In south-central Portugal, to the right of show-stealing Lisbon and above the summertime fun of the Algarve, the underrated and understated Alentejo region packs a punch.

Technically two regions, Alto and Baixo translating to higher and lower, The Alentejo is awash with Roman and Moorish history, designated dark sky star-gazing reserves and countless grapes hanging from vines ready to be turned into one of Portugal’s greatest exports, and my favourite refreshment, wine. This is, of course, one of the most celebrated wine regions in Portugal.

The visitor count might not be as high here as other parts of the country, but that is very much its charm. Cruising along a near-empty motorway for a weekend escape, the rolling green countryside of vineyards with the odd castle provided a refreshing vacation from the bustle of the city.

The resort I picked for this weekend had to stand out, be quirky and ultimately a real gem of a place. I got scouring Booking.com’s range of properties in Portugal, from hotels made of another Portuguese staple, cork, to restored palaces, the options were surprisingly endless.

L’AND Resort

I finally settled on L’AND Resort, situated just an hour from Lisbon in Montemor-O-Novo. Complete with a hot air balloon, Michelin star restaurant, retractable skylights for star-gazing and wine-production that happenesd inside the resort, I knew I had found my soulmate in hotel form.

Pulling up to the L’AND vineyard resort, the first thing you notice is how un-noticeable the resort is. The leading lines of the white buildings which centre around a lake sink into the green vines and trees that surround them. Not only is the stylish design aesthetically pleasing, but the integration with nature also makes the resort feel much smaller than it is. From the balconies, you can’t see other peoples accommodation, and this added to the sense of privacy and escape that the location of the vineyard offers.

Star Gazing in Alentejo

I’ll jump to my favourite bit about the resort and region as a whole, the star-gazing. Although Montemor-O-Novo doesn’t technically fall into the official Dark Sky Reserve, a dedicated area in Alentejo, the night skies were nothing short of incredible.

The resort with limited light pollution and far enough away from the town is nearly dark at night, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy mother natures nighttime show.

If you book a sky-view suite, then a remote-controlled ceiling pulls back to reveal the twinkly stars straight above your bed for some duvet style sky viewing. In the summer months, the actual glass is also removed from the roof which allows for a better view. To be honest, this was one of the things that disappointed me with the hotel; it’s not made clear when booking that the glass is there for part of the year, and at a premium price, this is something they should make known at booking.

Another option is your outside private plunge pool, which is enclosed on your balcony and more of a deep-bath. You can run the hot-tap and soak away to the magical view above.

Or your balcony, or the hotel rooftop, or by the lake (my favourite), or next to the vines… wherever you go, as long as there are no clouds expect amazing star-lit skies..

Vineyards in Alentejo

Red, white, rose and sparkling; they are all on production and offer in Alentejo with L’AND resort seasonally producing all the still wines in small batches. You could traipse off to explore multiple vineyards, or simply settle into wandering the vines that literally start outside your front door here.

L’AND offers various ways to sample both their wines and other wines from the region. With a glass of wine at check-in, a free wine and cheese pairing at 4 pm and other complimentary wine tasting options depending on the day, you’ll be off to a good start.

More in-depth wine tasting with professional notes can also be arranged, from just their own through to the whole regions. And if you head to the restaurant, the pairing flights can’t be missed.

Fine Dining in Alentejo

The food scene in Portugal is usually highlighted by Piri Piri Chicken and Egg custard tarts (Pastel de Nata) abroad, but the bar is continually being raised by some very talented chefs here and Miguel Laffan is one of those.

His Michelin Star restaurant at L’AND resort offers two menus, seasonal at €75 and the chefs menu at €105. Feeling like five courses would suffice, I went for the seasonal menu which included fresh oysters, deconstructed Portuguese style Bouillabaisse and a tender cut of Pork before two perfect desserts. The focus is on local produce, with the aim to source everything within 50km of the resort and the quality of the dishes was excellent. The matching wines and information that came with them were well worth the extra cash investment.

Miguel himself was in the dining room, running plates and chatting with the guests which was nice to see. Breakfast, a mix of buffet and a la carte the next morning was also of high quality.

L’AND Resort
L’AND Resort

L’AND resort review

With both a heated indoor and natural temperature outdoor pool between the 22 suites, there is plenty of place for R&R. The outside pool was empty of water on my visit, even in May, and this was another annoyance when paying for a premium hotel having a big empty hole in the lawn. The sauna looks out across the pool and vineyards, and the spa looked pretty fancy, although I didn’t have time to make use of it. The resort can also arrange a hot air balloon ride for you direct from the hotel to see Alentejo from above, prices are from €625 per trip as they don’t offer group flights.

