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Travelling to Portugal
Online voters of the luxury travel publication chose Portugal for its winning combination of culture, gastronomy, excellent wines, beaches, history, golf courses, and for its friendly, open and very sincere people. Readers also described Portugal as having an impressive variety of landscapes.
This distinction comes a month after Portugal’s capital city scooped another accolade when the Post Office City Costs Barometer 2014 revealed a trip to Lisbon is the best for value in the Eurozone, being half the price of a visit to Paris, Amsterdam or Rome.
While a three-course evening meal for two with a bottle of wine in Lisbon would set visitors back £34.48, a similar meal would cost twice the price in Paris, at £68.97, £89.35 in Stockholm (Sweden), or £99.06 in Copenhagen, Denmark, it said.
Thirsty travellers can expect to pay an average of £1.12 for a bottle of beer in Lisbon, with the same costing £3.80 in Belfast, £4.31 in Dublin, and £6.73 in Moscow, Russia.
These latest reports and awards serve to substantiate Portugal’s excellent showing at the most recent World Travel Awards. The Algarve was chosen as Europe’s best beach destination and also scooped the top prize for best boutique resort (Vila Joya, Albufeira), best luxury resort (Conrad Hotel), best golf resort (Hotel Quinta do Lago), and best villa resort (Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, Sagres).
On a national level, a further six awards were given to the Algarve. The Ria Park Hotel & Spa took the title of Portugal’s best business hotel and best hotel for conferences; the Martinhal was voted Portugal’s best family resort, while the best golf resort in the country went to the Hilton Vilamoura.
Hotel Quinta do Lago emerged as Portugal’s best overall resort, while the Blue&Green Vilalara Thalassa Resort took best spa resort.
The rest of the country also made a good impression, with Lisbon taking the title of Europe’s Leading City Break Destination and Madeira taking the title of Europe’s Leading Island Destination.
The Vine Hotel, also in Madeira, was voted Europe’s Leading Design Hotel, while the country as a whole was chosen as Europe’s leading golf destination.
Source: The Portugal News
Casa Areia is pure nakedness and muteness. The platonic suggestion—a sea cottage with sandy floors—is a serene search for simplicity. Sandy ground and wooden frames are an apparently simple attempt at making the space a reciprocal relationship with the beach landscape. The design begins with the conditions of the materials, according to their potential habitability.
Each masonry building was adapted to individual rooms, while one of the two wooden volumes was converted into a two-bedroom pavilion and the other a common area. The exterior and interior wall partitions of the common space have been created with bamboo, and a natural roof tops off each of the constructions on site.
While many travelers visit Europe for its centuries-old history, there are those who appreciate the Continent's au courant attractions — cutting edge restaurants, sexy nightclubs and, of course, sleek hotels. One of the most exciting things about European hotels is that you can have the best of the past and present, sometimes in a single lodging. With that in mind, we have chosen these ten hotels. From a sophisticated Tuscan farmhouse to a stylish island hideaway, they offer a range of décor and architectural style. At the same time, one element remains constant: warm, traditional hospitality.
1. Hotel Plaza Athenee, Paris, France
Few hotels are as revered as the Hôtel Plaza Athenée Paris, where shades of gold, bronze and the property's signature red create an atmosphere of regal luxury. Located in one of Paris's most exclusive districts, the hotel opened in 1911 and has wisely chosen not to rest on its laurels. Guest rooms are over-the-top (in the best of ways), with Louis XVI, Art Deco and Regency furnishings — the most coveted have views onto the Eiffel Tower. Keeping the property at the forefront of the city's competitive culinary scene is Alain Ducasse's eponymous restaurant. Also of note is a 35,000-bottle wine cellar, which offers tastings led by the house sommelier. On-site bars include the outdoor La Terrasse Montaigne and La Galerie des Gobelins, where harp music and pastries draw chic shoppers throughout the day. Rounding out the hotel's attractions is Dior Institut, a decadent spa for those seeking the ultimate in indulgence.
2. Soho House Berlin, Germany
This sexy hotel refutes the old Groucho Marx adage of not wanting to belong to any club that will have you as a member. Like all Soho House properties, this one is a private members' club — but one that offers hotel rooms to the general public. Located in the Mitte District in a restored, 1928 Bauhaus building, Soho House Berlin features all of the brand's usual goodies, including a Cowshed Spa, rooftop pool and 30-seat screening room. The 65 individually designed bedrooms range from Tiny to Extra Large and come with such unique amenities as vintage record players with curated vinyl collections. For dining, the Club Floor offers a bar and the House Kitchen, and for private events, the Red Room is a unique space adorned with original shelves from the London Library.
3. Hotel Amigo, Brussels, Belgium
Refurbished by the Rocco Forte Hotel Group, Hotel Amigo is the epitome of Belgian chic. Housed in a classic Flemish-style building, it is just steps from Grand Place square in the heart of Brussels. While it's known as a destination for visiting dignitaries, don't let that dissuade you — this hotel is anything but staid. Flemish tapestries provide an interesting contrast with Surrealist paintings and such whimsical touches as characters from Belgium's famed Tintin storybooks. For those who want a full dose of art-meets-style (as well as lots of complimentary extras), the Presidential Suite Rene Magritte is a must. Fine dining is covered in a variety of ways, from creative Italian cuisine at Ristoranti Bocconi to Tea Time at The Bar Amigo, which looks out onto cobblestone streets and the picturesque town hall. At the Martini Club, guests can sample cocktails in an atmosphere that breathes new life into the "shaken, not stirred" scene.
4. Miura Hotel, Beskydy Mountains, Czech Republic
While we love golf resorts, rarely do we choose them for their high style. But in this case, golf is just the bonus at a property worthy of its own museum. In a tranquil setting in the Beskydy Mountains flanking the 36-hole Čeladná Golf Course (home to the European PGA Tour Czech Open), Miura Hotelwows guests on arrival with its linear architecture featuring weathered steel sheets, purple glass, plenty of concrete and four attached stainless steel sculptures by David Černý. Inside this 44-room hotel, guests can learn about the house art collection from the dedicated Art Navigator, who will offer insight into works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat and many other art world luminaries. This hotel is not all about appearances, though. It offers plenty of creature comforts, including a spa, on-site restaurant serving Czech and international cuisine and Bar Bar with its dramatic onyx bar and sweeping mountain views.
