When people think of Southern Europe, they picture the warm, calm waters of the Mediterranean, perhaps considering an idyllic island break or cultural city tour in one of the well-established tourist haunts across France, Italy and Greece. It’s perhaps this Mediterranean tie that meant when tourists started flocking to Portugal they mainly headed for the Algarve region, along Portugal’s Southern coast. Moving away from this area is actually your first step toward seeing what this country can truly offer, from the cultural and historic northern regions to the wild and picturesque Atlantic coastline. Along this Western coastline are a number of must-see destinations to toast your skin in the summer’s warmth or cool down in the Atlantic sea
The Aveiro coast will satisfy anyone who lives for endless stretches of golden beaches and curving sand dunes. If you hate having to fight for your plot of sand to lay your towel down on or paying ridiculous fees for sun loungers then you’ll probably feel like you’re in heaven here.
These sand dunes are best seen at the beach by the Sao Jacinto Nature Reserve which protects them from development, and is a great place for anyone interested in exploring an untouched ecosystem, lagoon and forest backdrop. Away from the beach, the Aveiro district holds the enviable nickname of being the ‘Portuguese Venice.’ This is probably largely due to the 19th Century architecture and the gondola boats that float along the waterways here.
Cascais’ location nearby Lisbon has enabled it to thrive as a popular beach destination, and it sits in a region that spoils beach fans for choice. The Atlantic coast offers more power than the Mediterranean so if you’re looking to catch some waves in Europe, this has long been popular with the surfing crowd. It’s not just a beach though, the fishing port keeps it alive through the winter, and there’s much to see and explore in the summer as the resort and little shops and cafes come to life. Having been popular with royalty in the 19th century, it has many colourful and vibrant buildings, with the Castro Guimarães Museum being the best place to visit for this.
Photo by FR Antunes
With its coastal location Lisbon creates a stunning scene that many capital cities struggle to capture. The above mentioned Cascais is a short distance away, but don’t let this completely distract you from the capital. Lisbon is the place to catch up on your history, with plenty of cathedrals and historic buildings, which coupled with the many narrow cobbled lanes that make this a fantastic location to stroll around and wile away the hours. Bairro Alto, perched atop the hillside is one of the most popular districts to head to if you’re looking for this particular quaint scene.
Christianity has more than left its mark on Lisbon, and ties extend back to the days of the Crusades. The Basilica da Estrela is one of the finest churches in Lisbon, and offers great views of the city. If you’re looking for something slightly different to this, then the Castelo de Sao Jorge is a fine Castle dating back to Moorish ownership of Lisbon before the 12th century.
If you’re spending more than a couple of days in Lisbon, then the Costa da Caparica beach is an alternative destination to Cascais and is widely regarded as one of the most popular beaches in Europe.
Photo by FR Antunes
The whole Alentejo region is visually stunning, known for its natural colourful beauty, many tourists come here to explore the landscape overrun with wild flowers and gentle hills. The violent past means you can find walled towns worth a day’s exploration, with the city of Evora being a particular example and is designated a world heritage site.
However, it is from a coastal point of view that much of this region is famous for. You can get all the usual surfing and wind surfing activities done here, whilst many simply stroll along the beaches taking in the impressive and imposing sheer cliffs running along the shores. This is one of the few outstanding stretches of coastline in Europe that has so far avoided the mass urbanization and development that some feel scars many beach resorts on the continent.
About Matthew – Matthew enjoys travelling the world and blogging about his experiences. He has explored extensively around Europe, with his Portugal Holidays being a distinct highlight.