If we had to make a best-off list of places in the country, we would fill tens of dozens of pages. Making choices is not always easy, but All About Portugal has embarked on this difficult task which is to suggest you some unique experiences, so you can get to know our country better and enjoy it with all your senses. If you are bold enough, get behind the wheel and follow this itinerary in 12 days or less. If you are one of those travellers who likes to enjoy things with time, organize a short break a month.
1. Caminha: dive into the Atlantic
Start the year up North and take a dip in the sea, as tradition mandates. If you survive the (very) low temperatures of these waters, you will be prepared for anything in 2019. Delight in the views of the Minho estuary and the Fort of Ínsua - classified as a National Monument - located on a small island, about 200 meters from the coast and erected in the 17th century during the Restoration War. In early times, this island was used as a place of worship.
2. Guimarães: here, Portugal was born
You can also start where everything began. Guimarães is known as the birthplace of the country and, according to history, the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, was born here and thus began the founding of the country. Its Historic Centre, classified as World Cultural Heritage, is reason enough for a visit. Stroll through its medieval streets, enter the 9th century castle and do not miss the collections on display at the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, a majestic 15th century manor house.
3. Monção: have you ever tasted Vinho Verde?
The Minho is dominated by the verdant landscape and, among other specialities, by the (also) green wine! A few kilometres from the historical centre of Monção, you will find one of the most emblematic representatives of this region's nectar, the Brejoeira Palace. An old family farmhouse, built in the 19th century, with 30 hectares, where you will find the palace, the woods, the gardens and the vineyard. Discover its history, taste the famous Alvarinho wine and get to know its way of production.
4. Ponte de Lima: get to know the oldest village in Portugal
If you still do not know this fine example of the Minho geography, get ready. If you have already visited, the gastronomy is the ideal excuse to return: sarrabulho rice and pork rojões move mountains and give you the energy needed for a walk through the historical streets and alleys. Schedule a visit for September and enjoy "Feiras Novas", a celebration that wraps up the popular summer festivities of the region, and is already considered the "largest live congress of popular culture in Portugal".
5. Peneda-Gerês: tradition still is what it was
This is the only Portuguese protected area classified as National Park. With an extension of more than 70,000 hectares, located between the regions of Minho and Trás-os-Montes, it has five "entrance doors" scattered throughout the territory. Make a strategic stop at the village of Lindoso, visit its castle and dazzle yourself with the set of granite granaries, used to store the cereals. Explore the incomparable Nature and its trails. There are challenges for all physical conditions.
6. Barcelos: the origin of (our) cock
It was here that one of the most popular elements of Portuguese culture was born: the Galo (cock) de Barcelos. Territory rich in arts and crafts, pottery is queen and the figurative one of its most popular and original expressions. In addition to the numerous ateliers and galleries, do not miss one of the best-known fairs in the country, which takes place every Thursday and dates back to the 15th century. This is the place to experience the genuine soul and culture of the region.
7. Matosinhos: visit a work by Siza Vieira
Unwind your gaze and head for the coast. Matosinhos, in addition to the extensive beach, has elements of architectural interest, such as the Leixões Port Cruise Terminal, considered the "Building of the Year 2017" by "ArchDaily", or the "Pool of the Tides", located in an open air space and integrated into the landscape of the beach of Leça da Palmeira. Visit the "House of Architecture" and enjoy fresh fish in one of the city's many restaurants.
8. Serra da Estrela: visit the highest point in the continent
Size does not matter, but climbing the 1993 meters of the highest point of mainland Portugal, can be an experience without comparison. In the winter, it is one of the few places in the country where you can find snow and, in the summer, the "Rota das 25 Lagoas" (Route of the 25 Lagoons) can be a refreshing alternative to the mountain. Discover cities like Manteigas, Covilhã, Seia or Linhares da Serra and reset in the middle of nature. If you are a cheese lover, do not miss the famous Queijo da Serra.
9. Schist Villages: pure countryhood
Continuing through the centre of the country, travel back in time to the more rural Portugal, through the 27 Schist Villages located between Castelo Branco and Coimbra. With the schist mountains as a common denominator, the territory is rich in river beaches, nature and pedestrian and mountain biking trails. Let yourself be enveloped by the affability of its inhabitants and open your heart to the most engaging stories of its people. Surrender to the local rhythm and forget for a moment that we are in the 21st century.
10. Lisbon: gluttony, a "sin" shaped like a Pastel de Belém
Go to the capital and breathe the cosmopolitanism that only a great metropolis can offer you. Here the options are almost infinite, so we suggest something simple, because happiness boils down to small things, like a Bethlehem cake, in the confectionery with the same name. Hot and sprinkled with cinnamon, the challenge here is to eat only one (or two). Do not be intimidated by queues, because the wait is worth it.
11. Marvão: sleep in an old train station
Visit the less obvious of the Alentejo, a magical region of Portugal. The Alentejo mountain area is still an undiscovered pearl for most. Make the experience unforgettable and stay at the Train Spot Guesthouse, a historic 19th-century Maranhao / Beiran railway station whose walls breathe stories of yesteryear. Climb to Marvão and discover what a fairy-tale village looks like!
12. Cacela Velha: less is more
Discover a less hectic Algarve, dominated by nature. This fishing village is a small paradise (middle) hidden in the eastern Algarve. Located in the Natural Park of the Ria Formosa, it is an old fortress facing the Atlantic. At low tide, the landscape sends us to a kind of lunar scenery, to pour into the beach. At high tide, the beach is only accessible by boat. A few kilometers away there is also Fábrica beach. Another Atlantic paradise.