5. Belgraves, London, England
To belong to the Thompson Hotels group is to be ensured a ranking on hot lists around the world. But we love this property despite that! We've dubbed its style contemporary-cozy, due to design details that remind us of a cross between a beloved ski cabin and a 1970s rec room. This description may seem to defy good taste, but the result is quite refined — sexy, even — thanks to designer Tara Bernerd, whose inventive hand can be seen from the energetic use of marble in the 85 guest rooms and suites to the bespoke furnishings in the bar. As for said bar, it features a humidor with vintage Cuban cigars, live jazz once a week and a terrace for al fresco drinks under the stars. Last but by no means least are a house restaurant that highlights artisan purveyors and an enviable location in the upscale Belgravia neighborhood.
6. Mystique, Santorini, Greece
Dramatically built into a cliff face on the island of Santorini, Mystique is a quintessential Greek paradise. Each of the suites opens onto a sea-facing terrace with its own daybed, while exclusive villas feature private fitness areas, open-air dining rooms, outdoor Jacuzzis and more. Thoughtful details add to the elegant ambience, from limestone floors and antique textiles to a gorgeous infinity pool, spa treatments, 150-year-old wine cave and fine dining right on the edge of the caldera. This is exactly the sort of sanctuary that inspires one to hide away from the world, but if going out appeals, mountain bikes are available for exploring the island at your own unhurried pace.
7. La Bandita, Tuscany, Italy
Created by a former music executive who quit the rat race to fulfill his dream of opening a small hotel in Italy, La Bandita does not offer a typical "Under the Tuscan Sun" experience. This former farm (surrounded by the Lucciola Bella Nature Reserve) may look from the outside like every other getaway in the region, but its interiors will make you feel as if you've drifted off to the Greek isles. An emphasis on white brings a sense of serenity, which is enhanced by 360-degree views of the Val d'Orcia. Guests can book individual rooms or, for groups, the entire property. Appealing extras include breakfast, an as-much-cappuccino-as-you-can-drink policy, an on-site hammam and personal recommendations for everything from local restaurants to little-known towns, abbeys and castles.
8. Aman Sveti Stefan, Sveti Stefan Island, Montenegro
This hotel is not hot because everyone who's anyone is making a beeline for it. It's hot because it's an exclusive escape for those in the know. Naturally, as an Aman resort, it's luxurious, but this property is oh so beautiful as well. It is comprised of two parts — the fifteenth-century fortress of Sveti Stefan Island contains 50 guest rooms, suites and cottages, while the former seaside estate of Villa Miločer across the bay on the mainland offers just eight suites and a guest list that once included Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren. Original stone walls, picturesque timber ceilings, leather chairs, silk accents, free-standing bathtubs and sea-view balconies are just some of the highlights, depending on your accommodation. Spa cottages are dotted around the island, while dining venues abound, from the Enoteca and Taverna in the island's Piazza to the mainland's Queen's Chair, featuring pan-Adriatic cuisine and sweeping bay views.
9. Areias do Seixo, Portugal
Industrial meets Baroque meets farmhouse chic meets A Midsummer's Night Dream ... yes, this may sound chaotic, but in fact, this eclecticism is soothingly seductive at Areias do Seixo. Less than an hour from Lisbon, surrounded by pine trees and the sea, this eco-hotel offers the perfect blend of style and substance. There is an intimate spa, farm-fresh restaurant and gorgeously bohemian guest rooms that include private villas with their own plunge pools. But what gives this place the advantage is its attitude toward sustaining the environment and supporting the local community. Along with the usual recycling and low-impact programs, foundations at the hotel were made from the crushed ruins of an on-site aviary, and a house grocery store sells chemical-free veggies from local gardens.
10. B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa, Zurich, Switzerland
We're fans of unique old structures being repurposed into hotels. Case in point: B2 Boutique Hotel + Spa. This lodging is housed in Zurich's old Hürlimann Brewery, which was founded in 1836, with its first building constructed in 1870. The property's original industrial bones have been preserved, much to the benefit of the accommodations and public spaces. The 51 guest rooms and one suite reside in the old mash house, while eight duplex suites can be found in the former cold storage space. The hotel's anchor and social hub is the library. It features more than 33,000 books, a wine bar and, naturally, plenty of Hürlimann beer. Of special note is the on-site Thermal Bath & Spa, with family friendly and adult only areas. Guests can indulge in the signature Irish-Roman ritual that includes ten different procedures over the course of two hours, or spend time in the breathtaking geometric rooftop pool, complete with city and mountain views.
We inch up the serpentine bends, pulling the car precariously close to the side of the narrow road closer to the river, as an SUV returning from the mountain, hurtles down in haste. We draw in deep breaths, keeping our eyes as wide open as the glare of the sun will allow. Below us lies a latticework of vines growing in schist rock terraces, arranged at pleasing angles.
As if splitting the mountain interface, the mighty Douro river carves its way, flowing between Portugal and Spain. The river has witnessed the efforts of man and vine for more than 2000 years; in 1991 the Alto Douro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the long tradition of Port production and the resultant development in infrastructure in the area.
We stop off to the side of the road as safely as we can, one of us keeps an eye out for possible oncoming traffic, the other takes a few photographs. The Douro wine valley is as spectacular as they say, but even in the heat of summer, there are very few tourists. There are a number of rural houses across the river, some with a noble edge, and they cast ethereal shadows in the flat green waters. The terrain is unique and I feel a growing curiosity about the history and people who live and work here.