Overall I loved the resort but wish I had seen it at it’s best, with the fully retractable windows and the pool open. It’s a pricey place to stay but even if you don’t book in, do try to get a reservation at the restaurant as it was genuinely excellent. You can see more of L’AND here.

But what else is there to discover nearby?

The Alentejo region of Portugal is vast, but here are a few highlights you could easily visit from the resort.

Montemor O-Novo

The small city of Montemor-O-Novo is a quick five-minute drive from the resort and can be seen in the background from the main dining room.

The cities main feature is the ruins of the Roman castle which sits atop the hill and although the walls have fallen in many places, inside you’ll find a convent and church in pretty good condition. The views are also excellent and stretch well beyond the city from the viewing point.

Montemor-O-Novo is pretty compact and can be easily walked in a couple of hours between the squares and churches down below. I wanted to visit the Escoural Cave, complete with prehistoric art but discovered you need to call ahead to arrange access.

Évora

Évora is the capital of Alto Alentejo and the principal city of the region, by car it should take around an hours drive from Montemor-O-Novo.

The historic centre is surrounded by towering stone walls and viaducts, and I loved the afternoon exploring here.

Start off in the Royal Palace gardens where peacocks casually stroll past the buildings before ducking outside to the Chapel of Bon, also known as the bone church as many skeletons decorate the building following a mass exhumation in years gone by.

Évora Cathedral is a large Gothic construction dating back to the 12th century and the nominal entrance fee which includes inside the church, the courtyard and the fantastic views across the city from the roof-top is a must do

Just along from the Cathedral is the Roman Temple of Évora which stands in excellent condition and would look more in place in Italy than a rural Portuguese city. The history of Portugal is often glossed over in favour of its beaches, but the more I explore the country, the more in awe I become of its fascinating collection of historic architecture.

The main square is a great stop to grab a bite to eat, listen to local musicians and people watch before strolling through narrow side streets of cobbles and whitewashed homes.

Beja

Another one hour drive brings you to Beja, the capital of Baixa Alentejo, and smaller than it’s counterpart Evora.

When I arrived, they were hosting ‘The Festival of Tiles’ which I’m assuming isn’t a year-round event, but traditional Portuguese tiles were permanently adorning many of the buildings throughout the city.

In Beja be sure not to miss out on the traditional market around the castle if you arrive on a Saturday morning. The 13th-century castle also boasts panoramic views from its tower.

The main square, a small affair, is shadowed by the Igreja de Misericórdia church which started its life as a meat market and the domed porch at the front often has local artwork on show. There are a few churches and galleries in the city, but you’ll need less time to get under the skin of Beja as you do in Évora. From Beja, you could continue your road-trip on to the Algarve’s coastline in under two hours and check out all my favourite Algarve hidden gems!

The wine regions in Portugal reward visitors with some of the country’s most extraordinary experiences. Filling every corner of the land, it is a world of ageing quintas (wineries) and arresting landscapes that offer a fresh perspective on Portuguese culture and history.   

Oenophiles will know that Portugal has quietly established itself as the dark horse of European winemaking. Overshadowed by more prominent European wine producers, Portugal focuses on their greatest hits while using native grapes innovatively. 

The very best Portuguese wines are marked DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada). And while the fortified wines of Port and Madeira may be the biggest names, the sheer variety of grapes and terroir makes Portuguese wine some of the most intriguing in Europe. 

Wine tours are never just about the vinho. Portugal is no exception to the rule that vineyards are found in beautiful surroundings. Stretching around rivers, forests, beaches, and swathes of rural Portugal, the 13 Portugal wine regions have something for everybody. 

To gain a flavour of what to expect, we’re taking a flying tour down ancient rotas dos vinhos to discover the delights of Portugal’s serene wine country.  

Douro Wine Region
Take a cruise along the Douro Wine Region | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Douro Wine Region

Sitting east of Porto, picturesque Douro Valley is Portugal’s viticulture capital. UNESCO World Heritage status reflects the beauty of a mountainous region dotted with terraced vineyards that famously gave the world port wine (vinho do Porto).

The sugary, fortified wine lacks the cachet of mainstream wines and sales have declined in recent years. Yet 2,000 years of winemaking history combined with unique terroir and microclimates helps Douro Valley remain the leading Portuguese wine region. 

Partly driven by port’s declining popularity, innovative wines have gained traction. Today, the region is also known for table wines like Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca that make good use of the native grapes. 

The fast-flowing Douro river scythes across the region. Evoking a bygone age, the sleepy villages and towns dotted along the Douro Valley add character to the enchanting region.  

