In this blog we post local travel tips and information about
Portugal and the Portuguese culture. Enjoy!
Portugal and the Portuguese culture. Enjoy!
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Changing temperatures have blurred the seasonal boundary and nowadays Portugal can be explored from north to south almost all year round. The weather plays an important role, but it is not the only reason why people have started venturing off the beaten path and looking for less known locations. Travellers want to discover and truly get to know the most authentic regions, to find well preserved locations and have real local experiences.
That's why we have tried to come up with the best places to visit in each month. With that said, some of them can and should be visited more than once, ideally in different times of the year, as the landscapes change abruptly and the feeling you get is very different.
1. JANUARY: SERRA DA ESTRELA
Visiting SERRA DA ESTRELA during winter time is pretty special as it is the only place in Portugal where you can have fun in the snow with your skis, sleigh or snowboard. Besides the snow park, there are more than 300 km of trails to explore in the Natural Park, that cross high mountainous peaks, river springs, and little charming villages that sit in the middle of glacial valleys. It really is a perfect place to get immersed in the purest of nature, leaving behind the bustle of the city. Adding to the undeniable beauty of the landscapes, this region also has a strong heritage. You can still spot shepherds taking care of their animals, while their wives make cheese, sew clothes and build other handicrafts, keeping traditions alive. The heart warming food and amazing Dão wine are good enough reasons to visit too.
2. FEBRUARY: NAZARÉ
Surely you’ve heard Portugal has kind of a reputation when it comes to surf. In fact, from north to south you can find lots of surfing spots. However, winter means surfers are looking for the big ones and when it comes to size, no other place beats praia do Norte, in NAZARÉ. The waves are so enormous, brave surfers come from all over the world to try beating the record. It is McNamara who owns the title for the biggest wave ever surfed, with 24m.
Another curious fact about Nazaré is the fishermen shirt and cap, and their wives skirts. It is part of the Nazarene tradition the use of seven skirts by their women. The explanation is not consensual, but it is closely linked to the task: the Nazarenes had the habit of waiting for their husbands and sons on the beach, till they returned from the sea. They used the several skirts to cover themselves, the top ones to protect the head and shoulders and the others to cover the legs.
3. MARCH: ALTO DOURO
The wine region of ALTO DOURO is an area located in northeast Portugal with more than 26 thousand hectares, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is Portugal's most scenic wine region, where for more than 2000 years wine has been produced, amongst which the world famous Porto wine.
Even though this region is worth a visit all year round, it is particularly special when the almond trees blossom. The brown fields are sprinkled with pink and white, and there is a beautiful scent in the air.
Legend has it that to please its Nordic princess, who was longing for the snow of her native land, the young King Ibn-Almundim (when the arabs still rulled part of what is now Portugal) began to cultivate almond trees. When they bloom, they resemble a blanket of snow covering the horizon.
4. APRIL: SÃO BRÁS DE ALPORTEL, ALGARVE
It is estimated that over 80% of the Portuguese population is baptised as Catholics and the traditional importance of Catholicism is evident: churches are located in prominent locations, old traditions remain unchanged and there is a big affluence of religious tourists to various locations in the country. Easter is the most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church. In SÃO BRÁS DE ALPORTEL there is the “Procession of the Flower Torches on Easter Sunday”, when locals head to the streets or cheer the beautiful parade of flowers from their balconies. This time of the year is also good to try the best Portuguese sweets, such as pão-de-ló, papos d’anjo, folar...
In the Algarve the temperatures are always nice and warm, so instead of heading there during the summer months, when it is flooded by tourists and the prices go sky high, give it a try during the spring!
5. MAY: AZORES ISLANDS
The weather in AZORES is a tricky thing. Some even say you can get the four seasons in a day. But in all honesty, how other way would you get the bright green landscapes? Azores consists of 9 volcanic islands, all different from one another, but they all share something in common: they are all amazingly beautiful! During spring there are loads of flowers everywhere you look and it is a great time to spot whales and dolphins.
Azores is the perfect destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are options for everyone: jeep tours, whale watching, paragliding, coasteering, hiking, sport fishing... You'll hardly get bored, even if the weather plays up.
Due to this exceptional conditions, the local produce are pretty special too. You can get fresh fish, juicy meat, great dairy products, tea, wine, you name it.
It really is an exceptional place to visit!
6. JUNE: LISBON AND PORTO
In June people from the main cities go bonkers! In LISBON we celebrate Santo António (Saint Anthony) on the 13th and in PORTO São João (Saint John) on the 24th. The origin of these massive parties are the pagan rituals to celebrate the summer solstice, later baptised as Santo António’s and São João’s day.
In both cities we take these celebrations very seriously. There are colourful festive decorations all over town, stages hosting live performances, the beer and wine consumption goes over the roof and the air is filled with the smell of grilled sardines and bell peppers!
S. João main celebration is on the night of the 23rd, when the crowds fill the streets, hitting each others heads with “kind of” leeks (yep, you read it right) or noisy hammers, and launching hot air paper balloons.
In Lisbon the celebrations last the whole week (even though they reach it’s peak on the night of the 12th). There's a massive parade known as the Marcha de Santo António, where the most traditional neighbourhoods compete for the annual title. Santo António is also known for the weddings. Due to its matchmaker reputation he annually blesses 16 couples who decide to tie the knot.
