It has some of the best surfing and kite-surfing conditions in Europe. On the water, there is also great sailing, diving, fishing, kayaking and white-water rafting.
On land, it is most famous for golf. Less-known is that it also has some of the most beautiful and un-spoilt areas in Europe for hiking, wildlife-viewing and birding, climbing, mountain biking and paragliding.
Here are some suggestions:
- Bucolic rivers of the north and centre: Minho, Lima (Minho), Vouga, Dão, Mondego (Coastal Beiras and Mountain Beiras)
- Gorges and vineyards of the upper Douro
- Rafting on the white waters of the Paiva (Coastal Beiras and Porto) and upper Minho
- The estuaries and nature reserves of the Lisbon Coast on the Tagus by Lisbon and Sado by Setúbal
- Lagoons of Aveiro and the Ria de Formosa in the Algarve
RIVER & SEA FISHING
Portugal has ideal conditions for river and sea fishing, and the sport is very popular in the country. The clean and cool rivers of the north and centre, which pass through the mountains of the interior and spill into the Atlantic are renowned for trout and eel. Local fishermen all over the country can typically be seen casting lines into the waves from beaches and headlands. There are also good conditions for spear fishing in the clear seas around rocky headlands. And just off the coast are deep seas which hold albacore, tuna and marlin. Note that a fishing permit is required for all classes of fishing in Portugal.
The best fishing areas in Portugal include:
- Rivers of north and centre: Coura, Vez, Lima (Minho), Vouga, Mondego (Coastal Beiras and Mountain Beiras)
- Deep-sea fishing from the Algarve, Azores, Madeira
- Spear fishing in the Algarve
- Fishing from cliffs and headlands in the Algarve, Baixo Alentejo, Lisbon Coast
SNORKELLING & SCUBA DIVING
The best snorkelling and scuba-diving conditions in Portugal can be found in the clear waters of sheltered and rocky coasts. Sights include rocky drop-offs, volcanic features and large fish species. On occasion, one also sees dolphins from the boat. When calm enough, it is also possible to snorkel around rocks and coves along the shoreline.
The best snorkeling and scuba diving areas in Portugal include:
- Madeira’s Garajau Nature Reserve and Porto Santo island
- The Azores islands for diving combined with dolphin and whale spotting
- The south coast of the Algarve and the Berlenga islands (photo below) off Peniche (Leiria)
Portugal is a year-round golf destination and has a choice of over 70 courses. Half of these are located in the Algarve, making this a major attraction of the area, and the remainder are scattered around the country. Courses are often located in beautiful areas, along coastlines and in the hills of the interior. Several were designed by Sir Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. International tournaments include the Portuguese Open held in Estoril in June and the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura during October. Green fees typically range from €35 to €160.
The best golfing areas in Portugal include:
HIKING & MOUNTAIN BIKING
With its diverse landscapes, beautiful scenery and un-spoilt countryside, Portugal is a land created for hikers and mountain-bikers. The options are endless, from long empty beaches and cliffs to unspoilt countryside and rugged mountains. More often than not, you will be the only person or group in an area, apart from the occasional local farmer. Some places have way-marks, but most of the time it is best to follow your nose. The most comfortable times of year for walking and mountain-biking are the spring and autumn. In the summer, it is best to head out early. The winter is mild, but in January there may be occasional snow in the interior.
The best hiking and mountain-biking areas in Portugal include:
- Mountains and natural parks of the north and centre: Peneda-Gerês (Minho), Alvão and Montesinho (Trás-os-Montes), Caramulo, Serra da Estrela (Mountain Beiras)
- Hills of the south: Serra de São Mamede in the Alto Alentejo and 240km Via Algarvia in the Algarve
- Villages and vineyards of the Minho, Douro, Mountain Beiras, Leiria, Alto Alentejo
- Cliffs and beaches of Leiria, Lisbon Coast, Baixo Alentejo and Algarve
- Volcanic landscapes of the Azores and Madeira
Recently created is the Rota Vicentina, a 340km west coast trail in the Baixo Alentejo and Algarve regions. Well-marked, it follows two routes, the Historic Way passing through rolling hills, traditional villages and cork oak forests, along with the Fishermen's Trail along cliffs, beaches and old fishing villages. Along the Rota Vicentina, stay at Herdade da Matinha, Cerca do Sul, Herdade do Touril, Walnut Tree Farm and Casa Fajara.
CLIMBING, CAVING & PARAGLIDING
Portugal is a hilly country, much of it taken up either by granite or limestone. This makes it a good place for technical rock climbing, caving and paragliding. The granite mountains of the northern and central interior have huge bare slabs, crevices, crags and boulders. The limestone hills of coastal areas in the centre and south of the country are typified by vertical walls, overhangs and caves.
The best climbing, caving and paragliding areas in Portugal include:
- Granite mountains of Peneda-Gerês (Minho), Caramulo and Serra da Estrela (Mountain Beiras) for climbing
- Limestone hills of the central coast from Coimbra to Setúbal, notably at Redinha (Leiria), Montejunto and Arrábida (both on the Lisbon Coast), for climbing. Mira d’Aire (Leiria) for caving
- Vertical sea cliffs of the west coast of the Algarve and Baixo Alentejo for extreme deep water solo climbing
- Boulders at Sintra and Cascais, on the Lisbon Coast, for technical climbing
- Glacial Valleys of Linhares da Beira in the Serra da Estrela (Mountain Beiras) for paragliding
On the migration path between Africa and Europe, and with diverse Atlantic, Iberian and Mediterranean ecosystems including lagoons, estuaries, rivers, plains, forests, mountains and gorges, Portugal is a paradise for bird-watchers. There are over 360 regularly-occurring species. And being a small country, it is easy to cover various areas of interest in a single trip.
The best birding areas in Portugal include:
- Lagoons and estuaries of Aveiro (Coastal Beiras), Lisbon Coast, Sado, Ria Formosa (Algarve) for waders and wildfowl, including the Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Pied Avocet and Collared Pratincole
- Mountains of the Minho, Trás-os-Montes and Mountain Beiras for birds of prey such as Montagu’s Harrier, Short-toed Eagle, Scops Owl, European Honey Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon and Red-backed Shrike
- Gorges and scarps of the Douro and Tagus rivers (Alto Alentejo), for birds of prey such as Egyptian Vultures, Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagles, Bonelli’s Eagles, Red Kites, Eagle Owls and Nightjars
- Forests and countryside of the Minho and Leiria for Coal, Blue and Crested Tits, Robins, Pied Flycatchers, Hoopoe and Cuckoos
- Plains of the Baixo Alentejo and Alto Alentejo for the Greater and Lesser Bustards, White and Black Storks, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Eurasian Hoopoes, Rollers and European Bee-eaters
- Islands and cliffs of the Azores, Madeira, Baixo Alentejo and Algarve for sea birds such as Cory’s Shearwater, Red-throated Divers, European Storm Petrels, European Shags, Gannets, Arctic Skuas, Common Giullemots, Bethelot’s Pipits and Atlantic Canaries.
- Birding is becoming increasingly popular in Portugal and beginning to make a bigger mark on the international scene. Specialist bird-watching companies and guides are now easier to find. It's astounding how many bird species you'll see in the countryside and at our properties. If you're looking for expertly-run tours and birding stays, head for this eco-lodge in The Baixo Alentejo. Also recommended is a vist in October to Sagres in the SW Algarve, which becomes Europe’s major migratory corridor for storks, eagles, vultures, hawks and falcons on their way back to Africa. The Sagres bird festival takes place during this time.