In contrast, Porto at the valley gateway is energetic and vibrant. An important wine outpost, it is the ideal base to explore Portugal’s northern wine regions. 

Where to stay in Douro? Quinta Da Estrada Winery Douro Valley

Get a taste of the action: Day tour from Porto with cruise, wine tasting and lunch

Vinho Verde

The celebrated Vinho Verde wine region sits in the northwest corner of Portugal, sandwiched between the Douro and Minho rivers. Encompassing 9 sub-regions, the historic Minho region is home to Portugal’s most distinctive wine.  

Vinho Verde, aka green wine, owes its characteristic freshness to young grapes and zero ageing. Red or white, Vinho Verde likely takes its name from the lush, green landscape.

The landscape partly explains why the renowned Vinho Verde wine route is so popular. Adding to the Vinho Verde experience are the ancient cities of Braga and Guimarães, affectionately known as the ‘birthplace of Portugal’. At the same time, a detour to picturesque Amarante serves up another taste of forgotten Portugal. 

Bordered in the east by the magnificent Peneda Geres National Park and the Atlantic coast in the west, the Vinho Verde region is rightly recognised as one of the most attractive wine regions in Portugal.

L'AND Resort Wine Hotel in Portugal
L’AND Resort Wine Hotel in Portugal | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Alentejo Wine Region 

The Alentejo wine region of Portugal is everything the Vinho Verde region is not. Arid, dusty, and lacking greenery, it is a province of stark landscapes. 

The tip of Alentejo is east of Lisbon, but its rural plains swell eastwards to cover nearly a third of the country. 

Home to 8 DOCs, the region is known for producing fruity red blends from native grapes, like Touriga Nacional, and international superstars like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This expansive region also hosts beach towns and delightful cultural diversions, like UNESCO recognised Evora. One of Portugal’s tourist jewels, historic Evora regularly features on lists of Portugal’s most liveable cities. In the east sits Elvas, a fortified, medieval town and location of the immense star-shaped Fort of Graça (another UNESCO World Heritage site). 

Alentejo flies the flag for viticulture diversity, producing ageable old-style wines and fruity modern wines. A nod to Portugal’s past and present that captures the essence of the region. 

Where to stay in Alentejo? L’AND Vineyard Resort

Get a taste of the action: Four-hour wine-tasting tour from Evora

Dão Wine Region  

Sitting north of Alentejo and south of the Douro Valley is one of the leading wine regions in Portugal. Dão is known for making balanced wines, served with meals throughout the country. 

Idyllically rugged, the region is covered in rolling pine and eucalyptus forests overlooked by Portugal’s tallest mountain range, Serra da Estrela. The lifegiving rivers Dão and Rio Mondego wrap around the region. 

In recent years, Dão has moved out from the shadow of port and created sought-after Portuguese wines. Many grape varieties are grown, including prized whites from the Encruzado grape. 

Dão is endowed with many cultural and natural highlights. Foremost is the old town of Viseu, a former Roman settlement and home to a striking medieval cathedral. Other destinations of note include the spa town of Luso and the enchanting Buçaco Forest. 

With some of the most talked about wines in Portugal, a journey around bewitching Dão is perfect for wine connoisseurs and nature-lovers.  

Medieval Belmonte in Portugal's Interior Wine Region
Medieval Belmonte in Portugal’s Interior Wine Region | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Beira Interior Wine Region

The Beira interior is magnificent. Punctuated with soaring views, wooded valleys, and towering peaks, it is also the place to find some of Portugal’s finer wines. 

What marks the region out is a mountainous terrain as variable as the weather. Native grapes like Baga, Castelão, and Tinta Roriz (tempranillo) flourish there. 

The terrain also explains the region’s enduring appeal to travellers. Divided into three parts, Beira stretches from one side of the country to the other. There are no big cities in the harsh interior, but the tranquil towns of Castelo Branco and Trancoso, as well as the medieval settlement of Belmonte, are pleasant places to explore and find accommodation.  

Beira Interior is perfect for discovering unheralded wines of exceptional quality. 

Beira Atlântico Wine Region

Beira Atlantico is home to the celebrated Bairrada wine region. Sitting above Lisbon, the Atlantic flank of the Beira region is influenced by coastal proximity and temperate climates. 

Bairrada DOC embraces grape diversity, which sees popular native grapes grown alongside Bordeaux and pinot noir.

Visitors usually head to coastal Aveiro, known as the ‘Venice of Portgual’. A network of canals crisscrossed by gondola-like moliceiros (small boats) adds to the beguiling charm of this maritime city. 

