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Tips on travelling to Portugal from Steve Masters

Steve Masters first visited Portugal in 1989 and, later, lived in Porto for several years before returning to the UK. He speaks the language and is well versed in the culture of Portugal. He currently works on behalf of Rocha Brava, a holiday resort located in the Algarve.

For more inspiration check out Rocha Brava Resort in Portugal's Algarve region.

What is your favourite thing about Portugal?

The north, more than anything else, and the fact that Portugal has retained much of its traditional way of life. It is easy to feel at home in Portugal. Many people speak English well, especially in the south, and there is such a great variety of cheap food and wine. A friend of mine used to keep a boat in Spain and he moved it to Portugal because he felt the Portuguese people were so much friendlier.

How well do you know the country?

I have explored most of the main tourist hotspots in Portugal. I regard Porto as my second home. I first visited Portugal in 1989, having met a young Portuguese lady who became my wife. We have been many times since then, and lived in Porto for a couple of years before coming back to the UK. I also learned the language.

Where would you send a first-time visitor in Portugal?

I recommend anyone who wants to see traditional Portugal to go to Porto in the north, and farther north to places like Braga and Guimaraes. For a simple family holiday with cheap flight options the Algarve is great. Carvoeiro is an excellent small town that is popular with many Brits and Germans. The marinas of Lagos and Villamoura are stunning and very popular. I would recommend a visit to Tavira, on the eastern side of the Algarve.

In central Portugal, on the other side of the Tejo River from Lisbon, Setubal is also a beautiful city.

In Lisbon, visit Chiado and Avenida de Liberdade, and take the train ride from Cais de Sodre along the coastal railway past Belem and out to Cascais.

What is your favourite city or region of Portugal? Why?

Porto, by a long way. There are not many cities in the world that can offer ocean beaches, riverside views and a mixture of both historic and modern shopping. Porto sits on the Atlantic Ocean, with wide sandy beaches. It now has a cruise terminal. There are several modern shopping malls with excellent shops, as well as more traditional outdoor shopping areas. The modern tram system connects most of the parts of the city. Porto is divided from its neighbour Vila Nova de Guia by the Douro River, which winds up through the Douro Valley to where all the port wine vineyards are located. Vila Nova de Guia houses all the port wine companies, and you can visit the caves and taste the wines.

When is the best time to visit Portugal?

In the south, visiting in spring or autumn will mean less tourists and good weather. It is baking hot in the summer. In the north, you can expect the weather to be around 10 degrees Celsius warmer than whatever weather we have in the UK.

Is the infrastructure in Portugal good for tourists?

Infrastructure in Porto is great. Everything seems to work well there. In my experience, Lisbon is a poorer city as far as infrastructure goes. They have an underground system, but I found a lot of escalators and elevators not working there, so I don't know how disabled people get around. Public transport is generally good in Portugal though. Because so many people speak English, it is easy to get directions and help getting around.

What is the best means of transport when exploring Portugal?

It is best to explore by car. You can travel long distances by car in Portugal without too much of a traffic problem. There is some traffic congestion in urban areas during rush hour but at other times you should get around without difficulty. I have rarely had a problem with parking. In non-tourist areas, parking is enforced rather loosely, as long as you are sensible.

How safe is the country for tourists?

I believe it is safe, although you need to keep your wits about you. In the Algarve, because of the high concentration of tourists, there is a high likelihood of burglaries. Our villa was burgled one day when we were out. The police said it was probably youngsters, who know the holiday villas and watch people coming and going. Remember to lock up and not make it easy for burglars. It is generally a very safe country and Portuguese people are generally very respectful.

Are there any areas people should avoid?

Obvious crime hotspots where there are crowds of young people getting drunk should be avoided. Places like The Strip in Albufeira have a bad reputation. That is no different, though, from Ayia Napa in Cyprus or most other nightclubbing hotspots in Europe.

Would you consider Portugal an expensive travel destination?

No. Food is an expensive necessity when you are travelling but, in Portugal, traditional cafes are much cheaper than in the UK. Look for a tasca where the locals eat. They often don't look like much, but the food is always cooked from fresh and very reasonably priced.

You can also get around Portugal cheaply. You can travel on the Alfa train from south to north for not much money. For example, the three-hour train journey between Lisbon and Porto costs only about EUR 35, and that is travelling first class.

There are lots of budget accommodation options, including many houses and apartments on Airbnb.

Are there any special souvenirs travellers should look out for in Portugal?

Barcelos is famous for lace and textiles. It is the home of the famous Galo, the chicken that is the symbol of Portugal. You can buy souvenir Galos everywhere.

Wine is also a good souvenir and it is possible to buy cheap wine at any supermarket. You can buy a supermarket bottle of Ruby or Tawny port for about EUR 4, and you can get good red wines for about EUR 3. I recommend wines from Alentejo. Wines from Dao are also nice.

And what are your favourite local meals?

Portuguese meat sandwiches, called francesinha are popular in Porto. Also bacalhao, which is dried codfish. There are different ways of preparing the codfish but my favourite version is cooked in the oven with lots of olive oil. Bacalhao is very salty though, so you need a lot of Super Bock or Sagres beer to help you eat it.

With a morning coffee, try a torrada (thick slices of toast coated on both sides with butter), a bolo de arroz (rice cake) and some croquettes (small breaded rolls of minced meat).

In a bar, try a chourico (pork sausage) with some beer. They pour alcohol over it and cook it in front of you so you can eat it while it is sizzling hot.

Fresh fish is always a great meal choice in Portugal.

Is there anything else you feel people should know before visiting Portugal?

I would advise travellers to take time to find out what is outside of their resort in order to really experience the culture. I would also recommend finding out where the locals eat and drink as this can save a lot of money.

For more inspiration check out Rocha Brava Resort in Portugal's Algarve region.