- While most Brits stick to the Algarve, Portugal’s west coast is not to be missed
- The Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Natural Park is made for walkers
- And the surf community make for easy-going seaside towns with cheap drinks
The Portuguese have a relaxed approach to life.
Timing is a moveable feast, parties are open to everyone and custard tarts (pasteis de nata) are a national dish.
One evening, we go out for a low-key supper and end up at a 50th bash, where we dine with half the village on a stew of surprisingly tender giant sea snails and sing Happy Birthday in the local language.
Sweeping: Bordeira Beach on Portugal’s west coast offers breathtaking views of the cliffs
We’re on a road-trip up the dramatic west coast, where you can go to a different beach each day and marvel continually at the sea-battered scenery.
Sometimes, clinging on to our stripy beach umbrella, it feels as if we are on holiday in Cornwall.
The sea temperature is just as bracing and the waves draw surfers. But there are few Britons on this stretch.
They tend to stick to the Algarve, where the nightlife is better, one local tells me.
Protected from development by its natural park status — the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park stretches for 120km (75 miles) — it’s a coastline made for walkers.
While the Algarve has had a lot of work done, this coastline is as nature intended.
And the surf community make for easy-going seaside towns with inexpensive food and cheap drinks (a large glass of wine is €1 in some restaurants).
There are pockets of glam, of course. In Sagres, also known as the end of the world, Hotel Memmo Baleeira is one.
It’s minimalist without being stark and filled with well-dressed families and couples who congregate around the pool with its views over the fishing port.
It’s a good place to arrive after an early flight because everything is easy and on your doorstep.
You can wander into town for all sorts of dining. We like Estrela Do Mar for its cataplanas — a huge casserole of fish — and Alice Gelateria for dessert.
Martinhal beach, ten minutes’ flip flop from the hotel, is sheltered and offers calm sea swimming.
Ahoy! Cape St Vincent is Europe’s most southwesterly point, complete with a great lighthouse
But go to Cape St Vincent, just under four miles up the road, and you can see why being a sailor was once such a risky career move.
This is Europe’s most southwesterly point, and it howls a gale around the great big lighthouse, the sea swirling angrily below.
It’s a popular sunset spot, if you don’t mind being blown about.
A little further north is our next stop, a village that was rescued from abandonment and turned into an eco-hotel: Aldeia da Pedralva.
Set in farmland, it has pastoral views and a restaurant that specialises in salt cod served in a loaf of bread.
It has a more DIY approach than Memmo, but is pretty, and there’s barely any phone signal.
The woman at reception recommends a circular walk between Amado and Bordeira Beach, which offers sweeping views over cliffs along the coast.
We pause for a cheese toasty on Bordeira, which is backed by dunes and fed by a river.
It’s so windy, with the red flag flapping wildly, that we’re not even allowed in to paddle.
Selfie: Jenny and her boyfriend Rob couldn’t resist snapping a photo at Cape St Vincent – a popular sunset spot
At least I don’t have to watch my boyfriend, Rob, make for the horizon in a brisk front crawl.
Happily, the weather settles down, so when we arrive at Cerroda Fontinha, an hour’s drive north, we park ourselves at the beach for the next few days under our now sedate umbrella.
Cerro is owned by Miguel, who built it up from scratch.
The single-storey former farm cottages are set in grounds next to a lake patterned with waterlilies.
Breakfast is beautifully presented and brought to our cottage, the Red House, on a tray each morning.
We do cook one night, but the three restaurants in the nearby village Brejao, especially Miramar, offer brilliant value fare.
Pop in beforehand to the beach cafe on Carvalhal, which serves zesty mojitos.
Buttressed by great big rocks, this is a good place to swim or body surf.
On the way, look out for ostriches, llamas and bison, all grazing nervously together.
South of Carvalhal, and accessed by a path that tunnels through bamboo, is Amalia Beach, named after the famed Fado singer, who owned the villa above it.
There’s a waterfall splashing down onto the sand with teens arranged on the rocks for photos.
We also go to Odeceixe, a great big sweep of sand known for surf, with an attractive town above that is decked with garlands as if for a wedding.
Our road-trip ends in Lisbon, but we take our time, stopping at beaches en route and admiring storks nesting atop telegraph poles.
Comporta, on the swishy Portuguese Riviera, is the new place to be seen.
Here, you’ll find inflatable flamingos, huge loungers and pricey bars.
The beach seems to go on for miles, but it’s not nearly as thrilling as those cliff-framed coves where the waves dash in and out.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online