The six reasons Portugal should be your next destination take you beyond the remarkable diversity and immerse you in a country emerging into the spotlight. With historic cities, exceptional cuisine, natural grandeur, and an inextricable seafaring tradition, Portugal is rich with treasures ready for discovery. Once at the forefront of maritime exploration and home to one of the longest-ruling European empires, the complex heritage connects to the turquoise waters, gold-sand beaches, and surprising flavors found in the customary and evolving cuisine.
“The key ingredient to Zicasso are our travel specialists,” says Brian Tan, CEO and Founder of Zicasso. Whether you want to witness Portugal’s picturesque coves or walk along the antique cobblestone streets, bask in natural springs or stroll through charming villages, our Zicasso partners are some of the best in the world and will use their incredible enthusiasm and love for their destination to help craft your best Portugal trip.
The best trip is not just about what you see but focuses on your experience. Portugal is a destination of wonder, where sipping an espresso with milk while looking out onto a historic street can feel as powerful as kayaking along the Algarve coastline. Portugal travel specialist Pedro says that the key to your perfect trip is much more than sightseeing. “It is to learn about the country, but also about yourself,” he says. Every trip can be emotional as you learn more about your preferences on how to travel but also the different ways with which you can connect to your surroundings.
When visiting Portugal, you can understand the history through the present, explore rugged landscapes from a luxurious retreat, and find unexpected charisma around every corner. Pedro says, “...we want to travel, share emotions, spend time with our loved ones. We expect to get back what travel used to be, though we expect different needs and demands, we will be here to help our travelers do what they like.”
Portugal travel expert Sao says, “We try to understand the main purpose of the trip, asking what it is you know about the country. We try to get a sense of the type of accommodation you are looking for to identify if we can suggest some more rustic and character boutique hotels, or if you wish a more European hotel style, while at the same time getting a better sense of how flexible your budget is.” By working together with a travel specialist, you can find the delightful surprises that have made Portugal such a welcoming place no matter the kind of traveler you are.
Hiking in Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela, visiting the fairytale castles of Sintra, or sipping port along the River Douro in Porto, you can dive into a high-speed adventure or take your time basking in the shifting ambiance of Portugals’ different regions. “Travelers that come through Zicasso are quite similar,” Pedro says. “Usually, they want something more massive than just the normal highlights.”
No matter when or where you visit, Portugal brims with authenticity. Even when on a tour of the most famous corners of the country, such as wandering beneath the shadow of St. George’s Castle in Lisbon or visiting a celebrated modern winery in the Douro Valley, Portugal has a way of exuding, embracing, and celebrating its true self. When visiting for the first time, most travelers want to see Lisbon, Sintra, and Porto, but the highlights of Portugal are not just in the destinations but in how you can experience each new place.
Travel specialist Cesar says, “When you travel through Portugal, you can see the aspects of our culture that are very authentic, especially away from the big cities. You can see yourself in the middle of a small village and see how they used to live one hundred years ago, eat food that comes from their background, this kind of experience is what Portugal has to offer that is really a treasure.”
Sao says, “In both Porto and Lisbon, we offer dedicated walking tours with local tour guides, this way, although they are busy cities, [our travelers] get all the attention and explanations from the guide. We also suggest cycling and walking trips in the Sintra mountains for a completely different perspective for seeing the beautiful castles.”
Beyond iconic monuments or famous beaches, Portugals’ highlights are steeped into the culture with a history that has shaped the heritage, defined the traditions, and permeated the scenery. Instead of simply wandering the streets of Lisbon, you can take in the panoramic views from a sunset boat tour. Rather than wine tasting in the Douro Valley, you could explore the region's cuisine with a private cooking class with each dish you prepare paired with a specific wine. A travel specialist does not only introduce you to Portugal but finds the ways you can discover famous corners or hidden treasures in exciting ways connected to how you want to travel.