If you crave more history, Coimbra in the Beria Litoral is one of Portugal’s largest and oldest cities. Home to Portugal’s oldest university, Universidade de Coimbra (another UNESCO World Heritage site for the list) and renowned fado musical performances, Coimbra is a true Portuguese cultural centre and yet another reason to spend time in the Beira Atlantico wine region. 

The Vines of Quinta dos Santos in Algarve's Portugal Wine Region
The Vines of Quinta dos Santos in Algarve’s Portugal Wine Region | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Algarve Wine Region

Yes, it is a beach-lovers paradise, but there are still plenty of Algarve hidden gems and it also has surprisingly vibrant viticulture. 

Protected by mountains, the part-Mediterranean and part-Atlantic climate allows grapes to mature longer for extra sweetness. The region holds 4 DOCs, scattered across Portugal’s southern coastline. 

Amazing beaches, lively coastal towns, and endless golf courses make the Algarve a tourist magnet. 

But wine buffs are well catered for. Lagos, with its picture-postcard beaches, and windswept Tavira in the less-visited eastern Algarve, are both great destinations with their own DOC wine. The central coastal regions of Silves and Lagoa (Quinta dos Santos is dreamy) also are home to some fantastic wines.

If you’re looking for sun, sea, sand, and great wine, Algarve is one of the unmissable wine regions in Portugal. 

Where to stay in the Algarve? Explore our hand-picked list of the best luxury hotels in the Algarve

Get a taste of the action: Half-day wine tour in Silves

Drink wine from terracotta in the old Portugal wine regions
Drink wine from terracotta in the old Portugal wine regions | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Lisbon Wine Region

The Lisboa wine region wraps around Lisbon city and covers a long strip of coastal Portugal. Boasting 9 DOCs, serious volumes of wine are produced there.  

Lisboa wines are affordable, everyday wines often sold in 1.5 and 3-litre carafes. The region is known for vinho leve (light wine), which earns comparison with the more illustrious Vinho Verde. 

Unsurprisingly for a region centred around the country’s capital, there is plenty to interest visitors. 

Lisbon is too singular to summarise, but it is an essential Portuguese destination and the ideal base to explore several Portugal wine regions. It is also a centre of gastronomy — think delicacies like pastel de nata (custard tarts) and savoury classics like bacalhau a bras (braised salted cod) — making it an ideal location to discover the food and wine of Portugal.  

Get a taste of the action: Day trip to a wine cellar, vineyard and wine house

Tejo Wine Region

Tejo wine is all about tradition. Pigéage wines (foot pressed) are common, entire communities help with harvests, and bottles are sealed with cork from local forests. 

The Ribatejo province (or the Tejo wine region) is a dry, inland area that owes its agricultural success to the Rio Tejo (Tagus River), which flows across the Iberian Peninsula to Lisbon. 

Sitting between the Alentejo and Lisbon wine regions, six DOC subregions produce distinctive wines. Despite some standout reds, the region is known as a volume producer of everyday table wines. 

The river, a vital artery for millennia, flows around historic towns, past ancient cork forests and olive groves, and famously through a flamingo-friendly protected estuary. 

Along the route are co-operative vineyards and organic quintas that open their doors to the public, and camera-friendly towns like medieval Santarém and cute Chamusca. 

If you are still ticking off UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Convento de Cristo is worth a detour. The ornate and imposing convent has a Knights-Templar origin story, capturing the essence of a region steeped in tradition. 

Transmontano Wine Region

Transmontano is tucked away in the northeast corner of the country. Mountainous, it is one of the least accessible wine regions in Portugal. 

Red, white, rosé, and even eau-de-vie are produced across the region. Rural and timeless, the changing altitudes encourage variety in grape harvests and winemaking. 

Effectively landlocked, the region is scenic yet unprosperous. For curious travellers, it is a region brimming with wonders. 

The region’s ancient enmity with Spain has littered the land with medieval castles. Magnificent natural parks are found both in and around the region. And delightful towns like Braganca, one of Portugal’s prettiest, and the enchanting fortified town Miranda make exploring this intriguing wine region unforgettable. 

The city of Setubal, Portugal
The city of Setubal, Portugal | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Setúbal Wine Region

The Setúbal wine region is an oddity. This diminutive region, overshadowed by the Alentejo wine region, champions fortified Muscat wines.  

There are just two DOC denominations, Palmela and Setúbal. Setúbal wines share characteristics with port and include the renowned Moscatel de Setúbal. Wines from Palmela are typically still reds made with the Castelão Frances grape. 

