20 reasons to go to Portugal

Buy a house in Portugal / Max Pixel
Buy a house in Portugal / Max Pixel
18 October 2018, Marilia Poiares

So you’re thinking of moving to Portugal, but you're still not completely convinced... this European country on the Atlantic offers so many reasons why it's worth leaving everything to start a new life, but for the sake of clarity and brevity, we’ve whittled it down to 20 things that will make you fall in love and get yourself out to Portugal as soon as possible.

1. The beaches

Fall in love with the Portuguese coast / Max Pixel
Fall in love with the Portuguese coast / Max Pixel

You only have to look at a map to see that Portugal has miles and miles of Atlantic coastline that would make anyone fall in love. Long stretches of sand dotted with umbrellas and wooden walkways (like in Comporta), half-deserted hidden coves (like in Alentejo) and elegant urban beaches in the old-school holiday style (like in Cascais). From the north of Portugal right down to the Algarve, via the Madeira and Azores islands, there will always be a new Portuguese beach about to become your favourite.

2. Time zone

Portugal, unlike many other places in Europe, is in the same time zone as Britain and Ireland. It may seem like a small detail, but you’ll appreciate not having to change the time on your phone, watch and other devices every time you travel to and from the UK, which is really only a short flight.

3. Porto

The traditional charm of Porto / Max Pixel
The traditional charm of Porto / Max Pixel

With steep hills, francesinha sandwiches, the wineries of Vila Nova de Gaia and the Lelo bookshop, which is the most fairy tale bookstore in the world that inspired JK Rowling to create Harry Potter, Oporto has no end of exciting things to see and discover.

4. Lisbon

The famous trams in Lisbon / Max Pixel
The famous trams in Lisbon / Max Pixel

Lisbon is essentially post-earthquake buildings, the lively Bairro Alto and Alfama neighbourhoods, yellow trams, water always just on the horizon and an incredible white light that makes it the most beautiful and trendy city on the Iberian Peninsula.

5. The coffee

For coffee lovers, this is another hotspot on the map. Magnificent coffees (remember to call it a "bica" in Lisbon) are prepared in modern cafés, such as Kaffeehaus in Lisbon, and you can get classic and stately coffees from places like the Majestic in Porto. Best of all, you don't have to be in a fancy, beautiful place to have a good coffee because even the humblest bar has the most delicious black coffee.

6. The wine

Try the best wines that Portugal has to offer / Wikipedia
Try the best wines that Portugal has to offer / Wikipedia

Both Port and Madeira wines are known worldwide for their rich, subtle tastes, with the former even having its own museum in Porto. There are now lots of enotourist routes around Portugal to rival the great tours of the wine world. This vinitourism includes quintas, wineries and wine resorts where you can go to understand that there’s more to wine than just the moment in which it’s drunk: it is culture, tradition, geography and country. Now there are new Portuguese wines, like Alentejo wines and the traditional green wine, which are beginning to gain international fame. We recommend a stay in one of the incredible hotels based on viniculture or a visit to a contemporary winery to learn all the wonders of Portuguese wine.

7. The bread and butter they give you before lunch

And the olives. And the oil. And the cheese. Even if you don’t order them, and before you’ve ordered the "caldo verde", "frango assado" or "bacalhau" for your main course, the Portuguese will hand you plates and plates of appetisers, better than anything you would order from the menu in other countries.

8. The architecture

Walls covered in azulejo tiles are typical of the country / Max Pixel
Walls covered in azulejo tiles are typical of the country / Max Pixel

From the azulejos (the decorative tiles that are pretty much a national symbol) of a church in Braga to Alvaro Siza's ‘Casa de CháTea House in Matosinhos, by way of the ‘Casa da músicaMusic House in Porto and the Manueline style of the Monastery of Batalha, Portuguese buildings have their own unmistakable style. Take a stroll anywhere in the country and discover humble and beautiful rural churches or palaces everywhere, like the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra.

9. Shopping

Portugal is a great (and cheap!) place to buy the furniture and crockery for the home, as well as antiques, gourmet food products, fashion accessories and design goods. Portuguese stores mix tradition with innovation and creativity, always with good taste. In addition to the avant-garde shopping centres, try out the flea markets in the street where you can go in search of hidden treasures.

