Portugal's top five locations
Portugal packs a punch for its size. With an average of 280 days of sunshine a year, great infrastructure, competitive rates and strong local talent, it is little wonder that this sliver of a country to the west of Spain is giving other European filming locations a run for their money.
To top it off, it has some of the most stunning backdrops imaginable and a coastline that features in top ten lists around the world.
We spoke to Frits Keijzer of SoulKitchen, a full-service production company with offices in Lisbon and the Algarve, about some of his favourite film locations around the country.
Lisbon is the premier filming destination in Portugal: it has both old grandeur and cosmopolitan modernism. It is also the first stop for most filmmakers entering the country. Alfama, with streets so narrow and precipitous that few cars can enter, is the oldest part of Lisbon and home to a lot of filming. Frits has shot many commercials here, but, perhaps the most special for him was for Robeco for production company Denzzo with Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper. The end result was a 40-second movie that expertly showcased Lisbon locations.
The Algarve’s coastline is a sublime backdrop for commercials and films. The wild western beaches look surprisingly similar to beaches in northern Europe with the added advantage of more reliable weather. Beaches along the south coast are incredibly lush, some have palm trees and fine sand, others have honeycomb rocks and caves. There are even beaches with rocks that look like the 12 Apostles in Australia, confides Frits. Soulkitchen has shot a number of commercials here and they are not alone - the Algarve is already a popular destination for TV commercials with strong infrastructure and talent. But, it is also increasingly on the feature film world map, aided massively by the Swedish movie version of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, which shot some scenes on Galé beach.
Villages in the north of Portugal
Head north and a range of picture-book hamlets and towns can double as a number of traditional Mediterranean villages. Frits’ favourite is Sortella (pictured). It has stood in for a small Italian village when shooting a Mora Pizza commercial with Oscar-winning director Mike van Diem and as a French village for the commercial for Paturain, a French cheese.
If time is of the essence, Óbidos, an hour from Lisbon, could be a good bet to achieve a similar small-town rural Mediterranean look. A walled town that was once the traditional bridal gift of kings, Óbidos’ historic town mcentre is a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses.
Mountains of Serra da Estrela
The highest mountains in Portugal conceal windswept uplands, remote villages, rugged peaks and granite formations that rise from the lakes around you. A three-hour drive from Lisbon, Serra da Estrela is one of Portugal’s most distinct and unexpected landscapes. For Frits the mountains are a brilliant resource - fantastic for shooting car commercials. Recently, they shot a commercial for Centraal Baheer with production company Czar and director Bart Timmer.
Last but not least and one of Frits’ favourite locations is the archipelago of islands that is the Azores. It is almost tropical due to the hot springs - ‘you walk into the forest and the springs bubble up out of the ground everywhere’, he says.
The furthest flung outpost of Western Europe comprises nine volcanic fragments rising out of the North Atlantic. Frits highlights one the island’s unique and unexpected features: Europe’s only commercial tea plantations are located on the islands; the plants were brought over from Brazil in the 18th century. Such is the plantation’s authentic look, that Soulkitchen have shot two commercials for a tea blend named Tipwick here.
Other highlights include the most western island, Flores, which has a lagoon, Funda - the stuff of pirates, treasure hunts and seafaring tales - and Frits’ favourite, Sao Miguel. But the jewel in the Azores crown is undoubtedly Pico. Dominated by its 2,350-metre Fuji-like volcano, the landscape is desolate, foreboding and incredibly dramatic.
For more on filming in Portugal, head over to our production guide.