The past few years A-listers (think David Beckham, Ronan Keating, Pamela Anderson…) have been flying to this tiny country to go under the radar and it is all very hush-hush. So until now, the 300 days of sunshine a year are reserved exclusively for those in the know. Portugal, unbeknownst to most is a glamorous holiday destination, thanks to its understatedly cool vibe, chic restaurants, boutique hideaways and exclusive hangouts.
With stunning beaches that rival the white sands of Ibiza, the dramatic jagged cliffs that provide a stunning backdrop for Instagrammable pictures and charming coastal town sanctuaries nestled between impressive outcrops, you will be hooked have no doubt. Venture inland, and you’ll find rustic villages, that will transport you back in time. You can dine alfresco at family run, waterfront restaurants in Porto, without having to dodge selfie sticks while enjoying the river and castle views.
Portugal is in its prime for luxurious vacations thanks to its sophisticated and discreet nature, it’s grand history and it’s up to the minute cool. Here are 5 stylish reasons for you to visit Portugal now.
1. Casual Comporta
For a hip and cool retreat that is still under the radar, Comporta which is a pleasant hour’s drive from Lisbon is the place to go. An incredible 13-mile stretch of gloriously sandy beaches sandwiched between dense forest and the Atlantic. The beautiful beach of Comporta is perfect for whiling away the days with an expertly-made cocktail in hand. Picture the scene, endless while sand, sparkling waves lapping at the end, some horses in the distance, a beach cafe, chilled ambient music, this vibe is enhanced with a stylish décor of bright, bold colours and striking furniture, notably the hot pink bean bags that beach-goers sink into along the café terraces.
The Tróia peninsula and Comporta itself is a retreat that many people want to keep under their wide-brimmed sunhats, it resonates with St Tropez in the 1970s and Ibiza in the 80’s, or even the Hamptons of the 90’s and it’s something that those in the know want to savour. The casual boho feel is ideal for celebrities looking to get away from it all. Christian Louboutin and Jacques Grange have both built hideaways here, while Princess Caroline is said to visit every summer.
Hotels are few but very stylish and there are strict instructions for construction to be low impact and architecturally sensitive, which may be the reason the Aman group is still to open it’s planned large resort here. For now, we love the Sublime Hotel that blends cutting edge design with soothing style to create an enchanting forest hideaway complete so that you can truly embrace the tranquil nature of Comporta. Our love is also in equal measures for Casa Na Areia designed by Manuel Aires Mateus and beyond perfect for a family vacation or a group holiday.
Comporta also offers delicious dining options, Comporta Cafe is a laid back restaurant on the beachfront while Museo do Arroz, owned by Isabel Carvalho, housed in a former rice factory is the centre of the buzz in the evenings. Restaurante Sal is another favourite hangout with local delicacies and stunning views.
2. Sumptuous cuisine
Another well-kept secret of Portugal is its collection of fine dining restaurants, in fact, Portugal now has 23 Michelin stars collectively that showcase the cosmopolitan dining scene. Credit goes to Chef José Avillez for reinventing traditional dishes into innovative and modern creations that surprise and engage the palate. While Lisbon and Porto share the majority of these highly-desired awards, there are others scattered across the country such as Vila Joya, an indulgent retreat in Gale,which specialises in central European food, that is only bettered by the impeccable service delivered. For those who struggle with choice, the head chef offers exquisite tasting menus. Diners can also stay at this hedonistic dream which is a hotel in villa style. It is a sanctuary that is lush, cosy and indulgent and is well worth a visit.
In Lisbon, Restaurant Eleven offer sumptuous gourmet with an unmatched location. Chef Joachim Koerper cuisines is simple and honest with a with a creative flair that speaks understated elegance. Eleven also finely strikes a balance between feeling both cosmopolitan and comfortable. Popular here is the Atlantic Menu, which includes, among its five courses, a confit of codfish with smoked sweet potato and coconut
Alexandre Silva won Top Chef and opened Loca, a fine dining concept that treats the kitchen as the heart of the restaurant; it’s large and open making it the focus of the dining experience at this stylised restaurant which has Asian inspired tasting ‘moments’.