10. It's another world...

Portugal has come a long way in a short amount of time, but you can still find yourself in situations where it feels like you’ve gone back in time, like when you see the fishermen arriving at the port and selling the fresh seafood right then and there, or you find that the main streets in city centres are full of independent shops instead of large chains. Strangers kiss in the street, old people are shown respect and you can still smoke indoors... it’s a world of difference just a short trip away.

11. ...but we've got a shared history

Once upon a time, Britain and Portugal had very close business ties, with the port companies like Sandeman having a big presence in Porto, but it’s a bit of a mystery to us these days. Few could name a living Portuguese person who isn’t from the world of football, for example. It is incredible but true – such a nearby destination can still be an exotic place to discover.

12. The cod

A thousand varieties of cod, and they're all great / Flickr
A thousand varieties of cod, and they're all great / Flickr

One thing that’s supposedly so typical of Britain, its Fish & Chips, actually came from Portugal – it was their invention to deep-fry cod in batter. In fact, the Portuguese art of cooking cod is one of the things that make this country so great. There are infinite ways to prepare bacalhau, and just hearing the words "pataniscas", "bacalhau com natas" or "à brás" is enough to make the mouth start watering. Whether it’s in tascas and restaurants inland or on the coast, in a city or a small village, you can always enjoy some always delicious, salty cod dishes.

13. Their sweet tooth

The traditional "Pastel de nata" Portuguese cakes / Max Pixel
The traditional "Pastel de nata" Portuguese cakes / Max Pixel

You may already have heard of the "pastéis de nata" (cream pastries with a touch of cinnamon, best eaten from Belém, the famous shop in Lisbon that is already a tourist attraction), but you should also try the "papos de anjo", "queijadas" and "farófias". This fine tradition of making sweets and desserts comes from the times when convents of nuns and orders of monks made and sold them to make a bit of pocket money. This heritage did much for the country's gastronomic tradition and will do even more for your stomach.

14. Simplicity, elegance and tradition

These values are present in even the smallest designs, like soaps, British-inspired plates and the famous rooster of Barcelos. You can also see them in the largest buildings, including the everlasting Pousadas (Portuguese palaces converted into rural hotels) and new hotels, full of calm and luxury.

15. The colonial influence

Brazil became independent from Portugal more than a century ago, but places as exotic as Goa, Macao, Angola and Mozambique were Portuguese colonies until pretty much the day before yesterday, and their impact is still tangible, from the resonating echos of the mournful fado music to the explanation of why there is such good coffee and chocolate.

16. The prices

Portugal is an exorbitantly cheap European country in comparison with the UK. Here the concept of value for money takes on a whole new meaning, and you really can shop ‘til you drop.

17. The islands

Houses on the island of Madeira / Max Pixel
Houses on the island of Madeira / Max Pixel

Portugal's island territories are among those places that no one ever thinks of but which make for a surprising vacation destination or new home. More than just wine and ‘anticyclones’, Madeira and the Azores archipelago offer green landscapes, volcanic crops, beaches where it’s always spring, exotic flowers and even whales and dolphins playing in the Atlantic Ocean before your very eyes.

18. The waves

Portugal is one of the best places for surfing in the world / Wikipedia
Portugal is one of the best places for surfing in the world / Wikipedia

The wind and waves of the vast Portuguese coast make it the ideal place for surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and all kinds of water sports for all levels, from beginners to experts. Loops, giant waves, tubes and aquatic phenomena make for adrenaline-filled fun all year round just about anywhere you go.

19. The villages

In every town and tiny settlement in the mountains, there is a church, square, café and white houses covered with tiles, reflecting the authenticity that emanates palpably from the country. We could try to choose the most beautiful and essential villages to visit in Portugal, or tell you the ones with the best and most modern hotels, but the list would be endless. Just visit as many authentic hamlets and traditional communities as you can, with their spas, parks, sanctuaries or evocative medieval ruins around every corner.

20. They’re so kind and polite

If you go to the same Portuguese bar or restaurant two days in a row, on the third day you’ll be greeted by name and with a smile. This kind of considerate, instinctive kindness makes the Portuguese some of the most chilled out and friendliest people in the world. Gestures like these will make you fall in love with Portugal and conquer your heart forever.

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