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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Portugal.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Portugal.
One of the most recognisable symbols of this vibrant Portuguese festival is the installation of hundreds of colourful umbrellas suspended above one of the city’s streets. Other parts of the urban landscape, like park benches, stairs, and power poles, are also painted in colourful examples of street art, creating an enchanted atmosphere.
The festival aims to promote new musical and artistic projects with the ‘Talentos AgitAgueda’, a competition for emerging artists. As well as new hopefuls there are many established national and international acts that grace the stage.
The festivities extend over three weeks so there’s plenty of time to pack it all in. Many of the musical acts perform in the main tent, which is free. And there’s nothing stopping you from walking around the streets to see all the amazing outdoor installations, murals and sculptures
Not of too long ago, even seasoned travelers would have struggled to pick the Azores out on a map. For years, this isolated scattering of nine Portuguese islands remained a well-kept secret, a geological and horticultural oasis awash in the mid-Atlantic. Yet with Unesco recognition of its historical and biological attractions, and new flight paths putting it within easy reach of the UK, there’s never been a better time to visit.
And what a place you’ll find. Sat at the meeting point of three tectonic plates, the Azores have the kind of gasp-inducing activity. Magma still flows below the surface and it plays a prominent part in Azorean life. For example, the delicious local stew, Cozido das Furnas, is slow-cooked beneath the ground by volcanic heat.
The Azores are ideal for fly-d rive breaks. Roads are well maintained and quiet (though you may see the occasional cow) and it’s easy to drop off your car, hop on a ferry or plane and pick up a new one on the other side. Book with Regent Holidays and everything will be taken care of, from your flights and car to your choice of hand-picked hotels. Here’s an idea of what you can expect.
You’ll arrive at the airport on Sao Miguel, the chain’s biggest island — and its greenest. Spend a few days wandering the prettily mosaicked streets of the capital Ponta Delgada, eating in excellent seafood restaurants and heading out for day trips. Nearby Lagoa da Fogo, or fire lake, is an aptly-named highlight, avast crater lake surrounded by boiling springs and smouldering holes in the ground, while to the southwest you’ll find Ferraria, a haven of thermal springs and spas where you can soak away your stresses in warm, volcano-heated water. Brave a descent into the Gruta do Carvao, a 10,000 year-old lava tunnel measuring almost 2km end-to-end, before visiting the Volcanology Centre in Lagoa to learn about the awesome forces that created it.
Next up is Terceira, home to Angra do Heroismo, a Unesco World Heritage site and a 15th-century city that’s barely changed in 500 years. It’s the oldest settlement on the Azores, and its colonial Portuguese architecture includes a charming cathedral and quaint cobbled boulevards. Take a car and climb the nearby extinct volcano, Monte Brasil for stunning views across the bay, or descend to the island’s core at Algar do Carvao, a 90m-deep volcanic chimney. Don’t miss the bathing pools on the northwest coast either: ancient lava formations provide a tranquil shelter from the Atlantic swell.
Drop off your car and board the ferry to Pico, the youngest of the Azores and a fertile island dominated by a 2,351m-high active volcano, Mt Pico. The hike to the summit is a must: allow around seven hours for the full trip, and consider booking a hiking guide unless you’re an experienced mountaineer. On the north coast you’ll find Currais, an ancient vineyard and Unesco World Heritage site. Sometime around the 15th century, Portuguese settlers built thousands of small rectangular plots here to protect their grapes from the sea and wind. It’s hardly changed since, and the local wine is delicious. The Azores is known for licoroso (fortified wines, not dissimilar to port) but these days they also produce some top-class table wines.
Your final island is Faial. This is the best spot to check out the Azores’ other awe inspiring natural attraction: the pods of whales and porpoises that call these waters home. Boat trips depart from the marina in Horta throughout the summer months, and on any given trip you’ve got a great chance of spotting migrating humpback and sperm whales, orcas and, if you’re lucky, the elusive blue whale. Back on dry land, you can visit the site of the Azores’ last volcanic eruption in 1957, Capelinhos. It’s an ashen landscape that drops suddenly to the ocean: testament to the powerful forces that continue to shape this fascinating region.
The Azores enjoy steady temperatures all year round but are best seen in summer. And there’s far more than could be mentioned here: the other islands, Santa Maria, Sao Jorge, Flores, Gradosa and Corvo, each have their own charms to discover. Speak to Regent Holidays today to learn more about their packages, including the Beyond the Volcano itinerary detailed here, available from £1,450 per person.
The quiet town of Sao Bras de Alportel lies in a valley wooded with olives, figs and almonds, but its most significant trees are the cork oaks whose bark is harvested every nine years or so – part of an industry that has helped preserve a unique landscape. Guided walks of varying lengths include visits to plantations and a traditional cork factory.
