10 reasons Portugal is the perfect place to visit this summer
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Last week’s long-awaited announcement of the lifting of the global holiday ban for U.K. travellers and the introduction of the traffic light system list was a little… disappointing. Most foreign destinations were squarely on the amber and red lists, meaning quarantine on return to the U.K.
There was one real shining star on the small list of green countries though: Portugal. I spent six weeks in Portugal last summer as the U.K. government announced its former travel corridor policy. I didn’t stay that long because I couldn’t travel anywhere else. I stayed because I loved it. It was a perfect summer destination, for both a holiday and remote working.
And now, we know that Portugal will allow British tourists to visit as of 17 May. Here are 10 reasons Portugal is a great green-list trip this summer.
1. No quarantine returning to the UK
Let’s start with the most obvious reason. You will not need to quarantine when returning to the U.K. from Portugal for as long as it remains on the green list.
When Portugal reopens on 17 May to British tourists, it will require that arrivals have a negative PCR COVID-19 test result, taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure.
Ultimately, Portugal will be a quarantine-free destination for British travellers — you will just need negative test results.
2. The same timezone as the UK
If you’re travelling to Portugal for a holiday, you might gladly leave your watch at home, turn off your phone and be guided purely by the sun as to what time you should eat and sleep. But if you have no rush to return to the U.K. because you’ve been working remotely for at least a year, don’t underestimate the benefit of the timezone, which is the same as England.
On top of no jet lag, if you choose to work remotely from Portugal, you can start and finish work at exactly the same time as you would in the office. No late-night Zoom calls when you’d rather be watching the sunset with a drink in hand.
You can also expect excellent Wi-Fi and phone reception in Portugal. I never once missed a video work call because of patchy connections in Portugal. I even finished an article on a Friday afternoon on a ferry off the coast of the Algarve tethering from my phone to my laptop with no issues at all.
Portugal is an increasingly popular destination for digital nomads, and I can understand why — the infrastructure is excellent for remote working.
3. Endless sunshine
It rained once in the six weeks I was in Portugal last summer and I was able to swim on plenty of beautiful beaches. July is the warmest month of the year in Portugal. Its capital Lisbon, as a densely populated urban metropolis, can lock in the heat amongst all that concrete. It can be a little uncomfortable in the middle of summer there.
If you would prefer somewhere warm but a little more bearable, the average maximum temperatures in the southern Algarve region remain just below 30 degrees throughout summer. Anytime between May and October is very pleasant and you can expect plenty of sunshine.
It’s warm enough to swim in the water, but not so hot your energy will drain away.
4. Everything is affordable
A six-week stay in somewhere like Switzerland or Sweden, while beautiful, would cost a fortune. Portugal is the most affordable place I have experienced in Western Europe and noticeably cheaper than Spain next door.
Even after multiple visits to Portugal I still cannot get over the fact you can buy a 750ml bottle of (excellent) rosé from local supermarkets for under €2 (£1.70) a bottle.
You couldn’t even get a glass of wine for that price in the U.K.
Dining out, cocktails, accommodation and transport were all very affordable for the entire time I was there last summer. I found prices to sit midway between Western Europe and Eastern Europe prices and certainly much, much lower than the U.K.
5. Beautiful beaches
Brits flock to mainland Europe and its associated islands to relax on beautiful beaches, and Portugal’s beaches are just as good as those I’ve visited in Spain, Greece and Turkey. I found the most beautiful to be on the southern coast in the Algarve region from Cabanas right through to Lagos. Many are within easy walking distance from local towns, or for some more adventure, you can take a ferry or small water taxi to a more remote island.
These islands have plenty of space to stretch out and socially distance and usually have a nice seafood restaurant and perhaps a corner store for snacks and cold drinks. Just make sure you plan your return — you don’t want to miss the last ferry back after too many Sagres beers on the beach!
6. Excellent mask usage and social distancing
This was the thing I was most nervous about when visiting Portugal last summer. Would people do the right thing? Would I feel safe? Would I know what to do?
I needn’t have worried. My experience was that everyone wore masks without exception in places like supermarkets, public transport (including taxis and rideshare) and while not seated in cafes, bars and restaurants. I always carried my mask with me so I could do the same. With warm weather each day, I spent plenty of time outdoors, even choosing to work outdoors on a balcony or terrace, from time to time under the shade of a sun umbrella.
With few tourists around it was easy to have plenty of personal space and it felt much safer than London where I had come from.
7. Fantastic seafood
On previous visits to Lisbon and Porto, I had enjoyed Portuguese food but found there was not an abundance of strong flavours, and some dishes were a little — dare I say — bland. But spending more time there last summer I think I’ve discovered the secret: fresh seafood. The shape of the country means you are never a huge distance from the coast in Portugal, and especially if you staying close to the ocean, there’s an abundance of fresh seafood to be found.
I was in awe of the enormous fresh selection at local supermarkets — there were plenty of options I didn’t even recognise. When you arrive at local restaurants, you can expect very fresh razor clams, sea bass and bream, jumbo prawns and sardines, to name a few. These are bursting with flavour and don’t need additives like herbs and spices like you might add to your food at home.
If you do want something with a real kick, try the famous Portuguese grilled chicken. You may be asked just how spicy you want it, or it may come with a bottle of sauce for you to add yourself. This definitely packs a punch!
8. Friendly, welcoming locals
After the safety of mask-wearing and social distancing, my next-biggest concern was would locals actually want someone from the United Kingdom visiting? Would I receive any hostility when they realised where I was from? Again, I needn’t have worried.
Every single local I interacted with during my six-week stay was very welcoming and glad to have my custom.
The country is heavily reliant on tourism each summer, especially from the U.K. and especially in the Algarve region. The tourism industry has been decimated by the pandemic and they were glad to see every tourist they could. I only speak a few words of Portuguese and had no problem conversing with locals (with our masks on, of course!). Some locals would ask where I had come from and would smile and welcome me to their country.
9. Pastéis de Nata
Those little custard tarts are so delicious they deserve their own number on this list. Sold everywhere, they are a perfect morning or afternoon tea, especially enjoyed with a cup of coffee. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I ate at least one almost every day I was in Portugal last summer.
Expect to pay less than €1 per tart (85p) at local cafes, and they’ll happily box you up some if you would rather enjoy them at home. If you’re early enough, they may still be warm from the oven.
10. Beautiful towns and architecture
The two main cities of Lisbon and Porto have beautiful architecture, with brightly painted houses. You’ll find plenty of those gorgeous intricately painted tiles everywhere, too. If you’re looking to avoid built-up areas this summer, there are plenty of gorgeous little towns and sleepy villages where you’ll have no difficulty social distancing.
Whether you’re looking for whitewashed buildings on the coast, terracotta roofs in the green rolling hills or getting lost in winding cobbled streets spotting huge wisteria plants at each turn, there’s something for every taste and style.
I thoroughly enjoyed my extended stay in Portugal last summer and look forward to returning again this summer. It was a perfect place for a holiday because it had everything I was looking for — amazing warm, sunny weather, beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, a laid-back lifestyle and it was easy to get around.
What surprised me was how well suited it was for working remotely as well. If you have no rush to return to the U.K. after some time off and could use a change of scenery from your U.K. bedroom, you can expect stable internet, affordable everything and finishing at the same time as the U.K., giving you plenty of time for an after-work swim and sunset beverage before enjoying some delicious seafood and maybe yet another custard tart before bed.
Featured image by Cavan Images/Getty Images.
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