While the grapes for some incredibly good table wines, of which we have had the pleasure over three months of living in Portugal to sample, are grown here in the Douro, the region is most famous for excellent Ports or fortified wines. In picturesque Oporto, one of our favourite Portuguese cities which lies at the basin of the Douro, you will see prominent signs advertising the names of Port wine cellars. Port is stored in these cool cellars, but in order to get there, trucks must traverse the precarious journey down. We are told that it isn’t uncommon during harvest season for more than one collision or for a truck to tragically take a tumble over the side.
In the old days, barrels of pressed grapes were transported by rabelo along the unpredictable Douro.
At various estates or quintas, you may still find rudimentary chapels built in the old style – these were houses of worship where the stewards of those small vessels would come to pray for safe passage.
At Quinta do Crasto, we are taken up to admire the views of the valley from the pool area before our tasting commences and the eye is tricked into believing the pool flows into the Douro river.
It is here that we are reminded what we have been told before, that as popular as Port is, it isn’t so with the Portuguese. Rather, it’s an English custom that seems to live on; naturally much of the port produced is for export. The Douro developed the first appellation system, a wine classification to distinguish the three regions in which the grapes are grown. This was developed 200 years before the French system!
Later on at Quinta do Nova, we both agree that this could be the very spot for a renewal of wedding vows, except we both know we have family who wouldn’t commit to scaling the hills to get here. Lunch is an elaborate affair paired with the estate’s wines, under the shaded pergola.
After a day of exploring, wine tasting (the driver must opt for sensibility, the roads aren’t worth the risk), and taking in views we head back to the beautiful CS Vintage House Hotel for a nap and a shower before dinner at Rui Paula’s DOC, a sleek and modern restaurant with an excellent reputation, on the water’s edge.
And tomorrow? We’ll blissfully do it all again.
According to the prestigious New York Times newspaper, the northern Portuguese city of Oporto is one of the ’46 Places to go in 2013’ – “whether you travel to eat or shop, surf or ski, new adventures await.”
“Portugal’s economic pain is your gain in Oporto, one of Western Europe’s great bargains. New boutique hotels and restaurants, like the Yeatman, dramatically perched above the Douro River featuring Oporto’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, have brought a fresh burnish to this Unesco-protected city where labyrinthine narrow streets, ancient buildings and black-cloaked students inspired a young English tutor who lived here in the early 1990s named J. K. Rowling”, the author writes.
Wedged between Chang-baishan (China), at 27th, and Puerto Rico in 29th, Oporto is also praised for its most famous export; “The financial downturn doesn’t detract from the city’s most prominent industry — port wine — which can be sampled in the cellars of Sandeman, Graham’s or Taylor-Fladgate with a terraced restaurant, on the Douro’s south bank.”
Topping the NYT’s list of 46 destinations to see this year is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, “Because the whole world will be there in 2014”; the Mediterranean port town of Marseille (France) comes in second, and rounding off the top-three places to visit this year is Nicaragua, central America, for its new high-end lodges and up-and-coming food scene.
His life is celebrated every year on June 13th but the presence of St. Anthony is felt every day in Lisbon. Matchmaker and protector of the poor, he’s the most beloved saint of the city, although the patron saint is St. Vincent. St. Anthony died in Italy, in Padua, on June 13, and although many people outside Portugal think he was Italian he was in fact Portuguese. Born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in 1195 just a few feet from the cathedral he was later renamed Anthony. On the site where it’s said he was born is now a small church with his name, hiding a crypt which was the room of his birth, visited by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Next to the church is a small museum showing several images of the saint and in the cathedral behind it is the font where he was baptized.
He lived by the castle until the age of 15, when he moved to the Monastery of St. Vincent and later to the city of Coimbra before embarking on a voyage that led him to the north of Italy. Outside the castle walls is a street in his honor: Rua do Milagre de Santo António (Street of the Miracle of St. Anthony). On the façade of one of its buildings are tiled images of the saint and his miracles. As a city icon, you’ll find many more in craft and gift shops, as well as on a walk through Alfama.
It lacks the contemporary attractions of Lisbon and Porto, but the city of Coimbra is rich in old monuments illustrating every chapter of the history of architecture, from romanesque to gothic, to manueline and baroque. It’s easily accessible by train between the country’s two largest cities, and is worth a quick stop to see one of the world’s oldest universities and some of Europe’s best-preserved Roman mosaics.
1| COIMBRA UNIVERSITY
One of the world’s oldest, the university of Coimbra hides what is recognized as one of the world’s finest libraries. A gift of king João V in the early 1700s, it is filled with 300,000 ancient books displayed around an extravagant display of gilt. Also golden is much of Capela de São Miguel, an ornate chapel with a brightly painted ceiling, while another room that may be visited is the Sala dos Capelos (Graduates’ Hall), once used as an examination room and decorated with portraits of Portugal’s kings.
Portugal’s largest excavated Roman ruins are just a few minutes outside Coimbra and are remarkable for having some of the best-preserved mosaics in Europe. Conimbriga was once a rich Roman town but was abandoned after the invasion of Germanic tribes in the 5th century (a small but informative museum tells the history and daily life of the place). Besides the mosaics (the most extraordinary of which show the four seasons and hunting scenes), the most eye-catching features of the archaeological remains are the pond-gardens and fountains.
3| MACHADO DE CASTRO MUSEUM
Down the street from the university is this former bishop’s palace that is now one of Portugal’s most important museums for its collection of 14th-to-16th-century sculpture. It’s undergone a long renovation and the most memorable part of a visit is going underground to walk through vaulted passageways that survive from the city’s Roman occupation.
4| SANTA CRUZ CHURCH
This church is the reason why the university was established in Coimbra, as it was long known as a school and center of culture (St. Anthony was the most famous student). Behind the sculpted façade are the elaborate tombs of Portugal’s first two kings (at the altar), while the cloister is one of the purest examples of Manueline architecture.