Languid beaches, Mediterranean climate, nature reserves, and the crucial Sado river add to the natural character of Setúbal. Delightful Palmela, overlooked by the impressive castle, Castelo de Palmela, layers a cultural and historical cherry on top. 

Accessible by day trips from Lisbon or the bustling port city Setúbal, there is much to explore in one of Portugal’s atypical wine regions. 

Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal
Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Wines of The Azores

With the mainland covered, we need to jump offshore to uncover the final wine regions in Portugal. 

One thousand miles away from Portugal are the nine volcanic islands of the Azores. Graciosa, Biscoitos, and Pico each have an IPR, or indication of regulated provenance. Solving the challenge of making and preserving wine on sub-tropical islands, the local stuff is almost exclusively fortified.

Most Azorean wine comes from Pico, sometimes called the ‘Island of Wine’. Its incomparable landscape and dedication to local agricultural techniques have earned UNESCO recognition.

As you might expect from unspoilt mid-Atlantic islands, there are numerous reasons to visit. Snow-capped volcanic peaks overlook lush, verdant islands that put the Azores firmly on the tourist map. 

Where to stay in Pico Wine Region? Book a private home rental at this beautiful Adega amongst the Pico vineyards

Get a taste of the action: Pico Island Wine Tour

Wine Region in Madeira at Quinta da Saraiva
Vines at Quinta da Saraiva in Madeira / Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Madeira Wine Region  

We kickstarted our tour of Portugal’s wine regions with the country’s most famous wine export, port. We fittingly end with its second most famous, Madeira wine. Both are fortified wines. 

Madeira could not be further removed from the Douro Valley. A sub-tropical archipelago closer to the African coastline than Portugal, fortified wine has been made there since sailors set off for the New World.

An alternative approach to viticulture also sees the unfashionable native grape Negra Mole dominate island production. Although winemakers on the island also make space for table wines and a local speciality, sparkling espumante

The regional capital, Funchal, is a handy camp for exploring the quintas and natural parks that Madeira is known for. Popular with cruise companies and yacht owners, this laidback city packs in the charms of a sun-drenched European island without the usual tourist trappings.  

Is remote Madeira the first-choice destination for oenophiles? Probably not, but with a stunning backdrop and intriguing wine industry, it will always appeal to curious wine buffs, nature-lovers, and adventure-seekers. 

Where to stay in Madeira? Check out our favourite stay in Madeira, Quinta da Saraiva

Get a taste of the action: Full day Madeira wine tasting tour

Portugal joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1965, although later, in 1972, the country left the organisation and officially re-joined in 1974. Portugal was also a member of the Executive Committee from 2007 to 2009 and has been deeply involved with UNESCO ever since with different contributions from the country’s government and artists.

Seventeen venues constitute Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of which have a major historical significance to the country and the world. From archaeological sites and rich natural venues to the beautiful uniqueness of the country’s architecture.

These outstanding UNESCO Portugal sites will have you travelling through time by giving you insights into over 900 years of history and culture, enriching your eyes and mind with the beauty of each of these locations. You’ll certainly want to book a flight back as soon as you leave Portugal, as the country is known for its fantastic receptiveness to tourists – plus, it will be a struggle to visit all seventeen in one trip!

Another bonus is nearly all of these sites also have guides (printed, audio, or tours) available ready to tell you everything you need to know about these amazing places, buildings and monuments. Usually, the guides are in several different languages and answer any questions that you might have about the site’s surroundings or traditions.

The UNESCO listed University of Coimbra
The UNESCO listed University of Coimbra | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia

The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest currently working universities in the world. It is situated on top of the hill overlooking the city of Coimbra, in a privileged place in town, surrounded by centuries of history that now are mixed with services, residencies, green spaces where you can relax, restaurants and a lot of cultural attractions. 

You can expect to be greeted by uniformed students and maybe even an opportunity to hear the amazing music played by the tuna. This is an academic orchestra that covers songs from the best Portuguese artists throughout the time or transforms poetry by the most significant Portuguese writers into songs in a beautiful mix of different instruments and unique acapella interpretations.

Inside, the tour will take you through some of the ancient faculties, with the library a particular gem not to be missed! When you visit Coimbra, don’t miss out on the chance for a stroll down “Rua de Sofia” and appreciate the details still clear from de Renaissance artistic style. 

Where to stay in Coimbra? For a truly unforgettable stay, this opulent and grand hotel with rooms seemingly carved into the rock is something very special!

