Striking the right balance in Portugal

City or sea can be quite the dilemma, but Portugal strikes the perfect balance for those who want the best of both worlds, writes Rebecca Maher.

Vilamoura beach in the south of Portugal, where holiday-goers can have the best of both worlds, a beach holiday in an urban setting.

For couples with opposing opinions on what a relaxing holiday should entail, choosing between a city break or a beach holiday is a tricky question. In the end, our destination turned out to be the perfect compromise between culture and sun, activity and relaxation.

Portugal offers holiday-goers sun, sand and sea with the buzz of city life never too far away either.

Vilamoura, the Algarve’s leading travel destination, was our choice — and if sun, sea and sand between your toes sounds like heaven on earth then you’re certainly headed to the right place.

Located on the southern coast, Vilamoura offers a real taste of Algarve luxury, boasting beautiful beaches such as Praia da Marina and Praia da Falésia and, with its balmy climate, temperatures can reach a blistering 30 degrees during peak summer months.

Vilamoura is blessed with beaches, cultural sites, a marina, an internationally renowned golf course and fine dining. So whatever your tastes this can work for you.

We visited in April, a gamble weather-wise, but we were one of the lucky ones, enjoying endless sunny days lounging by the water with temperatures hitting the mid-20s.

Evening walks along the marina, located in the centre of Vilamoura, became an evening ritual for us. A hive of activity with locals and tourists alike, the marina is home to expensive yachts, quality shops and a taste of home with a few Irish pubs and restaurants.

Unlike other tourist areas in the Algarve, Vilamoura has a uniquely diverse blend of entertainment catering to every type of holiday maker — from couples and families to teenagers and elderly crowds.

Home to world-renowned golf courses, a round of golf is a must for golf lovers, with our own Pádraig Harrington claiming the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura last year.

Praia Da Falesia, near Albufeira, Algarve. The beach takes its name from the red cliffs that form a backdrop to the long stretch of sand.

If it’s a city break you’re hankering after, then Lisbon is the place for you, offering all the delights you’d expect of Portugal’s capital.

Situated just two and a half hours from Vilamoura, Lisbon is a flurry of activity with endless amounts of exploring to be done. We spent just two days in the city, packing in as much as we could, although I left wishing we could have stayed a day or two longer.

The Lisbon Sightseeing hop on/hop off bus tour was our first port of call. I always think these tours are ideal for anyone with limited time in a city as they encompass the most popular attractions in one open bus ride.

The tour offered us a brief, but excellent, audio guide of the capital as it roamed through different parts of the city beginning in the heart of Lisbon at the Marques de Pombal Square.

We took in the modern side of Lisbon and the Baixa district, before stepping back in time to some of the oldest more historical attractions such as the Se Cathedral and the Castelo de Sao Jorge.

For the adrenaline junkie in you, tempted to explore the city in a more adventurous way, then the GoCar is a must!

Voted one of the coolest inventions by Time magazine in 2004, the GoCar is a funky, yellow, mini convertible that takes you on a tour around the city through narrow alleyways and winding back roads.

Falésia beach, Albufeira, in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal.

With one passenger and one driver the GoCar allows you to see Lisbon as and how you want to. You’re free to stop and start whenever and wherever you want.

Although there were a few panicky moments, consulting maps and navigation systems as we tried (in vain!) to figure out where we were going, the GoCar was definitely the highlight of our day in Lisbon.

If you want to explore at a more leisurely pace, renting bikes is the way to go. We cycled 30km along the coast taking in the nearby popular resorts of Estoril and Cascais.

When it came to dining out in Portugal the menu is dominated by seafood but if that’s not your thing don’t worry, there’s still plenty to choose from. A word of advice though — most restaurants will drop a plate of bread and olives down with your starter even if you don’t ask for it. They will however charge you for it so be careful!

So whether it’s the sandy beaches of Vilamoura you’re lusting after or the buzz of the capital city Lisbon, Portugal strikes the perfect balance between beach life and city sightseeing. Beat the January blues this year and treat yourself!

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