With Portugal announced as the only major destination on the green list on Friday, our tipsters choose their favourite natural parks, towns, beaches and seafood restaurants
Winning tip: Walk to Spain on a Roman road
If you want something out of the ordinary with fantastic scenery and fascinating history, then go to Terras de Bouro in the far north of the country. This town is well worth a visit because it offers the chance to walk along a Roman road complete with original milestones. The Via Geira was built to link Braga with Astorga, now in Spain. It is signposted within Terras de Bouro. The trail winds through woodland and round mountains with spectacular views, waterfalls and, of course, the milestones. It goes through the Peneda-Gerês national park to Portela de Homem on the Spanish border. It’s magical – .
Perfect islands and seafood east of Faro
Olhao town square. Photograph: Robert Harding/Alamy
Olhão on the eastern Algarve is a real fishing town that’s only just properly warming up to tourism. The town is a mashup of old tiled cottages and backstreet restaurants with a fishermens’ chapel displaying votive offerings of plastic prosthetic legs and breasts. There’s no town beach, but a ferry takes you to the glorious islands of the Ria Formosa national park, where deserted beaches and the best ever seafood awaits. The efficient train service will take you to the border town of Vila Real de Santo António going east or Faro to the west, should you feel the need to explore.
Aerial spectacular, Algarve
Cabo de São Vicente near Sagres. Photograph: Jacek Sopotnicki/Alamy
The dramatic landscapes and pristine beaches of the Sagres peninsula, at the western tip of the Algarve, are a draw throughout the year. The highlight in October is the Sagres Birdwatching Festival, which coincides with autumn migration as birds head to Africa. Nature lovers from many nations descend on the peninsula keen to witness the vast number of species passing through, including vultures and eagles. They can also explore the geology and diverse flora of the coast and may spot dolphins and whales. They leave having socialised, eaten fabulous food, made new friends, shared experiences, and been inspired. An experience not to miss.
Alte village. Photograph: Ross Helen/Alamy
Nestled away in the hills of Serra do Caldeirão, 13 miles inland from Albufeira on the Algarve coast, lies the beautiful and unspoilt village of Alte. Here, a tiny haven of meandering streets lined with whitewashed houses and laced chimneys ooze the aromas of traditional Portuguese food. At the heart of the village lies tranquillity. Two springs form pools of crystal-clear spring water for families to bathe in and picnic around, amid a glorious backdrop of trees. Alte’s pièce de résistance is its waterfall, Vigário, which cascades into a serene and inviting pool. An exquisite site of natural beauty.
Huge waves – and doughnuts – south of Lisbon
Wooden staircase down to Gale beach, Comporta.
Photograph: Manuel Ribeiro/Alamy
Three years ago, recently separated and in need of adventure, I took my two young sons to Comporta for a week, a 90-minute drive south of Lisbon. Laid-back, boho, with glorious sandy beaches, it was the best holiday we’d ever had. Lazy mornings in the infinity pool, afternoons at the beach in Carvalhal eating huge doughnuts and jumping huge waves. Stopping at Ti Glória on the way home to pick up the most delicious roast chicken, chips, grilled prawns, rice and pickled veg – and only €7 for a huge takeaway tray. Everything felt easy about this holiday: parking at the beach, friendly people, beautiful landscapes … go before it becomes Ibiza!
Across the Tagus to Ponto Final
Restaurante Ponto Final. Photograph: Age Fotostock/Alamy
If you’re in Lisbon, don’t miss the chance to visit the south bank of the River Tagus and enjoy a meal from the terrace views at the restaurant Ponto Final of Lisbon’s red-tiled rooftops and the 25 de Abril Bridge. Take the enjoyable ferry from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré (every 10 minutes, weekend every 20 minutes) to the other side of the river Tagus: Cacilhas, then walk along the riverbank for 10 minutes. Our family sampled olives, fresh cheese from the Alentejo as starters, then sea food salad, a huge octopus soup, then custard tarts, washing it down with a few tasty glasses of Ponto Final’s house wine for €30 a head last spring.
Cycle south from Porto
Cycle path in Espinho. Photograph: Stuart Forster/Alamy
Renting a bike in Porto is the ideal way to explore outside the historic core. Matosinhos offers beaches, a fortress and a parade of exceptional restaurants along Rua de Herois de França, where you can rest in the sun watching freshly caught fish sizzle on outdoor grills. Glide along tram tracks, then head south and pop your bike on to the Flor de Gás ferry across the River Douro. From the river mouth there is a succession of golden-sand beaches and a dedicated cycleway for 10 miles to Espinho. The open skies and Atlantic waves provide a wonderful contrast to Porto’s bustling centre.
Strolling in the Alto Alentejo
Photograph: Luis Davilla/Getty Images
Discover the Alto Alentejo and the tiny São Mamede natural park, 110 miles east of Lisbon. The park is just 25 miles long, so is easily explored in a few days, but it’s better to take a week. Stay a few nights in Marvão, one of Portugal’s highest inhabited villages with views across to Spain, and on clear days all the way to the Serra da Estrela. Walk from Marvão to Castelo de Vide, another castle fortification village, passing through vineyards and cork and holm oak forests. Castelo de Vide has a tiny artisan brewery and many great restaurants with huge portioned meals and delicious local wine.
Camping in the north, by the River Minho
A couple of years ago, we visited a less-well-known part of Portugal close to the northern border with Spain, with campervan and bikes, and found it terrific. From the Termas de Melgaço campsite, we walked four miles to Melgaço town on a trail along the banks of the River Minho. In Melgaço we had lunch at the family-run Adega Sabino. A soak in the ornate mineral baths adjacent to the campsite was perfect after a day exploring. Next day we visited Monção, 16 miles to the west, where we cycled along a former railway line, now the Ecopista Minho, and took a dip in the river before driving 25 miles south-west to our next campsite at Covas. This proved a great base for hiking and wild swimming. The evening meal at the campsite cafe was served with what the campsite owner called the “Pope of vinho verde”, the local Alvarinho wine.
City of water, south of Porto
Striped candy-colour hoses in Aveiro.
After 10 wonderful days spent exploring the hidden towns and vineyards along the Douro Valley, my friends and I pulled up in picturesque Aveiro, set on canals about 44 miles south of Porto. With so much water and plenty of boat traffic, the town reminded me of Nyhavn in Copenhagen. We gorged ourselves on delectable arroz de marisco served up in traditional pots at Restaurante Ferro. But visitors should also make time to stop off at Praia da Costa Nova, six miles to the west on the Atlantic coast. The striped houses are like candy, and there is something quietly appealing about the ordinariness of the seafront. Mini-golf and cornettos all round.