Portugal may be small compared to some of its neighbours, but it seems disproportionately packed with travel gems. The best way to experience a great deal of them? A road trip. Though there are beautiful sights inland, we’re choosing to focus on some of its 1,100-plus miles of coastline, which make for picture-perfect type of trip. With charming town after charming town on offer, many of which are only reachable by car (as opposed to plane, train or bus), here is our guide to must-stops along the way.
Stay If you fly into Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, grab a car and book a room at Hotel Teatro, where a theatrical theme means plush velvet-streaked rooms with sexy, dramatic details.
Eat and Drink The hotel’s Palco restaurant serves classic Portuguese cuisine (ie: an array of indigenous fish dishes), while its bar, Plateia, is a go-to for the region’s namesake Port wine. Catch more typical cuisine along with an authentic fado performance at Casa de Mariquinhas. And Pedro Lemos Restaurante is worth a stop for the Michelin-starred namesake chef’s innovative output.
What to Do It’s all about the vinho in Porto and the nearby Duoro Valley, and the main varietal is—you guessed it—port. It’s one of the country’s most famous exports, a fortified wine with a sweet profile and high alcohol content that comes in countless colors (white, tawny, ruby, etc). There are more than enough tasting rooms to keep your thirst quenched just across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia—Kopke, Wiese and Krohn, Burmester and Sandeman, among them. (If you wish to visit the source further inland, head to the bucolic Six Senses Duoro Valley.)
Sintra and Cascais
Stay Though not far from Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra deserve their own jaunt. Sleep in the chic seaside Farol Design Hotel in the former, where you can stretch your legs during coastal walks and strolls down the charming cobbled paths.
Eat and Drink Get to Bar do Guincho in time to watch the sunset, and maybe stay for a casual, beachy dinner. Mar do Inferno is famous for its incredibly fresh seafood platters. And for traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas, squeeze into the teeny-tiny Lambrettazzurra Pizzeria. Don’t leave town without trying the decadent custard-filled Berliners at Sacolinha bakery.
What to do Space on the highly coveted sand might be limited, but there’s plenty of room in the Atlantic for kayaking, standup paddleboarding, surfing and swimming. Just a 20-minute drive north, Sintra is the historical getaway of royalty, with castles and palaces. The fairytale-like town is a World Heritage site and features countless manicured gardens and ornate and architecturally exciting structures, including the magical Monserrate, Castelo dos Mouros, the National Palace, Quinta de Regaleira and Pena Palace.
Stay En route to the small Algarve town of Sagres, the southeastern tip of Portugal, make sure to pull over at a beautiful beach or two. Once there, check into the whitewashed contemporary hotel Memmo Baleeira, which offers pristine views of the peeling waves below. Out of town a bit, in a larger resort facility, Martinhal Sagres has countless amenities and a dreamy spa.
Eat and Drink Try the Mediterranean flavors at Memmmo Fornaria, the restaurant and bar in the first boutique hotel. Vila Velha and A Sagres are the go-tos for excellent fish preparations, like local go-to cuttlefish. Sagres’ subtle hippie leanings are evident in the vegan- and vegetarian-centric cuisine at popular casual restaurants Mum’s and Terra. End the night with a well-crafted cocktail at Dromedario, the center of the town’s lively post-dinner scene.
What to Do Sagres is a surf town through and through, but with gorgeous flora and fauna, it’s also advisable to experience the beauty on land, via hike or bike. With so many great breaks around, there’s a wave for every level. Newbies can take a surf lesson (book through Memmo) and learn to ride the smaller stuff at pristine Tonel, Mareta or Corduama, while intermediates and advanced surfers will enjoy the outside waves.
Stay Stay between Tavira and Faro (it’s 15 minutes from both) in the impeccable finca-style Vila Monte Farm House, where bright bougainvillea bloom and citrus trees bear fruit. Fresh white interiors are accented with pops of blue, and the lush, laid-back feel extends to the two pools and gardens.
Eat and Drink The property’s restaurants serve tasty takes on Mediterranean and Portuguese meats and fish, and local wines are always on offer at the honesty bar. In the charming town of Tavira, knock on the door of A Barquinha, along the river, for cozy atmosphere and top-notch salads and grilled fresh fish, or try the homestyle risotto at local favorite Restaurante Avenida. Take to the roof at Bar 62 in Olhão for cocktails and tapas, or get more small plates along with vino at 7 Imeio Wine Bar.
What to Do The proximity to Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, a labyrinth-like estuary of canals, islands and sandy beaches, means witnessing all that natural beauty is a must. Make a beach day of a jaunt to Fuseta Island, with its white sands and clear water, and try bird- or dolphin-watching, fishing, boating or horseback riding in the park. Foodies can also take cooking classes at the farm house, or indulge in a guided seafood tasting.