If somebody suggested a trip to Portugal to you, your mind might immediately jump to getting lost along narrow streets lined with classical architecture, or sitting outside a tiny cafe drinking cortados. In reality, Portugal is a diverse country with a lot more to offer than what’s right in front of you. Beyond the winding streets, as you ascend further and further into the hills, a more authentic and less tourist-driven Portuguese life thrives.
Because of its position on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal benefits from a very similar climate to most Mediterranean countries. And just like countries such as Italy and Spain, Portugal has the perfect mixture of stunning architecture and expansive landscapes filled with natural wonders. Here are three of the country’s most stunning natural wonders to hopefully get you excited about visiting lesser-explored parts of the country.
Peneda-Gerês National Park
Located near the northern border between Portugal and Spain is the lush greenery of the Peneda-Gerês National Park. It is the oldest protected area and national park within Portugal, and is near the city of Porto, which makes it the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The flora and fauna of the area is something to behold. As well as attracting international scientific interest, many people travel for miles to try and spot the area’s unique wildlife, especially Garrano, or wild horses, which have lived since the prehistoric period – although be sure to treat them with respect, as the breed is growing close to extinction.
As well as being an area of natural beauty, you can still find fascinating signs of human inhabitation throughout the ages, such as stone houses or ‘dolmens’ from 3000-6000 years ago, as well as Roman roads and bridges that show more modern interest in the area. Tours are available, but you might decide you would rather experience the area at your own pace.
Portugal’s popular Algarve region in the south of the country is famous for its stunning beaches, such as Ponta da Piedad in Lagos, but to find the true natural wonders of the country we need to head a bit away from the main urban areas.
Benagil is a small fishing village, along the country’s south coast from Albufeira, which has seen an increase in notoriety due to photographs of its stunning natural cave formations being shared across the internet.
These strange landscapes certainly represent a unique natural wonder, formed out of limestone by millions of years of the waves washing over the beach and depositing layer upon layer. Eventually, erosion will collapse the restructure, and everything will once again return to the sea. The result is a hidden beach, which visitors can soak in and enjoy juxtaposed with the colourful splendour of the caves themselves.
Getting to this amazing structure will require a short jaunt across the water, which can be traversed via kayak or paddleboard, or you can have a boat from many of the nearby towns take you to see this truly special natural wonder.
Sete Cidades – São Miguel Island, the Azores
Whilst the Portuguese mainland has many more natural wonders to offer, it would be remiss of us not to mention the stunning Sete Cidades when talking about natural beauty.
One look down from the top of the crater of the Sete Cidades volcano and it is easy to see how it inspired legends. The unique formation of two lakes – one blue, and one green – were said to have been formed when a young green-eyed princess was forbidden from marrying her blue-eyed true love. The tears they cried during their final goodbye is said to be what filled the two lakes and gave them their distinctive colours.
Whether the story is true or not does not take away from the poetry and beauty of this natural wonder. Portugal has so much to offer to any kind of holiday-maker and it is for that reason that we must draw attention to these more forgotten parts. Portugal may be famous for its stunning architecture, but there is no better architect than nature itself.
Make sure to check out one of these lesser-known gems when you take a trip to Portugal in the future.