5| SANTA CRUZ CAFÉ
A landmark with all the atmosphere you expect from a monumental and classic European café, this is one of the most unusual coffee shops you’ll see anywhere. It’s a former chapel of the church next door, with a high-vaulted Manueline ceiling, stained-glass windows and wood paneling. Tables are also placed outside facing the square.
6| OLD CATHEDRAL
This church-fortress was the city’s first cathedral, built in the late 1100s. It’s only been slightly altered during its nine centuries and therefore remains one of the greatest examples of Romanesque architecture in the country. The majesty of the interior only changed in the 1500s with the addition of a gilded altarpiece.
7| MONASTERY OF SANTA CLARA-A-VELHA
Two decades of careful renovation brought these gothic ruins back to life. It’s an old monastery founded in 1330 that had been sinking by the river since the 17th century and a museum now explains its past as well as the impressive renovation work through film.
8| PORTUGAL DOS PEQUENINOS
This tiny open-air theme park is a small tour of Portugal through the country’s main landmarks built to the scale of five-year-olds. Part of the fun is posing for photos creating the illusion of giants standing next to monuments and inside homes. While meant as a family attraction, adults will enjoy the experience on their own.
9| COIMBRA FADO
While Fado originated in Lisbon, it has a second home in Coimbra. Here it’s usually sung by male university students and it’s often not sung at all, with just instrumental pieces using the Portuguese guitar. You may hear it at night at the cafés below the university, but the best place to head to is the Á Capella bar, a tiny 14th-century chapel. That’s where the city’s best musicians perform, Fado and other musical styles.
10| QUINTA DAS LÁGRIMAS
This wonderful hotel stands on the site of a real-life “Romeo and Juliet” story, the tragedy of prince Pedro and Inês. King Afonso IV forbade his son from marrying Inês because of her Spanish origins, but they married in secret and the king had her murdered in 1355. The hotel is by far the best place to stay in town, while also offering the best gastronomic experience in its Michelin-starred restaurant “Arcadas da Capela.”
Bom dia / Good morning / Buenos dias / Bonjour / Guten morgen / Buon giorno / Goedemorgen / Guten Tag / Goedemorgen / Dzień dobry / καλημέρα / доброе утро / Tere hommikust / Hyvää huomenta / God dag! / God morgen / God morgon / Labrīt / Bună dimineaţa / Labas rytas / Dobrý den/ добро утро / Dobro jutro / Goeie more / Bore da / Egunon / おはよう / 早安 / Mirëmëngjes/ Günaydın/ boker tov / jó napot / god daggin …to you all:) Check out the new Video "Porto and the North - The Essence of Portugal!
Portugal was born in the North and the rich cultural heritage of the region doesn’t ignore so noble and ancient origins. Tradition, culture, history, architecture, gastronomy and wine, landscape, hospitality and the joy of their people are the attributes of a unique region. Whether in leisure activities, like golf and spas, or business, this region is acquiring a huge prominence and a peculiar charm. One who visits Portugal takes with oneself more than pictures and memories. One experiences in the soul maybe the most Portuguese feeling: Saudade.
by Fiona MacLeod
A guest lodge owner tells how he was seduced by the unspoilt landscape of Portugal’s sparsely populated Alentejo region.
Frank McClintock, owner of Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, with his parrot on the bank of Santa Clara lake
This article was published by Finantial Times on September 14, 2012. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7485e294-f812-11e1-828f-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz26uPETDPH
Twenty-five years ago guest lodge owner Frank McClintock set off from his family home in Dorset, in southern England, in a pale blue double-decker bus with first world war aircraft painted on its sides. It was loaded up with most of his possessions, and his new wife. Their destination was Portugal, and he has lived there ever since.
The couple had just returned from their honeymoon in southern Portugal where they had discovered the natural beauty of the sparsely populated Alentejo region, in particular the area among the rolling hills of cork forests (montados) bordering Santa Clara lake.
“Going to Portugal initially was a chance thing,” says McClintock. “We had no money and someone offered us a ﬂat in the Algarve for our honeymoon. We had travelled by car and on the way south had come across the stunning countryside of the Alentejo. The Algarve, by comparison, was just flats and high-rises, dust and sand, not what we were after at all, so we drove every day up to the Alentejo to explore its unspoilt landscape. I completely fell for it and we decided on the spot to make a go of living there.”
On their honeymoon they struck up a friendship with a local Alentejo resident who had stopped to help them with a puncture. Although they couldn’t speak the same language, the Portuguese man managed to communicate that, if they were keen on finding something to buy in the area, he could find them a place to stay. “Nobody around here speaks anything apart from Portuguese but I’ve never found it difﬁcult to speak with my hands and a smile,” says McClintock.
The couple decided to collect their possessions from England and to try Alentejo for three months. The double-decker, purchased in a field in Wales, was for McClintock the cheapest solution to moving lock, stock and barrel across Europe. “It took three days to drive to Portugal, including a bit of a detour to Belgium, where I wanted to visit Wilfred Owen’s grave. We picked up hitchhikers on the way.”
They soon blew their limited budget on 12 acres of land on a waterfront plot on the banks of the Santa Clara lake. Three small wooden shacks already stood on the site, providing some sort of base to live in at the outset. “In such an isolated area we knew we would have to earn a living through tourism, and the attraction of being on the water was a must.”
Twenty-five years on, Quinta do Barranco da Estrada is well established as an idyllic hideaway guest lodge that offers bird and nature tours and is run full-time by Frank and his second wife Daniella. A long, low building with several verandahed bedrooms sits in the grounds of a subtropical garden: agave, yuccas, date palms and Australian bottle brush grow there.
“The key to creating a garden from scratch, as we have done, is to grow some trees for shade and to install irrigation, as the heat can be searing here,” says McClintock. “It was a barren plot when we came but we now use all the waste water from the Quinta to hydrate the garden. We have a solar-powered pumping system that brings water from the lake up to a reservoir we dug above the buildings. This supplies all the water for the house and for a garden irrigation system at more or less zero cost.”
Most of what exists at the Quinta has been created through the hard labour and often hastily acquired skills of McClintock and visiting teams of friends, family and volunteers.
