We traveled to Portugal last September, hoping to miss the usual European tourists that travel throughout the month of August. Other than being a European country, I didn’t know that much about Portugal but had heard from the few friends of mine who have traveled there that it is a beautiful country. My husband and I flew to Lisbon after a weekend in London and met up with my brother in law and his wife who had already been in Lisbon a couple of days. Our plan was to stay in Lisbon for a couple of nights, rent a car and then drive north along the coast to Porto and after stopping along the way at an interesting beach town for a night or two, make our way east from Porto through the wine region of the Douro Valley and then head south as we make our way back to Lisbon. We had almost 3 weeks to explore the country so we left our plans open in case we ran out of interesting things to do in Portugal, we could explore parts of bordering Spain or even take a ferry to Morocco.
Lisbon is very hilly with distinct neighborhoods. One of the first things, we noticed was the entire city, in fact the entire country, is lined with streets of mosaic tiles some with ornate patterns and others just plain. We observed some street repairs being done by the hammering of individual mosaic tiles. It looked pretty labor intensive and a technique that had probably been done since ancient times.
Lisbon has a pretty active bar scene at night with many outdoor cafes and squares that offer food and drink until the wee hours. In many ways Portugal is still very old world. While I am sure a modern and hip culture exists, what tourists see is the Fado music parlors, simple food, baroque architecture and charming seaside and medieval towns. The beaches are beautiful. In September, the beach crowds are gone because the weather and water is not conducive to swimming, but the natural beauty and fresh grilled seafood is something to experience.
While driving north along the coast to Porto, we stopped at a couple of medieval towns that had some interesting architecture, old castles, beautiful churches and Roman ruins.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and is the hub of the Port wine industry. It is a great walking town with many interesting street sights. While we were walking around one day, we came upon a square with a market selling every kind of bird imaginable. We also came upon a charitable event that featured previously married women were walking around town in wedding dresses. At the Port, we saw ships carrying barrels of Port wine, a beautiful double hung walking bridge, interesting tile faced houses and a food market.
The last area we explored in Portugal before we headed back to Lisbon, was east of Porto through the Douro Valley which is the wine growing region of the country. Breathtaking terraced vineyards line the Douro River which runs all the way into Spain. We found a Quinta (like a bed & breakfast) that was also a working winery to spend the night. It was Harvest season, so our evening was spent stomping on the grapes which is done for 3 hours a night for a month to separate the skins from the juices rather than using machines for the process.
Portugal is a beautiful country. However unlike it’s neighbors, Spain and France, even the big cities of Lisbon and Porto are still very old world. For us three weeks was too long to spend traveling around the country because there wasn’t enough diversity in the sights, food, shopping and other tourist activities. Two weeks is more than enough time to get a good feel for the country and not get bored.