Portugal has all the Mediterranean motifs that make a vacation such a photogenic pleasure: the red-tiled, whitewashed architecture, the tiny towns asleep in the searing afternoon, the seafood lunches by glittering harbours. Discover a country as vivid and original as the azulejos tiles that cover the facades of its baroque palaces.
Beachy Aveiro has a uniquely beautiful network of canals that wind their way through the city, hence its nickname “the Venice of Portugal”. But in most other ways it is conventionally charming. Every street is lined with photogenic Portuguese architecture: idyllic whitewashed Mediterranean houses and traditional façades clad in azulejos, the glazed ceramic tiles for which Portugal is celebrated, in all colours and patterns. The town is a dream if you’re the type who likes to wander, with small bridges and quaint courtyards at every turn. Central to it all is the Cathedral of Aveiro, a masterpiece of Portuguese baroque architecture you mustn’t miss.
It’s continually growing – in fact it’s currently the second-largest city in Portugal – but Porto hasn’t let go of its nostalgic charm. You will still find, as you amble around, vivid buildings nudged up beside baroque mansions and crumbling medieval churches. Beneath the town, in places, lie the cellars that store the city’s world-famous export: port wine. Romance radiates from the city centre – from the period architecture and twisting narrow streets with glimpses of the riverfront – and it comes as no great surprise to learn that Unesco has anointed it with world heritage status.
There’s something about Tavira, on the Algarve, that sets it apart from other Portuguese resorts; something about the crisp architecture, not to mention its historic roots traceable around town. A Moorish influence is abundantly clear – from the brilliant white homes with their iconic period archways, to the seven-arched Moorish bridge that links the two parts of the town. Tavira is much appreciated for the dazzling natural beauty that surrounds it, with soft, white-sand beaches sloping gently down to the warm, clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Dominated by the pull of the Atlantic, this working port, an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, is loved for its world-class beaches and surfer-perfect swell – dudes love Praia dos Supertubos, famed for its perfectly hollow waves. Make time for a trip to the Berlengas Natural Reserve, just off the coast, home to a colony of puffins, with its surrounding waters rich in marine life. Local crafts are highly covetable, among them handmade lace known as Renda de Bilros (bobbin lace). And the produce of the sea makes for delicious regional stews and rice-focused aroz de marisco in the fish restaurants that enliven the harbour front.
At the far-western tip of the Algarve, slightly rugged but endearingly laid-back Sagres shares nature in abundance, whether you’re surfing in the challenging waters, whipped by the Atlantic winds, or sunning yourself on pale-sand beaches. Most restaurants are geared towards the surfers who flock here, and are dotted here and there slightly unconventionally. However, down by the port life becomes more traditional with small seafood restaurants beckoning you in to enjoy the catch of the day. Just outside the town, the dramatic Cabo de São Vicente headland is the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe. Marked by a scenic lighthouse, it’s an atmospheric, unmissable sight.
Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting to this article.