7. JULY: SINTRA
July usually means the weather is proper nice. Hot sunny days and warm cosy nights... We'd say it's a great time to explore SINTRA, the enchanted town located just over half an hour from Lisbon. It’s hard to pick the best things to do, as probably all of them are worth a visit. However, there are two of them that have become iconic: Palácio Nacional da Pena and Quinta da Regaleira. The views from the hilltop are stunning and you can really feel connected to the nature.
People tend to take a day to visit Sintra and head back to Lisbon before dawn. Then the city gets quieter, ideal to go for a walk and really take in the beautiful sights. We believe it's well worth the sleep over, as the city is more peaceful and the surrounding area also deserves a visit.
We’d say it’s also worth driving to Azenhas do Mar, a village sitting on the edge of a cliff facing the Atlantic Ocean and go for a dip in the natural swimming pools if the weather allows. Also in the coast, head to the most eastern point of Portugal to find Cabo da Roca, 140m above the sea level, where you can climb the 22m lighthouse and stare at the rocky sea.
8. AUGUST: NOSSA SENHORA DA AGONIA, VIANA DO CASTELO
If we need to pick a single festivity, then it’s a no brainer: Nossa Senhora da Agonia. It is the biggest and most famous traditional party in the whole country. This event owes its name to the chapel of Agonia, that dates from 1674 and was built to honour the patron saint of the fishermen. Picture the entire city of VIANA DO CASTELO covered in bright colours, folklore music and dances, girls dressed in the most intricate hand-sewn clothes and men playing huge bass drums and the accordion. But there is more... tapestries made with flowers ornamenting the streets, parades of cabeçudos (huge heads made with paper mâché), firework displays and loads of arts and crafts made in the nearby villages.
If this wasn't enough, Viana gives you plenty of other reasons to visit: beautiful beaches, green hills with wild horses, high mountainous tops with hidden lagoons... You'll soon realize there's never enough time to discover all its wonders .
9. SEPTEMBER: ALENTEJO
The vineyards always offer tremendous landscapes, regardless the time of the year, but we have a soft spot for the harvest season, when the colours are stunning and the grape aroma fills the air. In ALENTEJO it is produced some really good wine and it is always a cool experience to help out (or just sit back and watch) during the vindimas. You can stay at a family homestead or in an agro farm, in order to have a real local experience.
Alentejo is Portugal’s biggest region, occupying 1/3 of the national territory. With that said, the variety of landscapes and the rich cultural heritage is astonishing. If you head east you may find never ending plains, castles and medieval villages, but if you travel west and reach the coast, you have some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire country.
In September the weather is still very good and the crowds that head there during July and August tend to disappear, which makes this location a safe bet for a late Summer break.
10. OCTOBER: ALDEIAS DE XISTO
In October the weather is usually mild and we think it's good timing to visit the ALDEIAS DE XISTO (shale villages). The rehabilitation of this region was a commendable project! There was a lot of care in rebuilding the typical shale houses, preserving the natural landscape, promoting the cultural heritage and developing local experiences and activities.
Pick one from the 27 little villages located in the center of Portugal and prepare to travel back in time. Some of the villages are so tiny they only have a single street. However, there is plenty to do: try some water sports or venture in the middle of the mountain treks, discover the region’s history through it’s most iconic monuments and museums, try the local delicacies or just chill and enjoy the nice weather reading a book in the woods or sunbathing on a river beach.
11. NOVEMBER: PENEDA GERÊS NATIONAL PARK
It is the only National Park in Portugal. During November the breeze might be a bit cold, but the autumn colours give us a different feeling. All the trees are sprinkled in warm colours and it's a nice time to explore this mountainous treasure. The type of terrain, altitude variations and Atlantic, Mediterranic and Continental influence, translate into a variety of spectacular landscapes. You can trek rock mountains, find your way through paths that cross luxurious vegetation and find crystal clear lagoons.
Pretty special local products can also be found around the park. You can stock on honey, wild berries, a wide array of plants people use for teas and rubs, dairy products... The food in this region never disappoints!
Adding to the stunning biodiversity, let’s not forget the importance of old habits and century-old traditions that against all odds remain. Here you can still see people living in a sustainable way, appreciating what each season brings, which is always humbling.
12. DECEMBER: FUNCHAL, MADEIRA ISLAND
The archipelago of MADEIRA comprises several islands: Madeira, Porto Santo, Ilhas Desertas (3 islands) and Ilhas Selvagens (another 3). From all of them only the first two are inhabited. FUNCHAL is the capital city of Madeira and our destination of choice for December.
There are two main reasons to visit. First of all, it's Christmas time! There are several masses that anticipate the big day and intend to get the people ready to welcome Jesus. Everyone decorates their houses and there is a special feeling all over town. Funchal also offers one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe, where you can find local products, traditional souvenirs, typical food, exotic flowers...
The whole month is pretty special, but it reaches it's peak on the 31st at midnight, during the 10 minute firework show that lights up the sky. We cannot think of another way to celebrate the arrival of a new year!
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