Climb aboard journalist Ricardo Alexandre’s aeroplane and land in some of Portugal’s loveliest and most enchanting landscapes.
Dear passengers, we are going to land in the city of Porto. It could be Lisbon or Faro or Funchal, but allow me the initial privilege of returning to my roots.
Porto has the first essential stop: the Serralves Contemporary Art Museum, with its straight lines and surprising forms, designed by the most famous Portuguese architect, Álvaro Siza. However, Serralves is much more: it is Jazz in the Park, next to the tea room with the best scones in the city; it is the carefully-tended gardens inviting a stroll and reading; it is the outside tables of a museum that has one of the best contemporary art programmes in Europe. In the Boavista area, you cannot miss the Casa da Música, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
At night, be swept along by the infectious movida of the city centre in the Baixa quarter. Today’s Porto is bursting with new projects in culture and the arts; it has restaurants that are unbeatable for value, hospitable people and a city centre that is World Heritage. Head 40 km north to Guimarães, the country’s first capital, which in 2012 is the European Capital of Culture. A visit to the Paço dos Duques, up to Penha, Largo da Oliveira, a show at the Vila Flor, a perfectly pulled, ice-cold beer with petiscos at Martins in Toural.
Now imagine landing in Faro. If your idea of Portugal is the beach, there is nothing better than the Algarve (I recommend Praia do Barril or Ilha de Tavira) and the Vincentina Coast (Carrapateira, Castelejo, Cordoama); however, moving up the map of this rectangle made country almost 900 years ago, you can find a surfing paradise in Ericeira or Peniche, the picturesque Nazaré, the sands of Figueira, Costa Nova in Aveiro and… further north, you can enjoy the beaches of Vila Nova de Gaia: clean, no crowds and… you can visit the port cellars. North of Porto, try Vila do Conde and Póvoa de Varzim.
No, dear passenger, this itinerary does not take in Lisbon, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I’m sure you’ll find plenty of useful information in other texts and on other occasions. Here, I focus on other passions of the eye and heart: Marvão and Monsaraz, in Alentejo, Paredes de Coura, in Minho (with a superb rock festival in August), Foz Côa, in the Douro, and small villages where time has not stopped but needs to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace: for example, Almendra, in Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo.
In the country of fado, there is also music influenced by the genre but one that dresses in more contemporary garb: in Portugal, keep your ears out for A Naifa and Dead Combo.
This country is worth the while. Take advantage dear passenger: financial crises tend to bring the cost of tourism down.
by Ricardo Alexandre