The Best Offbeat Travel Experiences in Portugal
Horseback Riding Along the Coast: Seeing this beautiful country from the back of a well-trained, even-tempered Lusitano is a rewarding experience, but some of the best opportunities can be had along the Atlantic Ocean beach. Some of the best tours are available through the American company Equitour. In addition to beach riding, the company offers trekking through olive groves, vineyards, pine forests, and lagoons.
Appreciating Manueline Architecture: Manuelino -- as it's known in Portuguese -- marked a dramatic artistic shift from the late Gothic style prevalent during the reign of King Dom Manuel. It mixes Christian motifs with shells, ropes, and strange aquatic shapes and is usually crowned with heraldic or religious symbols. The best example is the grand Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) in Belém, outside Lisbon, dating from the 16th century. Another towering example is the mysterious and astrologic visions of the famous window of the Convento da Ordem de Cristo (Convent of Christ) in Tomar, the bastion of the Knights Templar in days gone by.
Visiting the Lost Continent of Atlantis: One of the most offbeat travel experiences in Europe is a trip to the Azores. Mythologists believe the remote Portuguese islands in the mid-Atlantic are the only remnants of the lost continent of Atlantis. For hundreds of years they were considered the end of the earth, the outer limits of the European sphere of influence, beyond which ships could not go. Even today they're a verdant but lonely archipelago where the winds of the ocean meet, cyclones call on each other, and urbanites can lose themselves in fog-bound contact with the sea.
Paying a Call on Berlenga Island: Berlenga is a granite island 11km (7 miles) west of the Portuguese coastline. The island has always been the first line of defense against invaders from the sea. In 1666, 28 Portuguese tried to withstand 1,500 Spaniards who bombarded the site from 15 ships. A medieval fortress demolished in the battle was rebuilt several decades later and today houses a no-frills hostel. The entire island and the rocky, uninhabited archipelago that surrounds it are a designated nature reserve whose flora and fauna -- both above and below the surface of the sea -- are protected from development and destruction. Boat transport departs from the Peniche Peninsula, about 92km (57 miles) north of Lisbon.
Heading "Beyond the Mountains": The northernmost district of Trás-os-Montes is a wild, rugged land whose name means "beyond the mountains." Exploring this region provides a glimpse into a Portugal infrequently seen by outsiders. Most of the population lives in deep valleys, often in traditional houses built of shale or granite, and speaks a dialect of Galician similar to that spoken just across the border in northwestern Spain. Much of the plateau is arid and rocky, but swift rivers and streams provide water for irrigation, and thermal springs have bubbled out of the earth since at least Roman times. You can drive through these savage landscapes, but don't expect superhighways. What you'll find are ruins of pre-Roman fortresses, dolmens, and cromlechs erected by prehistoric Celts, and decaying old churches.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.