I have just returned and I look back on these days in Portugal. Meanwhile, I start by saying that it was a great trip. We landed in Porto, we rented a car, and from there we went on the road to the discovery of Portugal. We covered the coast starting from Coimbra, Lisbon, and Sintra and then down through the whole of Algarve. And from there to Andalusia.
Here I would like to tell you a few my general impressions on Portugal. Portugal is very similar to other countries of Europe in the rhythm of life, in the relationships between people, in the approach to the rules and laws and in social life but people here love espresso, the football game on TV, and even the old watching the world go by outside the bar.
Portugal is not easy to appreciate. At first glance, it is not overwhelming. It is not a Venice, it has no Louvre, it doesn't have a Great Wall of China, or it has no Machu Picchu. But when I went out from the Porto subway and I saw for the first time I missed my breath. The long, narrow houses studded with gleaming tiles, the wrought iron balconies at each window, the narrow, cobbled roads always uphill or downhill. It is a place to see and breathe.
To visit Portugal a week is enough and if you want to take it easy at most two. While I really enjoyed it I think one week was sufficient. But I'm very glad that I went and had breathed that air that is found only in Portugal. Do not trust the books set in Portugal. I had imagined a very different Portugal that is more romantic, more refined and more intriguing.
I imagined a mysterious and melancholic Lisbon, that is passionate and a little decadent. It is not entirely so. In part, yes, but this discrepancy between expectations and reality has left me a bit bitter taste in the mouth. It was like seeing the film after reading the book, only it was the reality.
Portugal is not a too expensive country. I knew it was much cheaper. In general, the prices are not too high, but it is at the expense of quality. A hotel can cost just 20 € per night per person. In Spain, for that amount, we can stay in beautiful places. Lisbon is less expensive than the other cities of Portugal, for example, all of the Algarve towns have very high prices. Even at the hotel reception, most does not know a word of English.
The best way to see Portugal is in the car. Transport is sparse and quite badly organized. We took a bus from Faro to Seville. The car is the best way that gives freedom and privacy and allows you to reach places that are not connected by public transport. The only well-organized area is around Lisbon. We were four and dividing the hire, petrol and tolls we were able to spend less.
Up to Lisbon in the evening, it was chilly. Going down to the Algarve, it became warmer but was still very bearable. In Andalusia, there was the feeling of sickness from the heat instead. In Portugal, overall, the weather was fine and perfect.
For those not very familiar with the geography of Portugal, I will say that the Vicentina Coast is the western side of the coast of the Algarve region, which is the most touristic area of Portugal. Starting from the north, Costa Vicentina begins in the small village of Odeceixe, which also has a beautiful beach. Continuing to the south the first beach not to be missed is the Praia da Amoreira, just before the village of Aljezur. It is a beautiful beach, with a small river that flows into inlets.
The sea, as in all the Atlantic coast, is often violent, and you have to be cautious. Here we are in Cesenatico, and the force of the waves and currents inspired due respect. The sea is an unforgettable experience, and relaxing in the sun on these beaches will be of great pleasure. The nearby village of Aljezur, of Arab origin, is small and attractive. In its market, you can buy excellent fish that is affordable, and its castle is worth a walk.
Leaving Aljezur, after a few kilometers I suggest you turn right in the direction of Monte Clerigo beach, with a landscape that seems unreal and very special, and the Arrifana beach with the sand shell is a rare beauty. As in all the beaches of Portugal, the best moments are those during the low tide, since the difference of almost 2 meters between high and low tide in the sea-level match hundred meters of the beach at your disposal, which a few hours before was hiding under water.
Arrifana is excellent for surfing. A little further south is an endless beach that is perfect for walking lonely. It is the Bordeira beach, another jewel of the Costa Vicentina. A little further south, await two other very nice beaches, connected to each other in the low tide with the Cordoama beach and that of Castelejo, which are accessible from the village of Vila do Bispo. The town is justly famous for its crustaceans.
These parts serve them warm, after a quick boil in salted water, together with buttered toast and chilled Draught beer. This trip ends with a visit to Cabo of S. Vicente, on rocky outcrops, where we see fishermen in unlikely situations, or in the small Beliche Beach, just before Sagres that was a marvel accessible from the local road, with long stairs.
Certainly, I would not put it among the most recommended European destinations, but should be seen and should be lived. I was lucky because I've lived with the extraordinary fellow travelers who have made me appreciate even more. For every place in Portugal, I have a happy memory. I was attracted by the melody that was completely new for me and the Portuguese language.
I found that, contrary to what is commonly thought, the Portuguese language is completely different from the Spanish language. And every time I happened to say a few words in Spanish, my guide promptly picked me that it is not Portuguese.
In just three days I attended the Noite Branca (White Night) in Braga and NOS em D'Bandada of Porto, an event during which the city is colored and filled with streams of people. The music is the backdrop to the streets of downtown. Music is the undisputed star, with all performances that are held in various buildings, rooms, and apartments.
The most beautiful scene of the event was when a host of guys chased the tram in front of my puzzled expression that has turned into excitement when I realized the reason for the mad rush. A famous Portuguese singer and the host of the event was performing on the tram.
Portugal is chock full of little, beautiful and colorful doors, but perhaps this was unexpected. I admit. Together with the riot of colors of the tiles. And then the adventure. The wilderness was lush and rebellious with towering waterfalls and amazing rivers and animals that block the move while we get on board of a jeep while we enter into the forest.
Portugal lurks a wild heart. And you have to pay attention to every detail with the tight bends and dirt roads, and you have to surrender to the beauty of nature. I did not expect to find all this green here. Led by an SUV in this enchanted landscape, it was like a fairy tale. The Peneda-Geres National Park is the only National Park in Portugal, in the north of the country. It is a wild oasis and a true haven in which we find serenity among impressive waterfalls, ancient Roman roads and gigantic boulders that make the landscape surreal. With the dense fog, we sometimes visualize the locations of the fantasy film.
The food is divine in Portugal. It caresses the palate but seduces us. In Lisbon, we dined very well. I loved the desserts, especially the set of typical tastes and Portugal are called Petiscos, but it is not like the tapas of Spain. Last but not least was the wine. The wine may already be a good excuse to not leave Portugal. The Port and the surrounding area, in particular, is full of restaurants where you can enjoy a truly gastronomic experience and taste local wines.
My favorite was the Tawny wine, with an amber color, sweet taste, and rich aromas. It took us longer to realize that in the coldest northern Portugal it was expected as in winter the temperature drops dramatically, but no matter, we think the wine was there to warm the soul.