Discover the hidden charms of one of Europe's oldest countries
A nation renowned for its rightful place in history, Portugal can lay claim to countless milestones down the ages. As Europe’s oldest nation, the world’s founding global maritime empire, as well as the seat of one of the continent’s first universities, Portugal can also boast the world’s longest-running bookshop, and for thrill-seeking surfers some of the planet’s mightiest waves.
Her cities are steeped in the past. Lisbon, lying at the mouth of the Tagus river, was founded by Phoenician sailors over 3,000 years ago. Porto was the Roman port of Portus Cale. Away from the buzz and pull of the coast, inland Portugal boasts Coimbra with its medieval university, as well as the so-called Portuguese Rome, Braga.
Yet, if it’s off-the-beaten-path you seek, Europe’s westernmost landmass retains that distinctive feel of isolation. Featuring regions that, compared with elsewhere, remain remote and unexplored for a nation of its size, Portugal has surprises in store for the more discerning traveller. Whether you’re in the northern Douro Valley or the lesser-known region of the Alentejo in the south, you’ll find the paths untrammelled and the pace of life refreshingly different.
The Alentejo region spans much of what lies south of the River Tagus down to the Algarve. Dubbed the Provence of Portugal, the Alentejo is one of the least developed and least-populated areas of Western Europe. And therein lies its exquisite charms. Walled medieval towns, cork forests, lazy landscapes, starlit skies, and ragged Atlantic coastlines: Alentejo stretches into the timeless past in ways that delight the eyes of the present.