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places to visit in 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
They look like the last aristocrats.
They are treated with the most respect and tenderness.
They have the best diets and food.
They have fancy shampoo baths before showing up.
They have the best shoemakers.
They have healthcare 24/7.
They dress the way their forefathers did in the 18th century.
They have gentlemen’s hairdressers.
They have care takers and horsemen all around, proud to be a part of the Equestrian Art Portuguese School.
They are the Lusitano horses, descended from the family of Iberian wild horses that were tamed by the stud farm of Alter do Chao in southern Portugal in the 18th century. The Royal Equestrian School closed in the 19th century but due to the Portuguese tradition of bullfighting on horseback the art, the skills and culture survive until today.
The Lusitano horse has been developed as a horse for bullfights, academics and training making them some of the most desired in the world. Portugal, the ancestral home for Lusitano horses has now been surpassed by Brazil with their fast-growing horse farms.
Twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays the horses appear on the baroque gardens of the Queluz palace. With epoch music playing along for fourteen minutes viewers feel like they are being transported to the past.
Source: blogs.reuters by Jose Manuel Ribeiro
People often ask me to name my favorite wine countries. I like to surprise them by putting Portugal high on the list.
Portugal seems to be stuck in an unfortunate dichotomy in our mind’s eye: There’s cheap Mateus, the wine of unsophisticates — Saddam Hussein supposedly was a fan — and vintage port, the expensive postprandial tipple of the stodgy British aristocracy.
That’s as regrettable as it is incomplete.
I love Portugal because it offers tremendous value and variety, with wines that you won’t find anywhere else. And the Douro Valley, the region famous for those fortified ports and its stunningly beautiful landscape, leads the way.
Much of the country’s charm is in the sheer variety of its grapes, many of which are indigenous and not widely grown in other countries. Portugal has not succumbed to the lure of chardonnay and cabernet. It shares some grapes with Spain, of course. Albariño and godello appear here as alvarinho and gouveio. Tempranillo, the great red grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, plays a supporting role throughout Portugal under a variety of pseudonyms. Syrah makes a cameo appearance, though it hasn’t stolen the show.
If you enjoy keeping track of the grape varieties you’ve tasted, you can add extensively to your repertoire by exploring the wines of Portugal. The port grapes of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz (Portugal’s main pseudonym for tempranillo) and tinta cao form the major red blends from the Douro. Farther south, trincadeira anchors the reds along with aragonez (another name for tempranillo), while fernao pires shines in aromatic whites. If you search, you can find touriga in Virginia or Australia, and others maybe in experimental vineyards, but most of these varieties are unique to Portugal.
The Douro is the world’s oldest wine region, having been officially demarcated in 1756 in an attempt to guarantee the authenticity of its wines. Those wines were almost exclusively port — fortified and sweet, in a variety of styles — until the 1990s, when a few wineries began using the same grapes to make dry table wines. Those wines have proved popular enough that more vineyards have been planted farther upriver in the Douro Superior, near the Spanish border. So the Douro is both an old wine region and a new one.
Stylistically, Douro’s table wines are similar to Spain’s famous reds from Rioja and Ribera del Duero; remember the tempranillo connection. Yet Douro reds have a complexity that seems to reach down into the schist that makes up the vineyard soils. They also have a leafy, somewhat woodsy character that speaks of the outdoors. They don’t conjure wood-paneled tasting rooms or barrel cellars as much as an autumn hike along a riverside trail.
The Douro also leads Portugal in value, and I might not have said that a few years ago, when the wines seemed to aim at the higher end of the price spectrum. There are a few priced under $10: Charamba is nationally available, while Lello is available more in the Washington area market. The excitement now starts around the $15 level and up, with wines that outperform for their price. Quinta do Crasto and Muxagat are two labels I highly recommend for their entire line of wines. Others, such as Niepoort and Quinta do Vale Meao, are harder to find but worth seeking out and splurging on.
Another reason to love these wines: They often have a smoky, earthy character that pairs well with grilled foods. And the time for grilling is nigh.
Source: By Dave McIntyre www.washingtonpost.com
Almost everyone loves a pretty village, you know a place where the houses are impossibly perfect and time just seems to stand still. Well luckily Europe has plenty. From dreamy fishing villages to tiny fortifiedtowns, here are our favourite picturesque villages in Europe guaranteed to impress your travel snob friends…
The ancient village of Eze – with its fabulous views over St Jean-Cap Ferrat – is a more traditional alternative to the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur’s resort towns. Perched on rock 1,400 feet above sea level, the focal point of the village is the ruins of a 12th-century castle. Wander through its labyrinthine streets and then stand back to admire the gorgeous view of the villas that lead down the hillside to the Mediterranean.
