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Posted by on Oct 9, 2013

Eight Reasons to Pack your Bag for Portugal

 

Countries have haphazardly landed on our itinerary from time to time. We had a few must-go-to destinations like Australia and New Zealand, but mainly, we have chosen our destinations based on where a friend might be living, something we once read in a travel magazine or a nagging feeling that we are supposed to go there.

Portugal was a “nagging feeling” destination and once we added England, Norway and France to the list, it became an easy choice.

From the six bridges of Porto to the wild cliffs of the Alentejo coast and to the small, cobblestone streets of Lisbon and Évora, we found a country full of magical experiences. We were awed by the culture in Japan, and Portugal captured our hearts in a similar way. If you have been intrigued by Portugal or know nothing about it, here are our top reasons why it should be on your travel dream list.

1) Fantastic Hosts
We have been the beneficiaries of incredibly nice people along our route and Portugal continued that trend. In both Porto and Estoril (a town outside of Lisbon), we stayed in apartments through Airbnb and had two of the most accommodating hosts. From free rides to the beach, the bus station and neighboring towns, our hosts really outdid themselves showing us the true colors of the people of Portugal. Dave also shared our story of two days in Évora that would not have been possible were it not for our gracious hosts. And we were complete strangers to all of them.

2) Built in Exercise
One of the things I miss most from home is not having an established exercise routine. It is almost impossible to keep one on the road. Unless you are in Portugal. Cities like Porto and Lisbon are built on hills and everything cool and interesting in these places are up the aforementioned hills. I have walked all over cities like London, Paris and New York, but nothing beats the workout I got in Portugal. Our three-day hike along the Rota Vicentina also helped our waistlines. Tip – if you travel to these cities, don’t wear high heels. All the streets are cobblestone and full of cement stairs.

One view of Porto - you have to go up to do most everything in this town!

One view of Porto – you have to go up to do most everything in this town!

3) Fado Music
Songs of betrayal, death, despair and love float out of tiny restaurants and bars. Singers are young and old, male and female – all sharing their tune with gusto. A night of fado music is a must see in places like the old Alfama neighborhood in Lisbon. We only had to walk five minutes from our rented apartment to hear singer after singer in the many restaurants and bars. After settling in for late night drinks at Fado Na Morgadinha, we were treated to beautiful guitar players and multiple singers who would just show up at the entrance and be invited in to sing. Our waitresses also had a knack for it, check them out in the video below.

4) Displays of Art
The one thing I will never forget about Portugal is the beauty of its buildings. Even when one may have been old and in need of repair, the detail and the tiling on the outside would tell of better days. Some of the most incredible displays of tiles are in Porto (particularly the São Bento train station), but they can be seen throughout the country.

The tile work in the Sao Bento train station in Porto.

The tile work in the Sao Bento train station in Porto.

5) Oceans, Beaches and Rivers
From the shores of Cascais just outside of Lisbon, to the rugged cliffs of the southwest and the Douro River in Porto, Portugal has some beautiful water views. We took a river tour in Porto, used the city’s free bikes to ride along the ocean path in Cascais and spent a day on the beach in Odeceixe – not to mention our extended hike along the ocean. If you love water like I do, Portugal is your place.

Dave and our friend Tracey at a beach stop on our bike ride from Cascais.

Dave and our friend Tracey at a beach stop on our bike ride from Cascais.

6) Culture and World Heritage Sites
Portugal has 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of which are entire towns like Porto, Évora and the landscape of Sintra, just outside of Lisbon. Having arrived in Portugal with limited knowledge of its past, I was surprised to see such an old culture, preserved in some of the most incredible ways. It is amazing what a country as old as Portugal can remain like when it is not ravaged by wars. We saw Roman temple ruins in Évora, tried to see some of the landscapes on foggy and rainy days in Sintra and were awed by the general beauty of Porto. On our last day, we had the opportunity to wander around the fairytale, hilltop village of Monsaraz where an old fortress stands tall guarding the walled town.

The view of the village of Monsaraz from its castle.

The view of the village of Monsaraz from its castle.

7) Drinking
For two people who love wine and experiencing the drinking culture in other countries, we sure had a great time in Portugal. We had fun tasting port at Ferreira and Vinologia wine bar in Porto, picnicking with really cheap bottles of Vinho Verde bought from the corner markets and hanging out over a beer at the kiosks which seem to pop up wherever you are.

The kiosk near the temple ruins in Evora.

The kiosk near the temple ruins in Evora.

8) Eating
Last but not least, the food. Portuguese food isn’t necessarily the most incredible food we have eaten on our trip, but we did find that it is a place for great grilled fish, lots of pork, tasty pastries and its famous octopus salad. We also had a few foodie experiences that will forever be etched in our memories. If you are ever in Portugal, give these a go.

The francesinha sandwich, made famous in Porto. It's a lot of meat to handle, but delicious when done right.

The francesinha sandwich, made famous in Porto. It’s a lot of meat to handle, but delicious when done right. This one is from Tapas Cafe in Vila Nova de Gaia.

We ate our food to quickly here for a picture, but in Vila Nova de Milfontes, Tasca Do Celso is definitely worth a visit.

We ate our food too quickly here for a picture, but in Vila Nova de Milfontes, Tasca Do Celso is definitely worth a visit. We had tasty black pig and an amazing grilled ray fish.

To die for pastel de natas at Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon.

To die for pastel de natas (egg custard in a super flaky shell) at Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon.

A perfectly made tuna steak at Taberna da Rua das Flores in Lisbon. One of the best meals I have eaten in a long time.

A perfectly made tuna steak at Taberna da Rua das Flores in Lisbon. One of the best meals I have eaten in a long time. A restaurant worth seeking out – everything was delicious.

A tomato soup to share with bread, sausage and egg at Adega do Alentenjano in Evora.

A bowl of tomato soup to share with bread, sausage and egg at Adega do Alentenjano in Evora.

If you ever find yourself in Portugal, know that they always put food on your table when you arrive (bread, olives, meats). You do get charged for them if you eat them so if you don’t want them, ask the waiter to take them away. We learned that the hard way our first night in town!

Portugal will go down as one of our favorite around the world trip destinations and I imagine we will be back someday. I think it was Dave who first mentioned we should retire there, and I won’t argue if it happens.