Costa da Caparica
Costa da Caparica’s seemingly never-ending beach attracts sun-worshipping lisboêtas craving all-over tans, surfers keen to ride Atlantic waves, and day-tripping families seeking clean sea and soft sand. It hasn’t escaped development, but head south and the high-rises soon give way to pine forests and mellow beach-shack cafes.
Parque Natural de Montesinho
The peaceful highlands along Portugal’s northeastern border with Spain constitute one of Trás-os-Montes’ most appealing natural and cultural landscapes – it’s a patchwork of rolling grasslands, giant chestnut trees, oak forests and deep canyons, sprinkled with ancient stone villages where an ageing population still ekes out a hard-scrabble existence.
Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros
With its barren limestone heights criss-crossed by hiking trails, this natural park east of Porto de Mós is a popular place for outdoor pursuits. Once the haunt of dinosaurs, the park is famous for its cathedral-like caves, but above ground it’s also scenic, particularly the high Planalto de Santo António (starting 2km south of the Grutas de Santo António).
Whatever your beliefs, you can’t help but be impressed by the vast reserves of faith that every year lead as many as six million people to the glade where, on 13 May 1917, the Virgin Mary is said to have first appeared to three awestruck peasant children. Where sheep once grazed there are now two huge churches on opposite ends of a vast 1km-long esplanade.
With its swish hotels, turreted villas and glitzy casino, Estoril (shtoe-reel) once fancied itself as the Portuguese Riviera. The rich and famous came here to frolic in the sea, stroll palm-fringed landscaped gardens and fritter away their fortunes. Though it still has a whiff of faded aristocracy, those heady days of grandeur have passed.
This charmingly small coastal resort has an easygoing atmosphere; it’s set on a wide bay 17km west of Lagos, surrounded by developments that manage not to overwhelm it. It’s ideal for families, and there are several small, secluded beaches within a few kilometres – Praia da Salema by the village, Praia da Figueira to the west and Boca do Rio to the east.
Precipitous cliffs and crescent-shaped bays pummelled by the Atlantic lie just 12km west of Sintra. Previous host of the European Surfing Championships, Praia Grande lures surfers and bodyboarders to its big sandy beach with ripping breakers. Clamber over the cliffs to spot dinosaur fossils.
Six kilometres west of Lagos, the small resort of Luz is packed with Brits. It’s fronted by a sandy beach that’s ideal for families. Most accommodation is prebooked by those on a package deal. Luz is a convenient side trip from Lagos. Buses run frequently from Lagos (around €2, 15 minutes) and arrive by the village church on the waterfront.