Portugal is made for wanderers. From the top of the Moorish remnants of Castelo de São Jorge, Lisbon cascades downhill in all directions, new paths beckoning at every turn. Surf camps dot the 215-mile stretch south of the storied capital city. Part of the region known as the Alentejo, this shore is far quieter than the Algarve beaches at the country’s southern edge.
Visitors would be wise to allot at least three days to leisurely explore the southwestern coast. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
> How to Get Around:
Most rental car agencies in Europe offer manual transmission cars at lower prices than those with automatic transmissions.
If GPS isn’t available (even companies that promise navigational systems don’t always deliver), head to the Rent-a-Stuff center at the Lisbon airport to rent a unit (around $17 a day). Tip: Ask about toll payment policies.
> Where to Stay:
On the tip of the Tróia Peninsula sits the modish new Design Hotel, its building undulating like the waves breaking on the shore.
The Casas Brancas association partners with independent lodges and inns throughout the Alentejo and also provides a full list of surf schools, donkey treks, and mountain biking outfitters.
At the 21-room Herdade da Matinha, the owners prepare gourmet meals and also offer yoga classes, surf lessons, and horseback riding.
> Where to Eat:
Claim a red pouf at Comporta’s beachside Ilha do Arroz, or visit Museu do Arroz, in an old rice-husking mill. Both serve salt-cod fish cakes, stews brimming with clam and shrimp, and blueberry-cachaça caipiroskas.
In Vila Nova de Milfontes, Restaurante A Choupana offers ocean views among Portugal’s best; order the clams. Down in Zambujeira do Mar, traditional fishermen’s tavern O Sacas serves spider crab, barnacles, and fried moray eel.
> The Ultimate Authentic Experience: Lisbon’s Sweet Spot
Join the line snaking out the door at historic Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (aka Pastéis de Belém). Dusted with cinnamon and sugar, each egg-and-cream treat can be devoured in three bites—so order accordingly.
> What to Read:
In The Fourth Part of the World (2009), Toby Lester recounts the raucous tales of explorations, many of which set out from Portuguese shores, that led to the creation of the first map to name America.
> Travel Trivia:
- Portuguese missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries introduced Japan to batter-fried Lenten fish—the original tempura.
- Portugal harvests over half of the world’s cork.
- Fado, a mournful musical style, stems from the essential Portuguese trait of fatalism and was recognized by UNESCO in 2011 as an “intangible cultural heritage.”
This insider guide was reported by Janelle Nanos, a former editor at Traveler, to accompany a feature she wrote entitled “Explorers Club,” both of which appeared in the magazine’s August/September 2014 issue.