1. Marvel at the views from Marvão
It may be just a two-and-a-half hour drive from the capital, but this tiny, whitewashed, Alentejan village, perched on a rocky outcrop by the Spanish, border feels like a world away. First fortified by the Moors in the eight century, the remote village is surrounded by an almost-intact circuit of seventeenth-century walls. Designed to provide a strategic and far-reaching panorama over the expansive plains of Spain and Portugal, they provide unbeatable views that are just as impressive today.
Watch the sunset over the surrounding serra while swallows swoop overhead, or scramble down the old Roman road through cork and olive trees for a swim in the river below.
2. Walk the Trilho dos Pescadores
You can walk for hours along sections of the coastal Trilho dos Pescadores without seeing a soul – in fact, you’re more likely to come across goats, ponies, soaring birdlife and the odd brave surfer than a fellow walker. Following local fishermen’s routes along the coast, this long-distance footpath is divided into sections that can be easily walked in a day and end in seaside settlements where you can get a welcome meal and a bed for the night.
Starting in the Alentejan fishing village of Porto Côvo, the path meanders over clifftops, through river valleys and along beaches to Odeceixe, where it links to the Caminho Historico, a rural trail running inland through farmland, wooded valleys and hills to reach Portugal’s far southwestern headland of Cabo de São Vicente in the Algarve.
Whilst the Algarve’s central section may be overdeveloped, its western coast is completely different. Less than an hour’s drive west of Faro airport, you’ll find no shortage of traditional, sleepy villages and a wild unspoilt coastline.
One of the best places to stay along this coast is the laidback village of Odeceixe whose cobbled streets and tiled cottages tumble down a hillside to a verdant river valley. A road winds along the valley to a fabulous, wide beach, where in-the-know surfers ride the rolling Atlantic breakers – if you’re not up to taming the surf, there’s also a more sheltered lagoon for swimming.
4. Kayak the Mondego valley
The best way to explore the tranquil Mondego river valley in Central Portugal is by kayak. Start at Penacova and you can paddle for 25km along a river lined with pine trees and vineyards (grapes dangle tantalizingly above the river if you fancy a quick snack), watching kingfishers swoop and birds of prey soar overhead.
There are a few small rapids on the way, but generally the river is calm all year and in summer you can stop at any number of small river beaches for a picnic and a swim. The waters run right into the centre of the ancient university city of Coimbra, where you can re-fuel with a delicious pastel de nata (a flaky custard tart) at the one of the city’s many atmospheric cafés.
Image by Alessandro Grussu on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)