Along the western coast, you’ll find unspoiled beaches, backed by beautiful wild vegetation. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina protects the area, and is home to otters, wild cats and some 200 bird species. The coast also has some of Europe’s finest surf. Amado Surf Camp is one of several outfits around the village of Carrapateira offering surf and accommodation packages.
The Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos (Trail of the Seven Hanging Valleys) runs along the clifftops east of Carvoeiro for 31/2 miles, beginning at Praia de Vale Centianes beach, continuing past the sands at Benagil and ending at the limestone rock stacks of Praia da Marinha. The final beach is no secret, but its towering cliffs are emblematic of the Algarvian coast and make a natural backdrop for beach lounging, away from the resorts; the sand and water are perfect.
This russet-coloured, Lego-like castle has great views over Silves town from its chunky sandstone parapets. It dates mostly from the 12th-century Moorish era, with significant modern restoration. Just below it is the medieval Se (cathedral) -one of the Algarve’s most impressive examples, with a substantially unaltered Gothic interior.
A Baroque masterpiece, this church’s inside is wall-to-wall blue-and-white azulejos (painted tiles), with beautiful panels depicting the life of the Roman-era martyr St Lawrence and his grisly death-by-barbecue. The church is off the N125 highway, a mile east of Almancil town centre.
Slumbering in the shadows of its hilltop castle, this picturesque village sees few foreign visitors, but deserves to have more. The Castelo’s medieval walls, bulked up in the 17th century, look out over the nearby border with Spain and marshes that are home to flamingos. A medieval fair is held here around the last weekend in August.
The charming town of Louie is famed for its market, housed in a surprising neo-Moorish building. It’s open every day except Sunday, but on Saturdays stalls spill out onto the streets. Tastings are always on offer somewhere; look out for flame-red piri-piri chillies and homemade hot sauce, along with local ceramics (Praca da Republica; 7am-3prn Mon-Sat).
This rural restaurant six miles north of Albufeira is well worth a trip. It’s famed for serving what many consider to be the Algarve’s finest cataplana (seafood stew) – here, a delicious pork and clam combination. The bean and pork soup is a meal in itself, and the wine cellar, partly on display, is brilliant.
A good pastel de nata (custard tart) is a thing of beauty and a taste of Portugal that will long live in the memory. Pastelarias can be found all over the Algarve, but this one is a local institution in the cobblestoned historic town centre of Tavira. It serves up the best pastries, plus good soups and snacks for those on a budget.
Faro is the gateway airport for the Algarve and it’s possible to fly here from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur on KLM with one stop in Amsterdam. From the airport, shuttle services can zip you to towns across the Algarve or take you into central Faro to connect with buses and trains. The train is a handy option for tripping along the south coast, but hiring a car gives you maximum flexibility, particularly for inland travel. Major car-hire firms operate out of Faro airport.
Hidden in a quiet hill village near Louie, Casa Candelaria is an enchanting b&b in a restored traditional house. Rooms come with private patios and breakfast can be taken on the roof terrace.
Casa Vicentina is a chic and eco-conscious family-friendly retreat on the west coast. The 17-hectare property has a pool abutting a lily-pad-filled lake, and a handful of suites, some with kitchens.
Set among orange groves near Tavira, Quinta da Lua is a delight for its peace and serenity. It has bright and very stylish rooms set around a large saltwater swimming pool.
The Algarve is rich in wetlands and is an important stopover for migratory birds. Birds & Nature can organise birdwatching trips in the region.
Sagres: Raptors pass through this southwestern area on their way to Africa in the autumn. It’s also good for spotting seabirds.
Reserva Naturaldo Sapalde Castro Marim: Important winter visitors to this site in the east of the Algarve include greater flamingos, spoonbills and Caspianterns; in spring it’s busy with white storks.
Lagoa dos Salgados: Between Albufeira and Armasio de Pera, this lagoon is a popular spot for watching ducks and waders; rare species are often seen here.
Parque Natural da Ria Formosa: This park of tidal estuaries and dune islands hosts more than 20,000 birds. Special boat trips leave from Olhao and other towns in the area.
On the highest peaks of the Serra de Sintra stands the spectacular Palace of Pena. This eclectic medley of architectural styles was built in the 19th century for the husband of the young Queen Maria II (r. 1834-53), Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha — King Dom Fernando II of Portugal. It stands over the ruins of a Hieronymite monastery founded here in the 15th century on the site of the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Pena. The outlandish rooms of the enchanting summer palace are filled with oddities from all over the world. The monarchy was overthrown in 1910 and with the declaration of the Republic, the palace became a museum, preserved as it was when the royal family lived here.
