If you leave the city of Porto and head north until you reach the border with Spain, you’ll be in a region known as the Costa Verde (green coast); including the areas of the Douro Litoral and the Minho. There are some stunning vistas of green and rolling lands and a long striking beach. Small market towns are dotted around where traditions live on, pretty much unchanged for decades.
Portugal often gets missed when tourists flock to Spain, Italy and France, but this small country tucked on the Atlantic coast is increasing rapidly in popularity. Here are some of the reasons.
The majority of its awe-inspiring coastline and beaches face west, they are just perfect for watching the sun set. They will remain in your memory long after the holiday is finished.
Portugal has mild winters with temperatures rarely lower than 5ºC. Along the coast, the hot summers are refreshed by the Atlantic breeze, and it has the highest number of hours of sunshine in all of Europe.
Divided by the mighty River Douro to the south and the rolling River Minho in the north, Minho is Portugal’s greenest province. It is also a province steeped in tradition that has remained untouched from the developments of tourism.
If you were asked to name three associations with the Algarve what would it be? Golf, sunshine and beaches perhaps?
While Portugal’s popular southern spot is world-renowned for its beautiful beaches, almost year-round sunshine and being a haven for golfers, its penchant to cater for the tennis player is considerably less well documented.
With its laid-back vibe and facing an impressive Roman bridge, the charismatic market town of Ponte de Lima nestled on the south bank of the Lima River has been described as “one of the loveliest small towns in Portugal.”
With rolling verdure valleys, a network of fast-flowing rivers, hillsides carpeted in forests and a coastline of long, windswept beaches, it is easy to understand why Minho is regularly cited as being the most beautiful part of Portugal.
Asides its blatant beauty, this distinct province which lies to the north of Porto, clings on to age-old customs. Wooden carts being dragged along by donkeys down twisting cobbled lanes is just one of the many formidable snips of the past Minho keenly retains.
Bordered by the River Minho in the north and the River Douro in the south, this traditional province is one of the greenest regions in the whole of Portugal. Yes, it’s safe to say that Minho is Portugal’s best-kept secret. If you have the pleasure of visiting Minho, take a look at three ‘must see’ places that are crying out to be discovered, explored and photographed.
Guimaraes was Portugal’s first capital. It was also the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, Dom Afonso Henriques in 1110. The town boasts many impressive medieval monuments, such as its fairy-tale castle. Its ancient architecture and sites provide a ubiquitous reminder of Guimaraes’ motto “Portugal nasceu aqui” – “Portugal was born here”. Its labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets and tangible sense of history has justifiably earned Guimaraes its UNESCO World Heritage status.
For those seeking lively nights and shopping-filled days on top of all the culture and history, Guimaraes’ university means the town attracts a younger crowd, and lively bars, atmospheric cafés and ‘cool’ boutiques are plentiful.
Ponte de Lima
This beautifully preserved medieval village of whitewashed houses decorated with ‘Manueline’ ropework is another sight to behold in Minho. This laid-back market town lies on the south bank of the Lima River facing a splendid Roman bridge with incredibly low arches.
The villages’ quaint old streets are lined with elegant buildings. One of the most eminent is the Palacio dos Marqueses, a 15th century fortress palace which is now used as Ponte de Lima’s town hall. One of the most pleasurable experiences of this lovely town has to be enjoying a drink outside one of the main square’s many bars and cafés, watching the bustle of life in Ponte de Lima unfold. Though it has to be said that apart from on market day, life remains extremely relaxed in this delightful old Minho town.
Viana do Castelo
Known as the “jewel of the Costa Verde”, Viana do Castelo has a double attraction – beautiful beaches outside of the city and an enchanting medieval centre. This compelling city is made up of 19th century boulevards, lined with the gnarled trunks and boughs of ancient-looking trees, rococo palaces and Manueline manors.
Lay beside the Rio Lima estuary means that swimming, sunbathing, water activities and having fun on the beach is just a quick hop from this vibrant and aesthetically-idyllic town.
Casa da Cuquinha is a beautiful and traditional Portuguese country house which has recently undergone renovation. The only stones that have been left unturned in this fine house are those in the traditional walls, which have been left exposed with most agreeable effects. Close to the stunning town of Ponte de Lima, this three bedroom house is situated in a great location in Northern Portugal.
Casa da Cuquinha a fabulous blend of the old and the new and the thoughtful, talented designers must be swelling with pride over their efforts. The house is discretely attached to its sister house, Casa da Cuca but the owners have certainly gone for a completely different look. Both houses are undeniably lovely but the differing themes between the two demonstrate what an arsenal of creative talent the owners possess.
