From the towering sea cliffs of Cabo Girao to the exquisite gardens of Monte, Madeira offers visitors a feast of visual delights. Sandy beaches are few and far between, but dramatic scenery and colourful markets make the island ideal for exploring. For those needing more of an adrenalin rush, try the breakneck sled run down the hillside into Funchal and then calm your nerves again with a large glass of Madeira wine at one of the island’s many fine bars and eateries.
Golf and beaches in the Algarve, history and culture in Lisbon. England’s oldest ally, the cradle of all the Americas, producer of a wine so good they named it after the country. Portugal is a rich blend for many kinds of visitor. One ocean, two coasts: the south-facing Algarve beaches and courses are ‘Mediterranean’ in their winter warmth, whilst the western (Atlantic) coast has Lisbon, set where the Tagus river enters the sea. This was the starting point for Portuguese rivalry with Spain in the New World and of Vasco da Gama’s journeys to India – the Tagus bridge bearing his name is the longest in Europe. Modern Lisbon, like Rome, is on seven hills, one of which bears the Bairro Alto, the artist and restaurant quarter, where you will also find the bars featuring the unique ‘fado’ singers. (‘Alto’ means high, so use the colourful yellow trams to ascend.) Oporto, after which the wine is really named, lies further north at the mouth of the Douro.
Portugal’s premier resort boasts 23 beaches. White sands, fishermen bringing the day’s catch ashore, a host of clubs on The Strip, nearby Zoomarine for the kids – low-rise, whitewashed Albufeira blends the old with the new and carries it off with some panache.
Spanning Portugal’s entire southern coast, the Algarve has flourished as a favourite sunshine destination since the early Sixties. Resorts have mushroomed west of Faro, while the eastern reaches that lead to the Spanish border remain quieter. With 100 miles of beaches, you can choose between the flat and open stretches of the Sotavento coast, or the coves that hide among the golden cliffs of the Barlavento area in the west. Inland, Moorish citadels at Silves appear intact, while coastal towns proudly echo links with heroes such as Henry the Navigator whose caravelles set out from these shores. Along with whitewashed villas dressed with ornate iron balconies and topped with filigree flues, you’ll find sleek marinas brimming with glamorous yachts and designer boutiques.
Pretty Alvor with its cobbles climbing to the church adorned with ornate Manueline detail is picture-postcard stuff. Soak up the beaches on the doorstep and visit those nearer lively Portimão to the west, like Praia dos Três Irmãos with its fiery red cliffs. Alto Golf near Alvor was the last course to be designed by the legendary Sir Henry Cotton.
Armacao de Pera
Exquisite fish restaurants and a quaint old quarter lead west to the more modern apartments overlooking the beautiful sands of Nossa Senhora da Rocha. This well-established resort, originally little more that a fishing harbour, includes a ruined fortress that once protected these golden cliffs from the unwanted attentions of Barbary pirates.
Few places are more typical of the Barlovento coast. Though the beach is tiny compared to some, the ochre cliffs lend plenty of drama (and welcome shade) and its cafés provide a warm welcome. Nearby, be sure to visit Algar Seco, a double-decker arch over the sea.
Evidence of Roman and Moorish occupation survives around this former Algarve capital. Nearby, windmills, limestone kilns, fig trees and even paddy fields bask under the sun. Rugged cliffs hide sandy beaches such as scenic, if often crowded, Praia de Dona Ana.
Many of Lisbon’s most startling sights lie on its approaches, at the mouth of the River Tagus. The Tower of Belém looks like a Disney fantasy, typical of the exquisite Manueline architecture which also graces the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Nearby, the sharp lines of the giant Monument to the Discoveries pay tribute to Portugal’s great seafaring heroes. In the heart of town, lifts help you up and down a rollercoaster of narrow streets and hills around the Bairro Alto and the Alfama quarter – all pastel colours and red-tiled roof tops baking under the sun. By night, dine out on clams and Alentejo cheese and wine and let your ears sample the haunting strains of the fado.
This cosy town beach, home to a colourful fishing fleet is ringed on three sides by pine cliffs, while spectacular rock formations rise out of the sea. Families will like the seclusion and quiet nights, but steep, cobbled streets may mean heaving pushchairs!
Praia da Luz
Between the imposing volcanic headland of Rocha Negra and a pretty whitewashed fishing village, Luz is a firm favourite with families. With time, winds and tides have made for exceptionally deep beaches. A number of golf courses are all within easy reach.
Praia da Rocha
Dominating the approaches to Portimão, the Fortress of Santa Catarina stands vigil at the top of this resort’s wide sandy beaches festooned with offshore rock formations. Once a favourite with well-heeled tourists, the Belle Époque grandeur of the Hotel da Bela Vista lives on. Steps down the sandstone cliffs to the beach make it unsuitable for some.
Like the best playgrounds, this purpose-built resort has every amenity, even if the surroundings appear slightly clinical. Bars and terraced restaurants open onto the 1,000-berth marina, there’s a casino and the remains of a Roman villa, brought to light during construction. Five 18-hole championship golf courses will tempt many inland.