Today I am so excited to share with you a destination on the other side of the Atlantic – Portugal! And I get to share it because I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rita Febrer from Visit Portugal who gave us a fabulous overview on all it’s moving pieces. And let me tell you – there are so many great things about Portugal – between the food, the wine, the landscapes and more that I am certain you are going to find yourself falling in love with this country. Take a peek below and I will meet you at the end of the journey to check back in!
Getting To Portugal. There’s so many different opportunities! You can fly not only from the East Coast but there are also options from San Francisco, Chicago and more. For those of you guys from the East Coast it’s a simple flight from New York thanks to lots of direct flights. For those of you guys in the Atlanta area and in Texas we can get you easy connections. And even for those of you who are everywhere else getting there isn’t difficult at all. In fact, it’s pretty easy and actually some of the flights – especially on the East Coast are very short flight times – pretty much the same amount of time as flying across country from New York to LAX. Rita shared that she often flies direct from Newark to Lisbon, and it is only a six hour flight! If you want to fly into the islands of Portugal, you would take the flight to the mainland and then connect from mainland Portugal to access the islands as there are five flights per day offered to each. And as always – I will help you sort through all of this as we build your itinerary so that way you don’t have to worry about what airline you’re taking or how to get the best connections.
Tell Me About The Country Overall. Portugal in itself is a long country in the sense of north to south and of course it has beautiful islands as well. It’s about the same size as the state of Maine so it’s not huge but it’s very concentrated and they have a lot to offer because the country is so different from north to south. For instance, the northside of the country is a popular wine region and it’s very green. Here you will find the city of Porto which is the second largest city in Portugal and it’s very rich in terms of cultural heritage and religious heritage as well. If you want to go from Porto to Lisbon, it’s just a three hour drive and it’s an easy drive because its highway travel the whole way down. Or you also have the option to take the high speed train which is about a two and a half hour trip and cost wise it’s a great value.
Portugal is made up of a lot of different flavors and you should spend a good ten to twelve days here to not only take in the mainland but at least one of the islands as well – or we can focus on splitting your time between the two islands and then adding some extra days on to the mainland giving you some great opportunities to experience it all.
One of the things I love about Portugal is all the wine tasting and the wine tourism that we can experience and of course with wine comes great gastronomy and Portugal is well known for some amazing food!
Also home to some great architecture – Portugal actually has like one of the highest concentrations of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is one of the oldest countries in Europe with 900 years of history and thanks to that fact, it had a lot of cultures coming in and going out during those 900 years. The whole country has very different kind of architecture scenarios. In terms of schooling, they are home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. And pretty much all of these are details that most people aren’t aware of.
And It’s People? A lot of people ask what is it about Portugal that makes it a wonderful destination to visit. Well, besides the beauty and the heritage of the country, both Rita and I agree it’s the people. They are so very welcoming and offer amazing service as they want to ensure everyone has a fabulous experience. Most residents of Portugal receive proper preparation in schools and thus everything is very detail oriented. Plus, in terms of price it’s a very good value for money – it’s not cheap but everything that you will consume you will recognize so it’s a great value in terms not only of quantity but quality for sure. And that’s one of the things that I love – Portugal in general has great value and no matter what you do while you are there you get that warm and welcoming hospitality and really you are getting this experience you are not going to find anywhere else.
The Main Regions / Areas of Portugal:
- Porto and Northern Portugal: The north is actually super popular especially for the US market and specifically the Douro Valley which is the area where the Porto wine is produced. It’s located more inland however it also extends out to the city of Porto where you can also have wine tasting experiences as well. Most of their heritage is from this area and it is said that Portugal was actually born out of this part of the country. In fact, there is a statue of the first king, Afonso Henriques. It’s very strong in terms of history as well as wine, gastronomy and architecture. And here is a fun fact – one of the towns that I love in that area is called Ponte de Lima, so a little part of me belongs there. Actually, a lot of my heritage from my father’s side of the family is Portuguese and that’s where our last name somewhat has ties to. Even though my family is of Cuban descent I’ve learned – thanks to DNA sites – that about 40% of me is actually Portuguese!
