As frosty mornings greet Canadians from coast to coast, fantasies of warmer climates fill our heads. We visualize clear, blue skies, sun-drenched beaches, outdoor restaurants and long walks without the burden of parkas or waterproof boots. Plotting our escape becomes a full-time obsession. If you’re bored with typical Caribbean all-inclusives, where should you go?
Head across the Atlantic, my friends. To Portugal. It's easy to get to. And once you’re there, you will find it is still one of the most economical European countries to visit—especially in the off-season, which, luckily for us, Canuks, falls within our winter.
If that alone does not convince you, here are five more reasons why you may want to head east rather than south this winter.
|Convent of Christ, Tomar|
With 12 UNESCO World Heritage sites sprinkled throughout the country, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the history of one of the oldest countries in Europe. In the north, check out the Historic Centre of Oporto, with various architectural styles enclosed within the 14th-century Fernandina Wall. To see how real knights lived, visit the Convent of Christ in the town of Tomar, an awe-inspiring castle that was once the headquarters for Portugal’s Knights Templar. Renting a car will provide you with great flexibility to get to the sites, but it’s not necessary. Portugal is well connected with trains and buses that will get you anywhere you need to be—and very economically.
Spend a few days here. For an interactive history lesson, the Lisboa Story Centre in the Palace Square is a must. For a nostalgic tour, ride Tram 19 as it clickity-clacks you through several Lisbon neighbourhoods. Get off in the chic Chiado area and head over to Café Brasileiro, where poets, writers and artists have made their way in and out of its door for over a century; coffee here is a cultural experience. Walk freely or take public transit, which is safe and easy to navigate.
Eat your way around the country. Each region has its own unique style of cooking: along the coast, fish and seafood rules, while inland, hearty meals of meat and sausage reign supreme. And throughout the country, various bacalhau dishes (salted dried cod fish) are found. Portugal’s colonial past is influenced in its cooking, with spices from the east and fiery peppers from Africa used liberally. Pastries accompanied with café (espresso) are commonly enjoyed, and the selection is astounding. Forget the diet. When in Portugal, do as the locals do: relax, sip, eat, slow down.
Whether you like branco (white), tinto (red), port, verde, rosé, it’s all here. Portugal’s most famous wine has traditionally been port from the Douro region; however, in the last few years, the country has been producing some great wines from the regions of Alentejo, Beiras and Estramendura, to name a few. And there’s no need penny pinch on your wine choices—the wine here is excellent and inexpensive. So go ahead and splurge.
943 kilometres of Atlantic coastline
If it’s a beach you're after, you'll find one in Portugal and, during the winter months, you will have it mostly to yourself. Algarve is most famous for its beaches, but that’s not the only area to find spectacular sand and surf. Check out Costa Verde (Green Coast) and if you're looking for a bit more adventure, Costa da Prata (Silver Coast) offers up some amazing waves, particularly in the winter months.
With plenty of long-term rental accommodations available throughout the country, trading snow, slush and Alberta clippers for sun, surf and outdoor cafés is easy. And you’re in Europe, where culture, diversity, architecture and history combine to make one magnificent tapestry.