New ways to explore Portugal – Secret Portugal

There are plenty of places to explore in Portugal away from the main resorts, from the clifftop castles of the Douro valley to the spectacular coastline of the Algarve’s lesser known beaches

Douro river and valley, Portugal

Northern Portugal

Tourists heading straight to Lisbon or the Algarve are missing out on northern Portugal, home to the Douro valley, remote mountains, medieval hilltop villages and clifftop castles. Start a visit to the region in Porto, a lively mercantile city with a Unesco-protected old town. Stay in Ribeira, a maze of narrow streets with a buzzing nightlife – 6Only is a stylish, recently converted B&B close to all the main sites. After a fix of city life, head further north to the edge of the Peneda-Gerês, Portugal’s only national park. Stay in Casa Do Rio Vez, an old millhouse by the river Vez. Swim with the otters and go hiking in the Soajo mountains.
 Seven nights’ B&B from £234pp, based on two sharing, with, including three nights at 6Only and four at Casa Do Rio Vez. EasyJet ( flies from London Gatwick to Porto, from £48 return

Coastal drive

Portugal has nearly 2,000km of coastline, with wild beaches giving way to sheltered coves, dramatic cliffs and charming fishing villages. Explore as much as time allows in your own cool camper van – a brand new road van converted into a quirky little camper, with a customised comic book-style paint job. You get a welcome pack with all the essential – map, soap, tea bags – plus you can order optional extras. So if you want to bike, surf or barbecue en route, the company will provide you with the necessary gear. They’ll also point out the best locations for rock climbing, watersports, horse-riding or whatever activity takes your fancy. “Free camping” (sleeping in your van by the beach, say) is tolerated in quiet areas, excluding the Algarve where it is illegal.
 Camper van hire from €55 a day, sleeping three, with Portugal Sport and Adventure (+351 910 668 600, Van collection/return is in Lisbon

Wine tasting

A wine-tasting tour of Portugal is a great-value alternative to France. The Taste of Portugal website is a brilliant resource for anyone planning an independent trip. The site features guides to Portugal’s 10 main wine regions, which produce surprisingly diverse styles, including young green wine, aromatic alvarinho, reds from Ribatejo and, of course, port. There are several suggested itineraries within each regional guide, focusing on wineries but also pointing out restaurants, culture, wildlife and festivals. So the guide to the Setúbal peninsula (, just south of Lisbon, highlights the local speciality – chicken stewed in its own blood, delicious – as well as the prettiest old chapels in the area. Hire a bike to wobble your way around your chosen region.
 See Taste of Portugal ( for more details. Cycle hire from ( costs from €20 a day, or from €45 for three days’ hire

Alternative Algarve

If the hordes of tourists descending on the Algarve every summer have so far kept you away, it might be time for a rethink. Beyond the main beach resorts is a vast, unspoilt area that receives few visitors and, with its spectacular coastline and varied landscape, is great for a walking holiday. UTracks has a new self-guided trip this year taking in the best of the region, from pretty Silves to laidback Sagres, staying in family-run hotels in traditional villages. BA is launching a new flight from London City to Faro on 7 June, making it even easier to get to the Algarve.
 UTracks (0845 241 7599, offers an eight-day walking holiday from £690pp, including accommodation, meals, maps and baggage transfer, but excluding flights (flights can be booked on request). BA ( has flights to Faro from £128 return