“When we came to the area it was very primitive – nothing much had changed since the 1930s, or even the 1430s. The locals used horses and carts and mules for transport on predominantly dirt roads,” says McClintock. “We had a Renault 4, which struggled to transport our heavy loads of building supplies up the miles of rough, bumpy track, so we used to bring everything across the lake on a boat and then barrow it up the hill to the building site. In those days everything had to come from the Algarve and nobody would deliver.”
Years later, inaccessibility still provides hurdles and frustrations. “We are 13km away from the main road but it is illegal for us to put a sign there, as the law says you can only advertise an attraction up to 9km away. Even though we are providing vital employment for local people in a very poor area, bureaucracy forbids something that would make a huge difference to the viability of our remote business.”
State administrative inefficiency is an aspect of Portuguese life that McClintock finds most exasperating. “It took me fully 18 years to legalise the building and business that we have here. I think most people would find that excessive.”
While there are downsides to living in such a remote area, McClintock says it has mainly been a source of pleasure, for him and his guests. “Although we are quite cut off, we have our own dinner party practically every night at the Quinta, hosting people from all over the world. One of the consequences of being so remote is that we have had to survive by marketing ourselves constantly.”
McClintock can’t see himself ever returning to England. “I really believe that what we are doing here in a small way makes a positive impact on the world. We provide local employment and by doing that help to keep the countryside going.”
www.paradise-in-portugal.com & www.birding-in-portugal.com
David Baxter pedals through the idyllic landscape of the Alentejo region to find castles, standing stones – and sweet custard tarts
When the rain stopped and hazy sunshine emerged, I climbed off the bike and gazed around. The landscape was not dramatic, but it was utterly entrancing: an undulating expanse of green meadows dotted with cork oaks, holm oaks and olive trees, seemingly devoid of fences or walls. From this country road only the faint, tingling bells of unseen grazing animals and the call of birds could be heard. It was April and wild flowers were out in force, the meadows carpeted in yellow, white and purple, the waysides thronged with vivid poppies, rock roses, bugloss and alkanet.
I was in the depths of the montado landscape of the Alentejo region, which stretches across southern Portugal south of the Tagus and north of the Algarve. This corner of it lay close to Evora, the regional capital. The area has few big hills, but it is by no means flat – a fact that the cyclist quickly appreciates.
The montado may appear wild, but it is actually a tended ecosystem designed to produce a valuable crop – cork. Portugal produces three quarters of the world's cork, most of it used as wine-bottle stoppers. Cork oaks are harvested for their bark every nine years, and each tree is numbered to show when it was last stripped. Underneath their branches, sheep and goats crop the grass; pigs fatten up on the acorns.
My week-long, self-guided tour involved covering modest daily distances between towns. I'd been given detailed route maps and notes and my baggage was transported for me from one place to the next. All I had to do was pedal. The rainy day was an exception: most of these spring days were sunny and dry.
This area has long been a frontier, first between Christian and Moor, then Portuguese and Spanish. My itinerary connected several towns – including Monsaraz, Vila Viçosa and Estremoz – that clustered around castles which are now notable for their magnificence, when seen from afar, and for the views from their ramparts. Some, like Monsaraz, have become beautiful museum-pieces.
Imposing churches, convents and paços – fortified baronial palaces – abound, often displaying an array of Islamic, Gothic and Baroque elements. They remind visitors of grander times and flaunt the flamboyant native Manueline style, with motifs from Portugal's golden age of discovery and trade. These days, door and window surrounds are picked out in pastel blue, yellow or grey, a charming effect against stretches of white walls.
Approaching Evora, I cycled along country tracks to several megalithic sites such as the Almendres cromlech, rediscovered in 1964 and one of the largest and oldest in Europe. More than 90 monoliths, typically around 10ft tall, stand on the hillside, as if enjoying the view. Some experts believe the two eliptical arrays of stones are, like Stonehenge, set at a latitude that captures the Moon at its zenith.
Evora itself is a Unesco-recognised gem, its cathedral, well-preserved Roman temple and museum, grouped conveniently at the end of narrow lanes winding up from the main Giraldo Square and arcaded shopping streets. Its historic mansions include one that belonged to the great explorer, Vasco da Gama. Rather more macabre is the ossuary lined with the bones of 5,000 people.
For lunch, I indulged in the first of many visits to a pastelaria, where a coffee and a small chicken pie, or a pastel de nata (custard tart), can be had for less than €2.
I moved on 30 miles towards Reguengos de Monsaraz. At the pottery at São Pedro do Corval I seized the chance to buy two small olive dishes, which promptly smashed when my parked bike fell over, a few hours later. Reguengos, now a wine centre, is where the inhabitants of Monsaraz moved when they got tired of their water-less hilltop fortress.
Next day, before tackling the climb up to Monsaraz, I paused on the banks of the Alqueva – a vast reservoir created by damming the river Guadiana. Its full extent was visible from Monsaraz's castle ramparts, along with swathes of the Alentejo and Spain. Below, along the Rua Direita, black openwork balconies stood out against the bright white walls of old houses.
Vila Viçosa, my next destination, was for centuries the base of the Bragança family, who supplied Portuguese kings and an English queen: Catherine, Charles II's wife. The imposing Paço Ducal is full of the finest artefacts, from azulejo tiles to Aubusson tapestries. Fascinating museums of archaeology, carriages and hunting are divided between the palace and the nearby castle, from where the Tapada Real, the royal hunting park, was visible. I wandered along streets of handsome town houses to the main square, flanked with orange trees heavy with fruit.
My hotel for the night was a delightful conversion of a 16th-century mansion, the Solar dos Mascarenhas. For dinner, I ate an açorda, a mixture of fish, bread and pennyroyal baked and served in a hollowed loaf, which I washed down with a glass of red. Alentejan cuisine is admired in Portugal: poverty, it is said, compels imaginative use of simple ingredients. Pork, bacalhau (salted cod) and dogfish are also much in evidence.
