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Some cities never change, others seem to be on a roll. It certainly feels like both Lisbon and Porto are gunning hard at the moment, making Portugal the hippest European destination. In 2015 it received nearly 11 million foreigners, the highest number ever; this year, 2016, is bound to top that.


I’ve posted about Lisbon before (here and here), and in 2014 even did a piece for CNN about it being Europe’s coolest city. The reaction? A huge hit in Portugal leading to a string of interviews with Portuguese radio and newspapers. They loved the praise – sign of their underlying modesty. And last year I investigated Lisbon’s seafood scene for the Independent.

I can’t believe that until last week I’d missed out on the World Heritage Site of Foz Coa, deep in the wilds of northeastern Portugal. Well maybe I can, as it’s far from anywhere so not easily accessible. Yet ever since rock art was first discovered there in the early 1990s, more and more examples have been found and it’s now regarded as one of the world’s major paleolithic rock art sites. And, equally tempting, the same idyllic region is an increasingly diversified source of Douro wine…


As usual the new year has brought a slew of opinions across the travel press about where to head in 2016. In extreme-remote terms the Financial Times suggests Greenland and Kyrgyzstan (implying that its supremely well-heeled readers are hell bent on wilderness and cool temps) here while the New York Times seems only just to have discovered Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, albeit NOT Agadir.


Ahem, a confession – I first explored this coast soon after Jimi Hendrix’ sojourn in Essaouira (above) back in the 1970s— but I’ll give the feature its due, it does cover lesser known seaside towns like El Jadida and Oualidia (surfing and oysters) – both up and coming.

It’s not exactly idyllic as a seaside destination but if you’re staying in Lisbon and fancy a hit of surfing, a swim, a chilled Sagres beer to aid contemplation of the waves or just the sand between your toes, then this is where to go. It’s barely 20 minutes by car or taxi across the 25 de abril suspension bridge – a bit longer by bus from the Praça de España in central Lisbon, or via ferry then bus from Cacilhas / Almada (see my blog here). Destination? the Costa da Caparica.


No other capital in Europe can rival Lisbon‘s obsession with and abundance of fresh seafood.  As the Atlantic washes its shores via the River Tagus (or Tejo), you can get to a beachside fishing village in half an hour, or simply cross the river by ferry. More to the point, every street corner of this bewitching capital seems to offer lip-smacking piscine fare at ultra-affordable prices.


It’s the kick off of 2015 and they’re all doing it (the mainstream press that is). So, as a professional traveller I thought I’d add my pinch of salt – or spice. Culled from decades of travel, here’s my short-list of affordable destinations that give you the best of all worlds … in 2015.

The huge sourdough loaf I brought back from Portugal five days ago is only just finished. A sad day indeed, as every slice I savoured reminded me of the bakery where it was made. Now that’s quite a treat in this day and industrialised age.


The bakery was in the unusual village of Provesende, in Portugal’s Douro Valley, famed for its port which the British were responsible for developing and trading. Few places in Europe can rival the rugged majesty of the intricately terraced slopes plunging down to the languorous river below, while quinta (manor-house) after ornate quinta appears between the folds of the valley or high up commanding swathes of vineyards.

When in Lisbon recently, I was amazed at how spruce the city was looking despite all the doom and gloom reports in the press. Contrary to expectations, the Portuguese capital has dozens more riverside haunts, sharp new museums and hipsters pouring into the Cais do Sodré area and the extraordinary LX Factory. Luckily old-time Lisbon is there too, with its touchingly quaint buildings, decorative azulejos and creaking old trams. I was delighted to find the city in such good form, hot and sultry too but with that invigorating Atlantic breeze. Here an old boy laps it up at the top of the Alfama district.

As a follow-up blog post to my previous one on the Alentejo’s cork binge, here is a more in-depth look at a pioneering new hotel in Portugal, the Ecorkhotel, which has just opened (2013). As any regular follower of this blog may have noticed, I don’t usually promote hotels but in this case it seems innovation deserves applause. And, better still, it’s in soft opening mode until mid-July, so this will be the first review in English. Yeh!

Since I last set foot in Portugal’s Alentejo region a few years ago, the entire cork industry seems to have made a turn-around. Back then it was doom and gloom, with apocalyptic visions of languishing cork-groves due to the onward march of the screwcap – of which I am not a fan. No welcoming pops as you uncork that bottle of silky red, particularly among New World wines, just a tight metallic twist that sometimes sticks. But fast forward to 2013 and it looks like cork diversification is bearing multiple fruits, from handbags to hotels.