Although only a narrow strip of land kissing the Atlantic Ocean, there are many unexplored remote corners and beautiful places to visit in Portugal. It is home to balmy beaches, sun-kissed vineyards, enchanted forests, ancient history, delectable cuisine, and most importantly, warm locals.
While many make a beeline to its more famous neighbor, Spain, very few consider Portugal as a holiday destination. And the few who do, barely venture beyond Lisbon.
While Lisbon and the other popular city in Portugal, Porto, do allure traveler with their timeless charm, you’ll find that the country’s vast landscape is peppered with many such treasures. It has underrated hidden pockets that guarantee to give your Portuguese sojourn a colorful spin!
The houses of this historic mountaintop village in Portugal, close to the border with Spain, give it a unique disposition. Gigantic granite boulders make up roofs of some and walls of others. Defined by its landscape, Monsanto has been of strategic importance from the pre-historic times and was even crowned the most’ Portuguese town of Portugal’ back in 1938.
Ascending the narrow-cobbled streets, that snake around the village, lead you to the ruins of the Monsanto Castle. Apart from a small chapel, there isn’t much left owing to an accidental explosion eon ago, however, the views from here are worth the climb. Close by is the 12th century Capela De Sao Miguel. A hidden gem in Portugal, Capela De Sao Miguel isn’t for everyone, as many wouldn’t find the sight of human-sized & shaped coffins all that pleasing.
Owing to its location and accessibility, Monsanto remains off the tourist trail, but with a short detour, it can become a perfect mid-way point for a road trip between Lisbon and Porto. Spend a couple of nights here and be awed by the orange hues that drench the granite houses during sunset or bathe them in yellow light at sunrise.
About 90 minutes east of Lisbon, Evora sees many day trippers that come to enjoy its beauty and comprehend its history. But for a town that has existed in some form from the second century BC, a few hours do no justice. Let me elaborate.
The town is scattered with medieval architectural gems, including remains of the 14th-century wall with the main sights located around the main square – Praça do Giraldo. The must-see sights in Evora, surrounding the square, are The Temple of Diana, Evora Museum, Evora Cathedral, and also the Church of St. Francis, which houses the Bone Chapel.
While medieval history is a highlight, the town is also a hearty fusion of the old and the new. It has Neolithic monuments and rustic wineries at its doorsteps coupled with a lively restaurant scene. A UNESCO listed World Heritage city, Evora, is not just a chapter but an entire book on Portuguese history and thus merits a little more of your time.
Given its location, it is hard to truly get away from the sea while exploring Portugal. Considering most tourists come here for the sun, sand, and surf, it becomes even more challenging to find anything off the beaten track.
So, when you come across a peaceful slice of beach heaven in the famous Algarve region, you would have second thoughts about its exclusivity. But all your doubts are sidelined, once you witness the beauty that lies at the confluence of River Seixe and the Atlantic Ocean.
A drive of 1.5 hours from Faro will bring you to the traditional sleepy village of Odeceixe, situated to the extreme west of the Algarve. Perched above the river valley, it is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Portugal. And 3Kms away from here is Praia de Odeceixe (the beach), for surfing or swimming in the sheltered lagoon. If you are searching for adventure, the views from the moinho de Odeceixe (windmill) built-in 1898 are worth the climb as well.
Central Portugal is a repository of history and thus home to thriving historic cities. Viseu is one that stands out with impressive granite monuments and an old-world charm still intact. Dating back to the Iron age, the town has changed hands from the Lusitanians, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, to finally King Ferdinand I.
Vestiges of this history can be traced in Viseu’s many monuments. The most well preserved of which is the Viseu Cathedral. Although the cathedral’s construction began in the 12th century, many additions were made up until the 17th century. As a result, the monument is a harmonious blend of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline architecture.
For the artistically inclined, the Grão Vasco National Museum showcases works by Portugal’s Renaissance painters/artists from the 1200s until the 1900s. Viseu also happens to be the headquarters of the Dão region famous for its wines. Therefore, it is one of the best parts in Portugal to go wine tasting.
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
The crown of Portugal, located in the North, it is the country’s first and only National Park. From massive granite hills, wooded valleys, quaint villages, and hidden waterbodies, Parque packs in a lot within approximately 700 sq. km. It has not only preserved the unique eco-system up in the hills but also sheltered human inhabitants and their way of life.
Driving through the park is not only convenient but also the best way to discover its magnificence. The tiny villages scattered across the Serra da Peneda are still stuck in a time warp with cobbled streets and ancient granite houses. Some of these also offer rustic accommodation for the few tourists who venture here to search for Portugal’s hidden gems. For those who prefer roughing it out, camping sights are aplenty.
There are also ample opportunities for walks and hikes here. While at it, keep an eye out for a Roe Deer or the Iberian Wolf, majestic creatures of the wild you do not want to miss. Apart from a variety of flora and fauna spread across the park, there are also Stone Age dolmens, ancient monasteries, Roman milestones, and megaliths that can be found a little off the main trails.
Venturing off the beaten track in Portugal takes you away from the fast-paced cities and crowded beaches, closer to vast open spaces, ancient cultures, medieval monuments, and a more straightforward way of living.
About the Author: Namrata is a writer for Ticker Eats the World. Getting lost in the labyrinths of historic cities is her ideal holiday. She has a penchant for unique and off-beat experiences and embraces slow travel. She writes about her personal travel experiences on her blog happypheet.in. You can also follow her travels on Instagram.
Photos – Unsplash and Pixabay