Tucked away at the far end of Europe, Portugal has much to offer the tourist - a beautiful climate, incredible scenery, reasonable prices and amazing people.
For my first trip to Portugal, we headed to the Atlantic Coast north of Lisbon and were delighted with the scenic shoreline and captivating towns. We chose to stay in Sao Martinho de Porto, two hours north of the airport in Lisbon. This beautiful town boasts a beach in a large, crescent-shaped bay that is one of the safest in the country for children. We used this quaint town as a starting point for daily adventures into the local countryside and spent many evenings at open-aired seafood restaurants savoring fresh grilled food and incredible Portuguese wines.
Sao Martinho de Porto: A Perfect Home Base
Accessible from Lisbon along the well maintained Highways A1 and A15, Sao Martinho de Porto is the perfect starting point for daily explorations as many of the country's most beautiful towns are in this area. For the history buff, this area has much to offer and is the home to several UNESCO World Heritage sights such as Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar's Convento de Crista.
First up is Nazare, just north of Sao Martinho, a quaint fishing town with cobbled lanes, that has blossomed into a bustling resort town while offering a glimpse of the charm that was old Portugal. Check out the local seafood restaurants, the family owned shops and the long beach. Purchase a bottle of chilled Minho Verde (a young white wine famous in the region) at a local shop and enjoy it while watching a sunset from the beach. Let your cares slip away. Check out the Casa Museum do Pescadores, the small museum restored to show the home of a typical fishing family from the early twentieth century.
Only a short drive by car or bus is Alcobaca a beautiful Cistercian Abbey, the Abbey of Santa Maria, dating back to the 10th century. Once the domain of 1000 monks, this splendid Baroque styled building has been restored to its earlier simple elegance. It contains five cloisters, seven dormitories, a library and a huge kitchen. Be sure to visit the Abbey Church as well with its two towers and numerous statues.
Another popular spot is Fatima, a magical place and site of many pilgrimages made annually by Roman Catholics. Whatever your religious beliefs, you will be impressed by the huge number of people who visit Fatima each year to commemorate the site where three peasant children are said to have seen the Virgin Mary a total of six times in 1917. On the original site, there now stands two huge churches, a Basilica and several museums that depict the sightings of the children as well as religious artifacts from around the world.
Heading south from Sao Martinho de Porto, one arrives at Obidos, a fortified, medieval town that is flanked by round towers and square bastions. The top of the wall, while unprotected, is the perfect spot for photos. Be sure to take a walking tour of the ramparts; check out the narrow lanes and whitewashed houses, and stop for a beverage at one of the medieval bars.
Heading closer to Lisbon, the beaches become busier and the cliffs are more rugged. Here the villages are famous for two things - the surfing and the seafood. Visit Cascais and its neighbour Estoril. This is the playground of the locals and a fun-filled tourist Mecca. Stop for a swim on one of three sandy beaches, visit the casino, and wander around the town enjoying the atmosphere. If you enjoy jazz be sure to visit in July during the 10 day Jazz festival .
Nearby, the Sintra-Cascais natural park extends inland and encompasses romantic sand dunes, aromatic vineyards, and fairy-tale wooded hillsides. Sintra is another UNESCO world heritage site and most definitely worth the trip. Sintra is a magical mixture of old and new, natural and man-made, rich and humble. It is truly magnificent. While there you must visit the Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle, the National Palace, the Toy Museum and the Montserrat Gardens. Allow a full day at least or spend the night and visit the nearby rugged eastern tip of Portugal at Cabo da Roca.
To fully appreciate Atlantic Portugal, a minimum of one week is needed. Visit any time of the year and enjoy all that the area has to offer.
Canada/US to Portugal : To call a hotel in Portugal from Canada/US dial 011 or 01 ( US/Canada country code),
351 ( Portugal's country code), then the 9 digit number. Mobile calls:
Your Canadian /US mobile phone works in Portugal if it GSM enabled or quad band and on a calling plan that includes international calls.
If you have an unlocked phone you can pick up a European SIM card for much less and put it into your own mobile phone. Visit any mobile phone shop in Portugal to determine if this is possible with your phone.
Calling Over the Internet
If you have an I-pad or Laptop or Smart-phone you can call using the internet to another wireless device for free. The major providers are
Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a tourist to destinations all around the world and as a volunteer to China, Africa and India .When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans her next travel experience.