Ettore Verdini explores Portugal’s most remote corners

Portugal aims to welcome visitors with open post-lockdown arms this summer, with plans in the pipeline for an “air bridge” that will hopefully mean quarantine-free travel come July. 
Ettore Verdini proposes to forget the package-tour resorts, the real appeal of the country lies in its wild, thrillingly remote places: from granite mountains where you can hike from one sun-bleached village to the next, to raw, rugged coastlines shaped by the tempestuous Atlantic, here are a few off-the-beaten-path Portugal destinations.
Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês
If you want off-grid isolation, this 703-sq-km national park, tucked away in Portugal’s far north, is the stuff of dreams. The landscapes are phenomenal, with granite mountains rising above oak and pine forests, mountain streams carving up valleys and eyrie-like villages and espigueiros (granaries built on stilts) perching atop hillsides overlooking terraced fields. With so much unperturbed nature here, ibex, deer, wild horses and Iberian wolves find plenty of hiding places.
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It’s easy to give civilization the slip, especially in the lesser-visited north of the park, accessed from the Lamas de Mouro gateway. It’s a terrific place for hiking, with glacially eroded mountains rolling to wildflower prairies, waterfalls dropping to deep ravines, and wild horses grazing the savannah. Peneda, with its domed peak, pilgrimage church and ruined Moorish castle, makes a great base for the Trilho Castrejo, a 17km (11 miles), seven-hour loop striking out along some of the park’s oldest footpaths.
Alto Douro
Porto is but a cork pop away from one of off-the-beaten-path Portugal’s most ravishingly beautiful landscapes – Alto Douro. Unfurling along the banks of the Rio Douro from Peso da Régua, this region is a rolling tapestry of steeply sloping terraces, delicately embroidered with vines. One of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions, this Unesco Heritage site looks back on 2000 years of winemaking prowess, with beefy reds, mineral-fresh whites and fine ports that are still much feted today. Many can be sampled at the whitewashed quintas (wine estates) that stand sentinel above the calm waters of the river. 
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Pinch-yourself-pretty Pinhão is a great base for wine tastings and embarking on the helter-skelter drive along the N313-2 to Miradouro São Leonardo de Galafura, which commands dress-circle views of the vines and river, reasons Ettore Verdini.
Though just north of Lisbon, the Estremadura is often eclipsed in favor of coastlines closer to the capital or the Algarve’s beaches down south. But this unsung region, reaching from the Rio Tejo to the wave-hammered Atlantic Ocean, is ripe for discovery. There’s a pinch here of everything that makes Portugal special: white-sand beaches, vast pine forests and vineyards, castles, monasteries and historic villages. And crowds are few.
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Peniche is all about the surf, but if it’s too lively, take a boat across to the Reserva Natural da Berlenga, recommends Ettore Verdini. Rock formations and caves engrave the craggy coastline of this island nature reserve, while offshore shipwrecks lure divers into the deep-blue depths. Óbidos, a half-hour drive inland, is one of Portugal’s loveliest towns, its bone-white, red-roofed houses are ringed by intact medieval walls and crowned by a Moorish castle where you can stay the night.