.
Discover Hidden Gems: Portugal is full of hidden gems, from small towns and villages to secluded beaches and scenic trails. By taking your time and exploring at a slow pace, you'll have the chance to discover these hidden treasures and create unforgettable memories.
So, here is an alternative itinerary for Portugal - with a host of places that deserve your attention as well - and could lead to an amazing trip of discovery and looking into the soul of Portugal. And a way to skip the lines.... and find the soul of Portugal
The Eastern Douro (Yes, there's more!)
So many see the Douro as stopping at Pinhão. But it just gets wilder from there - and a lot less visited. Few explore the Douro Internacional Park, the cave paintings of Foz Côa. These winelands are charming and full of tiny towns to the frontier. See the wineries and the the medieval heritage of the municipalities of Almeida, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Meda, Miranda do Douro, Mogadouro, Pinhel, Sabugal, Torre de Moncorvo and Vila Nova de Foz Côa. The hillsides, the golden waters - that took the name for River of Gold - Rio Douro.
As an example, most tourists never see Miranda do Douro. It has what they seek: ancient walls, preserved medieval architecture, breathtaking views of the Douro River Gorge, great food, local wines, and even its own language.
Perched on the Spanish border, in the far northeast, Miranda do Douro is the gateways to the spectacular Douro International Natural Park. The origins of Miranda date back to Celtic times. In the 8th century, the Arabs called this site "Mir Andul." Under Portugal's founding king, D Afonso Henriques, the town was fortified. Those walls still stand, including part of the citadel and city walls. Inside, well preserved streets and squares lead up to the Church of Santa Maria Maior, once a cathedral.Miranda is famed for its wines and its Celtic folk heritage featuring the Pauliteiro stick dancers in traditional dresses. Celtic bagpipes make the performance. And meet the locals who still speak the "Mirandês" language, unique to this wild and beautiful region.
Heading South along the Raia:
The Centro Region's eastern frontier with Spain is the heart of a mountainous castle country, with every major town and village having some form of fortification. This is the Raia - the thriving borderlands. The Serra de Estrela Mountains soar to almost 6,000 feet above sea level. Here roads can be a tad windy and often uphill, and some are closed by snow in the winter. Hiking, hang gliding, and rock climbing are all found in the Serra de Estrela and Serra da Malcata natural park.the cheese out of this world too.
Head to the Tejo River, which became the border between the new kingdom of Portugal and Arab lands to the south in the 12th century. Here, a line of castles rose under religious orders designed to defend a young nation, while allowing a base to launch the Reconquesta. A ring and line of castles, green landscapes, and friendly towns make the perfect off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Penedono - this granite town will always be associated with the great 15th century knight Álvaro Gonçalves Coutinho, nicknamed “Magriço”(“the thin one”). This itinerant knight was immortalized by the masterwork of Portuguese literature “Os Lusiadas,” by Luis Vaz de Camões. The story says that Magriço was one of 12 knights who responded to a call for help from 12 English ladies, whose honor needed defending. While 11 of the knights traveled by sea to fight the offending English knights, Magriço chose to follow an adventurous land route to England. On the day of the fight for the ladies' honor, the eleven Portuguese prepared to take the field of honor against the twelve Englishmen. Suddenly, Magriço, fresh from all sorts of adventures, appeared on horseback and led his comrades to a resounding victory. The castle of Penadono belonged to the Coutinhos, and is one of the most magnificent in all of Portugal. Its reddish towers loom over the small town, rising to fantastic heights. The castle dates to the 10th century,
Today the fanciful structure that dominates the town of Penedono today is mostly from the 15th century. The ornate towers, mighty red walls and imposing location guard nothing but an empty space that once was the palace of the Coutinho family and an endless view.
The village of Marialva is really two places: A small village of humble homes, and a long abandoned walled town. One of only a handful of ghostly walled villages in Portugal, what remains of Marialva is its roofless houses and empty square with its fine pillory. The place seems haunted, and its history confirms that Marialva was a stage for dramatic events. The town predates the Roman era, and was later taken by the Visigoths. After the 711 invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs, the entire area around Marialva was abandoned until conquered by the Portuguese in the 12th century. The castle was rebuilt and expanded, and the town had returned to prosperity. But, the town’s fortunes were aligned with the powerful Távoras family, whose feud with the powerful ruler, the Marques de Pombal, in the 18th century led to the abandonment of the village. Today the granite walls are ruined, but in good shape overall with a central keep, a few castle towers, and dozens or ruined homes. The roofless remains of the parish church preside over the town square, with its delicately caped pillory.
“A castle with five sides cannot be found in Portugal,” says the old rhyme, “If not on the banks of the Côa, in the village of Sabugal.”
