Portugal: Perfect Paradise

Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe, with its capital existing about four centuries before Rome, Italy! A country with rich history, it has maintained the same borders since about 1139. Encounter ancient castles, houses, and cathedrals, and don’t forget to relax by heading to some of the most stunning beaches!

Start off by diving into the culture in the capital itself: Lisbon! The first on the itinerary is a must-see, Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square). Stroll up the famous pedestrian-only street, Rua Augusta, until you reach this plaza overlooking the river. It was once used for traders, where they would dock after sailing through the river. A statue of Dom José I, the King in the 1700’s, stands in the middle, and a magnificent arch, Arco da Rua Augusta, glows gold at night. Ride a lift to the top of the arch to catch an amazing picture of the surrounding river and castles. After, make your way over to a UNESCO World Heritage site, considered the most iconic landmark in the capital. Torre de Belem (Belem Tower) is a 16th century tower that was constructed originally as a lighthouse, before being used as a fortress to protect the city. Advance along a short bridge to the tower, where you can wander inside and ascend to the top!

Next, treat yourself to a lunch break before admiring some art. Time Out Market Lisboa offers more than just lunch, in fact, it’s an entertainment hub! A concept created by Time Out Magazine, this market features 24 restaurants, 8 bars, a dozen shops, and a high-end music venue called Rive Rouge. Choose from different food styles, ranging from Asian to Portuguese to Spanish, with curated burgers, cod, nigiri, pizza and more! When the shopping and dancing at Rive Rouge is done, it’s time for a drink to cool down. The small and comfy A Ginjinha bar will provide the refreshing libation you deserve. The traditional drink of Lisbon, Ginjinha, is a sweet cherry liqueur that is served here the best. Increase the sweetness with an optional cherry!

If there’s one thing the people of Portugal are known for, it’s their capability of designing the most beautiful azulejos (hand-painted tiles) in the entire world. Museu Nacional do Azulejo (The National Museum of Azulejo) aims to show off the unique tiles, with main exhibits featuring a whole wall of blue-and-white patterns, a gold baroque chapel, and a colorful panel of tiles depicting Lisbon. Take your time browsing this intricate and fascinating museum; it’s central to this country’s culture.

There’s one more site to see before you end your day: Santuário do Cristo Rei (Christ the King). If you can’t make it out to Rio de Janeiro soon enough, make do by visiting this monument. A 360-foot-tall statue of Christ the King stands tall and fierce overlooking the river; it was inspired by the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. Hop in a lift that takes you up to the statue’s feet. On the observation deck, you’ll have the perfect spot to watch the sun set for the evening.

Once it turns dark, Lisbon lights up. The nightlife scene comes alive, and you don’t want to miss out. First stop: Mini Bar, a concept founded by Michelin-starred chef José Avillez. The playlists at this fun bar are set up by music specialist Mike Stellar, who also carefully selects which DJs play on the weekends. The bar specializes in mini servings of snacks, and dinner plates, with a main focus on cocktails. There are impressive and odd creations, such as edible Caipirinhas and Green Apple Margaritas (yes, to eat)! Indulge in the appealing drinks, and try a Portuguese beer or two—Super Bock is a popular one. Head for round two at Lux Frágil, deemed the city’s “best nightclub.” This area includes two dance floors and a rooftop terrace. DJs spin a wide genre of music, from hip hop to electro and even 80’s, so this is definitely the place to bust out your best dance moves!

At the end of the night, retire to Altis Belem Hotel & Spa. At this 5-star design hotel, the Presidential Suite will allow you to sleep contently with a Jacuzzi on a private balcony, dressing room overlooking the garden, a minibar, marble and glass bathroom, a pillow menu, and more! The hotel includes two restaurants, a wine bar, and Bar 38°41’, where they serve light snacks and cocktails on an outdoor terrace right on the Tagus River.

As the sun arises on your second day, waste no time and start your journey! Today you will travel to a nearby city, Sintra. This city is romantic in nature, with small streets and picturesque cafes and scenes. Your first destination is Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). At 1,351 feet above sea level, you’re in for a spectacular sight. This Moorish castle is embedded in a thick forest, surrounded by a high wall. The remnants of the wall of the 10th century castle trail throughout the mountain ridges, making for a long, scenic trek that will remind you of walking the Great Wall of China!

Your excursion through the breathtaking city will only get better as you explore the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace). On your way up to the palace, you will have to pass through a lush park, an inviting and enjoyable part of the trip. Vibrant, bright colors pop and make the palace visible from any place in the park, and it’s even more remarkable up close. The building was first built in 1511 as a chapel by King Manuel I as a tribute to Lady Pena. It was left untouched and unused for many years until King Ferdinand II acquired it and continued adding new structures to the palace, solidifying its importance in history. The colors allow it to stand out in contrast to other landmarks in the city, making it attractive to see—Definitely a photoshoot opportunity!

The last stop is another UNESCO World Heritage site: Quinta da Regaleira. This grand estate was constructed in the early 20th century. There’s no better place that captures the city’s mysticism and fairytale nature quite like this one. The Gothic house has five floors that you can wander through, but the real attraction is in the gardens behind the house. Tap into your adventurous side as you maneuver through fog, mossy rocks, and trees to discover hidden caves and walkways. You’ll feel as if you’re in Alice in Wonderland as you step on rocks to cross a murky, green pond. The most recognized on the grounds are the Masonic Initiation Wells, where an 88-foot spiral staircase makes for a dizzying sight as you stare down. Contrary to popular belief, the wells were never used for water. Instead, it’s believed that they were used for ceremonial purposes relating to Freemasonry.

After roaming around Sintra, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. Dine at Arola, a restaurant located in the Penha Longa Resort. Chef Sergi Arola offers a contemporary twist on Portuguese cuisine, with a fresh approach to Mediterranean tapas. Portugal is known for their wine, and Arola’s wine expert will make sure you get to fully appreciate a glass of the country’s finest. When you’re done wining and dining, spend the night! This luxury resort is nestled quietly in between hills, gardens and mountain lakes; making for a serene stay. Make sure to head for bed in the Imperial Suite, complete with a sauna and Jacuzzi, your own balcony and terrace, a kitchenette, and “The RC Sleeping Experience,” that includes a feather bed, duvets, and Egyptian cotton sheets. The resort has seven restaurants including Arola, in addition to a pool, golf courses, a spa, and one bar/lounge.

Save the best for last on your final day! Travel down South to the Algarve region, where you will center in on Lagos. The most efficient way to experience the two best locations in Lagos is by booking a tour. Through Days of Adventure, sign up for the Grottos Tour. Guides will lead you through the otherworldly grottos and caves of the famous rock formations, Ponta da Piedade. You will also have time to relax on secluded beaches, and see dolphins and whales, as they are common in the area! After the 75-minute tour, take the opportunity to view the rock formations on land. Climb up to the top of the cliffs and gaze out over the teal waters, or hike up to the Ponta da Piedade lighthouse. It looks straight out of an old-timey movie! Continue the exciting expedition by booking the Benagil Tour. This route will guide you to one of the most notable sea caves, photographed hundreds of times for its grand beauty and secluded peacefulness. A hole at the top of the cave admits a select amount of light, making the whole scene dream-like. You’ll get time to lie on the sand in the cave, staring out at the ocean.

A vacation in this gorgeous country is one that you will want to last forever. Who could resist the sun, the alluring beaches, the rich history, and of course, the food and wine? It’s hard to pack your bags and board the plane again, but don’t worry, you’ll be back! In the meantime, make those bottles of wine and Ginjinha last, and hang on to your pictures and souvenirs. Until next time, Adeus!

By Aaliyah Pasols