Surrounded by woodland and the fabled rolling hills of Tuscany is Pitigliano – an ancient small town built on sheer cliffs. Dating from as early as 1061, the town is filled with Etruscan tombs (which locals use to store wine) which are connected by a network of caves and tunnels. An extraordinary, steep fortress surrounds the commune which ensures its status as one of the most unusual and photogenic towns in the area.
The popular English holiday county of Cornwall is filled with chocolate box pretty villages, but perhaps the most beautiful is Polperro. With its narrow winding streets and cottages perched on steep slopes overlooking a tiny harbour it seems to be everyones idea of a picturesque Cornish fishing village.
Often considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe, Hallstatt is very picturesque. This is mostly due to its location on a narrow rocky west bank of the Hallstättersee with the sheer rising mountains behind it. Famous for its production of salt, this tiny village was once a settlement that dates back to prehistoric times.
Wengen is an impossibly perfect example of an Alpine village where traditional timber chalets cling to the slopes of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Yes, it does look something straight out of Heidi and although it’s a little touristy in the summer, in winter the high altitude attracts so many skiers its population increases almost ten-fold. Although Switzerland is famously expensive it doesn’t always have to be, especially if you look around for some late deals.
This is an ancient fortified town located in the Estremadura Province. In the 13th century, Portuguese Queen Isabel was so enamoured by the village of Obidos that her husband, King Denis I, gave it to her as a present. Today its perfectly preserved collection of medieval architecture ensures its status as a popular tourist destination.
Deia is a renowned picturesque village – located on the northern ridge of the island – which is known for its literary and musical residents. Positioned in a valley in the shadow of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, its home to a cluster of stone built houses complete with terracotta roofs which seem to hug the dramatic mountain range.
The Amalfi coast’s most peaceful and charming resort is easily worth the stomach-churningly steep drive to get to. A favourite haunt of celebrities (Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy and Tennessee Williams all holidayed here) Ravello is known for its mostly traffic-free lanes, elegant gardens, picturesque squares and its famous vertigo-inducing glimpses of the Mediterranean miles below.
Pučišća is a small and gorgeous harbour town located on the northern coast of the island of Brač. Sheltered by a protective cove and filled with attractive Mediterranean style white and terracotta houses, this kind of place is the reason why Croatia is such a popular travel destination.
Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
This small historic town has a pre-war, precommunist charm which really draws the crowds. Besides the cobblestone streets, preserved Renaissance buildings and picturesque ruins of a medieval castle the town is also known for its superb panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Autoire – located in Lot, close to the border with the Dordogne department – has the honour of being titled as one of the ‘most beautiful villages of France‘. A place where little has changed in 800 years, it’s filled with a collection of attractive 16th and 17th century honey coloured houses, a pretty church and central fountain all set with a backdrop of the dramatic cliffs of the Causse.
Just an hour’s drive from either Belfast or Dublin, Carlingford Heritage Village is famous for both its attractiveness and its surrounding landscapes. It enjoys a very beautiful location on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough and at the foot of Sliabh Foye surrounded by Irish myth and legend.
Mittenwald is where ‘Old Germany’ stills exists. Traditionally very Bavarian, its has gorgeously decorated houses, painted facades and ornately carved gables. The painted buildings are exceptionally pretty so take your time to stroll around while doing a spot of shopping at the same time.
Crupet is a small pretty village set in a woody valley of Wallonia and surrounded by a large moat. Dating from the 13th century its famous for its beautiful castle and its grottoes. Although the medieval Crupet castle can’t be visited (it’s privately owned) it makes for an extremely photogenic backdrop.
Fjallbacka is a dreamy fishing village which is also a gateway to Sweden’s most westerly islands, The Weather Islands. Soon you’ll also be hearing a lot more about this tiny village – the forthcoming feature film and TV series, The Fjällbacka Murders – are currently being filmed here.
Portugal is a country rich in beautiful places, romantic gardens, wonderful beaches ... but also some abandoned and haunted places!
1. Quinta do Montado – Quinta de Marques Gomes – Canidelo
This farm was owned by businessman Manuel Marques Gomes. This man, born in Canidelo, was worthy of several institutions and responsible for several works of public interest.
The “Quinta do Montado”, also known as “Quinta Marques Gomes” is today completely abandoned.
