Portugal is the model of resilience. Throughout its history, the country has been down and out, but kicked back up again — after the invasions of the Celts, and the Romans, and the Berbers, and the Arabs, and the Moors. Eventually it became one of the most powerful seafaring nations in the world, conquering half the globe on the backs of its relentless explorers. But the New World — and the new world order — wasn’t always kind. The financial crisis and the Euro crippled its economy; people left for greener pastures in North America and beyond; the country stagnated. You’ll hear locals talk about all this matter-of-factly, almost like the weather.
But since then, the Portuguese have harnessed their collective penchant for warm welcomes and turned the country into one of the world’s great destinations. It produces (already produced, but that’s a technicality) fantastic wines in its two major growing areas, the Douro to the north and the Alentejo to the south; its chefs are becoming celebrated for their signature simple style of cooking; and its community of young, creative entrepreneurs have opened a slew of high-design hotels and restaurants that are worthy of your next holiday.
In prime position on the Avenida da Liberdade — Lisbon’s answer to the Champs-Élysées — the Valverde Hotel is a gem of modern Portuguese design. José Pedro Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã, a Porto-based team renowned for their hospitality projects, have transformed a historic building into a sleek 25-room boutique hotel, with each space as distinct as it is comfortable — and luxurious. valverdehotel.com
Red Frog Speakeasy
Lisboans may enjoy a gin and tonic or a glass of local wine, but the Red Frog is the place to go if you want something more adventurous. First, find the tiny red frog doorbell on a side street just off the Avenida da Liberdade. Ring it. Head downstairs and tell the waitresses what you like, and wait while they surprise you with an elaborate cocktail to start your night off right. redfrog.pt
Opened just a year ago, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is Lisbon’s newest landmark. Designed by architect Amanda Levete, the MAAT actually comprises two buildings: an old power plant and a brand new, immediately iconic wave-like entrance. Inside, you’ll find rotating exhibits by some of Portugal’s most exciting contemporary artists. maat.pt
Mercado Da Ribeira
Once a sleepy fruit market, this food hall is now home to all of Lisbon’s best chefs under one roof. Transformed in 2014 by Time Out magazine, it draws tourists and locals clamouring for cod cakes, clams, and custard tarts — and, of course, plenty of local wine to wash it down. timeoutmarket.com/lisboa
Anthony Bourdain made this place famous when he visited in 2012 — but honestly, it didn’t need his help. This is Portugal’s highest temple to seafood, and it’s where you want to go to gorge on the fruits of the ocean: stinking-fresh clams sautéed quickly in garlic and olive oil, langoustines plucked from their watery home earlier that afternoon, lobsters that dance on your table before they’re cooked. Leave your good shirt at the hotel for this one. cervejariaramiro.pt
Every good meal is worth a trek. For this one, take the ferry across the river (you can use a metro card for the fare) and walk along the graffiti-flecked boardwalk to the end of the pier, where Ponto Final’s yellow parasols beckon you to take a load off. You might have to wait for all the local families to finish, but you’ll be rewarded with Portuguese home cooking of the highest order. facebook.com/pontofinalrest
Three hours from Lisbon, the Douro Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the world’s oldest dedicated wine region. AKA: all the reason you need to visit Portugal. dourovalley.eu
If you go: Book a room at the Six Senses Douro Valley. The hotel is housed in what was once the Quinta de Vale Abraão, a 19th-century manor overlooking sloping vineyards and the gently curving Douro River. But that makes it sound quainter than it is. The first Six Senses resort in Europe, the hotel has been renovated in the modern Portuguese style, complete with a stunning linear addition for the indoor pool and spa. The hotel’s restaurant serves locally inspired dishes, and the wine list is — no surprise — extensive. The Enomatic, a highly curated wine vending machine, ensures you’re always with a glass in hand.
There’s more to Douro Valley wine than just Port. Start your oeno-exploration with these three producers.
Quinta do Crasto
An old producer known for its reds made from a blend of Port grapes.
Quinta do Vallado
Vallado’s Reserva epitomizes the full-bodied whites coming from the valley.
Quinta do Bomfim
A short drive from the Six Senses, the region’s grapes are bathed in sun and produce rich, full-flavoured reds.