With a rich cultural history, there’s more to experience in Portugal than just port and pastéis de nata.
If you gaze across the clay rooftops of Lisbon, taking in the rattling trams and funiculars that weave through the streets below, you’ll see a country on its way up. From the capital city to the distant archipelagos of Madeira and Azores, more and more people are visiting Europe’s most southwesterly nation.
“2019 was our best year ever, we had 27 million guests, we have increased our revenue by 60 per in just three years,” says Luís Araújo, President of Portugal Tourism and President of European Travel Commission (ETC).
Now, as we head cautiously towards a post-pandemic world, Portugal is shifting its focus.
“These two years were difficult, they brought some challenges. We tried to refocus and decided to do two things; focus on the sustainability of the sector but also contribute to a different approach in terms of tourism,” continues Araújo.
”That’s why we launched the campaign for a better planet, a better tourism.”
While there will always be port and pastéis de nata, with such rich history and heritage, scratch the surface and there is so much more to discover on the Iberian Peninsula.
Literary tourism in Portugal
Wandering through the flame-coloured streets of Lisbon at sunset, past the ornate Basílica da Estrela, it's not hard to understand why Portuguese writers like Fernando Pessoa and José Saramago were inspired by the country.
And with Portugal recently named the best all-round country to work remotely from by travel search engine Kayak, it’s clear that modern literary types tend to agree.
Portugal is overflowing with literary history, as Araújo is eager to highlight: “We have more than 40 houses and museums dedicated to Portuguese writers. We have book fairs, literary events, and libraries. We even have the The Livraria Lello, the bookshop that inspired J K Rowling in Porto.”
In Lisbon you can find Casa Fernando Pessoa, where the 20th century poet, author and philosopher lived for the last 15 years of his life. The house features a striking modernist painting of the author by Almada Negreiros.
A 3.2km stroll to the east will bring you to the door of Casa dos Bicos, or ‘the house of spikes’, where the ashes of renowned writer José Saramago lie under an olive tree.
Inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture, the exterior of the 16th century building is covered in striking diamond-shaped stones. Inside is the José Saramago Foundation, an exhibition all about the Nobel Prize winning author and his own personal library.
Rewilding the Coa Valley
Of course, it wasn’t just the cities that inspired Portugal’s writers. If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, Portugal’s wild side has plenty to excite more adventurous travellers. Relatively unknown to tourists, the Greater Côa Valley sits close to the border with Spain, between the Douro river and Malcata mountains.
Formerly an agricultural area, much of the land here has been long abandoned, which has given Rewilding Europe a chance to reshape it for nature. The organisation is currently developing a 120,000 hectare wildlife corridor, which is heralding the return of wild horses, Iberian ibex and red deer.
The landscape here is rugged, with oak forests, rocky heaths and jagged gorges. Birdwatchers can spot golden eagles and Egyptian vultures, while history buffs can visit the Prehistoric Rock Art Site, which is UNESCO protected.
“We feel that these two years of the pandemic, shifted the attention from sustainability, so we’ve decided to accelerate it, to support the transition of the sector. We have a €6 billion plan for the sector until 2027. Coa is a wonderful example, a much more niche market for people who want to stay for longer periods and get to know different areas of the region”.
The European Safari Company can help you arrange your holiday here, whether you want to trek the 200-kilometre Grande Route or sample some local food and wine from the neighbouring Douro Valley.
What are the travel restrictions in Portugal?
With a vaccination rate of 90 per cent, Portugal is well placed to protect its citizens and visitors. The country is connected to the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC) and all travellers must provide proof of full vaccination on arrival, as well as a negative COVID-19 test.
This can either be a Laboratorial Rapid Antigen test taken within 48 hours of departure or a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. All passengers will also need to fill in a Passenger Locator Form.
Similar rules have been adopted in the archipelago regions of Azores and Madeira.
Although some measures continue to be necessary, Araújo is keen to highlight that tourists are very welcome in the country.
“We still need to draw attention to what the ECDC says and what the commission (European Travel Commission) says.
“But tourists are the least risky population in the world, so any system or measure that restrains mobility from tourists is not in anyone's interests, because it destroys the economy.
“It’s a matter of clear communication and transparency, but it’s also a matter of confidence in the country.”