Something’s up in Portugal. Despite a stellar history and a heritage that saw the nation become the great seafaring pioneers of the Age of Discovery in the 1500s, this small country on the geographic (and, dare we say, metaphorical) margins of Western Europe has of late been happier flying under the radar. But that might be about to change. To seek parallels from the world of football for a second, Portuguese star manager Jose Mourinho and star player Cristiano Ronaldo are at the very top of their games; blending outrageous talent, more than a little brashness and more than a lot of arrogance, safe in the awareness that they are very, very good at what they do. This new-found confidence translates perfectly to tourism (which represents 16% of GDP) in the country as well. Sure, the Algarve has long been a lure for families and golfers, but beyond the south coast the rest of the country has been something of a backwater. No longer. Welcome to our five favourite things in Portugal right now:
1. The Alentejo Region
The bit that spans the width of Portugal from the Atlantic Coast to the border with Spain. Above the Algarve, the Alentejo is an area of outstanding beauty, characterised by gently rolling hills, forests of cork oak trees and vineyards. The latter two are synonymous because the Alentejo is one of Portugal’s finest wine regions (on which more later) and the forests supply much of the cork for fine wines around Europe. Add in some excellent design hotels, Neolithic stone circles that pre-date Stonehenge and then the icing on the cake, coming up next…
You heard it here first – Comporta will be the next big beach thing in Europe. Lisbonites have long known about this seductively sunny spot less than an hour from the capital but with a lack of quality of hotels it was somewhere to borrow a friend’s villa – very much an ‘insider’ destination. Now there are chic boutique hotels, such as Sublime Comporta, emerging, and persistent rumours of an Aman on the horizon. What’s all the buzz about? Well, mile upon mile of beautiful and untouched beaches, a very sexy boho vibe and great restaurants and bars.