Looking for a tour? Sign on to a free walking tour of Coimbra to get to know the city, or buy your tickets to enter the university from the ticket office

Monastery of Alcobaça

Located in the North of Lisbon and founded in the 12th-century by King Alfonso I, The Monastery of Santa Maria d’Alcobaça is deeply connected to the proclamation of Portugal as an independent kingdom in 1139. 

This monument is a masterpiece of the Cistercian Gothic art, something you will notice from the beauty of the architectural style, the materials and the attention to detail used in its construction. It’s common you will find different kinds of exhibitions here, from art expositions to musical and performative art events or educational lectures, assuring your visit to this place will always enrich your spirit.

Gastronomy is also a must-try in this region with their traditional “Doces Conventuais” (traditional sweets) and the tasty “Licor de Ginja” (a cherry liquor)  that will be even better if served in a small chocolate cup.

Where to stay in Alcobaça? Just outside of the city, this spa hotel with unique architecture really captures the surrounding nature

Looking for a tour? To combine Alcobaça, Tomar and Batalha in a day, consider this private tour from Lisbon as it’s hard to combine public transport between the three in one day due to bus times

Douro Wine Region
Take a cruise through the Douro Wine Region | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Alto Douro Wine Region

You have probably already tried the Portuguese famous sweet wine known as port (Vinho do Porto), popular around the world for its quality and usually drank as a digestive or an aperitif. Wine has been produced in the Alto Douro region for at least 2000 years, and the viticulture tradition has marked its position in Portugal’s culture and economy. 

The landholders of the area, together with the Government, have constantly been working on the evolution of the production while always respecting the purity of the natural ingredients – essential for great results. 

The outstanding beauty of this area makes it just the perfect landscape for a relaxing wine tasting day while learning about its history and process. Here, in the middle of beautiful natural venues, you can breathe fresh air while sipping a great wine that will awaken all your senses – there is a reason it’s one of the most celebrated Portugal wine regions.

Where to stay in Douro? Quinta Da Estrada Winery Douro Valley

Looking for a day trip from Porto? Consider this tour with a cruise, wine tasting and lunch

Colourful and ancient palaces in the UNESCO listed Sintra
Colourful and ancient palaces in the UNESCO listed Sintra | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Cultural Landscape of Sintra  

Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture in the 19th-century. This city’s unique mixture of parks and gardens surrounding its beautiful buildings, castles and palaces (for example, the National Palace of Pena, on top of the city) make it a magical experience for every visitor. 

Enveloped by the beautiful “Serra de Sintra” microclimate, the combination of pure nature with beautiful and artistic architecture makes the walk around this UNESCO Portugal Site feel like a living fairy tale. Keep in mind to ask the city guides about the popular stories and legends surrounding the town’s history throughout the times, too! Best explored on foot or by tuk-tuk, it’s less than an hour from Lisbon by train, making it a perfect day trip, although you’ll likely need a couple of days at least to really explore. If you are short on time, pre-booking your tickets might make sense on peak days.

When in Sintra, don’t forget to try the unforgettable “Queijadinhas de Sintra”, a traditional cake from the area which will make this visit even more memorable – if that’s possible!

Where to stay in Sintra? This rustic 19th-century Quinta fits in with the historical stories of a Sintra stay

Looking for a tour? Even though Sintra is easy to do from Lisbon by yourself, if you are short on time (and also want to visit the coast) then this day tour will be appreciated

Step back in time in the UNESCO listed old town of Guimarães
Step back in time in the UNESCO listed old town of Guimarães | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Guimarães

In this beautiful city, one of Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, according to the history, was born. The historic part of Guimarães is set inside the small medieval town surrounded and protected by a castle built with big rocks and wood. It’s one of Portugal’s main points of memory of the country’s history, mixing with harmony the traditional with the modern times of these days. 

Guimarães represents a great example of how Portugal searches for evolution without never renouncing its roots and makes an effort to respect the traditions and historical marks of the country. Did you know, for example, it was the first capital of Portugal in the 12th-century?

Enjoy the walk through the city and appreciate the warmness of the locals you encounter; you’ll also often find outside art displays or other cultural elements in addition to the historic architecture. 

Where to stay in Guimarães? Stay in this 12th-century convent to really appreciate the city’s history

Looking for a tour? Combine Guimarães and Braga on this day tour from Porto

Mafra Palace, one of Portugals's UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Mafra Palace, one of Portugals’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Royal Building of Mafra Palace

This fantastic building was built in 1711 by the then king, D. João V, and illustrates the power and large reach of the Portuguese imperium. 

Built with inspiration from the Italian baroque artistic and architectural style, it includes a convent that belonged to the Franciscan religion, a library with 36,000 volumes, and the palaces for the King and the Queen.  The amazing garden will make you travel back to the monarchy period as soon as you step foot in this UNESCO Portugal Site.

