It really shouldn’t come as a surprise either. A country filled with incredible natural diversity, warm hospitality, delicious cuisine, and not to forget the historic sights and sounds that date back centuries and have endured a colourful past.
Whilst this newfound resurgence in tourism has led to a marked rise in tourist numbers, it certainly does not mean to say that Portugal has become overrun with visitors. The more well-known cities and regions such as Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve may attract the lion’s share of holiday-makers, but many other parts of Portugal still remain virtually untouched.
Here then are 5 true hidden gems of Portugal that are absolutely worth visiting now, before everyone else gets in on the secret too!
Encompassing over 100 kilometres of coastal, natural park, the Costa Vicentina region that is tucked between the Algarve and the Alentejo regions in the southwest of Portugal is a true hidden gem worth visiting.
Known for its incredible natural beauty by way of golden sandy beaches, dramatic cliff edges, forests, lagoons, and not to mention the Alentejo countryside, the Costa Vicentina is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Here, you can hike along the 350 kilometres that make up the Rota Vicentina hiking trails that include the Historical Way, The Fishermen’s Trail and the Circular route. For cycling enthusiasts, there are around 30 circular routes that make up over 1000 kilometres worth of cycle trails waiting to be explored.
The region is also known for its gorgeous beaches, some more hidden and off the beaten path than others. Praia de Monte Clérigo, Praia de Odeceixe, and Praia da Arrifana are a few of the most well-known. Of course, there’s also Praia do Amado, a wide and expansive beach that’s popular with surfers thanks to its Atlantic exposure making for great waves, as well as the local surf school and surf rental shop on hand.
Ultimately, what makes this region so special, is the fact that’s its retained a truly authentic Portuguese charm, untainted by mass tourism. Visiting traditional Portuguese villages such as Odemira, Vila Nova de Milfontes or Zambujeira do Mar will no doubt transport you to a Portugal of yester-year allowing you to experience a laid back and unhindered Portuguese way of life.
Having been voted as the ‘most Portuguese village in Portugal’ back in 1938, this adage has endured to this present day, even though many don’t consider the town to be an all-encompassing expression of Portuguese villages in general.
Despite this, Monsanto, located in the central part of the country and only a stone’s throw away from the Spanish border, is still well worth visiting. From the onset, you’ll be stunned at the way in which the village has been moulded and formed against its natural surroundings. Most notable being the giant granite boulders and caves that form part of the village and homes.
From here you can admire the incredible views out from the village’s hilltop vantage point, meander through the historic village itself, tackle the Rota dos Barrocais walking route (the Boulder Route), or pay a visit to the Monsanto Castle.
If you happen to be travelling through this part of Portugal around the beginning of May, then you may be in luck. This is when the Festival of the Holy Cross takes places, in remembrance of the town’s long history of battles and sieges. During the festivities woman carrying ‘marafonas’, or rag dolls, climb up the hill whilst clay jars filled to the brim with flowers are thrown down from atop the Monsanto castle walls.
Conjure up images of medieval Portugal, most ‘in-the-know’ travellers will likely recommend the charming village of Obidos, set only about an hour outside of Lisbon. But, I’m here to let you in on an even more charming secret. Travel a little further inland, only 2 hours by car from the Portuguese capital, and you’ll find the exquisite hilltop village of Monsaraz.
A fortified village surrounded by ancient castle walls, towering out over the surrounding landscape, historic Monsaraz offers incredible views out over the surrounding countryside. Just down below you’ll encounter the Algueva river that separates Spain’s Beja district from Portugal.
Stepping through the city gates and onto the cobbled streets, you’re immediately struck by the quaint white-washed buildings, the main street lined with artisan and boutique shops selling an array of local crafts, art, and ceramics that the area is known for.
Continue meandering through the city streets, past the beautiful 16th-century Igreja Matriz church, and head for lunch overlooking the surrounding countryside, or admire the sunset from atop the castle walls, looking out across the Alentejo countryside and into Spain.
Just under an hour up north from Porto is the exquisite city of Braga, one of the most significant religious cities in all of Portugal. Known for its astounding array of churches, parishes, cathedral and convents, Braga is said to have more than 30 religious heritage sites.
Two of the most important include the Sé de Braga (Braga Cathedral) set in the heart of the old town as well as the Bom Jesus do Monte sanctuary, a famous pilgrimage site that’s noted for its impressive 116-meter-high Baroque style staircase.
Even if churches and other religious monuments aren’t quite your thing, Braga still offers a gorgeous old town center worth exploring. As you sit in the central Praça da Republica square, admiring the fountain and old-worldly Manueline-style architecture of the surrounding buildings, you’ll no doubt fall in love with Braga.
Last but not least on this list of true hidden gems of Portugal, is the one place where it all began, one of the prettiest cities, I’ve ever visited in Portugal. Considered the birthplace of Portugal and the home to the country’s first king, Afonso Henriques, is the UNESCO World Heritage site and city of Guimarães.
Visit the Ducal Palace, the Castle of Guimarães or simply wander through the medieval old town center and admire this perfectly manicured and enchanting city. Given the city’s colourful history dating back centuries, its cultural and historical importance as well as the overall beauty, it’s no wonder that so many visitors fall instantly in love with this medieval northern Portuguese gem.
Marco Santos from The Avid Campers, moved to sunny Lisbon over 4 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo as well as indulge in his love for camping and nature through his blog The Avid Campers.