3. Stunning surf
If you are looking pure, uninterrupted surfing indulgence, Portugal is your place. For a stylish surfing break, opt for Surfers Lodge which stunning accommodation with a truly unique setting. Staying here will you access to not only Lagido but Cantinho and Baleal Island too – a perfect paradise for surfing where the World Surfing Championships are held yearly at the well known break of Super Tubos.
If you are keen to learn, head to Surfiberia where professional world surfer Luis Eyre offers lessons for advanced and beginner surfers to come and experience some of the best waves in the world with expert local knowledge. You don’t have to worry about losing a couple of days searching for waves, as Luis will be with you for every session, showing you where to paddle out and where to sit in order to make the most of the surf, giving you tips on how to improve along the way.
If windsurfing is more your style, Cascais is a dream location with the elements all working in your favour. If you want to rest after a hard day’s surf in pure unadulterated luxury, opt for Villa Cascais, a stunning restored 19th century home which faces the fisherman’s beach and cliff side Hotel Farol which has the most dramatic location and glamorous interiors with a service that matches.
4. Wine culture
Portugal not only makes wine, but it also lives and breathes it. With ample vineyards throughout the country, it is the top destination for any wine lover. There are many wineries to see and admire, from those who create wine the old-fashioned way by hand- picking the grapes and the foot-trodden barrels to those who have embraced technology to ensure the highest quality taste. Cliff Richard has been making wine here for a few years now
While many of the wines are exported, most wineries don’t ship their best wines, so trying a new wine in Portugal shouldn’t be feared, it could be one of the best wines you taste. The wonderful thing about Portuguese wines is their individuality and complexity, whatever regions you visit, you’ll be sure to find a unique flavour that harmonises with the local area.
For a winery experience, visit L’And who adhere to the sentiment that ‘wine is poetry bottled’. A trip to L’And is no regular vineyard visit; it is a place that allows guests to celebrate the art of wine and deepen their knowledge of the wine culture. L’And also offers bespoke vinotherapy, a beauty offering where residue from the wine making process is rubbed onto skin as an indulgent anti-ageing treatment.
For a visit to a sensational vineyard, away from the tourists, opt for Six Senses in the Douro Valley, set high on a hill with an unmatched view of the surrounding vineyards. The terracotta-coloured walls of a 19th-century quinta (a solid building set around a courtyard with views over the valley) now house an interactive wine library, where you learn about the local vintages and terroirs at the nightly tastings. The location is simply picturesque.
For a wine bar, head to Vinho Sim Principio which is a boutique wine cellar that’s intimate and minimalistic setting is the perfect place for a wine experience and is a bar where international wine lovers come flocking.
5. Fashionably trending
For cutting edge innovative fashion and with the emerging talent that is heading for the limelight, Lisbon may soon be a contender for the fashion capital of Europe. The prominent art scene has helped to propel a shift of creativity towards the fashion sector. This rise has seemingly gone unnoticed, but if you delve further into the boutiques in downtown Lisbon or other hip corners of the country, you’ll find incredible Portuguese designers with pieces that you may have noticed adorning A-List celebrities.
Ana Teixeira de Sousa is an incredible Portuguese designer who creates inspired gowns with a romantic flair; you’ll see lace being a prominent feature in many of her designs and trendsetting celebrities such as Florence Welch and Beyoncé were quick to adopt these offerings. Also well-known are Fátima Lopes known for her eccentricity who often causes a media storm and Luis Onofre whose stunning designer shows have been viewed by the likes of Michelle Obama, Penélope Cruz and Naomi Watts.
If you want to get ahead of the trend before the international buyers come knocking, head to streets in Lisbon such as Principe Real, which offers a range of stores from Portuguese interior and fashion designers. For shopping in a mansion, head to Embaixada, where grand entrances, unique boutiques and quaint courtyards truly invoke the vision of retail therapy.
Sangeeta Sadarangani is Founder and Owner of Crossing Travel.
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