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Lisbon? Been there. Porto? Done that. As “second cities” step into the traveller’s spotlight, we’re stepping away from the beaten track and enjoying tiles and pasteis de natas in underrated fishing towns, scenic cities and sleepy medieval villages.

Words by Fleur Rollet-Manus and Phoebe Hunt

Terracotta roofs, pastel-coloured streets and bakeries stacked with pasteis de natas aren’t solely reserved for Lisbon. Nor are those pretty ceramic-tiled walls found only in Porto. After scoffing tins of sardines and downing bottles of port, venture outside of these tourist-trodden hubs to some of Portugal’s overlooked, but no less lovely, towns and cities.

Been to Lisbon? Discover Portugal’s most underrated destinations

Comporta

Praia da Comporta - Grândola | Alentejo Beaches | Portugal Travel Guide

Made up of seven sleepy villages, this laid-back, low-key beach destination is the antithesis to the Algarve. An hour and a half’s drive south of Lisbon, Comporta has a 12km stretch of pristine sand among what are arguably some of the best west-coast beaches. It’s long been a favourite holiday destination among locals, with landscapes of rice fields, pine forests and thatched cottages. The area has a hippy-chic atmosphere and simple charm. Pay a visit to Sal restaurant for divine fresh fish, or splash out on dinner at Quinta da Comporta.

Stay: Sublime Comporta

Coimbra

An encounter with Coimbra | DW Travel | DW | 23.07.2019

Cascading down the banks of the Mondego River, Coimbra is a scenic city filled with a mishmash of architectural influences: Romanesque monasteries, baroque libraries and Moorish cathedrals sit side-by-side. At its core is Portugal’s oldest and most prestigious university, a huge sugar-cube structure perched on a hill with an imposing 17th-century bell tower that crowns the city. More than just a historical checkpoint famed for its relics, Coimbra has a lively student population that ensures there’s always an electric energy running through its veins – visitors will find it in the streets serenaded by the sounds of fado singers and in bars that line the riverbanks. Look out for the political graffiti scrawled across the walls.

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Stay: Sapienta Boutique Hotel

Sintra

The 20 Best Things To Do in Sintra, Portugal for First Timers

Technically a town but with enchanting landscapes that resemble a page torn from a Hans Christian Andersen storybook, Sintra is worthy of a deliberate detour. Crumbling castles, fairy-tale turrets and champagne-bottle-shaped chimneys peak out from the misty wooded hillside that unfolds into the Atlantic. It’s easy to see how this was once a summer playground for Portuguese royals. Stroll through the flamboyant estates, exotic gardens and whimsical grottos decorated with mythical creatures that once inspired Byron. Though Sintra is popular with day-trippers (it’s just a 40-minute drive or bus ride from Lisbon), lingering a little longer in one of its candy-coloured casas means that you can absorb Sintra’s jaw-slacking beauty at your leisure.

Stay: Tivoli Palácio de Seteais

Monsaraz

15 Best Things to Do in Reguengos de Monsaraz (Portugal) - The Crazy Tourist

Monsaraz is a quiet medieval village, scattered on a hill in the back-to-nature Alentejo region. The village looks over the vast Alqueva Lake (one of Europe’s largest) all the way to the Spanish border. Expect whitewashed buildings and cobbled streets, traditional potteries and small textile producers. All roads lead up the hill to Monsaraz Castle. The surrounding land is one of Portugal’s most important agricultural regions, home to vineyards, olive groves, miles of farmland. A low population means low levels of light pollution, and a recent designation as a Dark Sky Reserve. So get out the binoculars come nightfall. For the best beaches, head to Costa Vicentina.

Stay: São Lourenço do Barrocal

Óbidos

Obidos, Portugal; a tourism, day-trip and holiday guide for 2021

Hopeless romantics will feel at home here; in 1282 King Dinis gave Óbidos to a young Queen Isabel of Portugal as a wedding present. It’s her you can thank for the town’s handsome sun-bleached houses buried beneath creeping bougainvillea and the gothic doorways decorated with intricate tiles. Although, Óbidos doesn’t just rest on its good looks. Historic spaces have been remodelled into contemporary bookstores – scout out first editions, design books and coffee-table centrepieces – while cobbled streets lead to artisan chocolate stores serving ginja, the local cherry-flavoured liqueur. Coincide visits with the town’s many festivities: come in July for the open-air theatre at the Medieval Fair, bibliophiles should book in October for the literary festival and November sees the town covered in sugared sculptures for the annual International Chocolate Festival.

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Stay: Immerso

Évora

PORTUGAL-Evora | Visit portugal, Places in portugal, Portugal

Once a meeting point for kings in the Middle Ages, Évora has retained all its glory and grandeur. Arguably more photogenic than Lisbon, its narrow lanes reveal whitewashed houses with yellow trimmings the colour of pasteis de natas and expertly preserved Roman ruins dating back to the first century. Take coffee in the pretty Praça do Giraldo square before heading to Paço de São Miguel for views across the rust-coloured rooftops. After seeing the city’s main sights, hire a car to explore the rural region outside its walls – the area is a hotbed for agriculture and production. You’ll find rolling hills, rows of vineyards and marble quarries glistening in the Alentejo sun.

Stay: CorkShack Marvão Ecolodges

Cascais

CASCAIS Portugal TOURISM Guide - 2021 Trip Planner and Travel Advice

A quaint little fishing town just west along the coast from Lisbon, Cascais is hardly a well-kept secret. Still, the so-called “charm of the Atlantic Coast” ticks all the boxes: there are sandy beaches and a busy marina, a quaint little Old Town, a bustling local market and nearby hilltop palaces on the way to Sintra. What’s more, the coastal town is only 30 minutes’ drive from Lisbon. Historically, Cascais was the summer retreat of the Portuguese nobility, and many grand waterside villas still stand today. At the beach, look out for Boca do Inferno – or “the mouth of hell” – an impressive natural rock formation through which powerful waves crash. If you have a little more time here, check out museum Casa das Historias Paula Rego.

Stay: Hypnautics

Monsanto

Monsanto, Castelo Branco (Guide) – Portugalist

The village built around boulders. Monsanto is one of the most memorable settlements you’ll come across. It’s close to the Spanish border and worth exploring if only for its fascinating history: Monsanto has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. Romans bathed here, King Afonso Henriques conquered it, and the fabled Knights Templar built the village’s first castle. Climb up to the east side of the castle at dawn and discover the ruins of the Chapel of São João, with half-derelict arches framing the mountains in the distance.

Stay: Casas da Villa

Viana do Castelo

Viana do Castelo em Portugal: saiba como é morar na cidade

This medieval port is one of the real jewels of the Costa Verde, famous for its 16th-century architecture and as a pilgrim destination for those walking along the Portuguese Way (an alternative to the Camino de Santiago.) All the city’s money came from the sea – first as a gateway for Portugal’s empire, and then through cod fishing – and gaudy Baroque palaces and monasteries are densely packed into the city walls. References to Nossa Senhora da Agonia, the patron saint of fishermen, wash up pretty much everywhere. Hire a bike and venture along coastal paths to get a feel for the area.

Stay: FeelViana

By: suitcasemag.com

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