Culture and Cuisine from Porto to Basque Country
Portugal, along with Spain, kicked off the Age of Discovery in the 15th century with innovative technology that helped sailors go farther than thought possible. Their mark can be found all over the world, from Brazil to Goa. While Portugal handed over its last colonial possession, Macau, to China in 1999, it retains the Azores in the North Atlantic and Madeira off the western coast of Morocco as autonomous regions. These islands are fascinating destinations unto themselves with their own cultures developed over the last six centuries.
On the mainland, world-class cities, an enchanting river valley, and some absolutely gorgeous beaches await. About a quarter of Portugal’s population lives in and around Lisbon, which is smart because it’s a great city built on hills with an average high temperature of 70 degrees. The Alfama neighborhood is full of the sights and sounds of the city’s past, with melancholy Fado music emanating from historic buildings. The Bairro Alto is its counterpoint, with nightlife catering to the younger demographic. Baixa is the heart of the city, built after a devastating earthquake in 1755. In less than an hour, you can be in the town of Sintra, a seaside marvel with fairytale architecture.
Three hours north of Lisbon lies Porto, Portugal’s second city. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the area produces the famed Port fortified wine. Porto is where the Douro River meets the Atlantic. See the famous azulejo tiles of the region and take in the views from the iron masterpiece Ponte Dom Luís. Learn the secrets of port-making during a visit to a riverside port house, tasting the best of what Portugal has to offer.
The Algarve region along the southern coast is a playground of beautiful beaches, some of Europe’s best golf courses, and the great seafood and produce you come to expect in a Mediterranean climate (though it’s outside the Straits of Gibraltar, so officially on the Atlantic). It’s also famed for its handmade pottery and ceramics. Its relationship with water made Portugal, and it’s still what makes it such a great destination.
COVID entry protocols
Except for children 24 months old and under, every passenger must submit a negative SARSCoV-2 lab result of a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), for example, a PCR test, performed in the last 72 hours or a rapid antigen test (TRAg), performed within 24 hours of boarding.
Passengers aged 12 and older arriving in the Azores — even on domestic flights from outside the Azores — must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to departure, proof of recovery from the disease, or must test upon arrival and remain in isolation until the results are known. Travelers who wish to remain in the Azores for more than seven days will be required to test again on the sixth day.
Anyone arriving in Madeira — even on domestic flights from outside Madeira — must either provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to departure or provide proof of vaccination or recovery from the disease.
Where to stay
Bairro Alto Hotel
Having recently undergone an expansion plan, renewing its status as one of the leading boutique hotels in Europe, this hotel has enlarged its portfolio by award-winning architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. The renovation of the 18th-century buildings has brought the number of rooms to 87, including 10 suites and 12 Junior Suites. The new area includes an innovative dining restaurant with a terrace, a cocktail bar, a patisserie full of fresh-baked treats, concepts signed by creative chef Nuno Mendes, and an indulging wellness area, making Bairro Alto Hotel the most complete five-star boutique hotel in Lisbon.
Those seeking insight into Portuguese wines need do little more than visit the cellars of The Yeatman. The 109-room hotel, which holds a prime spot among Porto’s historic wine lodges, houses one of the world’s most extensive port collections and partners with top local wineries for weekly themed dinners. Wine is the word for anti-aging treatments at the Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa; indulge in a signature Barrel Bath Experience before exploring the UNESCO-designated Douro Valley. Then again, you might just kick back with a bottle and enjoy the unobstructed views from your private balcony.
Reid’s Palace, Madeira
Discerning travelers adore Belmond Reid’s Palace for its superb service, excellent hospitality, and fine culinary experiences in calm and exclusive surroundings. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill painted and wrote his war memoirs, and also where George Bernard Shaw mastered the tango. Indulge in a Deluxe Sea View Room for the best ocean and garden views from your private balcony or patio. Several dining options are available; all restaurants feature exclusive atmospheres and unique culinary adventures. Don’t miss the oceanfront spa with Aromatherapy Associates and Natura Bissé treatments.
Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa
Some 203 breezy, sea-themed rooms, suites, and villas are scattered about Vila Vita Parc Resort & Spa to provide guests with the ultimate privacy. After a signature treatment at the Spa by Sisley Paris, a cruise on the yacht, or a six-course tasting at the two-Michelin starred Ocean, if you feel like a bit more pampering, simply let a butler chauffeur you back to your suite in a golf buggy. No request is too large or small at this unapologetically plush cliffside resort in Algarve, which offers direct access to the beach and something for everyone, including golf, water sports, 10 dining venues, and a phenomenal kids’ playground.
From Porto to Basque Country, Portugal captivates with its history, art, culture, and delectable cuisine, making it a country worth discovering. Have I tempted you enough to see this small but mighty country for yourself? Contact me today so we can start planning your Portuguese adventure!