Undiscovered Portugal: best places to get off the tourist trail

written by
Matthew Hancock

updated 17.04.2024

Undiscovered Portugal is remarkably easy to find. Head east instead of west from Lisbon Airport, drive over the Vasco da Gama bridge, and in no time you're in a landscape of cork trees, vineyards and nesting storks. Read on as our local travel expert, Matthew Hancock (co-author of The Rough Guide to Portugal), reveals his favourite places to get off the tourist trail and into undiscovered Portugal. 

1. Marvão in Alentejo

Less than three hours drive from Lisbon, is Marvão — a tiny Alentejan village perched on a rocky outcrop close to the Spanish border. Marvão's history stretches back over 1200 years, initially fortified by the Moors and later surrounded by 17th-century walls that still stand today.

The original village was designed for views over Spain and Portugal, and those views are just as impressive today. This is a great place to watch sunsets over the mountains. Follow the ancient Roman road down to the river, where you can cool off with a refreshing swim.

Marvão, Portugal

Marvão, Portugal © Shutterstock

2. Trilho dos Pescadores

Parts of the coastal Trilho dos Pescadores are nearly completely deserted: you can walk for hours and see no one. In fact, wildlife and occasional surfers are more common than walkers.

You'll find here historic routes along the coast that divide into sections and can be easily walked in one day. Most will lead you to seaside villages that are great for an overnight stay.

The Trilho start in the village of Porto Côvo. The route then meanders over clifftops and river valleys before it dips down to beaches at Odeceixe. Here it joins Caminho Historico. This rural trail runs inland towards Portugal’s far southwest and ends at Cabo de São Vicente in the Algarve.

3. The western Algarve

Venture beyond the bustling airport hub of Faro and within an hour's drive to the west, you'll uncover the sleepy villages and wild coastline of the western Algarve.

A great place to say is the laidback Odeceixe. Here the quaint village tumbles downhill to a river valley and the local beach is well known to savvy surfers. Not up for riding waves? There’s also lagoon for swimming. 

Beyond the beach, Odeceixe and its surrounding area are a known destination for hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers.

Would you like to skip the hours of research and leave the planning and booking to experts? Our tailor-made trips are completely customisable to your every preference.

4. Kayak in the Mondego valley

A great thing to do in the Mondego River Valley is to explore via kayak. Starting in the quaint town Penacova, you can paddle 25 km (15 miles) along the river, pine trees and vineyard lined banks. 

Keep an eye out for clusters of grapes dangling  close to the water – a perfect opportunity if you fancy a snack. 

Here you get the chance to see kingfishers and soaring birds of prey. The river's usually calm year round, though watch out for a few small rapids. In summer, the river beaches make for a great stop. This river also runs into the centre of Coimbra, which give you the chance to take paddle break and go exploring.

Planning a trip to Portugal? See our Portugal itineraries for inspiration.

Coimbra, Portugal © saiko3p/hutterstock

Kayak the Mondego River valley to ancient Coimbra © saiko3p/Shutterstock

5. Sortelha

Peaceful Sortelha, nestled beyond the majestic Serra da Estrela, is truly undiscovered Portugal. The village is tucked beyond the Serra da Estrela

Here, ancient houses are built into a granite landscape punctuated by huge boulders. It's so small there's only one café in the entire village. For real escapism consider staying overnight. 

When's the best time to go to Portugal? See our guide.

6. Peneda-Gerês National Park

Spectacular Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês is Portugal's only national park. Encompassing an area of approximately 702 square kilometers, it covers wooded valleys and granite mountain peaks. Here you'll find fantastic waterfalls and viewpoints and even places to swim.

The park is crisscrossed by an extensive network of well-marked hiking trails, and is a great place to explore for hikers of all levels. 

Cavado river and Peneda-Geres National Park in northern Portugal ©  Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

Montesinho Natural Park is as remote as it gets in Portugal © Sergey Peterman/Shutterstock

7. Montesinho Natural Park

Northeastern Parque Natural de Montesinho is as remote as Portugal gets. Time has truly stood still here. Here you'll find oak forests, rolling hills and grassy plains that haven't changed for centuries.

Iberian wolves still roam wild in this park — but you're more likely to see deer, boar or golden eagles. In the north, Rio do Onor straddles the Spanish border. It's a village so remote, it even developed its own dialect. How do you know you've crossed the border? There are cobbles on the Portuguese side and tarmac in Spain.

Planning your trip to Portugal

Are you ready to go on your trip? Our tailor made trips are created by local travel experts and are completely customisable. Plus, while on your trip, you’ll have 24/7 support. Here are some of our Portugal trips:

  • North Portugal trip (8 days): From Porto, explore the best of Northern Portugal: hike along the Paiva River, tour the Serra da Arada by jeep, and enjoy Douro Valley wines.
  • Best of Portugal (12 days): Short on time? This trip covers Portugal's top highlights: Lisbon, Porto, Douro Valley, and the beautiful Algarve beaches.
  • Azores wild nature (7 days):Discover São Miguel, the largest Azorean island, on a 6-day adventure. Swim with dolphins, abseil waterfalls, bike through Sete Cidades, and relax in natural spas.

For more inspiration browse our Portugal itineraries or see our Rough Guide to Portugal.

Matthew Hancock

written by
Matthew Hancock

updated 17.04.2024

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