And true to its word, the keep of the castle of Sabugal is pentagonal. It is quite a castle at that. As the first walls rose in the 12th century’s Ogival style, the small town became a battleground, first between a young Portugal and the Arab armies, and then between Portugal and Castile. A legend has it that the kings of both nations met in the castle in 1224 to work out the disputed border. Almost a century later, the lands were still in dispute, leading King D. Dinis expanded the castle, adding an unprecedented five sided keep, a solid new ring of walls, and a subtle message to the Castilians: This was a Portuguese town. Sabugal retained its importance in the 15th century when King D. Manuel I ordered it repaired, adding elegant balconies with murder holes, and cross-shaped archer’s loops. The town played an important role in the 1640s during the war of independence from Spain, with the legendary adventurer and soldier Bras Garcia de Mascarenhas winning important battles in the region until his rebellious spirit landed him a cell in one of Sabugal’s towers. From his prison he wrote a series of moving letters that eventually convinced the king, D. João IV to free him. Today, the restored castle retains its ancient might with well preserved rings of circular, delicately castellated walls, and a five-sided keep.
Sortelha - A few granite towns seem so moored to the past as Sortelha. Rising at the top of a granite hill, Sortelha with its few hundred inhabitants is a magical place. Not only is the original town still enclosed in uneven walls, but also the houses have barely evolved from the 14th century. It is a place of timeless beauty.Here once stood a Celtic village, followed by a Roman town, and finally in the 13th century, a Portuguese frontier village. In 1228 king D. Sancho I ordered the town refortified. It was repaired over the centuries, but eventually lost its military significance and the castle was abandoned. Yet, it remained in relatively good condition, and today is a wonderful example of an early Portuguese castle. The village’s partially ruined town walls and door-less gates welcome the visitor. The castle itself lies at the center of the town and is ship-like and simple, built of square granite rocks, and a simple keep. The Ogival doors, simple balcony with murder hole, and amazing views make Sortelha a true voyage to another time.
Idanha-a-Velha was at its height, the Roman city of Igaeditânia boasted a population of 200,000. It once had a cathedral, and was a major center of commerce. Today, Idanha-a-Velha has about 350 inhabitants, and lots of memories. It began in 16 BC, when fertile and gold-rich soil led the Emperor Augustus to order the town built. It prospered with the Pax Romana. When that era ended in the 4th century, the town was destroyed by barbarians. The newly arrived Visigoths rebuilt and repaired the walls and town in the 6th century. The Visigoth King Womba was born in the Idanha-a-Velha walls, and he had a great cathedral built. By the 8th century, the Moors had arrived, and Idanha-a-Velha found itself in a no man’s land between Christians to the north, and Arabs to the south. The town was abandoned. D. Sancho I claimed Idanha-a-Velha for Portugal in the 13th century, but it never recovered its past glory. It may also be the most fascinating place in Europe that has never been written about. This modest hamlet among the olive groves encapsulates the history of Portugal. Discreet signposts and explanations in Portuguese, French and English guide visitors through the landmarks of this living museum. Idanha-a-Velha was founded as a Roman garrison town called Egitanea in the first century and had more than 200,000 inhabitants at one time. The town was so important that it became a diocesan seat in 599 AD, with its own bishop until 1199. Idanha even had a center to coin gold. The Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bishops' Palace all date from this period of development. Today Idanha-a-Velha (Idanha-the-Old) is a national monument with archaeological significance because of its landmarks and ruins. The crumbling walls and towers still mask more ancient remains, like the ruins of a temple to Augustus under a tower from the 14th century.
Amieira do Tejo boasts a perfect square, flanked by four towers, is the design of this unique castle. No other Portuguese castle shares its design, and none rises from the banks of a river with equal majesty. The castle was edified in the 14th century by Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira, a knight-turned-monk and father of the legendary Nuno Álvares Pereira. Today, its particular and square-like design is unique. The well-preserved main tower offers several amply Gothic rooms, and the original cistern and parade square are well maintained. Amieira retains a bold view, and special setting that transcends the centuries.
Belver is indeed "Lovely to view,"- that’s what Belver means. Legend has it that King D. Sancho I ordered the knights of St. John of the Hospital to build a castle on a fine hill overlooking the Tejo River. In truth, D. Sancho’s job was not an easy one. He had to continue father’s fight and began against the Moors to the south, keep the peace with the Castilians, and hold onto a defensive line at the Tejo River. To achieve the final part, he turned to religious military orders, and in 1194, the knights of St. John began to build their castle, which they defended until 1350, when the Order of Crato took over the task. The castle served as a base for attack to the south, while its high walls and impressive keep deterred Moorish assaults. Belver’s castle still dominates the highest hill on a green and yellow bank of the Tejo, with a small village in its lap. The fine walls, which are in good repair, circle the keep in the shape of a pear. The walls offer sweeping views of the Tejo, and a sense as to how Belver got its name.
