More than 20,000 British citizens own property in the countrty, making their dream of moving to Portugal a reality. The vast majority of these expats and holiday home owners can be found in the Algarve relaxing in the sun by their pool, or in Lisbon enjoying one of Europe’s most scenic capital cities atop any of its seven hills.
But there is so much more to this land than the blindingly obvious, however alluring it might be. If you have your heart set on that perfect combination of urban living in a relaxed environment, this is the place for you. Here are five small cities that will persuade you to break the mould and buy somewhere unique in this fascinating country.
This thriving port town is located on the banks of the River Sado estuary, just 45 minutes south of Lisbon by car – a convenient journey for commuters and day-trippers alike. Its pedestrianised old town, hilltop fortress, cool squares, fountains and public gardens lend it a certain grace; while the fully functioning harbour provides its heartbeat. Today Setúbal is at the centre of the Portuguese sardine industry, and renowned for its sweet and globally acclaimed Moscatel wine.
Hugging the edge of a shallow coastal lagoon on the Atlantic coast, just 50 minutes’ drive south of Porto, Aveiro – or “the Venice of Portugal” as it’s affectionately known – is a prosperous town with an energetic buzz. Like its Italian namesake it’s home to a small network of picturesque canals, connected by humpbacked bridges and peppered with colourful gondolas. This unique and inspiring city remains a hidden gem, making it the perfect destination for property buyers who want to immerse themselves in a more traditional way of life.
Steeped in over 2000 years of history, Évora – capital of the Alentejo region – is one of the country’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns. As you wonder its narrow, winding lanes you’ll come across some striking architectural features: 14th-century walls, medieval cathedral and cloisters, Roman temple and baths, Renaissance fountains and Moorish courtyards. Located at the foot of the mountain range of the same name, halfway between the Atlantic coast and Spanish border, its unique historic and geographical characteristics persuaded UNESCO to classify it as a World Heritage Site.
The most northerly of our top 5, Guimarães is widely regarded as the birthplace of Portugal: where Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, won the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, leading to the formation of this great nation. The city has preserved its illustrious past, from the 1000-year-old castle to the 15th century palace. Its status as one of Portugal’s 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites is testament to this. Modern day Guimarães is very much a university town, providing an injection of vitality to the place.
Comfortably the most southerly of our entrants, you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s located in the Algarve. In reality the city is a three and a half hour flight out into the Atlantic Ocean from Faro. That’s because Funchal is the capital of Madeira: a Portuguese archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa. If the prospect of combining island living with an urban edge gets you going then this fabulous city will tick all the boxes. Set to a backdrop of verdant mountains, Funchal is a great base from which to enjoy Madeira – once dubbed the “floating garden of the Atlantic”. Try and be there for New Year’s Eve, where the city has about the biggest firework party in the world!
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