Much of Portugal remains blissfully undiscovered. Most of us know it only for the sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve and there lingers a collective assumption that somehow the rest of the country is unworthy of our interest. This theory couldn’t be wider off the mark.
Portugal is a treasure trove of natural wonders with magical Mediterranean landscapes in abundance. There is great diversity too: the wild west coast from Sagres to Setúbal with its endless sandy beaches populated by small colonies of benign surfers; the pomp of Sintra with its palace in the sky; the ancient walled town of Obidos stepped in history; and the grand old city of Lisbon, a monument to supreme shabbiness. Nowhere caught our imagination more than the eastern borderlands of the Alentejo, where time lags a century behind the rest of the country; whitewashed hilltowns shimmer above olive groves, dogs laze in the shade, cockerels crow and the old boys gather in the village bar for an evening drink. And do not forget the Portuguese island of Madeira, an enchanting - and increasingly hip - holiday destination all year round.
The most surprising discovery of all in Portugal was its food. Head to the coast for the freshest seafood – squid, octopus, giant prawns, oysters and crab; or inland for fabulous old country recipes and exquisite peasant fare: delicious cheeses, locally-cured hams, succulent cuts of pork and wild boar straight from the forests. What’s more, you can wash your meal down with wonderfully earthy wines, none of which cost a bomb.