It’s only when I stop and take a little while to look back on 2017 that I realise how many places in Portugal I visited last year. Some had been on my wish list for a very long time and others were return visits to familiar yet beloved destinations for new experiences.
By sharing these adventures with you, I hope to give you some ideas for your own trips in Portugal.
I’ve organised them by region, from north to south, to make it easier for you to find what may be of most interest.
Note: I still have a backlog of writing and photo editing to catch up with so I will add links to this article whenever I publish additional information about any of these places.
Parts of 2017 involved a lot of walking in Portugal.
I love how varied the Atlantic coastline is in this part of Northern Portugal. There are wide sandy beaches, pebbly coves, rocky shores and windswept dunes galore, not to mention great little towns and cities like Viana do Castelo.
Read more about my experiences along Portugal’s Green Coast in this post.
I also spent one glorious week hiking in the Douro wine region. Although it was late February and the grape vines were bare of leaves, there were puffs of almond blossom and evergreen olive trees to brighten up the always impressive landscape.
I was back in the Douro again in April to try out some new quintas and yet again in September to participate in the grape harvest and get to know the São João da Pesqueira area.
I finally made it to Chaves in the far north of Portugal, a charming town that’s been on my wish list since 2016 if not longer. My friend Jules and I stayed in the fortress hotel, a handy base for exploring the small city centre and its castle.
Since Chaves has been renowned for its curative waters since Roman times, we made time for a spa treatment which included getting hosed down by a man in shorts.
Porto always gets a few visits per year from me and this was no exception. Each time I go I find even more great places to visit including Taylors’ port wine lodge and traditional grocery store-cum-café, Mercearia das Flores.
Central Portugal including the Silver Coast
I found the mysterious ‘naval’ in the Serra da Estrela Mountains although the drought had removed some of the magic. Even the first photo doesn’t do it full justice – when the water level is higher, you can’t see the edges of the tunnel so it looks like a sinkhole.
On our way to Salamanca, we took a slight detour off the EN17 to see the historical village of Linhares da Beira. The castle offers sweeping views and was full of chattering and swooping swallows.
Although not quite on the same scale as the Flintstone-esque village of Monsanto, huge granite boulders form part of the local architecture in Linhares da Beira.
I finally got around to visiting the fourth of Central Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, namely Batalha Monastery.
Aside from the magnificently carved doorway, I’ll admit to feeling somewhat underwhelmed in comparison with the likes of Alcobaça Monastery, the Convent of Christ in Tomar and Coimbra University.
That is until we entered the unfinished chapel. Just wow! Sadly, my photos don’t do it justice.
The sculpture gardens at Buddah Eden and the Grutas d’Aire caves have also been calling to me for years. Neither disappointed. On a trip to explore more of the Silver Coast, I got to see both of these plus a gorgeous family-run winery.
If you want to explore Central Portugal in depth, check out my 10-Day Self Drive Itinerary.
On the journey home, we stopped at the curious inland salt pans of Rio Maior in the Serra Daire e Candeeiros. I even squeezed in a short walk through the natural park which has whet my appetite for more.
Although I’ve realised that I struggle with crowds these days, we braved a Sunday afternoon at the Cheese Fair in Oliveira do Hospital and come home with some delicious cheese and olive oil.
I also had the pleasure of attending an olive oil tasting session at Passeite, a new addition to Coimbra’s restaurant scene, that has taught me what to look out for when buying a bottle.
The Provarte Beer Festival in Sertã gave us yet more opportunities to sample Portuguese craft beers including one that tasted of smoked bacon!
The stripey cottages of Barra and Costa Nova drew me back to Aveiro via the Ria de Aveiro lagoon, a great spot for watersports and boat trips as well as learning about all the different shapes and sizes of local fishing boats.
Aveiro’s main museum proved to be worth the wait. I was captivated by the spectacular inlaid marble tomb of Princess Saint Joana.
Nazaré gets a lot of press because of the huge beach and surf but it hadn’t made a great impression on me on my first visit a few years back – it felt overly touristy to me. On a sunny Sunday afternoon in November, however, Nazaré is actually a very pleasant place to be.
Although Nazaré has redeemed itself to some extent, it in no way beats the beaches in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Mike and I began our exploration of the coastline with the clifftop village of Azenhas do Mar and walked down the steps to the small beach which has graced many a photograph.
We stopped at several others as we headed south but my favourite was Praia da Adraga. Partly because of the dramatic rock formations and archway and partly thanks to the delicious lunch we had at the beachfront restaurant.
I’ve been to Cascais several times but had never found time to see what Estoril has to offer until earlier this year. While it lacks the pretty town centre that Cascais has, the beach is nice and you can walk along the waterfront all the way to Cascais.
At that time, the new building had only one exhibition so we spent the time wandering around the exterior and revisiting the former Electricity Museum. Mike loves it here, thanks to the heavy duty machinery used in the the former power station. The unique building now hosts art installations inside.
One of the places I’d been meaning to visit for some time was the Convent of St. Francis in the Arrábida Natural Park. It’s not open every day and you need to make an appointment so it’s not easy to fit into an itinerary but it was definitely worth a visit. You’ll see why in this post.
Our base for this trip was Setúbal, a city south of Lisbon that I’ve overlooked for far too long. Both Mike and I were surprised by how much we liked it.
The colourful street decorations and public artworks helped, as did the Museu do Trabalho which is largely dedicated to the sardine canning factories that were once the major industry in Setúbal.
A ferry ride across the Sado Estuary didn’t reveal the famous dolphins but we were able to explore the Roman ruins and white sand beaches at Troia, see the village and beach of Comporta as well as the ramshackle fishing jetty at Carrasqueira.
More on all these soon(ish).
My sunbathing days are long over so I am perfectly happy with visiting the Algarve during the winter months.
Mike and I spent a week in December in the fishing town of Olhão and used it as a base to explore both east and west. We became quite fond of this no-frills town and its quiet cobbled streets.
Not to mention the great food and craft beer we had there. A blog post awaits.
On Christmas morning, we watched groups of expats enjoying the sun and sandy beach at Fuseta with a glass or two of espumante. We then walked across the Ria Formosa near Tavira to see the anchor cemetery at Praia do Barril.
We explored the grid of streets in Vila Real de Santo António, purpose-built in the 18th century by the Marquês do Pombal, strolled along the beach in Monte Gordo to where the fishermen do their thing and understood why Praia Verde is so popular.
To the west, Mike was particularly taken with Praia da Luz, a small village surrounding a rocky shore and sandy beach next to a soaring striated cliff.
The more commonly featured cliff stacks of Lagos beaches also made it onto our itinerary.
I’m already planning trips for 2018 and will be sharing my Portugal travel wish list within the next few weeks.
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In the meantime, I hope this offers some inspiration for your own holiday. Let me know if you need help with your itinerary.
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