Lauren Taylor samples some of Portugal's best.
Portugal was recently named Europe's Leading Tourism Destination at the World Travel Awards, for its "diversity of landscapes and welcoming spirit of the Portuguese people". Along with the popular Algarve beaches and medieval castles and palaces, the amazing food and drink are other jewels in Portugal's crown. Here's our pick of its best:
The vast, warm, dry Alentejo north of the Algarve is a very fertile region and totally food-orientated. Alentejo pork from the Porto Preto breed (also called black pork) is soft-as-you-like, packed with a crazy amount of flavour, and can be found in some of the best fine-dining restaurants around the country. It's also used to make delicious pata negra, or Iberian ham. In Serra Da Estrela, further north in the Beiras region, wild boar is abundant and often slow-cooked in wine.
With 1794km of coastline, seafood is integral to Portuguese culture. Everything from sea bass, tuna, squid, octopus and sardines is usually caught wild, rather than farmed, and it's good value for money, even notoriously pricey turbot. Meanwhile, in higher areas, like the Beiras region, rivers are fished for trout.
Portugal produces several excellent sheep (Ovelha) cheese varieties. Queijo de Evora, made from raw sheep's milk in the south, is alone worth travelling for. Sharp and almost spicy as it ages, it goes well with homemade pumpkin jam. A creamier variety, Queijo da Serra da Estrela, the '"king of Portuguese cheese", has been made for centuries by shepherds roaming the mountains of the country's largest national park.
If you're on a diet, you may want to skip this one. Francesinha, a legendary dish from Porto, is an adaptation of the croque monsieur (it means "Frenchie"). The doorstep sandwich is made of layers of pork, smoked sausage, bacon and beef between slices of bread, topped with a fried egg and coated in a thick cheesy sauce and drenched in thick sauce made from tomatoes and beer.
PASTEL DE NATA
Good luck going to Portugal and not eating three pastel de nata a day. The humble custard tart is in every pastry and coffee shop window in Lisbon. It's made with layers of crispy puff pastry on the outside and sweet, creamy set custard inside, caramelised on top. The recipe apparently dates back 300 years to when monks made the tarts to support their monastery and the recipe was sold to the Pasteis de Belem bakery in 1834, where they are still made.
Porto, of course, is the birthplace of port and the city is steeped in its history. Port wine is produced deep in the Douro region, hundreds of kilometres from the merchants in Porto; barrels were traditionally carried down the Douro river by boat. Today the city is packed with intimate wine cellars where you can order a selection of ports and cheeses, and all the major port houses offer tours and tastings. Try white port and tonic if you find tawny or ruby port too strong.
Portugal is the only producer of Vinho Verde, or green wine. It's made in the rainy Minho province in the far north of the country using younger grapes. Green isn't referring to the colour, rather the freshness or youth and, as a result, it's acidic with a slight hint of fizz. The way it's produced means that the alcohol content is lower, typically 9 per cent, which makes it the perfect daytime tipple.