Amazingly, Mafra Palace has over 1200 different rooms, more than 4700 doors and windows, 156 beautiful stairways and 29 lobbies – although you won’t be allowed to visit them all, the ticket is well worth it. 

Inside you will also have the chance to see different jewellery collections, art pieces such as tapestries, paintings, sculptures or furniture in a great state of conservation that will make you feel like you just visited the Kings. The library, which still uses bats at night to keep the books free of bugs, is a highlight!

Where to stay in Mafra? A little outside the city centre, this historic village has been converted into dreamy accommodation

Looking for a tour? Take a private tour of the royal palaces around Lisbon, including Mafra, to maximise your time

Climb the UNESCO staircase of Bom Jesus in Braga
Climb the UNESCO staircase of Bom Jesus in Braga | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga

This landscape located in Mount Espinho, overlooking the city of Braga, was founded in Roman times and has excellent views, overlooking the ocean itself sometimes. It’s a sanctuary of devotion and peregrination for the residents of the area and for visitors from around the world, promoted by the Catholic Church. The complex includes a series of chapels that remind us of the Passion of Christ with several details such as fountains, sculptures and surrounding gardens. The incredible stairway that leads to the church is hard to describe, and while impressive from the bottom, the walk to the top will likely leave you short of breath!

Whether you are a devote or not, the picturesque landscape of this site will leave you fascinated and bring you a sensation of peace and harmony. You’ll certainly be fascinated by the ornamental elements and stonework present in the granite walls of the monument. One of the absolute must-visit Portugal UNESCO World Heritage sites!

Where to stay in Braga? Skip the city centre hotel and stay in this gorgeous panoramic hotel in the hills of Bom Jesus

Looking for a tour? Book on to a free walking tour of Braga to learn more about the city beyond Bom Jesus

The magnificent ceiling painting in Portugal's UNESCO listed Tomar cathedral
The magnificent ceiling painting in Portugal’s UNESCO listed Tomar cathedral | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Convent of Christ in Tomar 

This building joined the list of Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. Built upon a roman cult place, it represents 700 years of Portugal’s history and extraordinary moments of Occidental’s history. 

The monument has so many different architectural styles present that it is somewhat of a guide to the country’s art history, showing the evolution of a country that adventured through seas and continents, bringing influences to be pictured in the stones of these walls. Gothic, renaissance, mannerism and baroque are some of the styles you will manage to observe while visiting this site. You will also be able to have an idea of how the cavaliers and monks lived back in the day.

The city of Tomar will make you feel welcome and surrounded by culture, and you will even find bars and restaurants inspired by the different art styles present in the convent.

Where to stay in Tomar? Stay in this cute 18th-century family-run hotel

Looking for a tour? Take the ‘Knights Templar’ day tour from Lisbon to visit castles and convents in Constância and Tomar

The UNESCO heritage city of Porto
The UNESCO heritage city of Porto | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Porto (including Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar)

Porto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, so it’s not surprising that it’s listed as a UNESCO Portugal site. Although, as is already a pattern in this country, even the most modern cities will conserve their marks of history and culture. The Historic Centre of Porto is surrounded by the Douro River and has a lot of beautiful monuments and history present that take us back to eras gone by, such as Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic.

When visiting, take the chance to try the traditional “Francesinha”, a dish that entered the list of the world’s best sandwiches and don’t forget to finish it with a port wine by the river for dessert.

Where to stay in Porto? Stay in this gorgeous boutique palace hotel

Looking for a tour? Sign up for a free walking tour of Porto to learn the city’s history

Belem Tower sitting on the River Tejo
Belem Tower sitting on the River Tejo | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Jerónimos Monastery and Tower of Belém in Lisbon

When visiting Lisbon, visiting these monuments is almost mandatory, which are an integral part of Portugal’s UNESCO sites. Situated by the banks of the River Tejo, the Tower of Belém was built strategically to defend the city in case of attack, and its architecture is prepared to resist the fire from the enemies. 

The Monastery of the Hieronymites is a symbol of some of the most important moments of the country’s history, maintaining to this day its remarkable features like the cloister from the 1500s, and the dining hall of the Monks and its magnificent library. 

Where to stay in Belem? Stay in this stylish hotel moments from the monastery

Looking for a tour? Sign up for a free walking tour of Belem to learn more about this beautiful neighbourhood

Monastery of Batalha

Also known as the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória, this monument took almost 200 years to build (from 1386 to 1563, approximately) and was thought and edified by the king D. João I of Portuga.

