travel

An Iconic Week in Portugal

Sublime Comporta Villa

Ask someone where they went on their European vacation this summer and there’s a good chance their itinerary included a stop in Portugal. Portugal has long been a favorite destination for travelers drawn to its beaches, mountains and ancient architecture—not to mention affordable food and wine. But Portugal is firmly back in the spotlight, thanks to a recent influx of new hotels, experimental restaurants and a renewed focus on the arts. In fact, the country is emerging as a global art hub thanks to a crop of new museums, as well as events such as ARCOLisboa art fair and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

We checked it out first-hand and here are our recommendations for how to spend a week in Portugal, taking in classic sights such as Lisbon and Sintra, as well as an under-the-radar beach destination.

Castle São Jorge

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LISBON
Europe’s western-most capital is easily explored on foot—but leave the high heels at home. Lisbon is known as the city built on seven hills, which are crisscrossed with a network of cobblestoned streets. One of the most charming ways to get around is by taking a rumbling trolley up and down the hills.

Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon, which is walking distance to Avenida da Liberdade, the city’s most chic shopping street. Start your day with breakfast on the terrace, and end it with the hotel’s signature Seven Hills of Lisbon massage. The 80-minute treatment is meant to soothe tired legs, and incorporates local olive oil and sea salt and finishes with a bite-sized olive oil muffin.

If boutique hotels are more your style, then choose the 28-room Torel Palace, located in two townhouses. The buildings are richly detailed, with stucco ceilings and classic blue and white Portuguese tiles. When not sightseeing guests can relax at the pool, which offers sweeping views of the city.

Spend an afternoon at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which is housed in a modernist building with beautifully landscaped gardens. The museum showcases the art collection of its founder, a British-Armenian oil magnate. The exhibits range from Greco-Roman antiquities to Persian rugs. Learn more about Lisbon’s signature tiles (or azulejos) at the National Tile Museum, located in a 16th-century convent. The tiles are in a rainbow of colors, and the museum displays everything from individual tiles to elaborate wall murals. The city’s newest museum is The MAAT (Museum for Art, Architecture and Technology), which showcases local and international artists.

Make reservations well in advance at one of Lisbon’s Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Alma, led by chef Henrique Sá Pesso. Diners can choose from a seafood-inspired menu or a chef’s tasting menu. Alma is located in an 18th-century house that was once the warehouse for Livraria Bertrand Chiado the oldest bookshop still in operation in the world.

A Travessa, Braised Scallops

One of the buzziest local chefs is Jose Avillez. Book early to dine at his restaurant, Belcanto, or try his more casual Cantinho do Avillez; start off with an aperol spritz and tuck into grilled pork from the Alentejo region. A Travessa, located in an old convent, is perfect for a romantic evening. The menu has traditional Portuguese fare including grilled peppers, fresh oysters, and venison medallions.

Lisbon is packed with one-of-a-kind boutiques. Pick up beautifully packaged tins of sardines at A Vida Portuguesa, which also sells Benamor beauty products, a Portuguese brand that is nearly 100 years old and uses natural ingredients. Don’t miss the small showroom of the prize-winning ceramicist Teresa Pavão, housed in a former bakery. Silva & Feijóo is a jewel box of a grocery store, selling everything from canned fish to sausage in a beautiful setting.

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SINTRA
Lord Byron described Sintra as a “Glorious Eden” and this city, about 18 miles west of Lisbon and easily accessible by train, still has a magical feel thanks to a mix of palaces, gardens and wild woodlands. Arrive early to beat the crowds at the National Palace of Pena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that looks like it came straight from a fairytale. Hike around the winding forest paths at Parque da Pena, which is also home to rotating outdoor art exhibits. Quinta da Regaleira feels mysterious and otherworldly. Spend time exploring the caves, underground wells and gardens here. While many of the sights here are historic, Sintra’s Arts Museum hosts an impressive collection of modern and contemporary art, housed in an ornate building. Stay at the Penha Longa resort, a Ritz-Carlton hotel that is tucked inside a national park. Don’t miss the multi-course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred LAB restaurant by chef Sergi Arola.

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COMPORTA
While many visitors to Portugal head to the Algarve, a quieter option is Comporta. This area about an hour south of Lisbon doubles as Portugal’s main rice growing region, and attracts a well-heeled but low-key clientele ranging from European royals to rock stars. The big draw is its unspoiled beaches, where there is no development apart from a restaurant or two and beach shacks selling espressos and caipirinhas. The only luxury hotel in the area is the Sublime Comporta, where guestrooms play off the A-frame style of a rice barn.

Comporta Café

Make time to explore the Roman Ruins on the Troia peninsula, located right across from the water. This area once housed the largest fish salting production site in the Roman world. Sign up for a surf lesson through Surf In Comporta and finish with a meal at the beachfront Comporta Café, where visitors can enjoy the view along with a bottle of wine and freshly caught seafood.

Comporta has a handful of stylish boutiques, including Vintage-Department for retro furniture and Rice by Marta Montero for linen tote bags and olive-wood cutting boards. Wind down your day with a dinner at Cavalariça Comporta. Located in a former horse stable, the menu offers Portuguese mainstays with a global twist. Try the grilled octopus served with kohlrabi, and toast your iconic week in Portugal with a signature cocktail such as the Mosquito Cooler—a zingy blend of gin, elderflower liqueur, cucumber juice, fresh lemon and pepper.

No matter the pace you choose, this ancient city is new again and bursting with exciting opportunities.

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