Every traveler to Portugal knows the importance of Lisbon, the charm of Porto, and the coastal beauty of the Algarve but away from the fairytale castles of Sintra or the vineyards of the Douro Valley are breathtaking gems often overlooked by travelers. With so many possibilities, choosing the right destinations off the beaten path can feel like a challenge. Pedro says, “Everyone is looking for authenticity---[travelers] ask us for something more authentic and unique, to take them away from obvious locations.”
An expert travel specialist not only knows the places you should visit away from the well-trodden corners of Portugal but also understands which are the most accessible for you. “I am from Madeira Island,” says Sao. “Madeira is known for wine. It has nature, scuba diving, Michelin-starred restaurants, and luxury hotels.” The islands offer a different perspective of how the land and sea can shape the culture while also demonstrating the beauty of nature.
Pedro says, “ We are a small country, but very diverse. The nature impact is where we like to start. The islands have fantastic landscapes, warm water, volcanoes, whale watching, and dolphin watching where you can connect yourself with nature. In the mainland, very few people know about our little Grand Canyon.” Beyond the natural wonders of Portugal, the entire country is rich in history and brimming with culture. Civilization dates back to the Romans. Cities reflect the impressions of Moorish empires and Portugues kings and queens. The heritage emanates from the way the Portuguese eat, drink, and even dress.
Related: Zicasso Signature Tour - Portugal
Wines in Portugal are a matter of pride and are as deeply ingrained into the culture as the connection with land and sea and can help unravel the layers of history. “Wine...so much to talk about!” Sao says. The vines spread throughout the various valleys and act as a collective memory, a combined identity, and a particular image imparted into the world. Unlike more famous wine-growing regions in Europe, Portugal’s wine culture developed in relative seclusion, with many of the grape varieties grown and existing solely within the country.
“People have knowledge about our wines,” Pedro says. “They have ideas that our wine is good and cheap. I can confirm both! And this is something people are normally looking for, particularly in the Douro Valley for port wines and table wines.” With over 250 indigenous varieties of grapes and a number of imports, Portugal represents a remaining frontier for Western European wines, where traditional tastes are celebrated, and new flavors are constantly explored.
Sao recommends a variety of different kinds of wine. “We have the red wines, where Porto and Douro region are again highly recommended, and then Alentejo with its Wine Route, where you can see ‘Quinta’ after ‘Quinta’ with their own small production and unique wines. When we suggest this ‘tour’ we insist that there is a driver as you should not visit without tasting.” You can also taste Portugal’s famous green wine outside of Porto. “You can have a visit to the vineyards, their gardens, and enjoy a private lunch in the main house balcony ‘Varanda’ overlooking the vineyards,” Sao says.
Whether learning about the three levels of wine quality, visiting a traditional quinta, or following a wine route that can lead you from the Douro Valley to the Minho region, wine culture in Portugal encompasses much more than a bottle and can take you far beyond a grape. With diverse climate crossing through the varied wine-growing areas and dynamic flavor profiles, exploring the wines of Portugal can be as rich as an in-depth tasting or as simple as enjoying a refreshing glass while relaxing on the beach.
The fusion of flavors in Portugal reflects the country’s wealth of local ingredients and a history of trade from the seafaring tradition. While often overshadowed by the culinary customs of neighboring Spain or nearby Italy and France, Portuguese culture embraces the simple pleasures of eating. The cuisine does not just feed the body but the spirit, with the joys of each ingredient permeating daily life. The focus is often on simple ingredients with impeccable preparation.
Cesar says, “Favorite dishes are very original, tasty, and caloric. The Francesinha us two slices of bread, beef, chorizo, potatoes, spicy sauce. Do not try this outside of Porto [though the] original recipe of the sauce came from France.” Each dish captures a part of Portugal’s personality and the integral connection between the communities with the land and sea. The cuisine is not just a flavor but also an experience. Sao says, “I love a meat kabob, to go in a jeep through the mountains, reach a spot and barbecue using a bay leaf stick, with garlic and salt grilled on the fire.”
