Lisbon also provides a good base for further exploration with great transport hubs and excellent road links. So, convenience, beauty and vibrancy all-in-one.
I find it a wonderfully airy city, filled with light, wide open spaces and an abundance of things to see and do. It's a city that showcases the very finest things that a busy capital could possibly bring to the fore. But despite the inevitable hurly-burly, Lisbon has the feel of a very hospitable place to be, complete with historic neighbourhoods, characteristic Pomblane architecture with some incredible ceramic tiled facades. There's also some amazing modern architecture with examples of quirky urban art set amidst the ever present vibe of this thriving but somehow remarkably chilled city.
Of course, Lisbon is blessed with a very pleasant climate. Quite surprisingly, for a large city, it even throws in some fresh marine air for good measure. So the Portuguese capital comes very highly recommended with far too many superlatives to list.
There’s little doubt that this is a food lover’s paradise, especially for those who might possess more than just a passing partiality for fresh seafood. But I won't get too poetic about such gastronomic delights because I'm sure that most of us will already be well versed about Portugal’s heady ranking as one of the world's best places to enjoy great tasting food. Lisbon boasts its fair share of the brightest and best when it comes to the world of culinary excellence. The fun starts when we search out those culinary gems for ourselves, pleasing our own tastes and preferences as we go.
Another great thing about the capital is that it's close to some other fascinating towns and cities. Mafra is one of those places and is located just 25 miles to the north.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the most instantaneously striking thing about Mafra is of the architectural ilk. It would be remiss of me if I didn't declare that the Palácio Nacional de Mafra is anything short of impressive. Such an omission would be a disservice on a scale almost as grand as the majestic building itself. As soon as anyone claps eyes on this incredible place, there will be an instant realisation that all else around is dwarfed by this ornate Baroque, Neoclassical leviathan (and UNESCO World Heritage site).
Palácio Nacional de Mafra is a Royal Palace, a convent, a basilica and much else all rolled into one oversized construct with more than 1200 individual rooms. It was a finalist as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It wouldn’t be in the least bit surprising if it had been designated as one of the top wonders of the entire architectural world. It really is that impressive. An awe inspiring edifice in both scale and sheer ornate beauty.
Opposite and in the shadow of this great palace, we find Mafra's Praça de República which is a convivial open air gathering place complete with tables and chairs which are sheltered beneath shady parasols. An ideal spot to enjoy a mid morning coffee at one of the excellent nearby pastelarias and cafés.
After a bit of on-foot exploration, I returned to the Praça for an ice cold mid-afternoon beer. Later on, I stopped by once more, this time to enjoy a relaxed Mafra evening, complete with a glass or two of locally produced vinho. I used this chill-time to quietly contemplate where best to enjoy a delicious evening meal. Mafra provides an abundance of choice. What better way to conclude a visit to this beautiful Portuguese city?
It's only a six mile hop to the next location, Ericeira. This time it's azure seascapes, big skies, crashing surf and vast sandy beaches that await at this west coast gem.
Nothing prepares the first time visitor for Ericeira's glorious views. A coast that extends as far as the eye can see. There are rugged cliffs which are frequently battered by the enormous Atlantic waves for which the Silver Coast is renowned. The thunderous surf generates a hue of fine sea spray which often envelops the coastline. You can literally taste and smell the sea in the air.
This picturesque seaside town is also famed for its challenging surf. It attracts surfers from all over the world. Ericeira's wild sea may not be for the faint hearted but it doubtlessly provides a thrilling spectacle for all to marvel at.
The seafront is dominated by the Hotel Vila Galé Ericeira with its imposing balconied facade and distinctive emerald green roof tiles. This pristine whitewashed hotel is favourably perched on a large rocky outcrop facing out towards the open ocean. A unique vantage point from which guests can savour the most outstanding views.
Along the seafront, there are lengthy coastal walkways with convenient wooden steps leading down onto the sandy beaches below. There's a small square near the seafront with a selection of popular bars, surf supplies and coffee shops. If you climb a few steps towards the upper town, you'll find yourself on Rua Dr Eduardo Burnay. This will lead onto Ericeira's Praça de República where a selection of amenities including restaurants, bars and colourful gift shops await your perusal. Ericeira is another one of those towns to simply wander around, get a little bit lost whilst discovering yet more of those countless hidden gems of Portugal.
In all my years of exploring this country, I’ve learned that it's no exaggeration when I hear others declare that there are so many stunning places to find amidst majestic landscapes, outstanding beaches and bustling towns and cities. Perhaps I have also learned a little about the country’s history, its gastronomy, its wines and its culture. Last but by no means least I've met some of the people of Portugal which has been enormous fun.
Thing is, I've only just about scratched the surface. There’s so much more for an ardent Lusofile to discover. So whilst I sit back, glass in hand, gazing at yet another blissful west coast sunset, I can perhaps think, in a very small way, but along the same lines as those famous Portuguese Navigators and wonder to myself - where to next?
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.