Travel - 21 best Portuguese holidays: Battlefields, beaches and port in a storm

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The Independent Travel
1 Manor houses

Tour the Minho, Alentejo and other lesser-known corners of the country and stay in private homes. Many of those that accommodate visitors have just two or three rooms and meals are taken round the family table or with fellow guests. Depending on the season, expect to pay around pounds 600 to pounds 800 per person, based on two sharing, with Sunvil (tel: 0181-568 4499) for a week, including return flights, car hire and b&b accommodation.

2 Cultural tours

Martin Randall Travel (tel: 0181-742 3355) conducts erudite cultural tours of Portugal's historical and architectural gems. The next one on offer is a five-day Lisbon-based tour, departing on 3 May. It costs pounds 880 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and taxes, b&b accommodation and three dinners, all admissions, and the services of the lecturer.

3 Painting

Stay at Quinta do Barranco da Estrada on a lake in the Alentejo and improve your sketching, watercolour or oil painting with the help of a resident art instructor. A week's stay in spring with EHS (tel: 01993 700600) costs pounds 480 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, car hire and b&b accommodation.

4 Clubbing

Get sprayed with foam, disappear in a cloud of dry ice or merely keep up with the techno beat till dawn breaks over Albufeira. This former fishing town is the nightlife capital of the Algarve. Fashions change like the wind, but 1999's hottest spots were Kiss, 71/2 and Locomania. Check out the scene during 2000 with any of the mainstream summer sun operators. For example, Virgin Sun (tel: 01293 432100) offers self-catering holidays from pounds 319 per person in July 2000, based on six adults sharing a two-bedroom apartment and including return flights.

5 Wine-tasting

Arblaster and Clarke (tel: 01730 893344) offers the best wine-tasting itinerary for group tours. The Vintage Port Tour runs from 26 September- 1 October. After flying into Oporto, the group will travel up the Douro valley by train and visit the quintas of leading port companies such as Taylor's, Dow's and Noval. Then it's on to the Dao and Bairrada regions for more wine-tasting, before flying back from (hic) Oporto. The price is pounds 1,399 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, accommodation, tastings and an expert guide. Indigestion tablets cost extra.

6 Luxury

Stay at the Vila Vita Parc, a five-star hotel on the Algarve, built in the Moorish style and set in beautiful gardens overlooking the sea. A week's stay with Powder Byrne (tel: 0181-871 3300) in high season costs from pounds 1,448 per person, based on two sharing, including return scheduled flights to Faro and b&b accommodation. There is also a "Scallywags Club" for children.

7 Camping

Reserve a pitch at any of the high-quality Orbitur sites through Select Site Reservations (tel: 01873 859876). The top three sites - in the Algarve, on the Lisbon coast and further north on the "Silver Coast" - are open all year round, although booking is essential in July and August. Twelve nights across the three sites - with electric hook-up - for four adults plus car costs pounds 331, including return ferry crossings and any sites en route to Portugal.

8 Beach holidays

Spend a week by the Praia da Luz beach in the western Algarve with Travel Club of Upminster (tel: 01708 225000). A one-bedroom beachside apartment costs from pounds 325 per person in October, based on two sharing, including return flights and transfers.

9 River cruising

Sail up the Douro from Oporto to the Spanish border and back aboard the Alto Douro cruiser with Mundi Color (tel: 0171-828 6021). A week's voyage costs pounds 1,117 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers, all meals and wine. Departures every Saturday until 30 October.

10 Battlefields

Midas Tours (tel: 01932 831155) arranges trips to the Peninsular War battlefields, in which Wellington, in charge of Anglo-Portuguese forces, defeated Napoleon's army of occupation. One of the highlights next year will be a trip (date to be confirmed) to commemorate the 190th anniversary of the battle of Busaco. The price will be pounds 500 to pounds 600 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and five days (four nights) half- board accommodation.

11 Pousadas

The most atmospheric of these state-owned inns, the counterparts of Spanish paradores, are converted castles, monasteries and national monuments. Others are modern, but built in historic or spectacular locations. Dotted around the country, they make excellent bases for exploring offbeat locations and can be combined with manor houses (see above). For a week's fly-drive with Unicorn Holidays (tel: 01582 834400) expect to pay about pounds 700 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, car hire and b&b accommodation.

12 Pilgrimage

Every year, more than a million pilgrims visit the shrine of Fatima, where in 1917 three small shepherd children saw visions of the Virgin Mary. The key dates for the anniversaries of the apparitions are the 13th of the month from May to October. Tangney Tours (tel: 01732 886666) runs week-long pilgrimages for pounds 485 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, all transport, full-board accommodation and a "spiritual director".

13 Hiking

The Alternative Travel Group (tel: 01865 513678) discovered hiking trails in the northern Geres-Penedes National Park and Alentejo, south of Lisbon, which other walking operators now follow. An eight-day hike in Alentejo costs pounds 1,340 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transport, and high-class accommodation with quality food and wine.

14 Villas

Stay in an upmarket villa near the Algarve coast with CV Travel (tel: 0171-591 2810). The Quinta das Nascentes at Monchique, which sleeps eight, costs from pounds 825 for a week in October, rising to pounds 1,800 in summer. The price is for rental of the villa only, including maid service.

15 Tennis holidays

Improve your skills at the Vale do Lobo Tennis Academy in the Algarve. Light Blue Travel (tel: 01223 568904) offers a week in Vale do Lobo for pounds 585 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, car hire, apartment, coaching in groups of six and unlimited court time.

16 Farmhouses

Rent a farmhouse, cottage or mill in parts of Portugal which other travellers do not reach. Vintage Travel (tel: 01954 261431) offers a good selection of properties in the northern Minho region. Prices vary according to the season. For example, a week staying in Casa Oliveira, a cottage which sleeps four and also has a small pool, costs pounds 575 to pounds 750 for rental only.

17 Nature

From 3-10 April 2000, Naturtrek (tel: 01962 733051) will be running a birdwatching and botanical trip across southern Portugal, staying at traditional pensoes in the Alentejo and on the Algarve's west coast. The price is pounds 895 per person, based on two sharing, including flights to Lisbon, returning from Faro, and all transport, meals and wine.

18 Palaces

Explore the palaces and grandiose architectural follies of Sintra. A luxuriously restored rustic one-bedroom cottage costs from pounds 685-pounds 829 per person per week based on two sharing, depending on season, including return flights and car hire with Simply Portugal (tel: 0181-987 6161).

19 Golf

Year round, golfers swarm to the Algarve to play on some of Europe's most spectacular links. There are currently 19 courses from the renowned Penina, originally designed by Henry Cotton in the 1960s, to the championship San Lorenzo. British Airways Holidays Club Golf (tel: 0870 2424249) offers seven nights at the five-star Penina Meridien for pounds 445 per person based on two sharing and including flights, car hire and three rounds of golf.

20 Horse-riding

Take a trail-riding holiday or dressage course on Lusitano horses with Equitour (tel: 01865 511642). A week on a stud farm at Malveira in the Alentejo costs pounds 725 per person, based on two sharing, including four hours per day dressage tuition, food and airport transfers, but excluding return flights.

21 City breaks

Spend a weekend in Lisbon or Oporto, flying from Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester. Kirker Holidays (tel: 0171-231 3333) offers three nights in either city from pounds 323 and pounds 305 respectively per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, taxi transfers and b&b accommodation staying in three-star hotels.

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