Long overlooked in favour of its Iberian neighbour Spain, Portugal seems to be experiencing something of a cool-cat revolution of late.The country’s capital, Lisbon, has been transformed from drab and dated to a fully-fledged hipster haven, with sleek redevelopments of traditional buildings, an explosion of trendy bars and boutique shops, and an impressive array of street art. Further afield, there’s the white-sand beaches of the Algarve, the colourful townhouses of Porto and the turreted towers of Sintra.
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At less than three hours flying time from London to any of these destinations, it makes for an ideal choice for a long-weekend escape. However, with an enduring reputation for stodgy food and package trips, it’s still rarely thought of as a destination for those in search of a health conscious holiday. So how accurate is this picture? Not very, we think.
To Reconnect With Nature
Despite Portugal being just a third of the size of the UK, it's blessed with ample opportunities for outdoor exploration. In the very north of the country lies Portugal’s only national park, Peneda-Gerês. Here, hiking trails traverse through an impressive array of landscapes, with lush vegetation lining up alongside wooded areas, thick with pine and birch trees.
With scientific studies now asserting that just two hours per week spent outside and among nature is positively correlated with better physical health and higher psychological wellbeing*, getting lost here – even for an afternoon – may be just what the doctor ordered.
Further south, nested in the foothills of the Serra de Estrela, you'll find Vale de Moses, an idyllic yoga retreat where daily schedules revolve around silent meditiative hikes, yoga practice, fresh and nutritious meals and massage therapies.
It Has An Epic Coastline
Perched at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal clocks up over 1000 miles of coastline and is home to some of the best surf spots on the planet. If you’re already an experience rider then base yourself in the iconic town of Nazaré, where pro surfers have repratedly broken records for the biggest wave ever surfed. If you’re more of a newbie, Praia do Amado has earned its spot as one of the country’s most beautiful surfing beaches and should provide you with more than enough of a challenge.
On a less active note, there’s a lot to be said for laying on a sun-drenched beach and disappearing into a good book for a few hours, popping into the ocean when you fancy a quick cooldown. Fortunately, Praia de Poça, is only a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, meaning you can recharge your batteries and be back in the city in time for dinner.
To Bathe In Therapeutic Waters
However, you don’t necessarily need to be in the ocean to feel its benefits. The country’s vast coastline makes it a hotspot for thalassotheraphy, the therapeutic use of seawater and marine products such as algae, seaweed and mud. It’s said to relieve stress, ease aches and pains and rejuvenate the skin through the absorption of minerals.
Numerous thalassotheraphy centres are dotted along the Portuguese coast, but for the best experience, choose one that uses regularly replenished seawater in its swimming pools and is maintained by qualified staff including physiotherapists, hydrotherapists, dietitians, sports instructors, and estheticians.
To Take Part in Fitness Events
With endurance events more popular than ever, there’s something for the travelling runner, cyclist or triathlete in just about every country – and Portugal is no exception. A real gem is the Trans Portugal Europcar Race which, despite its name, sees participants cycling 1000km through breathtaking countryside every May. Bike-beginners beware, this isn’t one for novices.
Alternatively, try taking on the Lisbon half-marathon, which occurs every March and includes a sweeping suspension bridge and panoramic views of the city. It’s surprisingly flat for such a hilly city, and with the first quarter of the run being downhill, it’s actually considered one of the fastest in the world!
Its Flourishing Healthy Foodie Scene
Between pastel de nata and spicy sausages, Portuguese isn't necessarily known for it's healthy fare. Yet, the country has a flourishing healthy foodie scene, with a plethora of organic cafes, vegan eateries and paleo kitchens all popping up in recent years. Options are particularly strong in Lisbon, but there’s fresh seafood to tuck into all along the coast. Oh, and because we’re all about the Balance, don’t miss out on the chance to delve into the sample tables at one of Porto’s famous port houses.
*Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, James Grellier, Benedict W. Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara L. Warber, Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge, Lora E. Fleming. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports, 2019;