Karyn McCarthy, director of product development for Virtuoso, recently joined seven Virtuoso travel advisors for a personalized tour of Portugal arranged by Made for Spain & Portugal, an on-site tour company that works with advisors to plan custom trips. The country’s popularity has exploded in recent years, with a booming food scene in Lisbon and new hotel openings in the Douro Valley wine region. Along with the usual draws of culture, history, landscapes, and great hotels, McCarthy recommends the wine. “I couldn’t find a bad glass of wine if I wanted to!”
Here, her personal highlights from the trip:
“We started the trip in Lisbon. I discovered one of my all-time favorite places on a day trip to Sintra, the summer home for the Portuguese court and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with countless examples of the Portuguese Romantic style as well as lush mountains. We then ate lunch in Estoril, a beachfront community.
Tip: Direct trains from Lisbon to Estoril take less than 30 minutes. If you’re traveling with kids, especially in the summer, it’s a great place to stay or visit to escape the city.
From Lisbon, we drove to a very traditional part of Portugal, the Alentejo region. The main town, Evora, is known for cork production and has a very well-preserved city center with Roman ruins within the walls.
On our way to the Douro Valley, we stopped to see University of Coimbra’s famous, beautiful library and had lunch at the recently restored, eighteenth-century Quinta das Lágrimas Palace hotel.
Next up: the Algarve region, known for its beaches and golf, capped off with a few more nights in Lisbon.
A Casual Drink
Look for Wine with a View at São Jorge Castle, on the hilltop overlooking Lisbon. They operate a push cart with Portuguese wines and ask questions like, “Do you want it fruity or dry?” It’s served in a to-go cup and you can enjoy it at the tables and chairs outside.
I loved exploring Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, a palace with beautiful historic grounds and masonic symbols throughout the property. I did Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but wouldn’t mind spending at least 24 hours there, so you can see the sun rise over the monuments and you don’t have to fight the buses on the way in.
At Six Senses Douro Valley, they bring a sense of nature inside the room through the use of light and textures as well as the amazing views over the valley. I spent an entire morning wandering around the grounds.
The Yeatman, owned by one of the country’s biggest Port producers, has the best panoramic views of the town of Porto. The rooms – large, fresh, and modern – are named after different wine types.
We stayed at Bairro Alto in Lisbon, and I enjoyed the balcony terrace on the 6th floor for drinks and light snacks with a great view over the neighborhood.
I loved Convento do Espinheiro in Evora (it’s rumored to be haunted). The chapel has been painstakingly restored, with incredible acoustics – you can hear a cappella singing from outside it.
Try Atlântico in Estoril, for fresh fish on the beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, watching the whole world pass by.
Don’t miss Flores do Bairro at the Bairro Alto hotel, located on the ground floor with windows onto the city and a modern Portuguese fusion menu.
A Magical Bookstore
In Porto, visit the “Harry Potter bookstore,” Livraria Lello. J.K. Rowling lived in Porto in the early ’90s – rumor has it she was inspired by the fantastical design of this bookstore. The staircase does look straight out of Harry Potter’s world. Photos are strictly forbidden, unfortunately.”