Most of Portugal is off the beaten track – though tracks are there and waiting. The warm and lovely Alentejo spreads from Lisbon to the Algarve, a time-capsule of fertile fields and shepherd trails, dotted by medieval towns with Roman roots. North-east of Lisbon, uplands beckon - valleys and wooded hills ripe for solitary exploration, fuelled by unforgettable local produce.
Attention twitchers! Alentejo alone hosts 120 species of bird, from vultures to the world's only marine storks. Add passing migrants. At ground-level, wild boar crash through mulchy woods. And now the Iberian lynx has finally returned to Portugal from its previous final enclave in SW Spain. Try to spot the world's rarest cat in the Serra de São Mamede or wilder Algarve.
Rural Portugal feels connected to its past in ways little changed for centuries. People still make their own wines, olive oil and cheeses, tend ancient almond groves and splash through rice paddies. Furniture and distinctive musical instruments are crafted from local wood. And today, rural tourism provides a vital economic bonus, helping locals enjoy life beyond mere subsistence.
Portuguese food opts for simple-but-sublime. Lobster and shellfish vie with sizzling catch of the day on the coast, while inland home-made cheeses complement melt-in-the-mouth black pork. Sip on fine local wines: cool crisp vinho verde, richly-rounded Alentejo reds, luscious ports. As for sweet treats, pastries – and not just custardy pasteis de nata – are as globally renowned as Ronaldo!
With one of Europe's best climates plus distinctive trails covering its vast coastline, fertile plains and historic hill country, Portugal is an affordable active outdoors paradise. Hiking and cycling are wonderful year-round, while central and northeast Portugal boast impressive uplands for stiffer challenges. The coast, meanwhile, has some of the world's best surf along deserted golden strands.
Forget sunlounger-dotted sand. Portugal’s 1,800km coast celebrates enticing diversity. The Algarve offers startling offshore geology, while green headlands and grassy dunes cradle virgin Costa Vicentina bays. Scented forests backdrop chic Troia strands. Dramatic capes provide unforgettable way markers – Cabo de Sao Vicente, Espichel, da Roca. Laidback resorts, meanwhile, eschew brash development: fishing harbours not marinas, local diners not loud discos.
Some quintas highlight 5* amenities, others 5* charm. But all these secluded historic homesteads and country estates ooze character, run by people passionately involved in their locale, from food producers to crafts folk. Step in and enter a charmed bubble where the pace of life slows and your connection to the land deepens.
One of the world's loveliest capitals, Lisbon blends sophistication, rich historic fabric and easy charm. Ancient miradors (viewpoints) cling to hills traversed by colourful clattery old trams, while hip boutiques and diners dot the Bairro Alto and waterfront. Cobbled Alfama oozes medieval character. Everywhere, architectural gems from Portugal's Golden Age jostle with world-class museums such as the vast Gulbenkian.
The flamboyant Spanish made flamenco, the more melancholic Portuguese created fado – mournful songs sung with soulful passion. Musical taste is personal, of course - and fado can sound beautiful, especially sung impromptu by locals in a bar rather than touristy clubs. But on holiday we think melancholia should come in very small doses, if at all.
Sky TV, burger 'n' chips, tatty souvenirs – yes, Portugal has those. Thankfully, they're clustered round a few Algarve resorts like Vilamoura. Venture west toward Lagos and beyond, and the Algarve gets wilder and prettier with each kilometre. Though if you do see a hat saying 'Beije me rapidamente' (Kiss Me Quick) get it for sheer novelty value!
What better way could there possibly be to fill once unspoilt, wildlife-thronged countryside in a relatively poor country than carving out around 70 vast swathes of heavily manicured fairways and greens requiring copious amounts of precious water? Did we mention course fees are way more than many locals can afford? Perhaps that's why so few Portuguese are members of 'their' courses...
Look, we like custard tarts (pasteis de nata) as much as anyone queuing at Lisbon's touristy Antiga Confeiteria de Belem. But don't ignore Portugal's 200 or so other sweet treats - Sintra cheesecakes (queijadas), Algarve marzipan and luscious palha de ovos (egg pastries), plus quirkily-named goodies like papos de anjo (angel's double-chin) or barriga de freiras (nuns' belly)!