In the past newsletters, we have told you all about the Portuguese summer, from big music festivals to traditional religious celebrations, and how our long coastline is perfect for post-summer road trips. But Portugal is not just music, religion or surfing.
Throughout our centuries-old history, the very diverse Portuguese regions have developed their own local culture, which is found in traditions that, today, can be experienced by those who visit the country.
And of course, one will always think of the Port tastings in the Douro Valley, listening to Fado in a dark and mysterious restaurant in the old neighborhoods of Lisbon, or basking in the sunshine of the Algarve. But those that want to go off the beaten track, explore deeper layers of culture onion, need something different.
Why not make a quick stop in the Azores on the way to mainland Portugal and swim with sharks? Go stargazing in the Alentejo around Lake Alqueva, which has been declared the world’s first “Starlight Tourism Destination” by UNESCO, or go hiking in one of the most beautiful parks in the world – the National Park of Peneda-Gerês in the north of Portugal. But do you want to really impress your friends beyond all the Facebook likes on your vacation pictures? Go to a winery just outside Lisbon and create your own blend of wine! The best part is that you can take it home and show off at your next party: bottle, cork and label your own wine!
Whether you carry these experiences in your memory or inside a bottle, you will carry Portugal in your heart and will be longing to come back.
Here are some of the best unique Portuguese experiences, but there are many more:
Porto & the Norte region
Those who know wine will tell you that where you have good grapes, you have good olives. And the same climate is perfect for raising sheep. So how about a place where you can see how they make wine, cheese and olives? You should head to the Quinta da Terrincha in Torre de Moncorvo, in the Northeast of Portugal. They have an inn with nine rooms in a manor house, plus seven villas. You can visit their winery, where they make Douro wines under the Quinta’s name – with the grapes grown on the property. They offer tastings to guests, too. Then they have an olive oil press making wonderful organic olive oil. And they make honey, vinegar, and jams – but the cheese is the big deal. You see the local breed of sheep, they call them Terrincha, is unique – and the DOP cheese is worth the trip in itself, and you can see where they make it. It is called queijo Terrincho. Last experience, is to bring all this together, is the rustic Canto da Terrincha restaurant – where everything is local and delicious.
It doesn’t exactly smell like high-end cologne, but it looks good and tastes even better! The Serra da Estrela cheese is a national favorite! It is tasty, creamy and addictive. It has been produced for centuries by local shepherds in the mountains of Serra da Estrela, the highest point of continental Portugal, it is entirely hand-made, and is a DOC cheese today. At Casa da Ínsua, a 5-star hotel in Penalva do Castelo, guests can be shepherds for a day and they can make their own cheese too. There will be a tasting at the end of workshop and everyone will get a Serra da Estrela cheese to bring back. Just make sure it is well wrapped in your luggage or you will need to buy new clothes back home.
Portugal’s wines have won awards of all kinds and are becoming more and more acclaimed worldwide. Big name Ports or Madeira wines have their own shelf spaces everywhere, but several other wineries are also making a name for themselves and the region of Azeitão, between Lisbon and Setúbal, is taking its place in the Portuguese wine scene. At Quinta de Catralvos, you can become a wine maker for a day. Learn about winemaking, grape varieties and create your own blend! You can also bottle and cork your wine, and have your own label on the bottle! All this surrounded by a beautiful 61-acre eco-farm, in a region where you can see the cork trees grow as well.
Most of us are fascinated with stars. Whether it is the feeling of being small before the sheer dimension of the universe or a scientific interest in astronomy, there is nothing like a clear sky full of bright stars; And bright they are around Lake Alqueva in the Alentejo region, at least for 290 nights a year, on average. This is precisely why UNESCO declared this area the world’s first “Starlight Tourism Destination.” Guests can take Astronomy workshops and borrow telescopes and binoculars to look into the unknown. There are plenty of charming local owned hotels (some that offer stargazing activities) and not-to miss-the astronomical-oriented megaligths placed by ancient peoples in the region. The lake, by the way, is human made and less than a decade old–and you can rent a houseboat and see the stars from the waters at night.
So you have probably heard of Portuguese Petiscos, classic dishes that are elaborate and diverse. One of the locals’ favorite is clams, normally seasoned with olive oil, garlic and coriander. How about picking your own? Hop on a traditional fishing boat in the heart of Ria Formosa’s natural park and learn the ancient skills and secrets of the job. The best part? You get to prepare your catch with the 5-star Conrad Algarve Hotel chef! The Ria Formosa is a natural park of barrier islands in the heart of the Algarve – and has lots of sandy, undeveloped beaches.
The “Barefoot Walk” (Caminho dos Pés Descalços), which is a reflexology-type experience where you walk barefoot reaping the therapeutic benefits of the different types of textures. It is an 875-yard path, where you will walk on pinecones, mud, sand (including Porto Santo sand), pebbles, and the leaves of various trees such as laurel and eucalyptus. At the end, there is a traditional levada, which is an irrigation channel typical of this Island, where you can refresh your feet after the walk. This is an innovative concept offered by the 4-star Jardim Atlântico hotel. If you are not staying at the hotel, you can walk the walk for 1 Euro!
The Azores region has just been voted the “Most beautiful landscape in Europe”, but its treasures are not only inland. Its nine islands are bathed by warm currents from the Gulf Stream and attract a great variety of sea life, including different species of sharks. So here is the novelty: because blue sharks aren’t much interested in humans (they go for smaller prey like fish or squid) you can dive without a cage! No kidding. Give it a thought… and if you want to go for it, note that the best diving spot is called Condor Seamount and most easily accessed from the islands of Pico or Faial. You can also swim with the biggest fish in the sea – the whale shark – off the island of Santa Maria!
As always, we are more than happy to provide you additional information. Need more? Just log on to www.visitportugal.com
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