Last January, I published a rather ambitious list of places in Portugal that I wanted to visit in 2014. Looking back at the list a year later, did I make it to all of them?
Almost! Plus a few extra trips that weren’t even on the list.
I’m busy working out my travel plans for 2015 but in the meantime, here’s a quick summary of many of the places in Portugal I actually visited last year. You may recognise some of them from previous blog posts but others remain teasers for forthcoming articles:
I’d been dying to go back to the magical town of Sintra to explore its palaces and gardens. Even though the weekend I went was one of the stormiest of the year, I still had a wonderful time and managed to avoid getting caught in a downpour in Monserrate Palace gardens. Find out what makes Sintra so appealing in this post: Why Sintra deserves far more than just a day trip.
In February, I dragged Mike off to the Foz Côa region to see the almond blossoms and the prehistoric rock art. We both thoroughly enjoyed the guided visits we made to see the ancient art, especially at night.
Madeira is Magic
Madeira was everything I’d hoped for and I can’t wait to return. For varied and dramatic scenery, it’s hard to beat. If you haven’t already read about the fun I had touring in a sidecar and stuffing my face with Madeiran treats, check out this post: Exploring Madeira by sidecar: An exhilarating introduction to the island. You can also find out what to see and do in Funchal and read about some of the easier walks in Madeira.
September in the Douro
My best friend and I hit Porto and the Douro valley at the beginning of September and managed to get involved with the grape harvest at our gorgeous country hotel just outside Lamego, Hotel Rural Casa dos Viscondes da Varzea. We even had a go at treading grapes at Quinta do Pôpa. It was too hot for hiking but not for a boat trip into the ruggedly attractive Douro International Natural Park.
We were a little early in the year to witness the full glory of the autumnal colours of the vineyards but the leaves were beginning to change colour from green to copper and burgundy and the countryside is always glorious. We visited Favaios, one of the Douro valley wine villages, and were impressed with the bread and wine museum, not to mention the local muscatel wine.
North and South of Lisbon
Another friend joined me for a trip that stemmed from the wish list. We took the lift up Jesus (the Cristo Rei monument in Almada) for spectacular views across the river to Lisbon. Sadly, that’s when my phone disappeared so the rest of that day was spent retracing our steps and filing police reports. Apparently, the monument attracts a lot of pickpockets as well as tourists and the devout so keep an eye on your stuff if you go.
The rest of our trip around the south of Lisbon was more of a success, especially our arty, foodie excursion to Azeitão and the scenic drive through Serra da Arrábida. Find out more about what we loved about Sesimbra.
Another highlight of that trip, which again didn’t feature on the wish list, was a boat trip to the island nature reserve of Berlenga just off the coast of Peniche. If you don’t cope well with choppy seas or seagulls, this isn’t for you, but we survived the journey and had a delightful walk.
Up North, again
Sadly, I didn’t make it to the Alentejo to hike any of the Rota Vicentina but it’s on the list for 2015. Instead, I went back up to the north of Portugal to delve into its history via the Lima Valley Giants Route and visits to some fascinating Romanesque monuments. For a little light relief, I stopped at the enchanting Quinta da Aveleda for folly-filled gardens, crisp vinho verde and soft local cheese and popped back to the charming riverside town of Amarante a couple of times to do some of the things I missed the first time around.
Caldas da Rainha lived up to my expectations, especially the Museu da Cerâmica. The gardens and 19th century manor house it’s housed in are teaming with exquisite examples of ceramics, mainly from the local area. Curiously, there seems to be a local obsession with giant phalluses which left my mum and I bemused. I never did find out why they feature so heavily in shop displays so if anyone can enlighten me, please do!
Mountains and river beaches
One of the highlights from 2014 was spending some time in the Serra da Estrela. Despite inadequate walking information, my friend and I managed to do a few short walks and discovered the rather special river beach at Loriga.
I also ventured back into the Peneda Gerês National Park to find long-horned cows and a tiny mountain village called Ermida. And encountered yet more stunning wild countryside driving through Alvão Natural Park in search of Fisgas de Ermelo waterfalls.
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