Like the Atlantic Ocean that laps upon its shores, Portugal throws up one or two surprises. A rich and varied land of vibrant cities and traditional villages, visitors are astounded by the country’s stunning beaches, rolling countryside and cornucopia of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which range from prehistoric drawings at Foz Coa to the 15th-century port of Angra do Heroísmo.
The country’s lively capital, Lisbon, and its vibrant northern sibling, Porto, are a joy to discover. They are cities where trams rattle up and down hills and along promenades, trundling past narrow side streets and majestic plazas, bohemian cafés and pumping nightclubs, eye-catching boutiques and restaurants both hip and homespun.
It’s not all about Lisbon and Porto, though. Sintra plays host to the stunning National Palace, a Moorish castle and the dramatic villa of Quinta da Regaleira, while the cities of Coimbra, Guimarães, Braga and Évora all boast beautifully preserved medieval quarters. Unusually, the latter is home to a chapel made exclusively of human bones, which is a tad creepy.
Travellers in search of a rural respite can wander around ancient vineyards, trek to stone villages perched in the mountains and take full advantage of the country’s warm and sunny weather on the magnificent southern shoreline. Drop in on sleepy sulphur spas and hop around the Pousadas – a collection of exquisite convents and monasteries, which have been lovingly converted into off-beat accommodation.
Imposing cliffs and secluded beaches line the Portuguese coast, a dazzling stage for all manner of outdoor adventure. Visitors can ride horses, surf waves, paddle rivers, dive shipwrecks, hike hills and explore Moorish castles and Roman ruins between rounds of golf. Madeira and Berlenga Islands beckon off shore, while the elusive remains of Atlantis await discovery in the Azores Archipelago.
Those seeking a more unique slice of Portuguese culture can discover the melancholic music of fado (Portugal's answer to the blues), study the captivating detail of Manueline architecture, get involved in a traditional festival or quaff port wine along the meandering Douro river.