In 1839, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha acquired the well-positioned land of a former monastery and appointed the German architect Baron von Eschwege (1777-1855) to construct a fabulous summer palace. Von Eschwege turned the king’s extravagant dreams into reality and, over the following decade, he erected a fantasy palace around the restored ruins of the monastery. On a nearby crag is the statue of a warrior-knight that supposedly guards the palace It is an enormous stone sculpture whose base bears an engraving of the baron’s coat of arms.
Ferdinand’s passion for the arts, and for scientific progress, resulted in an eclectic mix of architectural styles that included Gothic, Renaissance and elements of the rich, indigenous Portugeuse style, Manueline. Painted in shades of pink, blue, and yellow, the exterior of the building is lavishly carved or covered with azulejo tile arrangements, with golden domes, crenellated turrets, and gargoyles. Inside the palace, highlights include the Renaissance retable by sculptor Nicolau Chanterene (chapel altarpiece) and the exotic furniture, which contribute to the prevailing air of decadence.
Sintra has long been regarded as an enchanting place of outstanding beauty, internationally revered by kings, noblemen, and artists. In 1809, the English poet Lord Byron described its verdant beauty as “glorious Eden,” and further praise was given in Os Lusiadas, Portugal’s celebrated 16th-century epic poem by Luis Vaz de Camoes. The Palace of Pena’s garish union of styles, including exotic Gothic traces, made it a forerunner of European Romanticism. Largely inspired by Bavarian palaces, Arab, Portuguese, German, Classical, and Romantic influences were combined to create a unique, and at times bizarre, effect. The surrounding grounds of the Parque da Pena are also of striking romantic beauty, filled with exotic trees and shrubs and containing the chalet Ferdinand had built for his mistress.
Copper pots and utensils still hang around the iron stove here. A dinner service bears the coat of arms of Ferdinand II.
This oval-shaped room is decorated with green walls and a stuccoed ceiling. A portrait of Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, hangs above the fireplace.
This spacious room is sumptuously furnished with German stained-glass windows, precious Oriental porcelain, and four life-size turbaned torchbearers holding giant candelabras.
The impressive 16th-century alabaster and marble retable was sculpted by Nicolau Chanterene. Each niche portrays a scene of the life of Christ, from the manger to the Ascension.
Decorated with colorful patterned tiles, this is part of the original monastery buildings.
Marvelous trompe-l’oeil frescoes cover the walls and ceiling of the Arab Room, one of the loveliest in the palace. The Orient was a great inspiration to Romanticism.
This is encrusted with Neo-Manueline decoration and is guarded by a fierce sea monster.
A studded archway with crenellated turrets greets visitors at the entrance to the palace. Th e palace buildings are painted in the original daffodil yellow and strawberry pink.
Ferdinand was known in Portugal as “the artist king.” Like his cousin Albert, who married Britain’s Queen Victoria, he loved nature, art, and the new inventions of the time. Ferdinand enthusiastically adopted his new country and devoted his life to the arts. In 1869, 16 years after the death of Maria II, Ferdinand married his mistress, the opera singer Countess Edla. His lifelong dream of building the palace at Pena was realized in 1885, the year he died.
The palace hosts a number of live events throughout the year. These include concerts of classical music, exhibitions, ballets, and historical plays performed by internationally acclaimed artistes.
1400s: The Hieronymite monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena is founded here.
1839: Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha buys the ruins of the monastery with the intention of turning it into a palace.
1840s: Baron von Eschwege puts the king’s ideas into effect, preserving the original monastery cloister and chapel.
1910: The palace s classified as a national monument and opens to the public as a museum.
1995: The palace,, along with the city of Sintra, are added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Set in an exclusive location, by one of the Algarve’s most famous beach and surrounded by the lush greenery of the Ria Formosa Natural Park, the Ria Park Hotel & Spa is an elegant, modern hotel with a genuine welcoming service, in an ambiance of natural beauty.
Amongst the many leisure facilities close to the hotel, the highlights are the many nature trails to be enjoyed by foot, bicycle or horse riding, the fantastic offer of restaurants, ranging from casual beach shack to the most elaborate Michelin stared restaurants, or the seven golf just minutes from the hotel, recognized as the best in Portugal. Now fully renovated, guest will find a new decor in all guests’ areas and contemporary poolside furniture, to make your stay even more comfortable. Come visit the Algarve and rediscover the new Ria Park Hotel & Spa.
It was a beautiful student by the name of Mariana who first lured us to the colourful Portuguese capital. We’re thankful for that chance encounter, given it introduced us to a city that’s too often overlooked. Vibrant and youthful, with a ramshackle beauty (a pointer to extended periods of economic hardship) that sees us returning, often, and eagerly labelling this Europe’s current capital of cool. Head here, get lost, enjoy. Simple.
