Busting myths about Portugal!

Justin Posted on 1st February 2017 by Justin

I've been visiting Portugal for many years and have wonderful and varied memories including: weekend breaks in Lisbon; surfing in Ericeira; sunsets In Foz do Arelho; trail running the coastal paths around Sagres; watching the epic Champion’s League final of 1999 in a bar in Lagos with a bunch of Bayern Munich fans; sipping a white port aperitif with my then girlfriend (now wife) on a sunny terrace in Tavira…well, I could obviously go on and on…

As you’ll already have gathered, I adore the country and its people and have no hesitation in recommending it as a holiday destination. In fact that’s something I happily do every day in my role here at Alternative Portugal.

Yet, when I talk with people about holidays in Portugal, I still come across some popular misconceptions about the country.

So, I think it’s time to set the record straight and renounce some of these myths!

MYTH 1. The cuisine isn’t great.

To be fair, it’s common knowledge that holidays in France and Italy will reward the traveller with gourmet delights. It’s ‘part and parcel’ of choosing to go there for a holiday. I just think that people, generally, know very little about Portuguese food. That’s partly because the Portuguese, true to their humble, under-stated nature, don’t shout about it. But, can you eat well in Portugal? Absolutely you can!

A word of advice; do not say “the food’s better in France” (or Italy and especially not Spain) when you are in Portugal. The Portuguese LOVE their food. Seafood, steaks, cheeses, delicious pastries and cakes – these are just a few of many specialities. On a recent five day trip to Portugal, I did in fact eat my own bodyweight in pastel de nata (custard tarts). 

Fresh food markets are plentiful and a very cost-effective way to enjoy fresh produce. In fact, ‘cost-effective’ is a theme I communicate to people enquiring about holidays in Portugal. It is considerably cheaper than its European neighbours and as we’re living in times of a very weak Pound, your holiday money goes a lot further in Portugal.

Every village in the land enjoys a festa and it will be themed on the sea, a saint or food – or a combination of these things!

Then there’s the wine too! I’m hard-pushed to find a bottle of Portuguese wine in my local Waitrose (and definitely not in my local Lidl!) but you will be simply amazed by the quality and variety of wines (and fortified wines) on offer in Portugal. Opportunities for vineyard visits and tastings are available too throughout the country, not just the Douro Valley in the north.

If, like me, you need a caffeine shot each morning, you will be delighted to know that a short, strong, quality coffee is part of daily life in Portugal and you’ll still have change in your pocket after handing over a 5 EURO note for two coffees & pastels de nata.

Oh, and no other nation can do so many wonderful and varied things with the humble cod.  

Seafood platter for two at 5entidos, Cascais, November 2016

MYTH 2. There’s a lack of culture.

Perhaps your only experience of Portugal so far has been playing golf at Quinta do Lago with your chums? Fly into Faro, airport transfer to the 5 star golf hotel complex, taxi back to the airport and fly home. Were you in Portugal? Or could it have been Spain?

In fact, historic towns, cobbled streets, ramparts, palaces and castles are all here to be explored. This is a country which values its traditions and heritage - something which can be enjoyed and experienced by visitors and locals alike. 

Even if you are staying in central Algarve – the main tourist coastline – you won’t be far away from whitewashed hillside villages. Venture into ‘alternative’ Portugal for a more distinctive experience.

Obiods panorama in the early morning sun, November 2016

MYTH 3. The sea’s freezing.

I live by the sea here in Devon. We love being in the sea and our family holidays are spent on the beaches of Devon & Cornwall, France, Spain & Portugal too. We are all keen surfers & body-boarders. So, I feel qualified to have an opinion on this subject.

There is indeed a cool ocean current that runs down the coast of Portugal (if you’re interested, the warm bit heads directly into the Bay of Biscay. So, granted, it’s not the Mediterranean – it’s much more interesting than that!

Portugal does stunning beaches very well indeed but if you want to stay in the water for a good surf/body-board/play session then a wetsuit is advisable, especially further north.

For younger kids there are some wonderful, sandy ‘estuary’ beaches where the sea is shallow, warm and safe – Foz do Arelho is a particular favourite of mine.

The water is still a lot warmer than the sea in Cornwall, however, with temperatures reaching 21 degrees Celsius at Peniche and 23 further south at Sagres.

MYTH 4. There’s nothing to do apart from beach and golf.

Well, I have already explained about the wonderful cuisine and opportunities for your cultural advancement.

I won’t deny the beaches are fabulous and this indeed is one of the biggest draws of Portugal not least because the weather’s so reliable.

But at every seaside town I’ve been to in Portugal there’s a really exciting range of activities to try…surfing (and all the derivatives), SUP is huge, sea kayaks, dolphin-spotting boat trips, go-karts, mountain biking, coast path hiking, horse-riding on the beach, diving and snorkelling.

Opportunities for sight-seeing day-trips are plentiful whether you are based on the Silver Coast or in the Algarve. A visit to Lisbon is a ‘must’ for people staying on the Silver Coast – and I’d recommend catching the train!

MYTH 5. It’s not sophisticated.

Actually, that’s just plain rude.

The reality is that Portugal is indeed less ‘polished’ than some other European countries. By the same token, I prefer to refer to it as charming, authentic, real - it’s just a very unassuming place and it’s all the better for it. 

Certainly in its most rural areas, you will find a land that has probably changed very little in decades. And there is a lot of land in Portugal – over half of the country’s population lives in the greater urban areas of Lisbon and Porto. Think about that – it’s quite astonishing.

So, if you see farmers ploughing a field with the assistance of an ox, then enjoy the moment and the simplicity of rural life there.

Of course, if you want sophistication then it is easily found. Aside from the opportunity to wine and dine exceedingly well (and inexpensively), you can shop in boutiques and rub shoulders with affluent locals in contemporary bars and restaurants. Let’s face it, Lisbon is quite possibly the hippest city in Europe right now. In nearby Cascais, everyone is beautiful and drives a Ferrari. Well, almost.

So, you can do a sophisticated break if you want to but, remember, unassuming is the word to describe Portugal and its lovely people.

MYTH 6. The Algarve is nothing but golf courses and ex-pats.

Well, I must admit that if you fly into Faro and don’t venture too far you could well be facing a (choose at least one of the following) commercialised / golfing / retirement / ex-pat, ‘ordeal’.

But this is such a small part of the country; the central belt of the Algarve is less than 100km. You only have to drive 1 hour west (or east for that matter) to escape all of this and discover the alternative Algarve. Escape the crowds and head to the south west coast and experience the natural beauty of the Costa Vicentina where you’ll find unspoiled beaches around Sagres, delightful fishing villages such as Salema and ‘all-rounder’ resorts like Lagos with genuine history as well as great beaches. I’m really keen to do a trip back to the eastern fringe of the Algarve too, where it joins Spain. Tavira I’ve already mentioned but, my sources tell me that Cacela Velha is a place I need to investigate – very happy to do that…!


So, there you have it. You are now in no doubt that Portugal offers great weather, wonderful food & wine, extremely hospitable and unassuming people, stunning beaches, plenty of activities and days out and great value for your Euro. English is widely spoken and the culture is easy-going and laid-back. And the sun shines.

Now that you’re convinced, I look forward to hearing from you!


Justin (left!) & Bethan in Salema, November 2016

Silver Coast Holidays in Portugal

Justin Ashby is a Director at Alternative Portugal, an independent villa rental agency specialsing in the Silver Coast and south west Algarve.

Foz do Arelho Portugal

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