Around Vila Viçosa, a wasteland of marble quarries interrupts the rural idyll. The "white gold" is exported and is also used locally. I peered into deep, marble-lined pits and watched machines slowly cutting the blocks. Then, for lunch – as suggested by my tour notes, I stopped at a simple country restaurant and ordered the speciality: rabbit. It came in a huge earthenware dish with chips, salad and bread – all for less than €10.
I spent my final night at Estremoz's medieval castle, now a luxurious pousada with grand public rooms. It was here that I encountered my first tour group – I'd often been the only tourist in the small hotels I'd stayed in. The next morning, I wandered around the lively Saturday market with its array of cheeses, cured meats, live chickens, handicrafts, bric-a-brac and plants.
Estremoz should be one of Portugal's busiest places. After all, it's where the E90, the European superhighway between Madrid and Lisbon, meets the IP2 (the main north-south road). But the Alentejo seems miraculously untainted by the 21st century.
Source: The indenpendent
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Climbing down a dark,narrow staircase, I entered a tiny room lit by countless candles. Flickering shadows danced languidly across the walls and, as my eyes adjusted to the murky atmosphere, I saw two men playing guitars and a heavy-set, 50-ish woman swaying to the rhythm. Her eyes were tightly closed as she swayed to the music. When she began her song, the sound was low, guttural almost, mournful and seductive. This was Fado, the traditional music of Portugal and high on my bucket list of things to experience.
I recently visited Lisbon, Portugal and this year a prestigious award has been conferred on the city. The Academy of Urbanism bestowed on Lisbon the award of The European City of the Year, 2012. The Academy is an autonomous, politically independent organization whose goals are the recognition, learning and promoting of the best practices in urbanism; its award is presented yearly following careful and detailed inspection of nominee cities.
The fabulous capital of Portugal has always enjoyed the superb combination of a vibrant downtown, historic quarters with parks and gardens and cool, contemporary development. It has successfully managed to sustain its classical and modern architecture and has carefully invested in worthy urban projects. This, in combination with Lisbon's recent project to develop the River Tagus waterfront in a sensitive and responsive manner, has garnered this singular award for Lisbon.
The city has still another reason to kvell. A few years ago, the Portuguese Parliament started an initiative to promote Fado as UNESCO's World's Heritage Cultural Patrimony and former Lisbon mayor Pedro Santana Lopes came up with the idea that Fado should be considered as a cultural heritage. The result: this year the UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity award has been conferred on Lisbon for its Portuguese Fado music. According to UNESCO, intangible heritage includes traditions and skills passed on within cultures. The UNESCO's committee of experts unanimously praised Fado as an example of good practices that should be followed by other countries.
This traditional art form, Fado, is music and poetry representing a multicultural synthesis of Afro-Brazilian song from rural areas of the country. It is performed professionally on the concert circuit and in small 'Fado houses in numerous grass-root associations located throughout older neighborhoods of Lisbon.
After my scintillating Fado experience in that tiny neighborhood boite, the next day I visited the
Museu e Casa do Fado located on Largo do Chafariz de Dentro 1, directly opposite the entrance to the Alfama. It's a small museum with a packed collection that includes many interactive exhibits. The permanent collection is a wondrous journey through the history of Fado -- the music, the singers, the musicians and instruments. I loved the room displaying hundreds of photos of famous singers as well as old posters and advertisements, each wall crammed with information on how Fado developed as a musical genre. My favorite room had an installation that recreated a Fado bar. I found myself alone in this room, dark and loaded with atmosphere. Lining the walls, original costumes worn by some of the great Fadistas like Lidia Riberiro, Maria da Fe and Amalia. As music played softly, I had the overpowering sensation of being an integral part of this scene. Leaving the museum and entering the bright, relentless sunlight of Lisbon was jarring, disconcerting. The cure: another visit to a Fado club that evening.
Mariza, a leading contemporary performer, multiple award winner and the ambassador for Fado's UNESCO candidacy said that, because Fado has been so honored, "perhaps we Portuguese will now take greater pride in who we are, especially in the so very grey times we currently live in."
2012 European City of the Year coupled with the luscious music of Fado - persuasive, inviting reasons to visit. But do one really need a reason? Lisbon, Portugal: reason enough!
Source: The Huffington Post
*Barbara Barton Sloane is the Travel Writer for The Westchester Guardian, The Westchester Herald and The Yonkers Tribune; a contributing Travel Writer for Bay Area Family Travel, Travel Savvy News, CEO Traveler, Travel World International Magazine, GlobalWrites and many other publications. She is a former Assistant Beauty & Fashion Editor for Ladies’ Home Journal, Associate Editor for McCall’s, and is presently the Beauty and Fashion Editor of Elegant Accents Magazine. In addition to travel writing, Barbara’s interests include running marathons, hiking and cycling. She is a volunteer for The Westchester Bereavement Center, The Lighthouse for the Blind and a member of North American Travel Journalists Association, International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, Pacific Asia Travel Association, Cosmetic Executive Women and Fashion Group International. Favorite destinations are those that include family travel, light adventure, luxury/spas/resorts, incentive/business travel, wedding/honeymoon destinations and sites of historic and cultural importance both here and abroad. Barbara has a BA in Journalism from Ohio State University.
One of the endearing hallmarks of Portugal's streets is their decorated pavements. Limestone is hewn into tiny blocks creating beautiful patterned compositions, traditional and modern designs, street numbers, and business logos.
Other designs show armillary spheres, caravels and vessels, crosses, stars, and animals. It all started in 1849 after the completion of the wave design known as "the wide sea" in Lisbon's Rossio Square By the end of that year, the pavements of the Chiado district and Avenida da Liberdade were also completed. Eventually most of Lisbon's streets were paved this way, and it spread throughout the country. These pavement designs are also seen in Portugal's former colonies, with the "wide sea" design seen in Rio de Janeiro's famous beaches, and even in one of Macau's main squares.
