Portugal has much to attract Kiwi travellers, but its best known attractions are Lisbon and Porto. The savvy traveller will find there's more to see away from these magnificent cities, with an abundance of charming towns and villages stretching along the country's Atlantic coastline.
The best way to see it is by bike — Portugal is incredibly cycle-friendly with an extensive network of bike paths, giving you the freedom to explore at your own pace. And travelling on two wheels, of course, has other benefits — working off the many pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) you'll eat along the way and, more importantly, minimising your carbon footprint. I travelled on a guided group tour with Exodus Travels, but you can also go self-guided, allowing you to stop whenever and wherever you choose. Either way, there's much to see when you want to take a break from your saddle.
Here are five towns worth your time.
Heading south from Porto, we rode about 32km over flat terrain, on bike paths and boardwalks along Portugal's Silver Coast. Our first stop was the cute beachside town of Furadouro, where we found a beautiful golden beach and a relaxed holiday vibe along its wide boulevards lined with shops, bars and restaurants. Head a few kilometres inland and you're in the midst of a beautiful pine forest, the scent of which lives strong in my memory months after travelling. Well-maintained cycle paths lead you straight to Ovar, where you must check out the colourful painted tiles on the exterior walls of the town's homes and cathedrals. As afternoon rolls into evening, locals fill cafe outdoor terraces and tuck into pesticos (Portugal's version of tapas) and chilled beers, before finding a restaurant for dinner. Seafood is, of course, recommended.
A 55km flat ride along the Aveiro Lagoon took us first to Costa Nova, where we stopped for ice cream and admired the lakeside town's effortlessly-photogenic striped houses (as seen on this week's cover).
Our overnight stop was Praia de Mira, another lovely beach resort town, reminiscent of an English seaside town in the 60s. The lagoon in the middle of town is dotted with colourful pedal boats with figureheads shaped like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Little Mermaid — perhaps fine for the kids, but adults will prefer the wide stretch of Blue Flag beach that buffers the ferocious Atlantic waves. Hire a striped beach hut for the day — it'll protect you from the wind as well as the sun — and remember that although magnificent, the ocean is cold, even in the height of summer.
3. Figueira da Foz
After a tiring day's cycling, completing a 60km distance with a total elevation of 346m, we rolled into Figueira da Foz for a victory lap along the city's expansive waterfront boardwalk. There are 13 beaches to choose from but the main stretch, Praia da Figueira da Foz, is one of Europe's widest urban beaches.
In the city, you'll find the Iberian peninsula's second-largest casino, but if that's not to your taste it also boasts a peaceful old town with baroque architecture, a 16th-century fort, and a multitude of options for drinking and dining.
One of the most famous fishing villages in Portugal, Nazare is full of charm. The fisherwomen still wear the traditional black headscarf, clogs and seven-layered skirts of years gone by and the town square is dominated by a stunning 14th-century church, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazare.
The town is divided into three areas — the clifftop villages of Sitio and Pederneira, and beachfront Praia. The cliffs tower above the beach, with a grid system of steep streets leading down to the water's edge — take the funicular if you don't want to walk up and down. Nazare is also famous for its huge waves — it was here in 2017 Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa earned a Guinness World Record for surfing a 24.4m wave, the largest ever surfed, beating Garrett McNamara's 2011 record of 23.8m. To get some idea of the scale of the waves, and the history of surfing in Nazare, visit the 16th-century Fort of Sao Miguel Arcanjo. Its rooftop provides views down to the big waves below and inside you'll find a small museum dedicated to surfing.
From Nazare, we continued south to reach the medieval town of Obidos. During the height of summer, the cobbled streets within the 12th-century castle walls are heaving with tourists, many of them day trippers from Lisbon just 90-minutes' drive away.
The crowds don't dilute the town's charm; it's easy to get lost among the narrow, winding laneways. White-washed buildings are painted with splashes of colour — mustard, blue and racing green, and blooming pink bougainvillea. The castle is now a luxury hotel so the only way to see inside is to book a stay. If that's beyond your budget, the Literary Man Hotel, with its corridors lined with a collection of more than 65,000 books, is highly recommended. Don't leave without trying ginjinha, Portugal's famous sour cherry liqueur. You'll find it in shops all over town, served in tiny cups made from chocolate. Drink, eat, repeat.
Emirates flies from Auckland to Porto and Lisbon, via Dubai. emirates.com
Exodus Travels' eight-day Porto to Lisbon Atlantic Ride is priced from $2979pp, which includes all accommodation, breakfasts, a wine tasting and one dinner, local bike hire and a tour guide throughout. You'll need to be moderately fit — daily distances range from 35km to 60km, and while the first couple of days are very flat, as the week goes on you'll be faced with increased elevation and some pretty hard hills. exodustravels.com/nz