Things you need to know before you go in Portugal
With its stunning beaches, friendly people, unspoilt countryside and tasty local cuisine, Portugal is, unsurprisingly, one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. If you’re planning a trip, here are 10 tips from Matthew Hancock, co-author of The Rough Guide to Portugal, to help you find the most authentic parts of the country, escape the crowds and get even more for your euros.
1. Go out of season
While it’s true that parts of Portugal – Lisbon and the Algarve beaches in particular – can be overcrowded and busy in high summer, they are surprisingly quiet out of season.
Autumn is a lovely time to visit – the sea is at its warmest (the Algarve average water temperature in October is 21˚C) while the sun still shines for an average of seven hours a day.
Most Portuguese assert that the sea is far too cold outside the self-imposed “swimming season” (usually just July and August), leaving the beaches more or less empty in the shoulder seasons.
2. Venture off the beaten track
In Portugal it pays to get off the tourist trail. Head inland to the border region, where fortified castle towns such as Marvão and Estremoz loom over the surrounding plains, and storks nest in spring above the olive and orange groves.
In autumn, go north to the Douro vineyards, where the vines are bursting with grapes – you can even join in with the harvest and grape-stomping at some wine estates.
If you just want some sun and swimming, head to the coasts of the Alentejo, the Centro district or the west coast of the Algarve, where the long sandy beaches are still relatively undeveloped.
3. Eat and drink like the locals
Portuguese food and drinks are usually excellent quality and very good value, so stick to ordering what is grown, caught or made locally. You’ll find a fine array of fresh fish and seafood everywhere, while Portuguese pork and local cheeses are hugely underrated.
The local house wine will almost certainly be excellent. Local beers and spirits will cost around half the price (and taste pretty much the same) as the branded international equivalents.