Sure, you have the Bairro Alto, the renovated bohemian quarter of Lisbon, which is as hedonistic as anywhere in Europe after dark.But the tenor of Portugal is Atlantic, not Mediterranean. The Portuguese are southern, he said, emotional, expressive. I appealed to an Anglo-Portuguese friend for adjudication. "The Portuguese are never quite sure where they fit in the world." That may be why Portugal is going through another "repositioning". Instead, holidaymakers are being offered a country where hillsides are as important as beaches, Roman ruins celebrated as much as golf resorts, rural vineyards promoted as well as luxury marinas.The Rota Vicentina is already hugely popular with Britain's walking-pole-and-cargo-panted community.James Keane, Inntravel's regional manager for Portugal, says the Costa Vicentina has been its most popular walking holiday in 2012.He puts its success down to "real value, superb off-the-beaten-track walking, friendly hoteliers and unforgettable views of a truly unspoilt coastline".I'd like to have walked all 338km, but a very different development drew me north.For centuries, the seven villages huddled between the marshes and the coast have been an unlikely centre of rice growing.Now the real-estate people are putting it on the map.
They're a bit like us, really, which is why the British are more likely to flock to southern Spain (or the Algarve, which almost everyone, the Portuguese included, regard as much the same thing). I had my theory all mapped out when I met the man from the Alentejo tourist board. So, has Portugal come up with the right offer at the right time? In 2011, 14.1 million overseas travellers visited Portugal; 3.8 per cent more than in 2010.Of those, 1.2 million were British – a 12 per cent increase.British tourists spent 6.3 million nights in Portugal, up by 14 per cent.I have the presentation here on my computer screen. It has mile upon mile of beaches, including the longest coastal national park in Europe.It promises a land of sun, sea and surfing, a country of people who are "creative, open and welcoming, who wish to share with you the best of everything that they have and know about, appealing to your senses and celebrating life". And, think about it – the main city, linked to the principal landmass by two suspension bridges, is full of steep hills, trams and rolling fogs, and once suffered a famous earthquake. But Portugal is not California, and Lisbon is not San Francisco.