8 reasons why Portugal should be your top pick this summer


The Portuguese tourist office has a campaign called “You can’t skip Portugal” but actually that is exactly what many have had to do during this pandemic. Portugal has been repeatedly – and rather unfairly – taken off travel corridors or put on red lists. Indeed, when discussing transparency in numbers last summer, one Lisbon local joked to me that “the Spanish have proved once again they are more intelligent than the Portuguese – for they of course have hardly any Covid cases”. 

The constant change in Portugal’s status ensured that the normal flood of British visitors (usually well over 25 million per year) slowed to a determined trickle of those who were willing and able to pay a price for their few weeks of sunshine, a sea breeze and fresh seafood; that price being submitting to a few weeks of incarceration under a grey sky afterwards. At least they had their memories to keep them warm. But now – finally – the coast is clear for Portugal to be enjoyed with relatively little fear of punishment waiting at home. The country’s vaccine rollout, while slow compared with the UK, is one of the fastest in Europe and, at the time of going to print, it has one of Europe’s lowest infection rates. 

The country should, of course, have taken a leaf out of Greece’s book – or (again) Spain’s – by positioning itself aggressively for the British market. Both those countries recently told the British press that they would be “open for British business”, gaining countless future bookings as a result. But that just isn’t the Portuguese way. However, the Portuguese government has confirmed that they will accept vaccinated Britons and those with a negative Covid test when international travel (we hope) becomes possible again on May 17.

Portugal may have been off the traveller’s radar for the best part of a year, but a lot of new projects have been brought to completion during this time. There are recently developed wineries to explore from the north to the south of the country; Aldeia de Cima, in the Alentejo, particularly stands out as a not-to-be-missed experience for the oenophile. Meanwhile, the World of Wine museum launched among the port houses in Porto’s Vila Nova de Gaia, offering visitors an immersion into the country’s wines and grape varieties, and promising a fascinating exhibition of drinking vessels, old and new. 

When it comes to food, chef Pedro Pena Bastos opened Cura restaurant in Lisbon, offering a dazzling display of culinary virtuosity – just try his squid tagliatelle with hazelnuts, caviar and a roasted seaweed sauce to see what I mean. A few streets away an old palace, Pálacio Príncipe Real, has been restored and converted into a perfect, pink hotel with the loveliest of gardens. Inset is a generous swimming pool in which to seek respite from the Lisbon heat and a purple jacaranda tree offering shade. 

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