The three bedrooms are very much what you would expect to find in an upmarket hotel. The beige, white and cream colour schemes are well-chosen, as are the lighting and fixtures. All three bedrooms contain en-suite facilities. One of the double bedrooms and the twin have direct access to the garden and swimming pool. The quaint stone walls are present in the bedrooms, as they are in many other areas of Casa da Cuquinha. This house is extremely well-balanced and blended to perfection.
With its spaciousness and being equipped with all the appliances you’ll need to cook and clean up, the open-plan kitchen has a wonderful bistro feeling to it. For those who like to relax rather than wash up after your meal, there is even a television in the comprehensive kitchen.
Though it is Casa da Cuquinha’s lounge which really shows off the blend of old and new the house adheres to. Chic settees and a modern wood burning stove contrast beautifully with the original stone walls and polished wooden ceiling. The TV is modern but the fifties radio sits proudly on a shelf continuing the old/new amalgamation.
A door from the lounge takes you onto a covered terrace. Outside of the house you can see mountains, trees and kilometre upon kilometre of vibrant green countryside. You can take your pick as to where you will view the scene. The galleried external landing with its majestic pillars would provide a good “mirador”, as would the lawns and garden room. This fabulous external space overlooks the pool and is perfect for barbecuing on those hot summer nights.
Just five kilometres from Casa da Cuquinha is the town of Ponte de Lima, where you’ll find a number of great restaurants. The town is one of the oldest in Portugal. The old Roman bridge, although rebuilt in the Middle Ages, is a really fantastic sight, especially after dark when it is lit up against the starry night sky.
Find out more about this stunning luxury villa near Ponte de Lima HERE.
The Algarve is famed for its long sandy beaches, world elite golf courses and being bathed in year-round sunshine. This southern Portuguese holiday hotspot’s culinary talents are less well-documented.
But did you know the Algarve is home to a number of Michelin star restaurants? There are six Michelin Star restaurants on the Algarve.
Vila Joya, Gale
Villa Joya’s head chef, Dieter Koschina from Austria, sources the best fresh caught fish from local fishermen each day. He also deals with the local farmers for meat and vegetables. This eatery actually has two Michelin stars. The top-class Villa Joya is situated on the sea front at Gale, which is close to Albufeira.
Henrique Leis, Almancil
Renowned chef Henrique Leis is from Brazil and has been on the Algarve since the early nineties. The popular chef likes to cook the French way with a little South American influence thrown in for good measure. Asides his great cooking, Henrique has a fantastic wine selection in the restaurant. Modelled on a Swiss Chalet, Henrique Leis is an interesting and quirky feature of Almancil.
Willie Wurger, Vilamoura
German-born Willie Wurger has been on the Algarve for around 30 years. The restaurant was based at La Reserve when it was awarded its first Michelin star. Since Willy Wurger opened his own restaurant in 2006 he has received a star each consecutive year. Look out for one of his signature dishes – Pan fried saddle of monkfish on mustard crème sauce. Willie Wurger’s restaurant is tucked just behind the Hilton in Vilamoura.
Ocean Restaurant, Vila Vita Parc Porches
Ocean Restaurant is another Algarve eatery to boast two Michelin stars with the added advantage of enjoying breathtaking views of Portugal’s most southern coastline. Head chef Hans Neuner has worked in Berlin, Hamburg and Mallorca. His innovative cuisine makes full use of fresh organic produce and it is little surprise the Austrian cook was named Portugal’s Chef of the Year in 2009 and 2012.
What was once scowled upon by the modest mainstream has been steadily growing in popularity. With the ever-growing prevalence of nude beaches, even local authorities across Europe are turning a blind eye. So engrained in popular culture have nudist beaches become that ‘top tens’ and ‘favourite fives’ are now regular features in the travel writing press.
The popularity of nudist beaches is obviously seeping into America, with the likes of The Huffington Post publishing features on the ‘Seven Most Secret Nude Beaches in Europe‘. Interestingly, all seven of the beaches are situated in countries where Vintage Travel have villas. Let’s take a look at some of the best nudist beaches in Europe…
Adegas Beach, Odeceixe, Portugal
Adegas Beach is one of Portugal’s seven official nudist beaches. Tucked conveniently out of sight down a winding wooden stairway, this hidden beach is not far from the town of Odeceixe on the border of the Algarve and the Alentejo.