The artform was also used in New York's Central Park'stribute to John Lennon, and in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in New Jersey. Modern examples can be seen in Lisbon's Parque das Nações, with images of "sea monsters" and more wave designs. Today the "Portuguese pavements" are still made by hand, and are part of the country's heritage and identity, continuing to decorate the streets and squares all over Portugal.
by Martin Page
When a book arrives on one’s doorstep as a gift, it has not only come from the sender, but it’s also arrived from the universe as a token of change and an opportunity for expansive knowledge. This is what The First Global Village by Martin Page became for me.
Before it arrived, my understanding of Portugal was extremely minimal; having never been there, nor ever having studied Portugal’s past or present, in my life time. I grew up in Lewiston, Maine. Southeast of that city is Lisbon and then Lisbon Falls – a place where the Androscoggin River rages during the spring, and a rock formation caused a natural waterfall. Once I realized that Lisbon was the capital of Portugal, it had a very quiet, subliminal influence on my life, but nothing that drove to me to get to the depths of the small western European country.)
Once in the wine business, I found myself researching Port for the obvious reasons. Beyond that reason, I had a completely empty slate. So, it is with great gratitude that I mention Delfim Costa of Enoforum Wines for sending Martin Page’s book to me, which has allowed me to expand my world view a bit more. Delfim is Portuguese, and we met at the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2008.
The title really tells it like it is, because of Portugal’s multicultural contributions to the world, much of it includes a food and wine lifestyle. According to Martin Page, the following are examples of Portuguese influences around the globe:
- Portuguese Jesuits lived in Japan for generations before our ancestors knew of this, introducing words into the Japanese language; e.g., “orrigato,” which means “thank you.” They brought the recipe for tempura. They introduced the technique for gun manufacturing. The Portuguese also taught the Japanese how to construct buildings that would withstand artillery attack and earthquakes.
- The chili plant was brought to India, allowing “curry” to be invented.
- Portuguese is the third most spoken language in Europe (English, Spanish, then Portuguese), even before French and German. It’s the language of cattle ranchers in northern California and fishing communities on the New England coast line…. Both of which I have personal experiences.
- The Portuguese own and operate over 400 restaurants in Paris as Italian trattorias.
- Sintra, Portugal, has been an attraction for writers’ inspiration for generations; e.g., Henry Fielding, Robert Southey, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lord Byron, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Christoper Isherwood, W. H. Auden.
- When the Arabs arrived, they brought with them bananas, coconuts, sugar cane, oil palms, maize and rice, lettuce, onions, carrots, cucumbers, apples, pears, wine grapes, and figs… All part of a Mediterranean diet.
Their foods and irrigation system for watering is still studied to day by northern European medical researchers for clues to what makes their heart-healthy such a study lot.
Irrigation, which was driven by water wheels, was brought to Portugal from Alexandria. This act created a technological revolution, the likes of which had never been seen in Europe prior to the Arabs arriving. This allowed for the crops mentioned above to be farmed and successfully introduced.
In a historical time-line, Portugal has had pivotal dates and people, which have affected their country; and, in a trickle-down effect, world civilization. This book’s chapters outline the dates and people who migrated to Portugal, giving it such a varied culture. Each transformation, as adapted, has added rich fibers to the tapestry threads of these fascinating people of today.
On New Year’s Day, my resolution was to learn the Portuguese culture, which was inspired by this book. The titles of the chapters indicate each invasion and the ethnic traditions left behind as a result. To read these titles puts into perspective how the last (nearly) 3,000 years, Portugal became a nation set apart from all others, and yet has so many links to the past that many people can identify with the Portuguese of today.
- From Jonah to Julius Caesar (700 BC )
- Rome on the Atlantic (55 BC)
- Rise & Fall of Christianity (212 AD)
- Arabs Bring Civilization to Europe (712)
- The Christian Reconquest (1126)
- The Cistercian Peace
- Prince Henry the Misadventure
- King João and the Great Adventure
- Pêro da Covilhã: Master Spy
- Vasco da Gama and the Lord of the Oceans
- India and Beyond
- The Golden Age of Lisbon; Disaster Abroad
- The Coming of the Inquisition; The Departure of the Jews
- Freedom Regained
- Pombal and the King: A duet in Megalomania
- Playground of the great Powers
- The fall of the House of Braganca
- The Slide to Dictatorship
- World War II: Betrayal and hte Fight for Freedom
- Freedom at Dawn
“Why were there so many invaders?” you might ask. The answer is quite simple. The first invaders discovered that this is a country rich in minerals, most especially gold and silver. the lure of gold has always set men into a frenzy of need to own.
It all begins in the Bible with a story we’ve all heard. When Jonah was sent to Nineveh to tell the sinners that God was angry, he didn’t want to go, and bought a ticket – supposedly – beyond God’s reach. Soon after the ship sailed, a violent storm erupted, and the captain and crew threw Jonah overboard. He was swallowed by a whale, and then spit out onto land. It was Portugal where he landed. Jonah traveled on to Tarshish, which today survives as a name of a small town in Spain, which is only 3 miles and 1281.6 yards from the border of Portugal.
By 230 BC, Hamilcar (father) was exiled to Tarshish. He took his son Hannibal (who was eight years old at the time, and wanted to go with his father). This was a costly mistake, as Hannibal would avenge his father by crossing the Apennines Mountains, win a major battle, and march toward Rome…
And so, their history begins, changing the pastoral landscape of a quiet people, who have managed to remain peaceful through all time, regardless of whom was the next to invade their homeland. The Portuguese were open to the civilization refinements that were delivered to them during each invasion. Along the way, they created the Institution of Good Men (in the 700s), which still exists today. A social consciousness was created whereby widows and orphans are cared for, social welfare for all was created and has been maintained, all duties of the town are seen as everyone’s responsibility – including fire fighting – and are as independent and self sufficient as some parts of the United State might be. It is a daily way of life, however, in Portugal throughout the country, not just pockets of social consciousness that we might find in successful regions of rural America today. Imagine – for instance – if this were our complete and utter culture during Hurricane Katrina. One neighboring town would not have closed out its neighbor in need. Our country would not have wondered what to do for a week, all the wheels would have begun turning without regard for anything else.
