Our team’s impressions from their research trip around Portugal
The days of the Black Tomato team are filled with all things travel. Talking about it, writing about it, mapping it out, booking it. But there’s nothing like being there, on the ground. Trying, testing, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling – experiencing for ourselves all those things that fill our days. We are Travel Experts, after all.
That’s why we sent Jihane, Joe, Ellie, and Tom on a research trip through Portugal. Top to bottom, North to South – from historic alley-woven Porto to the shimmering seas of the Vincentine Coast – they put our favourite properties and experiences through their paces. It’s how we ensure the Portugal vacations we curate for our travellers are postcard perfect.
In the spirit of sharing their discoveries, below are the team’s own impressions and favourite moments from their time in the field. And as trips to Portugal go, it sounds like a very, very good one. We’ll pass the pen, now.
A slice-by-slice tour of Porto
Our journey through Portugal began in Porto. Where colour-splashed buildings line the banks of the Douro River and buskers play by trendy café hangouts on quaint cobbled streets. And we loved it.
Especially the food. It’s gastronomic heaven here, which we experienced on a deep-dive culinary tour through the city. From Serra da Estrela cheese to creamy Aletria (a traditional vermicelli sweet pudding) – we sampled so many delicacies we’d never tried before. We washed down each course with a cold glass of Vinho Verde (‘green wine’), which originates in the historic Minho province of Portugal’s far north. For Ellie, this was a particular highlight – “it was so crisp and aromatic and refreshing, the perfect accompaniment to every dish”. Research is hungry work.
A taste of rural life in the Douro Valley
Our next stop took us to the beautiful Douro Valley – where the locals have been producing wine and port for over two-thousand years. We stayed at the Six Senses Douro Valley, the most gorgeous restored 19th Century manor overlooking the region’s river and rolling hills.
The following day, we visited Quinta da Roeda winery. This was Jihane’s highlight, “without a doubt my most favourite day of the trip”. Weaving our way through its terraced vineyards, we gazed upon the glistening waters of the Douro River – nowhere did wine tasting quite so tantalisingly as here. We began by exploring sunlit trails bordered by olive groves, learning about each step of the wine-making process as we went. Sampling their finest wines, we sat among the vines – accompanied by a fresh breeze, and the heady fragrance of grape. Returning to our spa rooms at the hotel, our very own private plunge pools and magical views over the woods were the perfect welcome home. Life doesn’t get much better.
Travelling down the coast the next morning, we arrived in Portugal’s capital. By 4 o’clock that afternoon, Lisbon was filled with chatter and laughter, people sitting on terraces, winding down after a long day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we walked out from our hotel across to Miradouro de Santa Luzia, to get a panoramic view over the city. Shrouded in golden sunlight, Lisbon felt almost mystical. We wandered towards a tiny square, lined with tall trees and filled with tables and chairs. Chafariz do Carmo was the centrepiece: an old 18th-century fountain. Behind it, a candy pink building peeking through the trees. ‘Charming’ doesn’t do it justice.
Our guide, Diana, who took us on a private tour, was so knowledgeable and passionate about Lisbon and its history. She spoke with such enthusiasm as she guided us down labyrinthine cobbled streets, taking us past A Brasileira – one of the oldest cafés in Lisbon – before taking us to her favourite pastel de nata spot – Manteigaria. This was (and always will be) the very best pastel de nata we’ve ever tasted. Just lightly dusted with cinnamon. Heavenly.
The historic square of Praça Luís de Camões was one of Joe’s favourites, where he stood observing – taking it all in and snapping photographs on his camera. “I remember looking at this old couple, sitting together on a bench beneath a tree in the shade. There was something so blissful about witnessing that moment. It felt like time was at a standstill for all of one minute”.
Castles above the clouds
When in Lisbon, it’d be rude not to visit nearby Sintra for the day – which we explored on a tour in a 4×4. It was like driving through a fairytale – where pastel-painted manors are set against lush hills that roll down to the sea.
Our driver surprised us, taking us up to his favorite spot by the coast to finish. And what a spot it was, too. The engine of our classic 1980’s Jeep was switched off, leaving nothing but the sound of the wind blowing between the tall grass as we looked out over sharp cliff faces and the vast expanse of the Atlantic. There, we came across the snapshot of the trip: a lone fisherman, perched on the edge of a cliff beneath the sun. Glorious.
Shall we begin?
Whether for the cultural cities of Lisbon and Porto, or for earthy vineyards and gorgeous hinterlands. Our Travel Experts are ready to help you begin planning your trip to Portugal.
Picturesque trails between sweeping sands
To the west of Portugal lies the Alentejo coast, bordered by the breath-taking region of Comporta – the fourth stop on our trip. From rice fields and towering pine trees to golden sand dunes along the sea. The land here is pristine and fertile, giving way to an oh-so-laid-back rural way of life.
We stayed at Sublime Comporta – which it really was. Sublime. The rooms are decorated in cool neutrals, with crisp linens, exposed natural stone and indoor-outdoor fireplaces. What more could we ask for?
Whilst we were only in Comporta for a short time, we explored in the best possible way and at the most mesmerising moment – on horseback, at sunset. The horses had a tendency to pause and take a nibble of the emerald shrubs speckling the landscape. The ride was slow, steady. Relaxed. But we didn’t mind. It just gave us more time to soak up the dazzling ocean views.
Beneath Alentejo’s star-scattered skies
Upon our arrival at São Lourenço do Barrocal in the Alentejo region – which borders Spain – we were greeted with a smile and a glass of prosecco. The scent of burning wood hung in the air, and the sky was painted pastel red.
Among ancient holm trees, olive groves and vineyards, there’s such a rustic warmth to this place. Enjoying a tour of the estate’s grounds, the silence was golden. Just us, nature and a beautiful sense of freedom. It’s not hard to see why this was Tom’s favourite property in Portugal.
That evening, we were in for a (very happy) surprise. We were taken up to a vantage point at roof level where cosy blankets, two bottles of local wine and a charcuterie board were waiting for us. What made this so special was the setting. We were sat under clear night skies, and the atmosphere beneath the stars was perfect.
Wild surf at the Atlantic’s edge
Last, but most certainly not least, we enjoyed an epic surfing experience in the coastal village of Aljezur. We loved our instructor, Tomás. He really knew how to make you feel at ease. Especially as some of us had never surfed before. Quickly picking up on this, he shared with us his four decades’ worth of knowledge from riding the tumbling tides of the Algarve. It was an exhilarating feeling.
Joe, especially, took to the waves like a natural. “I fell, fell again, and fell some more. Saltwater was all I could taste, but it was worth it. I learned to love the feeling of the cool water seeping through the top of my wetsuit, and eventually I surfed a handful of waves. It was incredible”.
The enormous, exciting contrast from region to region makes Portugal everything it is. And embracing this diversity is the key. Busy or peaceful, historical or gastronomic.
We don’t just know where to go on Portugal vacations, but all the best little secret spots within those locations – and we’ve got cast-iron connections on the ground to make sure you experience each and every one. Or at least the highlights. You need only ask.