6 of Portugal’s Lesser Known Treasures

6 of Portugal’s Lesser Known Treasures

Ditch the tourist traps and discover Portugal’s true beauty.

Portugal is often overshadowed by its larger neighbour Spain when it comes to holiday destination status, but that has nothing to do with what this country has in store for visitors. Even those who do know a little bit about Portugal are generally familiar with the southern Algarve beaches and not a lot more. But the truth is, this nation has countless treasures waiting to be discovered by intrepid explorers who are willing to stray from the ordinary. To give you a headstart on your journey of exploration, we’ve highlighted a handful of under the radar spots in Portugal which might catch your attention and inspire you to find out what else Portugal has waiting for you.

Ferreira do Zêzere

Ferreira do Zêzere is a wonderful place to enjoy the combination of sun and water.

Image: Paulo Juntas (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While Portuguese locals are no stranger to Ferreira do Zêzere and its surrounding attractions, most foreigners have yet to discover this place. One of the main things that draws visitors to the town is Castelo de Bode Dam, which has created one of Portugal’s biggest reservoirs. This artificial lake surrounded by verdant greenery is a popular spot for watersports and other fun activities, from boating and jet skiing to fishing and windsurfing. Head a little further north and you’ll discover Lago Azul, another scenic place popular with locals looking to escape the heat of the day for a while. Picking up a motorhome rental from Lisbon will put you just a little over an hour and a half’s drive from Ferreira do Zêzere.

Tavira

Tavira offers all the appeal of Algarve without the overwhelming crowds.

While Algarve as a region is far from unknown, Tavira has still somehow managed to escape the notice of most of the summer crowds. While the the town had its origins in the Bronze Age, most of the heritage architecture you’ll find there today dates back to Moorish times. Today Tavira has become a sanctuary for those seeking a relaxing beachside haven - somewhere to enjoy the beauty that Algarve can offer without the intense bustle of the region’s more popular spots. Whether you’re savouring a fresh meal alfresco, soaking up the sun on golden sand beaches, discovering historic buildings or kayaking local waterways, this is a place that will make you feel right at home - and tempt you to stay forever. For those who book a Faro campervan rental, Tavira is only a little over half an hour away.

Peneda-Gerês National Park

Peneda-Gerês National Park is one of the best places in Portugal to reconnect with nature.

Image: Gabriel González (CC BY 2.0)

Most of the destinations on this list centre on a city, village or town, but nature itself is the main attraction here. Peneda-Gerês National Park is the only place in the country which has been officially set aside as a national park, and it’s the perfect place to go to get away from it all. There are actually a number of villages you can visit inside the park which still preserve their ancient ways and exist in harmony with the surrounding forest, which adds a specially unique element to this destination. Outside of the villages you might find yourself rafting, rock climbing, canyoning, zip-lining or just hiking through this beautiful space. You can reach Peneda-Gerês National Park in a Porto campervan rental in a little over an hour.

Monsanto

When you arrive at the singular town of Monsanto, you’ll soon understand how it withstood so many sieges.

Image: Rafael Tello (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The delightfully unique mountain town of Monsanto is a little out of the way compared to some of the other destinations on this list, but that’s part of what makes it such a hidden treasure. The first thing you’ll notice about Monsanto as you approach is that the entire village has been built around (and with) boulders of all different sizes. Some houses just nestle between the rocks, while others actually incorporate the boulders as walls, floors or even ceilings. Despite its quiet, rustic nature today, Monsanto withstood several sieges in the Middle Ages and you can climb a hill to explore the remnants of Monsanto Castle. Despite its ruined state, the castle still commands an impressive view of the surrounding area. You can start your journey to Monsanto from either Lisbon or Porto for a 3 or 3 and a half hour trip respectively.

Bussaco Forest

The carefully tended combination of local fauna with exotic greenery creates at atmosphere at Bussaco Forest which is unlike anywhere else.

Image: Duca696 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Less than an hour and a half from the city of Porto is a lush paradise unlike any other you’ll find around the world. Bussaco isn’t merely a naturally occuring forest, but an ancient walled arboretum. More than 250 different species of tree thrive in the Bussaco Forest, many of them exotic specimens brought to the forest by Golden Age Portuguese explorers. Long protected by a succession of religious orders, Bussaco is now open for everyone to wonder at. There are several walking trails for visitors to meander through, admiring not only the flora, but also the remains of a medieval monastery and various fascinating pieces of antique art, sculpture and architecture.

Bragança

Image: Elisa.rolle (CC BY-SA 4.0)

If you’re really serious about escaping the crowds and finding a place in Portugal which gets ignored by the vast majority of tourists, you can’t do much better than Bragança. With a motorhome rental from Porto you can reach the city in about two and a half hours but despite the relatively short drive, this is still among the most remote places in Portugal. Bragança still boasts impressive stone walls and a castle which date back to the 12th century, and if you look out from the high walls you can see the surrounding countryside laid out before you with tiny trees, fields and farms receding into the distance. There’s also an excellent opportunity to reconnect with nature nearby, in the Parque Natural de Montesinho (Montesinho Natural Park). The park is home to all kinds of wildlife including golden eagles, wolves and wild boar - don’t miss the chance for a trek in this vast place.

Don’t settle for the same old tourist infested holiday traps that everyone else is visiting. Put the freedom granted by a Portugal motorhome rental to good use and discover for yourself all the little known gems waiting for you in this magnificent country.


Written By: Kristof Haines

It’s funny how motorhome memories stick with you. I can still recall a motorhome vacation my family took when I was five years old and how awesome I thought I was, tucked away in a loft bed above the cab. From revealing unique destinations to providing tips and tricks, it’s my mission to help others build great motorhome memories too.