There is a lot to be learned from The First Global Village. Martin Page moved to Portugal for a reason, and I can only image as his eyesight failed during his last years, this culture would have made his disability more manageable, with a tolerant people, great food, and excellent wine.
My life is enriched by this Portuguese culture, which I plan to continue studying through Delfim’s eye. The universe has delivered an amazingly adventurous opportunity to my life.
No, there isn’t any series of the latest success show “Britain’s got talent” planned for Portugal. We do have some entertainment shows that are in line with Idols and this one in particular, but what we bring to you today is a different kind of talent. Not better just different and as well, a reflection of what Portugal is about by the hands of some of our dearest citizens that leverage this nation thorough their actions and success.
Portugal, with a privileged geographical position on Europe’s West Coast, has an Atlantic vocation that has always left its mark on the country’s history and culture.
The country’s proximity to the sea had a key influence on the maritime discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries in which Portugal played a pioneering role in connecting together the world’s continents - thus triggering the first wave of economic and social globalisation. Today, Portugal is proud of the many influences that it has assimilated – visible in much of the country’s material and immaterial heritage - and also the influence it has left on other countries and continents, including the fact that the Portuguese language is spoken by over 200 million people.
In a territory of only 92 000 Km², there is such a tremendous diversity of landscapes and cultural and historical riches that visitors are sure to find of a wide array of experiences close at hand - whether in the mountains or the sea, in cities or historic villages in the hinterland.
Enjoying a particularly dynamic moment in its history, Portugal is the homeland of many people renowned throughout the world for their talents. Allow us to present six among many others and some of their thoughts towards their country.
“My country has 220 days of sunshine a year. Sunshine and a gentle climate are bound to be waiting for me, whenever I return to Portugal.
Portugal has the highest number of sunshine hours per year in Europe. In the Algarve, where I like to spend my holidays, there are over 3,000 sunshine hours a year… and whether travelling north or south, in any season, Portugal always offers perfect conditions for enjoying nature, travelling or breathing in some fresh air.”
“21% of my country is constituted by Nature Reserves and Parks. I can find charming, natural landscapes throughout the country, either along the coast or in the interior.
I was born in Gaia, next to Oporto. The River Douro flows into the Atlantic in this spot. Port wine and the river forge a special union between Gaia and the city of Oporto - located on the opposite bank. Oporto and the Douro’s winegrowing cultural landscape are two World Heritage jewels.
It’s possible to have a pleasant seaside walk along the 12 km eco-track starting in Gaia, or in the nature trails in Cabo da Roca, integrated within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.There are also many BTT and pedestrian trails in the interior, for example the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park, in the Alentejo, that includes Marvão - a walled hilltop village. The Alentejo is better known for the beauty of its vast rolling plains, that is particularly popular in springtime when the fields are filled with scented flowers.”
“The capital of my country is the only one in Europe where the sun sets over the sea. Lisbon is a city of contrasts where history and modernity are to be found standing hand in hand on the banks of the River Tagus.
One of the most memorable concerts of my career took place in Belém. This is an area full of monuments, where modern buildings have successfully joined together with the uniquely Portuguese Manueline architecture classified as World Heritage.
Walking through Alfama – or Mouraria, where I grew up and learned to sing fado – you will eventually arrive at the Castle with its fabulous view over the river and sea. Stay there for a while to watch the sunset and then enjoy dinner in the typical atmosphere of a fado house.”
“In my country, I can appreciate over 20,000 years of History, from the early rock paintings to more recent contemporary art.
At the present time, Portugal is marked by harmonious contrasts between an age-old culture and all the excitement of innovative projects, geared towards the future.
Portugal is the country with the oldest borders in Europe, the homeland of the discoverers who, in the 15th and 16th centuries, set sail to conquer the seas and ended up connecting continents. Throughout its history, Portugal has brought together different and remote cultures, all of which have left their marks on the national heritage and on the personality and lifestyle of its free-spirited and hospitable people.”
My country has Europe’s longest white sand beach. 30 km of fine, golden sand awaits you next to Lisbon. Along Europe’s West Coast it’s possible to find open beaches and invigorating waves together with small coves and bays where one feels like an explorer. To the south, the waters are calmer and warmer, ideal for those who enjoy warmth and sun bathing.
My country is the world’s finest golf destination. With a gentle climate and lush, green landscapes overlooking the sea, holidays spent in Portugal offer an oasis in my annual schedule, whether in the island of Madeira or in the rest of the country.
The green turfs that I know best are those of football pitches but I also know that Portugal is famous for its first-class golf courses – with over 70 located throughout the country. The Algarve, in addition to being the country’s leading tourism zone is also famous for its golf courses and has been classified as the world’s finest golf destination. The Lisbon region - previously elected Europe’s best golf destination - has over 20 golf courses along the Estoril and Cascais Coast. I’m familiar with some of the resorts, located in wonderful settings, offering views over the sea or the Sintra Mountains - an exquisitely beautiful region included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
But for me, holidays are above all an opportunity to enjoy the sea and Portuguese gastronomy. The island of Madeira, where I was born, has a subtropical climate and bountiful flower-filled vegetation. For me, the local fish and shellfish taste better than in any other part of the world. And I also think the fruit has a more intense flavour!
There many other talents behind this great country, great communities of mix cultures that thrive this nation and as a all make also outstanding achievements. Portugal, Europe’s West Coast is also known by having the biggest solar plant in the world and being the fastest growing European country in wind energy.
Source:Condensed information www.visitportugal.com, Portugal Tourism Board
Last week Portugal was graced with the recognition of its most traditional music genre as one of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. This Lisbon mournful song, Fado, is in the hearts of every Portuguese around the world and brings the suffer and nostalgy to a poetic song