Exploring Portugal, with Maty Dlouhy & Stephen Bailey

The street vibes of Lisbon. The wineries and river in Porto. Famous beaches in Algarve and empty beaches in Alentejo.

Travel Consultant Maty Dlouhy and Marketing Director Stephen Bailey both enjoyed holidays in Portugal this month.

Portugal offers a lot of everything. It’s city, beach, wine, spa, history, art, nature and adventure.

Maty’s and Stephen’s trip reports explain four very different destinations, each an option for a standalone trip, or easily combinable on one-week or two-week Portugal holidays.

Whatever style of holiday you want, you’ll probably find it in Portugal.

Lisbon, with Maty Dlouhy

Something I really like about Prague and also Lisbon are the many viewpoints on the city. Lisbon is a city built on hills and different places give you different angles. Two places can look close on Google maps but they’re not – I haven’t walked that much in years!

Every hill has a different vibe and every viewpoint tells a different story. My number one recommendation in Lisbon is to walk, walk, walk.

Walking will enable you to soak up the city’s many different energies, which come from its history, people and streets.

I loved taking an evening stroll around the lively pink streets in the old part of the city. There was so much energy when evening turned to night, so many bars and restaurants filling up ready for a party.

I also loved sunsets by the river, buskers playing music and people young and old simply enjoying life. The people of Lisbon are so laid-back and have this specific lifestyle. Perhaps it’s because Lisbon feels like both a city on the beach and a city that’s not on the sea (which it’s not, it’s on the river). It has the city vibe and beach vibe in one.

There’s so much energy on the Lisbon streets and it’s not about your age, it’s about how much fun you have.

Walk, Walk, walk, walk. Coffee shops every few metres, trying all their pastries and foods. An old factory turned into a hipster place of boutiques, shops and little restaurants starting to make their name.

Castles, viewpoints, seafood, sangria, wine, but not beer, because Portuguese beer isn’t so palatable.

We somehow get into the middle of a protest, but all the people were drinking, dancing and singing, it was good vibes only, that’s how Lisbon is.

Food, drinks, exploring, soaking up the vibes, seeking out hidden corners: these are just some reasons why Lisbon is a great city for couples. I was exploring Lisbon with my girlfriend and it can definitely be a romantic destination.

One great thing to do is an Azulejo tiles workshop. I was fascinated by these tiles all over Lisbon and Porto and the workshop teaches you how they are made and how they play a part in the country’s history.

You can make your own too, which will be a great activity with kids. For kids I also recommend the biggest aquarium in Europe. It was insane, I was really pleasantly surprised by it.

My final Lisbon recommendation is to give yourself enough time.

The Atlantic Coast is only 30 minutes from Lisbon and has tons of activities and sports too, like surfing, biking and hiking. So you could go for a week, have two days at the beach then come back to the city.

I stayed in Lisbon for three nights and loved it so much I would have happily prolonged it. Three days is enough to explore the city. Four or five days could easily be done too.

Although I didn’t do any hotel inspections, you can see Stephen Bailey’s report on the renovated Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon and The Lumiares here. 

Algarve, with Stephen Bailey

I have mixed feelings about the Algarve after a beach holiday with my young family.

The Algarve coastline is simply spectacular, with all these caves, hidden beaches and bays. Paddle boarding along this coast was one of the best water experiences I’ve ever had.

The low-rise whitewashed Lagos city is delightful too, its sense of grand history mixed with new boutiques and restaurants. I’ve never tasted tuna as good and we happily spent a whole day rewalking the same streets, always enchanted by a different cafe or shop.

But much of the Algarve is too crowded, even in October. A guide told me that the year-round Algarve population is under half a million. Yet, on the busiest day of summer there can be over 3 million people in the region.

Near Lagos we visited two beaches connected by a natural tunnel, only accessible by descending around 200 steep steps. There was barely a spec of sand to put out a towel.