Food is a special representation of culture and life across Portugal. Sao says, “There are so many other special experiences that you can combine with food. In Alentejo, you obviously have the wine but you also have olive oil. You can have an olive oil workshop with little snacks of bread with olives and olive oil. In the Schists Villages, you can walk and discover the paths used by the locals for centuries, and at the end, enjoy a homemade meal that was prepared from the day before. The meat is seasoned with wine and other secret ingredients. And Portuguese people say we have one-thousand-and-one ways to cook codfish.”
Traditionally, men would go out into the sea and the women would prepare the catch or sell it at the market. The authentic and customary approach to seafood remains part of the foundations of culture along the coastal cities and towns across Portugal. Cesar says, “It is one of the best fishing experiences we can offer guests. You can go to a little coastal town and watch fishers collecting fish from the sea arriving at the docks, preparing fish, then go to the buckets, and then to the wholesale market. You can select fish, and our guides buy the fish selected, then go to a restaurant to prepare it. It’s a chance to interact with locals and feel the traditions.”
The warmth of Portugal spreads from the sea into the mountains and valleys as if harvested from the Iberian sunlight. It is part of the culture, a tradition found in tiny coastal villages and bustling urban streets, as integral to the traditions of Portugal as the colorful zellige tiles, the sweet flavor of egg tarts, or the soulful sounds of Fado. Pedro says, “We are like a big village, people are warm and want to welcome others, and this touches travelers.”
Hospitality is not a matter of pride but is part of daily life. People adhere to a joyous way of life, an understanding of others, and are receptive to the diverse cultures of those visiting after centuries of global exploration. “We are very warm with great hospitality,” says Cesar. “In Portugal, guests are not expecting us to be so warm, but are happy and surprised.” Sao says that it is mainly about the people. “Get to know us. We are delighted to show you around, and if you ever get lost or are curious about something, just ask a local. I am sure you will get the answer, and in more remote areas, you even might get a lunch or dinner invitation.”
The generosity of Portugal is not limited to the people but pours from the land itself. Sao says, “The diversity and how everything is close, yet everything is its own entity. If you drive four hours, the difference in landscape, mountains, plains, cities, the sunset and sunrise, travelers are impressed with the variety of what they can see in a short time.”
“It doesn’t matter if it's winter or summer,” Sao continues. “When the sun starts its journey to the ocean, you start seeing the different color reflections around you. If you are in the house you may think that you left the lights on as the brightness and warmth rush in.” Portuguese hospitality radiates from the coastline to the vineyards, demonstrating exceptional beauty, ingredients and traditions that can turn simple cuisine into world-class dishes or turn typical horizons into breathtaking masterpieces.
Portugal is a treasure often overlooked by visitors and overshadowed by nearby Mediterranean countries, but you can embrace the authentic treasures when working with a Zicasso travel specialist. A travel specialist can help untangle complex logistics or guide you to the excursions and accommodations you prefer. Travel specialists like Pedro, Cesar, and Sao not only help plan but also answer questions about open borders, flights, and any travel challenges.
Cesar says, “We are already receiving inquiries for 2022. People want to travel and with the window closing on 2021, people are already looking forward.” The impact of Covid-19 on travel to Portugal may create limited reservations and more exclusivity. Accommodations may have limited capacity exacerbated by a mixture of new reservations and postponed trips. By planning ahead, you have a better chance of reserving your preferred style of accommodations, ensuring your transportation, and booking the best guides for the types of tours and experiences you wish to experience.
Portugal is such a diverse country that your experience is exactly what you make of it. With idyllic scenery and mouthwatering cuisine, golden coastline, and villages paved with cobblestones, you could follow the ghosts of the past or sit at an authentic family dinner table, cycle through waves of vineyards or embrace a view of the riverbanks. Whether you follow a familiar path or break from tradition, you can sample the rhythm of Portuguese life.
For more ideas as you consider your plans, find inspiration with our Portugal Travel Guide. If you are planning a trip, you can also speak with a Portugal travel specialist by filling out a Trip Request or by calling our team at 1-888-265-9707.