In the first of a three-part series, Lonely Planet’s Kevin Raub reveals some of the country’s lesser-known highlights.
1. Granite playground
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Geres, Portugal’s only national park, can sometimes be hard to squeeze into an itinerary between wine-tasting in the Douro, port-imbibing in Porto and dining in Lisbon, which is a shame. Wandering among its 100 or so granite villages inhabited by farmers and shepherds gives a flavour of a life little changed since the 12th century. The park – in the country’s north-east – also has an abundance of hiking opportunities.
2. Rural retreat
One of Portugal’s most impressive, under-the-radar places to bed down is Aldeia da Mata Pequena, located just outside the former royal enclave of Mafra, 45km north-east of Lisbon. Former Lisbonite Diogo Batalha has restored 13 ruined structures of a 300-year-old village and flipped them into fabulous, historically accurate stone cottages.
The village’s former wineries, barns, bakeries and homes retain original elements, which you can now sleep in. Doubles from €60 (£52), aldeiadamatapequena.com
COIMBRA, Portugal — From its mountaintop perch, the University of Coimbra towers majestically over the downtown square that used to be the regional headquarters of the Portuguese Inquisition.
It’s a fitting location for the 737-year-old university, the seventh oldest in the world, which outsmarted and outlived the campaign of persecution against Jews and freethinkers unleashed by the Catholic Church and Portugal’s rulers in 1536.
“This place was almost literally an ivory tower of knowledge during those dark times,” António Eugénio Maia do Amaral, assistant director of the university’s 500-year-old library, recently told JTA.