Portugal has sometimes been regarded as Spain’s poorer neighbour, the quiet Iberian that gave us port wine and Henry the Navigator. But what many miss is the tremendous variety that exists in the country, both in terms of culture and terrain. Yes, the south is blessed with many secluded white, sandy beaches and a fantastic climate, but as you head north, the scenery becomes verdant as it metamorphoses into the spectacular wine-growing regions north of Lisbon. Importantly, all of it feels a world away from busy tourist destinations in the more established areas of Europe, and discerning property buyers look to Portugal for its peace and seclusion. House prices in Portugal tend to rise steadily, as opposed to the wild fluctuations of some other European markets.

The careful approach to development quality rather than quantity keeps pace with demand, unlike trends in neighbouring Spain, making observers believe that Portugal is a safer investment in the mid to long term. After sluggish price increases between late 2006 and early 2007, price growth picked up in the first quarter of 2008 to reach 3.8%—now comparable with that of Spain and Knight Frank has just cited the Silver Coast as one of the top 10 prime areas in the world to watch for price growth, stating: ‘The area enjoys a high level of seclusion unlikely to be broken by lower-quality developments.’ Much of the second-home market in Portugal is driven by demand from British, Irish and Scandinavian buyers, and most are keen to move to the Algarve for the climate and the sandy beaches that pepper the southern coastline. One of the best-known (and most expensive) areas here is buzzy Quinta do Lago, and a new project designed to bring some of the glamour of South Beach and Hollywood to the Algarve is just getting under way.

The Keys will be a complex of top-end villas, town houses and apartments on the last available land in this sought-after area just feet from glorious sandy beaches. The Keys seeks to let buyers relax in six-star luxury with state-of-the-art technology and security, and all the golf, spa and glamour one could hope for. Prices range from €990,000 up to nearly €6 million (020–7629 8171; www.thekeysatquinta.com). For those who yearn for a bit more peace, along the coast in the less-developed western Algarve, a superb eco-development has grown up between Lagos and Sagres. Again, set just back from the coast, AlmaVerde offers lovely three-and four-bedroom houses, all with great views, built to personal specifications.

The team behind the project has already won numerous environmental and landscaping awards, including Best House in Portugal at last year’s Homes Overseas Awards, and designs draw from local traditions. There are three-and four-bedroom villas for sale with a choice of six designs, all with a private pool. Prices start at €474,000 for three-bedroom villa and go up to €764,064 for a four-bedroom villa (00 35 1 28 269 78 57; www.almaverde.com). Round to the Atlantic coast proper and just 45 minutes north of Lisbon is a new luxury development, just over a mile from the coast on the edge of a lagoon.

In total, 79 extremely high-end villas are to be built using traditional methods and styles, but with modern needs in mind. Each will sit in at least an acre and a quarter, with its own swimming pool and landscaped gardens. These properties have plenty of room for family time or entertaining, and buyers can choose from 16 styles designed by some of the best architects in Portugal. Quintas do Óbidos will also have an international-standard equestrian centre designed by Irish showjumper Jessica Kürten, as well as a country club and a five-star hotel. Prices range from €1.4 million to €1.8 million (00 35 1 22 606 15 40 or 020–7629 8171; www.qdo.pt).

Further north and inland, wine and port lovers could be tempted to buy a converted villa in a dramatic Unesco World Heritage site. Aquapura is a spa hotel set high in the hills of the Douro Valley, an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Porto. The hotel itself is only a year old and has raised the bar for understated spa luxury. Aquapura has now converted several old estate buildings into villas, some down on the banks of the Douro itself, and others set back into the vine-covered hills. This area is perfect for walking, for wine lovers, and for relaxation, and offers a fantastic counterpoint to the mmore extravagant feel of the south. Villas start at €542,000 and go up to €1,358,500 and are being sold through Cushman & Wakefield Residential (0870 042 9773).