Countries starting with P. Until 18 months ago I’d only been to one – Panama. Not bad, but Portugal’s on that list too, and it’s a lot easier to get to from London.
Well, I’d been missing out. In a year that also took me to Vietnam and India, Portugal was undoubtedly the highlight. First of all, Lisbon – the calçada portuguesa (those tiled pavements exported to Copacabana Beach), buzzy barrios, stunning street art, antiquated trams, old-fashioned shops, world-class hostels and unbeatable food and wine. And sandy beaches half an hour along the coast in Cascais. It’s the ideal city break.
Then there was the wild Costa de Prata with its magnificent surf, empty beaches and one of my favourite hotels, Areias do Seixo, where high style is impeccably translated to the untamed coastal setting.
The new Anthropologie catalogue takes its cue from Portugal’s azulejo tiles, cork industry and rich palette of cobalt blues and earthy terracottas and got me thinking that a return visit was in order.
And there are plenty of new hotels to choose from. The Fazenda Nova (below) in the eastern Algarve invites guests to explore the region’s hinterland as a prelude to the well-trodden beaches.
The spruced-up farmhouse now has 10 rooms surrounded by orchards, vegetables and herbs, close to Tavira and a restaurant that makes the best of what’s available locally.
Further north, in the much-hyped Alentejo, Villa Extramuros (below) has opened in Arraiolos near Evora. It’s more of a high-brow curation, housed in a streamlined modernist building that proffers slices of the surrounding landscape via letterbox-style apertures. Cork walls and Estremoz marble bathrooms doff their hats to the motherland.
Meanwhile, Comporta on the Troia peninsula south of Lisbon is being tipped as Portugal’s next big thing, with talk of an Amanresort and a Hyatt coming to its white sandy shores. In the meantime, Casas Na Areia (below) looks like a good bet, where the sand creeps inside the thatched seaside villas – definitely somewhere to pack your flip-flops for.
But to really feel the sand between my toes, perhaps I’ll go to the newly formed Rota Vicentina (below), a long-distance walking and biking path that traces the wild South West coast. There’s the option of joining the dots through inland villages or taking the Fishermen’s Trail along the beaches.