We briefly stopped in Portimao and Albufeira, both horribly overdeveloped mass tourism destinations, where the coastline’s beauty has been lost.

Yet, further west, we found much quieter, less-developed areas. There’s no doubting this is a stunning destination for beach days.

My recommendation is to stay at a remote resort, away from the developed area between Lagos and Albufeira. Somewhere like the excellent Martinhal Sagres Family Resort.

The Algarve is small enough that you can still day trip to experience anywhere you want in the region.

Alentejo, with Stephen Bailey

The second part of my holiday was on the beaches of Alentejo, the region between Lisbon and the Algarve. Wow – what a destination!

I can’t believe that places like Alentejo still exist in Europe – undeveloped coastline, absolute tranquillity and a sense of exploration. Every day we had a different beach all to ourselves.

Alentejo was on my radar because of fashion designer Christian Louboutin. In an interview he said that when he escapes Paris, he goes to his favourite place, Melides in Alentejo. This year he opened his own art hotel in Melides, called Vermelho. Unfortunately I couldn’t inspect it because it was full, which is some achievement for midweek at a new hotel in an unknown destination.

We had lazy family days on the coast. As yet there isn’t any top accommodation on the Alentejo coast. There are hardly any hotels of any quality, anywhere in Alentejo, which is part of its appeal.

We also enjoyed exploratory drives through the Alentejo interior of rolling hills and cork forests.  Unfortunately, large tracts of this land are scarred black, tree roots looking like ash piles. Witnessing the destruction brought by forest fires was the low point of our trip.

The landscape is much brighter and healthier closer to the coast. I found some stunning country estates, like Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, Torre de Palma Wine Hotel and L’AND Vineyards.

All are small and traditional properties, surrounded by vineyards, within easy drive of dozens of beaches. They’re all good quality too.

I was scared that the Atlantic water would be too cold and rough. For sure it’s not the Mediterranean. But you can still swim and there are lovely beaches with calm waters too.

My recommendation is to just go and explore. If you’re tired of overcrowded beach destinations, Alentejo will be your place.

Porto, with Maty Dlouhy

I visited Porto to attend the Access Luxury Travel Show. So I didn’t have that much time to explore the city. But I enjoyed what I discovered, especially the organised activities.

A good way to understand the history of Porto is to experience a port wine cellar tour.

The city developed around the business of Port wine, so there are all these connections between people, wine and everyday life.

We also went on a boat tour on the Douro River. It was beautiful, the city coming towards me from all sides, the scenic waterway weaving into hidden hills.

I definitely recommend doing a Douro River Cruise. Board a boat in Porto, cruise up the river through kilometres of hills dominated by wineries. Many of them have small local restaurants and breathtaking views.

I inspected the Yeatman Hotel and found it to be quite outdated. Every room has a terrace with an amazing view, but overall it needs renovation.

At Zero Box Lodge Hotel I went for drinks in their bar. It’s a low cost hotel aimed at young travellers, so I wouldn’t recommend staying there. But one room is made fully of glass and they get artists to do installations. If somebody needs to sleep for free they can sign up to sleep in that room with zero privacy!

I had very high expectations before my inspection of the Vinha Hotel down the river. The gardens, scenery and views over the Douro are great. However, the hotel seems too concentrated on its image, as a hotel mixed with lifestyle fashion.

We prefer hotels that focus on the actual quality. So in this area the recommended choice has to be Six Senses Douro Valley.

Porto has a different vibe to Lisbon and I preferred the Portuguese capital. It’s still super interesting however and definitely worth a couple of days. One day in the city and one on the Douro.

Exploring More of Portugal

We could tell you a lot more. But the best thing about Portugal is the feeling of exploration. It’s a destination with unique culture, landscapes, art, beaches and so much more.

So much of the Portugal experience is the feeling of discovery, so we’ll leave some secrets for you to find.

But of course, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know when we personally design your Portugal holiday.

Where do you want to visit in Portugal?

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