- Central Portugal: Filled with beautiful landscapes and untouched nature, the center of Portugal is interesting for the variety of things they have. Here you can find a type of village called Schist Villages which are villages made of special stone from this region. Also found in this region is a very romantic village with a medieval kind of style and all the houses are representative of that area. Then there is the University of Coimbra that is actually the oldest European university, as well as a place called Nazare where you can see some of the biggest waves ever surfed in the world. Rita relayed that she’s a surfer herself but would never surf those waves!
- Lisbon: Lisbon is the beautiful capital is Portugal and is very vivid in terms of gastronomy, culture, shopping and the beach aspect. Pretty much everything you can imagine Lisbon will have – even though it’s a tiny, more concentrated city. Most of the flights are going to come into Lisbon when you first start your journey in Portugal, so this is a great opportunity to take a look at the city – the old and the new. Lisbon is a cool city as Rita shared, they like to refer to it as – because it’s a mix of all the old heritage they have as the capital city as well as the new. It is comprised of beautiful, old buildings interspersed with a lot of new, trendy and cool things that adapt to the city. So, you don’t see super modern – everything is very integrated, and you’ll be surprised that every corner that you turn you will see emblematic buildings and then something fresh, something new. It’s very fun city.
- Alentejo: Moving a little further south is Alentejo which is the largest area in terms of wine production in the country and though it’s not as well-known as the northern wine country but it’s actually the largest and it’s more like a dry scenario – more like a California kind of vibe. Alentejo is a place that’s not super touristic and thus it’s not overcrowded at all. Rita advised that they have a strategy to be very sustainable – so you have beautiful properties and a lot of beautiful monuments, but you will see that everything is very carefully distributed throughout. Alentejo also has a great coastline and it’s a great area especially for people who like to hike and bike. It is called Costa Vicentina, which is the whole coastline from Alentejo until the Algarve that you can either walk or bike and stop in all the small villages along the way including a very cute fishing village. Fun Fact: It also one has the most concentration of cork trees and because of that Portugal is one of the largest cork exporters in the world so there’s a good chance the cork in your wine bottles at home might have been produced in Portugal!
- Algarve: Continue heading south and you will find Algarve which is very popular for its golf courses. In fact, the largest concentration of golf courses are located here in the southern part of the country. It’s great for gastronomy and of course for the beach lifestyle and the variety of water sports available. It is also a great place to just go to relax and is popular for both honeymoons and weddings. In fact, my honeymooners love it because it’s got great service, a lot of Michelin starred restaurants in the area and is really just a peaceful, romantic destination.
- Madeira: Then there is the archipelago of Madeira Island where Rita shared is where she is originally from and lived for her first 15 years. It’s south of Portugal and north of Morocco so it’s a semi-tropical island with the weather being a little bit better because it’s not in the middle of the Atlantic like the Azores. Madeira is actually very well known for all the accommodations it offers as well as its culture. And – for the sake of tourism – everything is very high end so overall it’s a very interesting place to visit. There’s a lot of cruise ships that stop there and always did. And early on they had this great connection with the UK so it’s a mix of Portuguese and especially Nordic countries in Europe – so in terms of architecture you will find those influences and you will find a lot of quality in terms of properties. Bonus – it’s not overcrowded at all, and I think that’s one of the great assets about Portugal it’s not overcrowded – obviously, you will see people here and there but it’s not unbearable. Madeira is also very well known for Madera wine that was actually used to celebrate the U.S. independence. Then in honor of flowers, all things botanical and pretty much everything that’s connected with nature they host a special festival called Flower Festival in May to celebrate spring. New Year’s Eve is also a very popular time here as it’s a great showing of spectacular fireworks all over the island and it is a very special evening to all.
- Azores: One of two main archipelagos, the Azores are comprised of nine islands, and they are pretty much very pure. Rita described it as the nature being very raw – kind like New Zealand and Iceland mixed together but with warmer weather. The Azores have been quite popular with U.S. visitors’ thanks in part to Delta Vacations’ amazing offerings whom I work very closely with. But there are also a lot of other options and it’s an amazingly beautiful destination. It’s home to one of the biggest largest tea productions in Europe, which is something that it’s very specific, very unique and is not publicized. They are also certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination Program and are considered one of the most sustainable destinations Europe wise. According to Rita it is very unique, untouched and raw and it literally takes your breath away. And island hopping in the Azores can be done via domestic flights although not all the islands have connections because some of them are very tiny, but they do have connections with ferries between all of them – not touristic ferries – more like every day ferries – but they make it easy to island hop.