It was constructed l to show appreciation to Holy Mary after winning Aljubarrota’s battle against Castilian enemies as proof of his gratefulness and devotion. It’s remarkable to the country’s history as it represents its moment of independence and emancipation. 

You’ll be taken in by its gothic architecture while visiting the different rooms which take you back in time and allow you to have an idea of the routines and activities of the monks and priests living in the convent.

Apart from being a museum, it is also another monastery considered one of the National Pantheons. 

Where to stay in Batalha? Stay in this trendy and chic boutique hotel with a pool and views of the Monastery

Looking for a tour? Combine Batalha with Fatima and Obidos on this day tour from Lisbon

Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde  

These prehistoric art sites were one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th-century, taking us back to the palaeolithic time. The illustrations on the rocks allow us to have exceptional insight into the social, economic and spiritual life of our prehistorical ancestors in a truthful communication with our past, showing us also the signs of the artistic development of the human being. 

Since 2010, an extension of the Côa Valley in Siega Verde, Spain, was found to contain a lot more artwork and information, becoming the only one of these UNESCO Portugal sites sharing territory with Spain. This brings the chance of visiting the two amazing countries together while allowing our ancestors to tell us their stories through their art.

The historic UNESCO Heritage Centre of Evora
The historic UNESCO Heritage Centre of Evora | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Historic Centre of Évora

Being located at the confluence of three important Portuguese rivers – The Tejo, Sado and Guadiana – Évora was always of high value to Portugal’s commercial routes since its early days. This gave the city relevant importance to the country’s social and political activities throughout all the different civilisations passing through the country. You will be able to see the presence of Roman and Islamic influence.

The greatness of the buildings joins the magnificent views and cosmopolitan city centre of the beautiful Portuguese area of Alentejo, known for its receptivity and tenderness to visitors. You will be able to relax while hearing the music of street artists and feel the youth’s presence due to the city students. Don’t miss monuments such as Diana’s Temple or the Cathedral of Sé.

Where to stay in Evora? The beautiful L’AND Vineyard Resort just outside the city

Looking for a tour? Discover the nearby wine history on this four-hour wine-tasting tour from Evora

Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal
Black rocks frame the Pico Wine Region in Portugal | Credit: Daniel James Clarke

The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture

The Portuguese  Islands are also present on the list of UNESCO Portugal Sites. The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture occupies an area of 987 hectares on the second biggest island in the cluster of nine Azores Islands.

Here you will find an extremely rich geological beauty due to being a volcanic area with a considerable diversity of fauna and flora, much of which is rare protected species.

What makes this area such a unique vision is the labour of the wine workers throughout time, to be able to form their plantations and vineyards across hard black rocks. Using these basaltic rocks to protect their cultivations from the wind and sea, they took advantage and made the best benefit out of their soil. Enjoying a wine tasting in this magnificent landscape is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Where to stay in Pico Wine Region? Book a private home rental at this beautiful Adega amongst the Pico vineyards

Looking for a tour? Pico Island Wine Tour

Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores  

The city of Angra do Heroísmo, located on Terceira Island (another of the Azores archipelago) distinguishes itself due to the geographic and atmospheric features that made it a great point of exchange developed from the 16th-century. Thus, it became a mandatory route of call for boats from Mina, India or Brazil. 

The city has been built and structured based on renaissance design and has several available monuments to visit, such as white-washed and grey stone churches or palaces. Given the number of people and cultures mixing in this essential point of commercialisation, it conserves a legacy of historical decoration noticeable in the architecture, sculptures, tiles and porcelain.

Where to stay in Angra? Stay in a historic fort, now a beautiful Pousada hotel

Looking for a tour? Enjoy this guided walking tour of the city

Wine Region in Madeira at Quinta da Saraiva
Vines at Quinta da Saraiva in Madeira / Credit: Daniel James Clarke

Laurisilva of Madeira

This 100-percent natural site is considered a relic, thanks to its mystical beauty. It occupies 150,000 hectares which represent some 20-percent of Madeira Island. Its humid and subtropical features are the home of many fauna and flora, boasting a lot of native tree species. Thus, the UNESCO designation is important as it’s very important to protect this important part of the environment. 

The best way to know this magnificent forest is to “get lost” in its amazing trails and feel the peace and relaxation of the green views while breathing the freshest air of the ancient trees around you.

When planning your trip, keep in mind there are always activities available such as hiring a guide and having an educational show that will help you understand the natural benefits this amazing location brings to us. 

Where to stay in Madeira? Check out our favourite stay in Madeira, Quinta da Saraiva