DO YOU WANT TO FIND A GETAWAY IN PORTUGAL? HERE ARE SOME TIPS:
A late bloomer in Europe’s tourism craze, Portugal has become a major attraction in the last few years. Porto was elected best European destination in 2017, Lisbon doesn’t fall behind and is the leading tourism magnet in the country, and Portugal itself has been receiving countless awards and travel recommendations. Take the examples of the Telegraph, The New York Times, Forbes or countless blog articles about how amazing Portugal is. This is great for a country that just recently went through yet another financial crisis that culminated in the international bailout to Portugal, the 3rd of its recent history. However, with the massification of tourism, comes a dark toll: Landmarks become overpopulated, genuine experiences get corrupted and you simply don’t know how to tell what’s authentic and what’s not.
Rootfarers is a Portuguese tour guide company that aims to help travelers retain what’s really authentic in Portugal. With that in mind, we’ve prepared a set of places that we believe are off the beaten path and largely unknown, despite the undeniable charm and authenticity. These are locations where you can easily spend from a day to a week, depending on the level of “immersiveness” you seek. Enjoy!
Miranda do Douro & Trás-os-Montes
Located in “Trás-os-Montes” district in the Northeastern corner of Portugal right next to Spain, Miranda do Douro is probably one of the least visited places in Portugal, mostly due to the long distance from the main cities (3h from Porto and 5h from Lisbon, by car). Still, it’s rich in history and home to some of the most identifiable traditions in Portugal such as the charming dance of the “Pauliteiros de Miranda”. It’s also the place where you can hear Mirandese, the only recognized language apart from Portuguese.
Be sure to: Check an “Pauliteiros de Miranda” exhibition, eat a “Posta Mirandesa” (a massive steak) visit the city center, go on a road trip through the district of Trás-os-Montes.
Peneda Gerês National Park
If there’s a place that seems to be lost in time, it’s Peneda-Gerês. Some 1,5 hours North of Porto, Peneda-Gerês is the sole national park in Portugal and it’s arguably one of the most magical places in Portugal. Here, you have the chance to take long hikes through its mountains and get to know the most remarkable villages, crafts, and inhabitants. Don’t be surprised if you see a massive mountain goat wandering through the road or an old lady still carrying a heavy bundle of twigs just like in the XIX century, this is Geres, a place lost in time.
Be sure to: Take long hikes, visit the castles of Castrol Laboreiro and Lindoso, check out the mountain villages (Soajo, Pitões das júnias, among many others), take a swim in many of its rivers, creeks, and waterfalls, blend into the traditions and customs of the people.
Do you want to be where it all began? Visit Guimarães. Tradition states that this city in the North is the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality and is commonly referred to as “the cradle city”. It was here that Portugal’s first king D.Afonso Henriques “The Conqueror” was born and raised. It was also in the vicinity of the city that the seminal event for the foundation of Portugal took place in 1128: The battle of S.Mamede.
Be sure to: visit the city center (UNESCO World heritage site), witness the “Gualterianas” festivities in August, check out the “Citânia de Briteiros” ruins, climb towards the Penha sanctuary for a breathtaking view of the city.
Historic Portuguese villages tour
This is probably something very few tourists have done. It’s even something most Portuguese don’t know about. No wonder why, Portugal is a World class country with plenty of touristic offerings so it’s easy to overlook some of its best-kept secrets. Still, this is one of the most charming Portuguese tours you can make. Spanning from Castelo Branco in the South to the Douro River in the North, in this tour you will visit picturesque and quaint small villages that encompass many of Portugal’s finest castles, schist houses, crafts, and secular traditions.
Be sure to: Visit the schist village of Piodão, check out Monsanto (dubbed “the most Portuguese village”), hike in “Serra da Estrela” mountain, try the famous “Serra da Estrela” cheese and visit the border castles of Almeida, Castelo Rodrigo, and Pinhel.
Zêzere river and surroundings
If you are seeking a quick getaway close to Lisbon but away from the main touristic routes, then the region where the Zêzere river meets the Tagus river is a good place for you. This region holds some of the best examples of Templar architecture in Portugal and is a close mimic of the scenery of the Douro river (but without the vineyards).
Be sure to: Kayak in the Zêzere river, visit the charming village of Dornes by the river, visit this historic city of Tomar and the castle of Almourol, check out the place where the Tagus and Zêzere rivers meet (Constância).
Évora and surroundings
One cannot leave Portugal without experiencing its rich and diverse countryside. It’s amazing how a country so small as Portugal can boast many different cultures depending on its region. Alentejo is one of the best examples of how extraordinary the countryside can be. While it’s the largest of Portugal’s regions, if you’re running out of time you can focus on the district of Évora. This is the place to immerse yourself and go on a road trip through its dry, golden plains (during Summer) and traditional whitewashed villages. Get in touch with its charismatic people, its rich crafts and taste some of the best cuisine Portugal has to offer.
Be sure to: visit Évora (UNESCO World heritage site), try some of the local cuisine including açorda and sopa de cação, visit the small village of Brotas (be sure to check the local pottery), check out the rich tapestry of Arraiolos, go on a wine tour (Monte da Ravasqueira for instance), visit the “montado” agrosilvopastoral system and get familiar with the cork oak.
Located in the Southeastern corner of the country, Tavira is clearly separated from Algarve’s mass tourism by avoiding some of the common tourism pitfalls. It holds a strong combination of crystal clear beaches, amazing food, rich history, and strong cultural heritage, but still is quite quiet when compared to most of Algarve.
Be sure to: visit the historic center, have a fish meal in the nearby Santa Luzia village, take a ferry trip towards “Ilha de Tavira” beach, check the Ria Formosa lagoon, take a short trip to nearby Vila Real de Santo António.
The Azores – Central archipelago
This post couldn’t be complete without mentioning the islands of Açores. Once identified as the most probable location of the mythical Atlantis island, the Azores now boasts the title of Portugal greatest nature reserve. It’s an archipelago of 9 volcanic islands, each with its own identity. If you’re looking for nature tourism, this is probably the best place to visit in Portugal since there’s plenty of offerings depending on what you seek: surfing, hiking, scuba diving, kayaking, canyoning, whale watching, among many other things.
Be sure to: visit all of the 9 islands (!)
Authentic experiences for authentic travelers