Things To Do In Portugal. Rita told us about the great National Highway they have and that is interesting because when you look to the main cities of Portugal they are always towards the coastline. They felt that mainland Portugal – even though it has a lot of culture – it was being left a little bit aside, so they decided to promote it via this highway that already exists. They jokingly refer to is as Portugal’s Route 66 – its real name is Estrada Nacional 2 – and it goes from the very start of the country in the north all the way to the southern part – 450 miles total. You can also do this route via biking or motorbike instead of by car. It’s a great self-drive that makes for a very interesting experience because you will find a lot of smaller cities and lots of hidden gems. As you go from north to south it’s a very different scenario as the north is more green and very rich in terms of culture with the south being more relaxed – more like beach lifestyle – lots of beach front pieces here to enjoy. And you guys we can easily have you rent a car from where you want to start and turn it in at the end of your journey so that way if you want to do this one way, we absolutely can make that happen for you!
There’s also a lot of trails that you can hike or even bike thanks to all the nature that exists here. More than 40% of the country is still very pure so they have several trails for you to explore – if you’re a hike lover, they have something for you and if you’re bike lover, they have something for you too. They also have all levels of experience from the very easy to those for more experienced people who really like to challenge themselves and there is a Portuguese trail map showing you how to get there and the levels of difficulty that you can find.
For my golfers, Portugal has 91 golf courses with the biggest concentration of them being in the south where they have more than 40. Now don’t get us wrong – you will find a lot of beautiful courses in Lisbon – including one where a world championship golf tournament has been played. The golf courses in the south however are mainly owned by the resorts making them quite desirable.
Portugal also has a very religious piece – Fatima – which I think is something that is super important to show off because this is a pilgrimage. People walk this and Rita shared that she did this experience and it’s amazing as well as very fulfilling. She said that you have a lot of people that will take you into their houses along the way and because you’re doing this path everything is already prepared for the pilgrims. She continued that it’s a beautiful experience and a very spiritual one as you can imagine and so very worth it. On another note, Fatima is in central Portugal which is the part that has a strong Roman Catholic presence, but they also have a lot of Jewish heritage in the country – not only in a center of Portugal but also in Evora which is very strong in terms of Jewish heritage – which again is something most people are not aware of.
Destination Weddings. Between the islands and Lisbon which are both great places for weddings and honeymoons – there is also another great option – Sintra – which is a day trip from Lisbon. Sintra is absolutely beautiful and is very romantic. Rita let us in on the fact that it actually used to be the destination where kings and queens in Portugal would spend the summer because it was so hot in Lisbon – so all of its castles and legends add to that air of romance. Bonus – there is a guide that I work with that really does the whole concept of the fairy tale of Sintra and my clients who have already done it have fallen in love with it so it’s definitely something that I would highlight to put on your itinerary. And it’s not just for couples, it can be for families too thanks to the enlightenment behind it all. So, for weddings and honeymoons you not only have those options, but you also have the southern part of the country where you will find beautiful, private properties that families have preserved and then rent out – so again, another great opportunity if you want to have a wedding or any kind of event really.
Portugal is an amazing and very friendly country overall and another one of the things I love about it is that it is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly countries out there. Rita agreed and noted that the LGBTQ + community is welcome, respected and made to feel safe thanks to their acceptance there and are certainly not treated any differently than any other citizen. So…if you are looking to do a same-sex destination wedding Portugal is great option!
What About Corporate Events? There are so many things that you can do in Portugal and so for those of you guys who are working for corporations that are looking for destinations for company offsites, Portugal is a great choice. And of course, I can help you coordinate a lot of that so if you guys are looking to have something different and exotic and still do that team building, we absolutely can help you do that as the folks at Visit Portugal certainly give us all the tools that we need to make it happen!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends that travelers be fully vaccinated before traveling to Portugal and that unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Portugal.
So that wraps up our fabulous Portugal presentation. I hope that all of you got a little bit more curious about Portugal and that you have a lot of questions that we can help you with and get you to Portugal as soon as possible. I mean really, it’s only a few hours away from the states so it’s not like you have to go halfway around the world to it experience it – it’s really just on the other side of the Atlantic!
For more details on things to see and do in Portugal where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!