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Now that the country has finally been taken off the quarantine naughty step, Algarve resident Mary Lussiana offers some ideas for a late‑summer escape

ortugal continues to buck the trend for globalisation, offering visitors an authentic slice of its culture, whether it be on a plate, in a glass or in its shifting landscape: green and granite in the north, golden sand and whitewash in the south. And it offers much more than that too.

In summer 2020, it feels safe. The law-abiding Portuguese have generally followed the rules; they wear masks and they keep their distance — an attitude helped because here the elderly are much respected. And now, belatedly, they’ve been rewarded for it, with the announcement that those returning to the UK from this most majestic of countries will no longer have to quarantine after August 22.

Should you be planning a late-summer escape here, or something deeper into autumn — it stays wonderfully warm deep into October — then here are a few ideas to inspire you.

Alentejo allure

This, my favourite region of Portugal, deserves your time. It has the slow pace that comes with scorched earth and empty skies, and silence only disturbed by the bleat of a distant goat or the ring of a melodic cow bell. Whitewashed houses trimmed with the traditional blue edge to ward off the devil make up small villages, while storks nest on wide chimneys used for smoking the region’s hams.

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The towns are grander; there is Evora, capital of the region and home to an almost perfect Roman temple, a Chapel of Bones and the 16th-century Aqueduct of the Silver Water, as well as Fialho restaurant, where you can try the local dish of scrambled eggs and wild asparagus. Plan trips each day to small wineries such as Herdade do Freixo, which is buried underground, or the sublime Herdade da Aldeia de Cima.

Visit Arraiolos, with its 14th-century castle looking down on a warren of narrow streets, where women sit in their doorways weaving the famous rugs that have been made here since the 13th century. Linger in Estremoz, famous for its delicate pink marble and Saturday morning farmers’ market where the extraordinary collection of local cheeses tempts. Appetite whetted, Gadanha is the place for a typical dish of black pork cheeks before you drive on to the beautiful medieval hamlet of Marvao, enclosed by 13th-century walls with views across the plains to Spain.
Details Imani Country House, near Evora, has doubles from £225, B&B (imani.pt); Casa Azimute, near Estremoz, has doubles from £135, B&B, for a two-night minimum stay (casa-azimute.pt). Fly to Lisbon

Savour Sagres

Sagres, on the wild, western corner of the Algarve, makes for a perfect family holiday. Martinhal beach is the place for paddleboarding, windsurfing and other water sports, while nearby Praia da Arrifana or Praia da Amoreira are where surfers flirt with the fierce Atlantic waves. For a gentler experience, pack a picnic and head to Praia de Odeceixe, nominated one of Portugal’s seven wonders, for an intoxicating mix of blue and golden swirls. Here, the Odeceixe River meets the ocean, meaning small children can play in the still waters of the river and older ones can jump waves in the sea.

A surfer surveying the Atlantic waves
A surfer surveying the Atlantic waves

From the little harbour of Baleeira, you can book a trip on a RIB with marine biologists through Mar Ilimitado; dolphin sightings are pretty much guaranteed, with whales or turtles an added bonus (marilimitado.com). Stretching north from Sagres, along the coast, is the Vicentine Coast Natural Park, with more than 200 species of migrating birds and 750 species of flora, a dozen of which are only found here. The jeep tours are recommended (sagresdiscovery.com/en). Nearby is Cape St Vincent, which marks the southwesternmost point of Portugal and mainland Europe, and was considered sacred during Roman times. Sagres is where the great Prince Henry the Navigator came in the 15th century to set up his supposed school of navigation, perhaps housed in the fort still visible today — thereby beginning Portugal’s golden age of discovery.
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 Family-friendly Martinhal Sagres, with direct beach access, has two-bedroom family villas with private gardens from £163, room only (martinhal.com/sagres). Sleek surfing bolt hole Memmo Baleeira has doubles from £106, B&B (memmohotels.com). Fly to Faro

Divert to the Douro

One of the oldest wine regions in the world, the Douro Valley has come into its own with the trend for wine tourism. Once only frequented by vineyard workers and owners of the quintas (farmhouses), the steep green terraces that roll down to the magnificent “Golden River” now pull in a crowd, keen to understand the terroir from which port, red wine and deliciously mineral-rich white wine comes.

Terraced vineyards in the Douro
Terraced vineyards in the Douro

Wineries have sprung up at most of the bigger vineyards, making possible a wine journey either by a little train that hugs the river bank, by boat, which can stop at wineries and drop you off for a tasting, or by car. There are architectural wonders to see, such as the flamboyant early-18th-century Casa de Mateus, or the grand double staircase, embellished with hand-painted azulejos (tiles), at the church of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios in Lamego. But wine, fortified or not, is the main draw. The recently opened Douro Museum in Peso da Regua explains the history and heritage of the port business.
Details The 11-room, 19th-century Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo has doubles from £189, B&B (quintanova.com); Vintage House, right on the river in pretty Pinhao, has doubles from £174, B&B (vintagehousehotel.com). Fly to Porto

Scale the Serra da Estrela

These mountains in the north of Portugal are the highest on the mainland, with much of the Serra over 1,500m. The exposed granite on the upper surfaces is good for little but grazing sheep, and it is sheep that have mainly shaped the fortunes of the area, providing wool for the textile industry and milk for the country’s best-known cheese for more than 800 years. Stone shepherd huts with thatched roofs dot the slopes, across which hiking trails take you past clear mountain streams and sheep being rounded up by the large and loyal Serra da Estrela sheepdogs. There is a designated nature reserve, but across the mountain range you can expect to see short-toed eagles, European honey buzzards and black storks.

Visit the town of Linhares, guarded by the towers of its medieval castle, where many fine 15th-century houses survive, and try the local dish of stewed beans with spare ribs and sausages, trout from the rivers and delicious curd cheese with pumpkin jam.

And dip into textile-rich Manteigas, full of cultural heritage, where a settlement has been since Moorish times, probably because of the nearby hot springs.
Details Casa de Sao Lourenço has doubles for £170, B&B (casadesaolourenco.pt). Fly to Porto

Source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/

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By Lala