Portugal really is a stunning country; filled with great food, impressive architecture, vibrant landscapes, friendly people and a rich history; a trip here can’t really go too wrong. The only problem is, and this is going to sound painfully cliché, there may well be too much to see that one can visit in a week. The thing is, Portugal, up to about 100 years ago, was immensely important and influential in European history, and the sights to see around the entirety of Portugal reflect that.
Precisely because there really is so much to see, I would suggest something I wouldn’t under normal circumstances – hire a car to visit Portugal. Normally I would say something like, “Use the trains and public transport to get around the place; it’s all part of the fun!” Honestly though, in Portugal, you have better ways to spend your time then staring out of a train window, particularly as the Portuguese public transport system isn’t up to all that much (really, in Portugal, car hire is cheap and it’s not so difficult driving on the right hand side of the road).
So what’s there to see that merits hiring yourself a car to get around the place? Well, first, there’s just Portugal itself. Miles and miles of it, and man, is it pretty. The Portuguese landscape is filled with rolling hills and golden plains in the south; and mountainous, rocky regions in the north. And they both win points as far as beauty is concerned.
Although it may well be quite enjoyable to just spend a day driving through the Portuguese countryside, that’s not your destination. What is? Well, to honest, everything else. Practically every town and city in Portugal is so old, so historical, and so well-preserved, it’s hard to choose which ones an intrepid traveller should visit. If I was forced into choosing for you, I’d say number one would be Sintra. A UNESCO world heritage site, this place was described by Lord Byron, no less, as being “the most beautiful in the world”. He expanded, “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes, in variegated maze of mount and glen”.
This sounds like so much romantic crap. Maybe somebody bought him a meal in the town for such attentions, were my immediate, cynical thoughts. But no. Once you go, you’ll see what Byron means. And if you don’t believe me, Google “Sintra” and see what every other travel guide says. All of them. It really is as good as Byron made out.
Other must-sees are, of course, Lisbon, Porto (try the ruby port; it’s where the stuff was invented after all) and basically any restaurant near the coast that doesn’t look like it’s pandering to the tourists. If you get time, spend a day driving through villages and admiring the architecture and scenery. Portugal has buildings like no other – a combination of Moorish influences and vast wealth from a powerful colonial past. The same goes for the food.
The village of Cuba in central Portugal is also worth a look-see (but only if you’re driving – public transport will be painful) as not only can you say you’ve “been to Cuba”, which, trust me, is great fun; it’s also the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Yes, yes, the village’s pretty old. But that’s the beauty of Portugal.Suddenly old, quaint, stunning, historical villages are no longer in short supply. Portugal’s practically overflowing with them; and you should go, drive round, and try to see and eat at as many as you possibly can and come back as Byron did. Lyrical.