8 reasons Portugal is the perfect place to visit
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I spent six weeks in Portugal last summer as the U.K. government announced its former travel corridor policy. I didn’t stay that long because I couldn’t travel anywhere else. I stayed because I loved it. It was a perfect destination, for both a vacation and remote working.
While Americans aren’t able to travel to Portugal just yet, hope is on the horizon as the European Union is expected to welcome vaccinated American tourists this summer. Here are 8 reasons Portugal could be a great trip to plan this summer.
1. Endless sunshine
It rained once in the six weeks I was in Portugal last summer and I was able to swim on plenty of beautiful beaches. July is the warmest month of the year in Portugal. Its capital Lisbon, as a densely populated urban metropolis, can lock in the heat amongst all that concrete. It can be a little uncomfortable in the middle of summer there.
If you would prefer somewhere warm but a little more bearable, the average maximum temperatures in the southern Algarve region remain just below 90 degrees throughout summer. Anytime between May and October is very pleasant and you can expect plenty of sunshine.
It’s warm enough to swim in the water, but not so hot your energy will drain away.
2. Everything is affordable
A six-week stay in somewhere like Switzerland or Sweden, while beautiful, would cost a fortune. Portugal is the most affordable place I have experienced in Western Europe and noticeably cheaper than Spain next door.
Even after multiple visits to Portugal I still cannot get over the fact you can buy a 750ml bottle of (excellent) rosé from local supermarkets for under $2.50 a bottle.
You couldn’t even get a glass of wine for that price in the U.S.
Dining out, cocktails, accommodation and transport were all very affordable for the entire time I was there last summer. I found prices to sit midway between Western Europe and Eastern Europe prices and certainly much, much lower than the U.S.
3. Beautiful beaches
Portugal’s beaches are just as good as those I’ve visited in Spain, Greece and Turkey. I found the most beautiful to be on the southern coast in the Algarve region from Cabanas right through to Lagos. Many are within easy walking distance from local towns, or for some more adventure, you can take a ferry or small water taxi to a more remote island.
These islands have plenty of space to stretch out and socially distance and usually have a nice seafood restaurant and perhaps a corner store for snacks and cold drinks. Just make sure you plan your return — you don’t want to miss the last ferry back after too many Sagres beers on the beach!
4. Excellent mask usage and social distancing
This was the thing I was most nervous about when visiting Portugal last summer. Would people do the right thing? Would I feel safe? Would I know what to do?
I needn’t have worried. My experience was that everyone wore masks without exception in places like supermarkets, public transport (including taxis and rideshare) and while not seated in cafes, bars and restaurants. I always carried my mask with me so I could do the same. With warm weather each day, I spent plenty of time outdoors, even choosing to work outdoors on a balcony or terrace, from time to time under the shade of a sun umbrella.
With few tourists around it was easy to have plenty of personal space and it felt much safer than London where I had come from.
5. Fantastic seafood
On previous visits to Lisbon and Porto, I had enjoyed Portuguese food but found there was not an abundance of strong flavors, and some dishes were a little — dare I say — bland. But spending more time there last summer I think I’ve discovered the secret: fresh seafood. The shape of the country means you are never a huge distance from the coast in Portugal, and especially if you staying close to the ocean, there’s an abundance of fresh seafood to be found.
I was in awe of the enormous fresh selection at local supermarkets — there were plenty of options I didn’t even recognize. When you arrive at local restaurants, you can expect very fresh razor clams, sea bass and bream, jumbo prawns and sardines, to name a few. These are bursting with flavor and don’t need additives like herbs and spices like you might add to your food at home.
If you do want something with a real kick, try the famous Portuguese grilled chicken. You may be asked just how spicy you want it, or it may come with a bottle of sauce for you to add yourself. This definitely packs a punch!
6. Friendly, welcoming locals
After the safety of mask-wearing and social distancing, my next-biggest concern was would locals actually want someone visiting? Would I receive any hostility when they realized where I was from? Again, I needn’t have worried.
Every single local I interacted with during my six-week stay was very welcoming and glad to have my custom.
The country is heavily reliant on tourism each summer, especially in the Algarve region. The tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic and they were glad to see every tourist they could. I only speak a few words of Portuguese and had no problem conversing with locals (with our masks on, of course!). Some locals would ask where I had come from and would smile and welcome me to their country.
7. Pastéis de Nata
Those little custard tarts are so delicious they deserve their own number on this list. Sold everywhere, they are a perfect morning or afternoon tea, especially enjoyed with a cup of coffee. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I ate at least one almost every day I was in Portugal last summer.
Expect to pay less than $1.50 per tart at local cafes, and they’ll happily box you up some if you would rather enjoy them at home. If you’re early enough, they may still be warm from the oven.
8. Beautiful towns and architecture
The two main cities of Lisbon and Porto have beautiful architecture, with brightly painted houses. You’ll find plenty of those gorgeous intricately painted tiles everywhere, too. If you’re looking to avoid built-up areas this summer, there are plenty of gorgeous little towns and sleepy villages where you’ll have no difficulty social distancing.
Whether you’re looking for whitewashed buildings on the coast, terracotta roofs in the green rolling hills or getting lost in winding cobbled streets spotting huge wisteria plants at each turn, there’s something for every taste and style.
I thoroughly enjoyed my extended stay in Portugal last summer and look forward to returning again this summer. It was a perfect place for a vacation because it had everything I was looking for — amazing warm, sunny weather, beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, a laid-back lifestyle and it was easy to get around.
What surprised me was how well-suited it was for working remotely as well. If you have no rush to return home after some time off and could use a change of scenery from your bedroom, you can expect stable internet and affordable everything, giving you plenty of time for an after-work swim and sunset beverage before enjoying some delicious seafood and maybe yet another custard tart before bed.
Featured image by Cavan Images/Getty Images.
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