Red Beach, Crete
Referred to by The Huffington Post as being a “little heaven”, Crete’s Red Beach demands a bumpy walk to reach. Being located ‘off the beaten track’, the people on Red Beach are serious nudists. Although with a coffee shop on the beach, its remote location hasn’t stopped the entrepreneurs from cashing in.
CHM Montalivet naturist campsite, Vendays-Montalivet, France
Being the birthplace of the French naturist movement in 1950, the history of nude beaches in France started here. Set in Medoc in the Gironde region on the Atlantic coast, this family naturist resort is hidden within a veil of dense pine forests.
Kordovan Beach, Croatia
Even CNN have cotton on to this one. Cited by CNN as “one of the best nudist destinations in the world,” Kordovan Beach is snuggled on the island of Jerolim and remains relatively unbeknown to locals. Buried within a web of fragrant pine trees, Kordovan Beach enables nudists to relax away from the prying eyes of ‘non-nudists’.
Playa de los Muertos, Almeria, Spain
According to Unique Almeria, locals are “regretting sharing this secret”. Laying at the bottom of a arduous track, nudists have the luxury of solitary at Playa de los Muertos in Almeria. Asides being home to a sensational sunset, the beach provides a fantastic spot for snorkelling.
Spiaggia di Guvano, Cinque Terre, Italy
Escape the saturated tourist trail by getting naked at this secret gem. As The Huffington Post points out finding Spiaggia di Guvano takes patience and commitment and includes walkers entering into a dark tunnel without any lights – certainly sounds like an adventure!
Wild Pear Beach, Devon, England
Even the British are embarking on the popularity of natural beaches with Wild Pear Beach in Devon being a corker. Discovering the liberating delights of this Devon beach takes some doing. A 30-minute “steep scramble” from the town of Combe Martin will take you to Wild Pear Beach and all its assets.
The north western corner of the Iberian peninsula is much greener than anywhere else on the Spanish/Portuguese limb. This is due to more regular rainfall, which sweeps in from the Atlantic.
While southern Portugal and central Spain become sun-baked and brown during the summer months, north west Portugal remains lush and green, its rivers flowing swift and clean. It is a beautiful part of the world and nature is strong and thriving here. The climate is most favourable and you don’t have to wait too long before the hot Iberian sun shines down on you.
If this emerald yet sunny landscape sounds appealing and you’re looking for a private and secluded holiday spot, then look no further than Casa de Sorro near Ponte Lima in northern Portugal. This cute cottage can sleep four guests in style and comfort. Being surrounded by dense woodland and undulating hills, the views from Casa de Sorro are incredible, with the odd red tile roof tops popping through the never ending foliage. Rustic and welcoming, Casa de Sorro is a real ‘get away from it all’ place where you can put your feet up on the sun-lounger besides the inviting pool and float away into your own relaxing world.
The house is traditional and homely. There is a double and twin bedroom plus a barely believable tally of four bathrooms. Stairs lead up to a roof terrace where you can enjoy the best view of the house. With cloudless nights and virtually no light pollution, Casa de Sorro’s roof terrace is the perfect place to have a night cap and gaze up at a metropolis of stars.
Outside the pool is framed by a lush green lawn surrounded by smart wooden decking. Flower beds planted intermittently throughout the garden add splashes of colour, tastefully breaking up the various shades of green. A well-equipped outdoor eating area with a barbecue aids convenient al fresco wining and dining and the whole of the exterior beckons guests outside to soak up some Portuguese sun in the most secluded of settings.
Casa de Sorro is just ten kilometres from Ponte de Lima, one of the oldest towns in Portugal. This characterful town was once a significant Roman settlement but it is the medieval bridge that crosses over the River Lima which gives the town its name.
On every second Monday one of Portugal’s biggest and most famous country markets takes place here, so you can forget about the supermarkets on that day because the organic vegetables available at the Ponte de Lima country market are typically better tasting and much better value for money.
If you are staying at the house in mid-September be prepared for an influx of people to Ponte de Lima as a huge festival takes place, which has been held here since 1826.
Just 35 minutes drive to the west will take you to the Costa Verde, a stunning stretch of Spanish coastline. With its dune-backed beaches, the Costa Verde is among the most dramatic coastlines in Europe. Nearer afield the village of San Martinho de Gandra is well worth a visit, where a number of quality shops, restaurants and bars await you.
For more information on Casa de Sorro and for photos of this tranquilly positioned cottage click HERE.