Cities that should be on your list:
Viseu is a city in the mountains of the Dão River Valley in the Centro region of Portugal. The name “Viseu” comes from "visa"- or with a good view in Latin, as the city began as a Roman settlement, and was the highest place to live. Local legend Viriato, who has a statue in the city today, was a hard shelled Lusitania who led a fierce resistance to the Romans here. And, Viseu was the birthplace of one of the greatest Portuguese painters - Vasco Fernandes (1475-1540), best known as Grão Vasco. He gave his name to a museum that houses many of his best paintings, not to mention a hotel, a school, and even a brand of wine. The museum, installed in the old bishop's palace, also has the works of other painters of the period known as the School of Viseu.
The Granite City is rich in palaces, historic buildings, and churches. In addition to the cathedral there are six major churches, four chapels, two convents, and the bishop's palace. Remnants of the ancient walls still protect the oldest part of Viseu. The city's gothic cathedral dates from 830 AD.
While some bypass the town of Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve, they are missing a real jewel. Look at it a little Lisbon - here's why... Set between Spain, Castro Marim, Tavira and the Atlantic Ocean, this is a new town in the timeline of Portuguese history. The mouth of the Guadiana River divides the Portuguese Algarve from Spain. Vila Real would rise where there used to be a small fishing village called Santo António de Arenilha. Sebastian José de Carvalho e Melo, better known as Marquês de Pombal, prime minister to King Dom José I, was the man responsible for the creation of the plan. The building of Vila Real was quite fast; In March of 1774 they laid the first stone and by August of the same year the Customs House was finished, and the construction of the church had begun. The buildings were built in the same way as the downtown Lisbon would be, with prefabricated parts that were later set in place, making the construction more uniform and faster. The works were completed by May 13, 1776. The city was developed in a perfect urban grid, centered on the Marquês de Pombal Square. It was a shining gem on the banks of the Guadiana River. When Lisbon was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1775 - Vila Real de Santo António would be the model.
Guarda: Mountain air, granite and medieval streets - this is the hilltop city of Guarda - in fact Portugal’s highest city. Fernando, King of Portugal, spent some time here in the 14th century, taking advantage of the mountain air while recovering from a lung disease. Today, the towers of the walled city are mostly intact. Inside the city’s Gothic Cathedral, visitors will find an enormous stone altarpiece, created by the master mason João de Ruão. The city runs in narrow streets from the Cathedral, with 16th century arcades surrounding the main square. Near the battlements, a Jewish community once thrived. Here in the Jewish Quarter, the symbols of the Jewish faith still grace the walls of the stone houses.
Don't Miss the Wonders of Cork Country
There is this part of Portugal that is unique, romantic and a destination all its own in between. Meet the Alentejo where smaller towns with low, whitewashed houses and narrow streets, where the traditional handicrafts and cuisine are the attraction. Unlike most areas of Portugal, the Alentejo is mostly flat. And this is helpful because there’s no better way of getting to know the region but with a bicycle. There’s a list of cycling trails you can do from North to South, East to West with beautiful stopovers in towns with their own characteristics, or in montes with cows, goats, and pigs just showing off their free range lifestyle. Of course, a car can be also very useful for you to get the most out of it and explore off the beaten track. Public transport is generally good between all of the major towns - like Évora, Beja, Portalegre, or Santarem - and Lisbon and there is limited bus services to the surrounding countryside. Just an hour from Lisbon, the Alentejo has no big cities but is made up of fortified hill towns featuring traditional crafts and foods. Making up 30% of Portugal, the region has flowing vineyards and olive oil groves with a mild climate. Guests enjoy the traditional cuisine and distinct local olive oils, bold wines as well as hiking or cycling the rolling cork plains, natural reserves and more than 85 miles of Atlantic coastline.
Cork is part of the natural wonder that people from the Alentejo have upheld for centuries - it is harvested from a specific layer of bark, on the cork oak tree. This layer, called the phellem layer, is composed of a water-repelling material that has unique characteristics: it is impermeable, buoyant, elastic, and fire-retardant. Cork oaks grow all over this wide montado (cork forest) landscape - a Mediterranean type of forest that is symbiotic for pasture - so 73% of Portugal’s production of cork comes from here.
Overall, taking your time and exploring Portugal at a slow pace is a great way to fully experience all that this amazing country has to offer.