Cycling in the Douro Valley
Terraced hills and olive groves are the perfect backdrop for a scenic — and challenging — bike ride through the country’s premier wine region. Roads here are delightfully untrafficked, and the way they undulate through the vineyards and valleys makes cycling trips through the Douro surprisingly easy for novice bikers. Whether you join a group or opt for a self-guided tour, you’ll pass quintas and the eponymous river, as well as ancient castles. Up the difficulty by stopping for a glass of port (or two) along the way.
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Climbing in the Beiras Region
As travelers head south of Porto, they’ll encounter the highest mountain in the country, Torre, with a 6,539-foot summit rising out of Central Portugal. Here, rock climbers and hikers will find serious climbing challenges (think: rappelling down through ghost villages of the Lousa Mountains). The border lands between Gaura and Castelo Branco, meanwhile, have old smugglers’ trails that meander through granite hills, more ancient villages, and rivers.
Surfing in Lisbon
While the capital, Lisbon, may be first thought of as a cultural (and gastronomic) destination, it also appeals to adventurers. The beaches around Lisbon hug the Atlantic Ocean and have attracted water lovers for decades, with beaches like Carcavelos being the most popular for body boarders, surfers, and kite surfers. A bit farther from the city, set against Sintra and the Cascais National Park, is Guincho beach: a frequent host of European championship windsurfing and surfing events. Boards and lessons are available for rent here. Along the Sintra coast, Praia Grandealso is also known for its water sports. Landlubbers should also consider Praia Grandealso, however, thanks to the massive link of caverns — Boca do Inferno — carved out by the sea.
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Horseback Riding in the Alentejo Region
As Lisbon gives way to the southern and eastern Alentejo Region, the landscape opens up to sprawling fields perfect for adventures on horseback. Equestrians can pick their way along attractive country trails. Try the Alentejo Coast Trail in the springtime, where you and your horse will canter past sand dunes, eucalyptus forests, and rice fields — with plenty of opportunities to gallop across the vast terrain. Alentejo also boasts many riding schools, such as the Alter do Chao stud farm, where travelers can admire the imperial Lusitanian horses.
Hang Glide Over the Algarve
The beaches of the Algarve are certainly stunning, and even more so from a bird’s eye view. Along the windswept Costa Vicentina, travelers have the rare opportunity to hang-glide over the Atlantic. The landscape below is dotted with carob and almond trees of the Barrocal region, as well as orchards and small vineyards. For those seeking a somewhat less terrifying option in this part of the country, consider booking a hot air balloon ride.
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Swimming in Madeira
Madeira is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Portugal. Today, it is a popular year-round resort retreat best known for its wine, food, and culture. But one of the best ways to get a feel for Madeira is to dive right in to the surrounding waters. Its volcanic mountains rise to more than 4,000 feet and then tumble to the sea in cascades of streams that are challenging for serious swimmers. During the summer, the streams of the northern slopes are prime, with a heavier and more intense water flow. In the winter the southern slopes are more mild, with gentle currents. At sea level, Porto Santo’s 5.5-miles of beach offer excellent diving and snorkeling. Check out the series of sunken ships to the south of Porto de Abrigo.
Whale-watching in the Azores
Portugal’s Azores Islands — an archipelago of nine volcanic islands, about 850 miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic — are home to some spectacular creatures. Whale watching here is exceptional, as more than 20 species of cetaceans (including sperm whales, northern bottle nose whales, pilot whales, sowerby’s beaked whales, and the occasional orcas) pass by Portugal during their migrations, or call the Azores home. Whale-watching tours are available throughout the entire year, though the weather will be most agreeable (and the whales more abundant) in the warm summer months.
Travel + Leisure Staff