BEST FOR… Coast hiking, seafood, waves WHY GO? Leave the Algarve to the mob – head west instead, where the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Nature Reserve shields a shore rich in wildflowers, birdlife (including leggy cliff-nesting storks) and hidden coves. Accessed by creaky wooden steps, Praia da Carraga is one such golden haven, but there are plenty more.
WHAT TO DO: The Rota Vicentina long-distance trail, opened in 2012, follows the Alentejo coast, giving access to countless secret beaches.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE: Eat fresh fish at nearby Entrada da Barca. Surfers will find many good spots.
GET THERE: The Costa Vicentina is between Lisbon and Faro; trains run from both to Funcheira (inland). Buses reach coastal villages such as Porto Covo and Odeceixe.
Why go? Oh the irony. The Azores archipelago – nine islands castaway in the mid-Atlantic, a long, long way from their Portuguese motherland – was once best known as a whaling base. The industry took off from the 19th century, and continued up until 1984, though even then methods were rather old school. Now, many whaling traditions persist – there are still whaleboat regattas, and vigias (whalers’ lookout towers) have been restored for tourists. However, the focus is now on watching – not hunting – the leviathans that pass by in such great numbers. In-season excursions have a 95% success rate; it’s not unknown to see six or more species in one outing, ranging from sperm whales to bottlenose dolphins to mighty blues. Most visitors to the Azores stick to Sao Miguel, but head further afield to Pico and Faial – particular whale hotspots.
When to go: The weather is most settled April-October. Wildflowers bloom April-June. Various species of baleen whales (fin, sei, humpback, blue) migrate past in spring; sperm whales are resident year round.
How to go: From April to October there are direct flights from Gatwickto Ponta Delgada, on Sao Miguel (4hrs); flights run year-round via Lisbon.
Ben Fogle looks wistful as he recalls his time in the Azores. “It’s Europe but with a twist” he says, bundled up in a cafe in West London, clutching an extra-strong cappuccino. “Some people say they find islands imprisoning, but not me. I find them liberating. The isolation of the Azores is a big part of why I find them so special.”
One of the reasons Ben loves visiting the Portuguese archipelago is to train for a 5,000km charity swim from New York to England this year. ‘The water is rather like Cornwall in summer.” But as he chats about his experiences on the nine islands, 1,500km west of Lisbon, that’s probably the only link that reminds him of home. “You’ve got endless ocean there – that’s what is so extraordinary about the Azores, you’ve got deep ocean all around. There’s every chance a mighty sperm whale will swim past you.
“It’s definitely not a mass market kind of place, or for those who just want sun and beach,” he says. They are easy to get to, though. From Gatwick there’s a nonstop flight that’s less than four hours to Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel between Easter and October every Saturday lunchtime. At other times of year it’s only a slightly longer journey with a change of planes in Lisbon.
As the 4×4 bounced along a rutted dirt track, I gazed through swirling dust at an untamed landscape: cork trees, parched chaparral bushes, outcrops of golden rock. Fernando Romao, our guide and driver, pointed out short-toed eagles wheeling overhead as the vehicle lurched up a dry trough, engine roaring. In the front passenger seat, Simon Collier, a former safari guide from South Africa, wore a broad grin. “This is what Land Rovers are made for!”
We were in eastern Portugal’s Coa Valley, a four-hour drive from Lisbon. It had taken only an hour to get from the medieval fortress town of Castelo Rodrigo, where I’d spent the morning, to the heart of the 2,200-acre Faia Brava Nature Reserve. Having reached higher ground, we parked and strode across a patch of earth strewn with bones: a feeding spot for vultures. On the periphery stood a small, camouflaged observation shelter. I spent a sweltering hour inside watching dozens of the scavengers circle, their six-foot wingspans silhouetted against the powder-blue sky.
I was still under the spell of their slow, corkscrew loops when, a little later, we came upon a group of wild Maronesa cattle. A massive bull, black as night, paused to glower at us before thrashing away into thorny underbrush. These undomesticated bovines couldn’t have been more different from the tranquil animals I grew up around in New England. Later, on our way back to the safari-style tented camp where I was sleeping that night, we stopped to observe a herd of wild horses—unfenced, unfriendly, evidently belonging to no one—grazing in the late afternoon sun. I didn’t see another visitor in the park all day.
When we think about the world’s wild places, our minds typically turn to the South American rainforest or the savannas of Africa; we don’t usually picture Europe. Faia Brava, which was established as a nature reserve in 2000, was a working farmland for centuries, but a consortium of environmental activists believes it can become truly wild again. It is a laboratory for ‘rewilding,’ an environmental philosophy that has gained traction in Europe over the past decade.