by Asma Al Fahim
  • 4 minute read
  • July 15, 2019
Asma Travels: Villa 88’s Guide To The Perfect Vacation In Portugal

If you’ve never been to Portugal, you’re in for a treat. You might even fall a little in love, especially if you know what to expect. My travel tips can help you prepare for the best the country has to offer and make your first luxe trip as smooth as possible.

Being one of the most affordable countries to visit in Europe, Portugal inspired me with its timeless charm, delicious food, friendly people, history, and, of course, its beaches. I arrived in Lisbon after a convenient, direct flight from Dubai via Emirates.

I chose to stay in Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa, an exquisite five-star address that’s centrally located in the main shopping street, Avenida da Liberdade, where dinner at Seen Lisboa was among the highlights of my stay. For an authentic local experience, take the tuk tuk tour around the city, you can ask the hotel concierge to arrange it for you – they also have a female driver, who is spectacular.

Street art in Lisbon and a look inside the Lisbon Cooking Academy

Here’s my list of Lisbon’s finest for a well-rounded cultural experience:

  • Baixa and Rossio: Historical, commercial center at the heart of the city
  • Alfama: One of the oldest areas that’s known for its crafts and cafes
  • Alcântara: A vibrant neighborhood whose name is, interestingly, derived from the Arabic word ‘al-qantara’ that means ‘bridge’
  • Bairro Alto: A hip central district with a Bohemian flair
  • Pastéis de Belém: An area housing the oldest pastry shop in the world
  • LxFactory: An abandoned industrial site that has transformed into a fabulous lifestyle destination
  • Lisbon street art: Spread across the city
  • Miradouro da Senhora do Monte: The highest point in Lisbon that’s ideal for pictures
  • Time out Market Lisbon: An open-air food court with the best eateries
  • Lisbon Cooking Academy: Offers culinary classes (Make sure to take a class on how to make pastel de nata, a Portuguese specialty)
Picturesque nooks and corners in Lisbon

As someone who is intrigued by the specialty coffee movement, these are a few places serving great coffee:

  • Comoba
  • Copenhagen Coffee Lab & Bakery
  • Wish Slow Coffee House
  • Hello, Kristof
  • Cafe de Finca Lisboa
  • Nicalau Lisbona
  • Amelia
Amelia cafe in Lisbon

After three nights in Lisbon, I drove to Sintra, a small town 30 minutes away from the city by car, and spent two nights at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais. I chose to dedicate one day to exploring Sintra, which was sufficient, and the second, to Cascais. Make sure you speak to the hotel staff or your agent in advance to book tickets for you to avoid queues in main attractions. An essential tip:  You can’t miss Travesseiro pastries in the oldest bakery in Sintra.

It’s all in the details in Sintra

If you have one day in Sintra, visit the Pena Palace and the Pena Park. Among the highlights are the colorful palaces that are so picturesque, the Moorish Castle, and either Palace of Sintra (Palacio Nacional de Sintra) or Quinta da Regaleira. Leave some time to explore the old town of Sintra and have a nice dinner at a local restaurant (avoid touristy places). Also, don’t forget to book a massage at the Anantara Spa at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, which recently bagged the award for the best spa in Europe.

Details of Pena Palace

You can also take a day trip from Sintra to Cascais. The town, once favored as a retreat for Portuguese royals, has maintained a certain old-world charm that’s hard to come across these days. It’s a beach town, so there are several points where you can take pictures.

Views of the streets and seaside in Cascais

It’s more active than Sintra and has a nice central town for shopping and walking around. You can get dropped to the center and walk from there. On the way to Cascais, be sure to stop at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe mainland, to take pictures.

For an eco-conscious experience, head to Areias Do Seixo hotel, which is located one hour away from Lisbon. This organic and eco-friendly resort features a farm, where they grow their own produce, and offers excellent massage treatments (try the Indian oil head massage).

After a fulfilling stay in Sintra, head to the south of Portugal to visit Algarve, known for its Atlantic beaches and golf resorts. It’s calmer than Lisbon, but if you’re aiming to switch off and have a relaxing couple of days, then I’d recommend you stay at Vila Vita Parc. They have a lovely mini-shopping town where you can sit and relax and, most importantly, for me, a specialty cafe. For sunset dinners, the Tivoli Carvoeiro Algarve Resort has a superb fine-dining restaurant overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with stunning sunsets.

As you return from your travels, you’re sure to promise yourself that you’ll return one day to the country that summons up every level of allure. Obrigada, Portugal!

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