01 June 2021
Much like its Iberian neighbour, Spain, Portugal has long been a firm favourite amongst Irish holidaymakers thanks to its long golden beaches, dependable weather and short flight times. We all know and love this idyllic corner of Europe but for 2021 there are a collection of destinations there, that need to be on your list.
Leading the way in efforts to harmonise tourism with the needs of the natural environment, the nine islands of the Azores were awarded the accolade of ‘Best Sustainable Tourist Destination’ in 2020.
The rugged landscape of the islands encompasses a clutch of sustainable adventures and ecotourist hotspots, along with ample opportunity to undergo a digital detox. On Sao Miguel Island, get in touch with nature at Caldeira Velha Environmental Interpretation Centre by soaking in the geothermal waters, experiencing one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal at Sete Cidades, or taking to the seas and paddle boarding your way around the island's rocky outcrops. Something of an oceanic wildlife haven, the cobalt waters surrounding Pico Island present a golden opportunity for whale watchers and, for those daring enough, the chance to dive amongst sharks.
Like the Azores, Madeira occupies a spot adrift from the mainland, just over 300 miles off the western coast from Morocco, and much like the Azores, Madeira is - at the time of publishing - exempt from the FCDO’s advice against all non-essential international travel. The archipelago has developed the “Madeira Safe to Discover” certification which is awarded to businesses that have adopted good practices through the Covid-19 pandemic, in helping to keep infection rates low and ensuring that Madeira remains a safe place for us to visit.
With hundreds of miles between itself and its nearest neighbouring landmass, it should come as no surprise that seafood features heavily on Madeira’s menus. Wander the streets of Funchal and it won’t be long until the scent of freshly grilled seafood piques your interest. Seek out black scabbard served alongside banana, each dipped in egg and flour and fried until crispy and golden.
A land of rolling wheatfields as far as the eye can see and sprawling cork oak forest; time spent in Alentejo moves at an unhurried pace. From its vast interiors to its striking coastline, the region is home to sleepy whitewashed towns like Castelo de Vide where you’ll find one of the best-preserved medieval settlements in Portugal and an antiquated lifestyle to match. Take the time to wander through the streets and let the cobbled alleyways unfurl before you.
The real attraction of this region lies in its ‘under the radar’ status; you’ll find yourself with miles of spectacular coastline to enjoy and nobody to compete with for space. At the mouth of the Mira River, Furnas Beach offers up white sands and a peaceful atmosphere for soaking up the sunshine. Meanwhile, along the coast in Porto Covo, the small-sheltered cove serves as a jumping-off point for taking in the beach breaks on your surfboard.
As Portugal’s tourist hotspot you’d be forgiven for thinking the Algarve was awash with visitors, but with 88 Blue Flag Beaches and countless others only visited by those lucky enough to be in the know, there’s plenty of space to lay your hat away from the championship golf courses and luxurious, award-winning resorts.
The Algarve’s pleasant year-round climate and long, drawn-out summers make beach hopping a joy and something that you can take your time with. Begin by the honey-coloured cliffs at Praia do Camilo on the southwestern coast and work your way around to Praia do Carvalho and Ilha da Barreta, which can only be accessed by boat.