4 Pretty Random Things I Love About Portugal
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I’ve mentioned this before, but it took me a couple of trips to really fall in love with Portugal.
I’d already rented an apartment in the Algarve on my own in my early 20’s and tried a city break in Lisbon with a boyfriend in my 30’s before I really clicked with the country properly.
After that though, things really turned around; I absolutely fell in love with river cruises and wine tasting in the Douro Valley, the fun and energetic city of Porto and the beauty and tranquility of the Alentejo. I also found the hippy side of Portugal on a detox juice retreat near Lagos.
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•PULLED BACK TO PORTUGAL • My first trip to Portugal was awful. Right after uni, I booked a last minute package holiday to a really English resort and got the worst heat rash of my life and spent the whole trip in the hotel room covered in calamine lotion. I also remember seeing an Eddie Murphy movie in the cinema in my quest for air conditioning. (Not worth it). Second trip to Portugal was ok. I went to Lisbon and I liked it but I didn’t love it (the food wasn’t as good back then!) My third and fourth trips to Portugal were amazing. I discovered Fado, unspoiled beaches, cork farms, megalithic monuments, seafood restaurants which only served wine in half bottles not single glasses (hic), hilltop villages, lookout points, medieval festivals,Sagres beer. You get the picture. If you’ve got 1 minute you can see a video of these high points (not of my heat rash obvs.) on my blog today. The post is so exciting that I even put a link to it in my profile 🤗
It helped when I got my head around the fact that to eat and drink well in Portugal you have to be mindful of mealtimes in a way that you don’t have to consider in London.
But most rural Europe is the same way about set mealtimes, as I discovered in Provence last summer, and in Italy every time I go.
Lately reminders of Portugal has been popping up, in the way destinations do when they start calling you back. Little clues are being dropped that Portugal needs more of my attention, and soon.
I haven’t been all over the country by any means, but I’ve been lucky enough to spend time in a handful of the key places to visit in Portugal, and these are my favourite things about holidaying in Portugal.
1. Pasteis de Nata
Few places can satiate a sweet-toothed traveller like Lisbon, which is Portugal’s Pasteis de Nata mecca.
The Portuguese are a pretty sweet-toothed bunch (a great reason to visit right there). I can’t think of another destination as bewitched by pastries – in particular their very own contribution to world cuisine: Pasteis de Nata.
If you Google Portugal’s national dish some kind of soup and a savoury fish ball come up as ideas – but personally as I can’t think of anything as synonymous with Portugal as Pasteis.
A weekend spent wandering the cobbled and hilly streets of Lisbon can turn up many wonders: the glimpse of an old yellow tram descending past the cathedral, an unexpected find at the Sunday morning flea market, and an inexhaustible supply of creamy, yellow sweet custard tarts.
Like crème brûlées which have been encased in sweet pastry for good measure these little delicacies are served up all over the city, always accompanied by steaming cups of thick rich coffee, and they’re worth travelling for.
2. Medieval Festivals
I’d never come across a medieval festival before going to Portugal, but it turns out the country is no stranger to a good festival of any kind.
Portugal’s atmospheric medieval festivals relive the Middle Ages with arts and crafts, food, games, jousting tournaments and lots of locals dressed up in amazingly detailed costumes.
There could hardly be a more perfect setting for a truly authentic historical event that will capture adults and children’s’ imagination as when an entire Portuguese town gets dressed to look like something straight out of medieval times.
It’s not just the remote areas of Portugal that join in, you can stay in the Algarve and find yourself being transported back to the dark ages – but in a good way.
My night at this festival near Sines in the Alentejo remains one of my top international travel memories, many years later.
Everyone loves music and along with food it is one of the key ways that countries share their culture with us before we visit.
How many people have been lured to Thailand by the idea of great Thai food, or make a pilgrimage to New Orleans because of their love of jazz.
It’s a shame that the traditional art of Fado singing has not reached more people outside Portugal, as live Portuguese Fado is the most evocative, powerful and emotive form of music I have ever encountered on my travels; it stays with you for life.
Often combined with a style of Flamenco on stage, Fado is usually found in small underground clubs, where the intensity of the performance can be felt, and the singers, whether male or female, are truly celebrated for their talent.
4. Stone Circles
I love seeing something unexpected on a trip, and one thing I wasn’t expecting when I went to Evora in Portugal’s south-central region, was to find a more peaceful and impressive version of Stonehenge than I’d found back home in Wiltshire.
There are actually lots of Megalithic stone circles dotted around Portugal, and unlike the UK version, they’re usually little-visited, free to walk around, and make for a really unique adventure.
I saw Almendres for myself at sunset, with not another soul nearby, making it quite magical. Even more magical when you think that Almendres dates from around 5,000 BC, making it a good 2,000 years older than Stonehenge.
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