Our new series features under-the-radar holiday destinations that are often overlooked by visitors but cherished by locals. Here, we ask four experts on Portugal for their top picks. 

Small but mighty Portugal is understandably an international favorite, thanks to its fabulous beaches, exciting cities, rich history and mild climate. Yet such popularity can bring throngs to some of the country’s better-known corners. That’s why we’ve asked four of our crack Portugal-based writers to recommend the places they love – places you might never have heard of before.

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Walkway leading to Praia do Malhão beach
"Golden hour" brings a pinkish hue to Praia do Malhão in Potugal's Alentejo region © Paul Melki / Shutterstock

Seaside camping in the Alentejo at Vila Nova de Milfontes

Joana Taborda grew up in Lisbon and now splits her time between the capital and Madeira 

When I was younger, I spent my summers camping near the beaches of Vila Nova de Milfontes in southern Portugal, and I often return there. It’s one of the many coastal towns in the Alentejo, a region of sprawling wild beaches and scenic hikes like the Fishermen’s Trail. This pathway crosses a natural park (no high-rise hotels here) and takes you along steep cliffs with ocean views all the way through.

The southern coast has always been a favorite holiday spot for Portuguese families. Most end up in the Algarve – but lately, many are switching it up for the Alentejo’s quieter sands. I used to stay at a camping site just above Praia do Malhão, walking down every morning to the beach for a full day of swimming and the occasional surf lesson. These days, I’ve been sticking closer to town. I enjoy grabbing my breakfast croissant from Mabi and catching the sunset from the dunes behind Praia do Farol before ending the night with a signature cocktail at Statera. 

Man on his back looking at the historic stone barns in the town of Lindoso in Portugal as it rains.
The historic granite barns in the stone village of Lindoso in Portugal's Peneda-Gerês National Park © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Charming villages and nature reserves in Trás-os-Montes

Austin Bush is a writer and photographer based in Lisbon

I’ll almost always opt for mountains over the beach – and in Portugal, my favorite destination for the former is Trás-os-Montes. Portugal’s northernmost region, “Behind the Mountains” is a...relative term: don’t come expecting towering summits or ski resorts (although the area can get snow in the winter), but rather a remote-feeling, rocky, hilly area of charming villages and protected natural areas.

The ideal way to approach the region is to rent a car from Porto, only a two-hour drive away. A highlight of Trás-os-Montes is its granite villages, where you feel that you are not only traversing geography but also time. Vilarinho Seco in Boticas, for example, is one of Portugal’s best-preserved granite villages, a place where it feels like the clock stopped somewhere around the year 1500. Locals here still raise long-horned Barrosã cattle, who sleep in ground-floor pens beneath the two-story stone homes.

This sense of time travel is also possible in Pitões das Junias, yet another ancient granite village, this one positioned at the edge of the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, a protected natural area that spans Portugal and Spain. A short walk from the village takes in a beautiful landscape that combines an abandoned 12th-century church, jagged granite outcroppings, old-growth oak forests, rushing streams and a waterfall

Trás-os-Montes is also a fascinating region for food. When I’m up there, my guide is Tabernas do Alto Tâmega, a network of 15 eateries across the region. Expect massive, hearty dishes cooked over wood-burning fires; smoked meats; and home-style hospitality. My favorite eatery in the network might be Casa de Souto Velho, a fantastic restaurant in the eastern part of the region where just about every ingredient is grown, raised or produced in-house. 

A man opens his arms looking at the Caldeirão, Covro, the Azores, Portugal
On tiny Corvo, a hike to the volcanic Caldeirão lake is essential © EyesTravelling / Shutterstock

Nature and quiet island life in Corvo

Sandra Henriques was born in Portugal’s Azores islands, and has called Lisbon home for 20+ years

Corvo is one of the nine islands of the Azores, an archipelago some 1100 miles off the coast of Portugal. While most of the islands have grown in in popularity over the last decade, this 6.8-sq-mile lump of land, with under 400 people, remains well off the beaten track. While you’ll have to take a number of flights to get to Corvo, the minute you get off the plane the peacefulness of the village-like island washes over you. You’ll barely feel the jet lag.

This is where I go to release, recharge and enjoy the outdoors and small-town living. Forget planning or a packed calendar of activities: instead, prepare for days of lazing around, mingling with the locals and dividing your time between mornings hiking and afternoons at the beach. Whatever you plan, rolling with the punches when the weather doesn’t agree with what you had in mind is essential.

Vila do Corvo, the only municipality on the island, is a minute cluster of houses and narrow streets on cliffs overlooking the ocean, with everything within walking distance. Its main natural attraction – Caldeirão, the lagoon on the the crater of the volcano that formed the island – is a two-hour, 6km/3.7-mile hike uphill. To learn about local history and heritage, visit the museum Casa do Tempo and the old animal-powered grain mill Atafona do Lourenço.

Short-term rentals are available on the island, though I recommend staying at the family-owned Hotel Comodoro. This two-star guesthouse offers the comfort of staying with relatives, including a complimentary homemade breakfast. The only restaurant on the island, Restaurante Caldeirão is right next to the airport and your go-to spot for lunch or dinner with a view. For drinks, casual meals, and laidback chit-chat with the locals, head to BBC – Caffé & Lounge.

Villages in the Serra da Lousã offer rustic rural charm © Daniel James Clarke

Forested village retreats in the almost forgotten interior: Serra da Lousã

Daniel James Clarke used to frequently holiday in the Algarve…until one day, he decided to stay and call the southern coast home

When summer brings crowds to the coast, I’m forever drawn to Portugal’s lesser-visited interior. The Serra da Lousã, in the hinterlands of the historic Beiras region, is a bolthole blend of near-forgotten schist villages (aldeias do xisto), tranquil hiking trails and creative rural hideaways. 

Around 30 minutes from Coimbra, Lousã is the mountain range’s gateway, where HI Hostel Lousã’s modern private rooms are my affordable go-to. For a genuine retreat, however, stay in a renovated rock home at one of the once-abandoned villages, such as 17th-century Talasnal or Candal. The assiduously restored hamlet of Cerdeira, reborn as Cerdeira Home for Creativity, is now an artist’s retreat, offering workshops and idea-generating spaces for those eager to harness nature’s inspiration.

And, wow! What a place it is to disconnect. A soundtrack of birdsong and the much-welcome river beaches at Cabril do Ceira gorge or Praia Fluvial Senhora da Piedade – crowned by Lousã Castle, an 11th-century monument – provide daytime escapes. By night, the Milky Way dazzles, especially in the Dark Sky Reserve of Pampilhosa da Serra, slightly further inland. Make a reservation at O Burgo or Villa Lausana to enjoy typically hearty dishes such as chanfana (a clay-pot lamb stew), best paired with the local mineral-rich red wines produced from the regional grape, baga.

In fall, with a copper canopy, the serra is equally enchanting, while winter’s occasional sprinkling of snow is perfect for evenings by the fireplace. No matter when you visit, you’ll find a Portugal that time seemingly forgot.

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