Portugal: Ox-drawn ploughs or golf-course buggies - the choice is yours

Beaches, hilltop villages and some serious wilderness in between - Jeremy Atiyah finds something for everybody in Portugal's seven provinces

Minho

This is the far north-western corner of the country, hard up against the coast and the Spanish province of Galicia. One feature of the area is a countryside which is one of the poorest in Western Europe: farmers still rely on ox-drawn carts and ploughs. A great way to explore the region is by staying in Turismo Habitacao accommodation, otherwise known as Turihab, which is particularly plentiful in this area - grand old manor houses or farmhouses right off the beaten track (call the Portuguese tourist board on 0171-494 1441 for a brochure). The two urban centres in the region, neither of which are large, are Braga - packed with historic churches - and the finely preserved mediaeval city of Guimaraes, which incidentally has two of the country's finest pousadas (Portugal's de luxe, government- run hotels).

Tras-os-Montes

If anything, this province is even poorer than , and wolves are said to roam the mountain villages. It is a harsh landscape, freezing in winter and broiling in summer, but its two national parks offer some serious wilderness for hiking in. The top end of the Douro River valley runs through the southern part of the province, including the most important port-producing area.

The Beiras

This is actually three provinces: the litoral (coastal), alta (upper) and baixa (lower). As a whole, the region includes the country's highest mountain - the Serra da Estrela - as well as its longest river, the Rio Mondego. The highlands were the heartland of the Lusitani, a fierce indigenous people whose leader, Viriato, is a national hero for his stubborn resistance to Roman invaders 2,000 years ago. The highlight of the area is the ancient and hilly university city of Coimbra, perched above the Rio Mondego.

Estremadura

Curiously, Estremadura is not adjacent to the Spanish province of Extremadura, but squeezed up against the coast above Lisbon. Apart from Lisbon and Sintra, the main attractions are a few seaside resorts such as Ericeira, full of Lisbonites enjoying themselves at weekends in summer. In the north of the province are a couple of architectural masterpieces: a 12th-century Cistercian monastery in Alcobaca and the Gothic-Manueline monastery in Batalha.

Ribatejo

There is not much to shout about in this thin little province to the east of Lisbon, except for a couple of historic little towns, Santarem and Tomar, the latter being the one-time headquarters of the Knights Templar.

The Alentejo

The alto (high) and baixo (low) Alentejo between them make up most of the lower half of Portugal. In summer, the rolling plains are monumentally hot and empty - the land is divided into vast agricultural estates still based on the old latifundia, the original country estates established by the Romans two millennia ago. The place to aim for is the fantastically historic city of Evora. Fortified hilltop villages surrounded by miles of cork and olive are also a feature; Monsaraz is the best known.

Algarve

This is Euro-holidayland par excellence. Parts of the coast, especially between Faro and Lagos, have been predictably over developed and Albufeira probably takes the biscuit as the local Torremolinos, with its crowded pubs and restaurants catering exclusively to German and English holidaymakers. That's the bad news. The good news is that the sun shines warmly almost all year round, the beaches are excellent and, in recent years, luxury villa resorts and golf courses have been added to what is generally a low-cost market.

Leading specialist tour operators featuring Portugal include Destination Portugal (01993 773269), Portugala Holidays (0181-444 1857), Caravela Tours (0171-630 9223) and Latitude 40 (0171- 229 3164).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on