Vila do Gerês
Sandwiched tightly into the Rio Gerês valley, this spa town has a rather charming fin de siècle core surrounded by a ring of less appealing, modern pensões (guest houses). The town is built on an elongated, one-way loop, with the balneário (spa centre) in the pink buildings on the lower road.
Serra do Caldeirão
Lying around 30km north of Loulé is the wonderful region of Serra do Caldeirão, a beautiful protected area of undulating hills, cork trees and harsh scrubland. The area is renowned for its bird varieties. It’s an excellent place to hike – the Via Algarviana passes through – and a great spot to base yourself to meander through some ancient villages and enjoy the local cuisine.
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.
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.
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 and very beautiful 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).
This remote archipelago simply abounds with adventures; it is, in fact, the Hawaii of the mid-Atlantic. It has world-class whale watching, sailing, diving, hiking and canyoning; excellent surfing and other watersports; rich opportunities for on horseback, on bikes or, for the daredevils, by paraglider.
Six kilometres west of Lagos, the small resort of Luz – fronted by a sandy beach that’s ideal for families – is packed with Brits. Most accommodation is prebooked by those on a package deal. Luz is a convenient side trip from Lagos. Praia da Luz is well known in the UK as the place from where Madeleine McCann disappeared in May 2007.