2. Casa da Praça – Frazão
This is another beautiful and great interest from the point of view of architectural work. This house belonged to the family Alves Barbosa and unfortunately is today as you can see in the image below.
3. Termas Águas Radium/Hotel Serra da Pena – Sabugal
Legend tells that in this place, built in the early twentieth century, Don Rodrigo (Spanish count) have healed his daughter from a severe skin disease, using the radioactive waters of this place. During this situation, the Count decided to build this spa hotel that is now as follows:
4. Casal do Passal – Cabanas de Viriato
House of the illustrious Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese diplomat that during World War II saved more than 30,000 lives from Nazi persecution (considered as the largest rescue action undertaken by an individual person).
Recent news speaks in this house restoration project.
6. Convento Nossa Senhora do Desterro – Monchique
This building, located in Lagos, was founded in 1631 by Pero da Silva. Today lies in ruins.
7. Convento Santa Clara -Vila do Conde
This convent was founded at the initiative of King Afonso Sanches. In the church also are the graves of Beatrice of Portugal, daughter of Blessed Nuno Alvares Pereira, the Counts of Canterbury and the founders.
Once a female convent, today is just an abandoned building with prospects of becoming a giant hostel.
8. Palácio Fonte da Pipa- Loulé
The stories of haunting are common when the subject is the palace source Pipa.
This beautiful palace was built by Marçal Pacheco, brother of Duarte Pacheco in order to receive King Carlos when he visited the Algarve. However, Don Carlos opted to stay in another palace in the area.
Named “Quinta da esperança”, this palace was always known as “Fonte da Pipa”, because in this place existed a source with this name.
9. Panoramic restaurant-Monsanto
This restaurant was built in the 60s. However it has been an office, a disco, a bingo, a warehouse, anyway, today is an abandoned building.
10. Palacete Rosa Pena – Espinho
The grandeur of this building leaves no one indifferent. It occupies an entire city block of the city of Espinho and unfortunately is in a high state of degradation.
The Rosa Pena palace dates from 1930 and was apparently designed by engineer José Alves Pereira da Silva, married to Rosa Pena da Silva. Although these are not the true owners of the palace, the building was known as Rosa Pena when his real name is just the Pena Palace.
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.
Most Brits head to the Algarve when they go on holiday to Portugal, but it's safe to say they're missing a trick. The relatively unkown area of Alentejo is wildly beautiful, relatively tourist-free, and provides a wonderful alternative to the well-travelled coastline Brits know so well.
First things first: this region is vast. This off the beaten track area covers one third of Portugal but has a population of just 700,000 (ie, just seven per cent of the population). The emptiness becomes increasingly noticeable as we drive further away from Lisbon and approach our destination, Amieira Marina on Lake Alqueva. By the time we arrive, there's hardly a soul around, and this solace continues throughout our stay (we didn't encounter a single diner in either of the restaurants where we enjoyed our evening meals).
It matters not, though. In fact, that's why we're here, a hardy bunch of journalists bought to discover the region and spread the word of all the area has to offer. Alqueva is Europe's largest manmade lake, covering 250 square kilometres (most of it in Portugal but some of it in Spain too) and as soon as we arrive we begin to discover all sorts of things about the region's fascinating history. This area was only dammed in 2002: until then this was one of Europe's most arid, drought-ridden areas. The dam, which reached its current water levels in 2010, was built to provide irrigation and boost local industry and tourism.
And it's this watery haven that will provide our accommodation during our stay: a houseboat on the lake. After the obligatory training and sailing lessons, we're keen to set out into the large expanse of water. The boats have a maximum speed of 10mph (probably to prevent the tourists from pretending to be James Bond in a speedboat – shame!) and the fastest never feels like more than a mooch. The lake suddenly feels even bigger as we travel from place to place at a sedate pace.
Fascinating stops abound. First there's the rebuilt village of Luz, which is an eye-opener. The building of the dam meant that the original village had to be submerged and its inhabitants relocated to a new village, complete with a reconstructed church and cemetery. The museum here is fascinating and includes a room showing footage of the villagers before and after their home was sent to its watery grave: the final goodbye to the old cemetery is moving beyond belief. Windmills and even a castle are now submerged in the lake's depths: it could be a scuba diver's dream if someone wanted to develop it.
In the afternoon we drift off to the medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz which has amazing 360 views over the whole region. Walking around the old castle remains, we're lucky enough to be treated to a spectacular rainbow in the distance, and take many stunning panoramic photos.
Nightfall brings fresh excitement for us all. Alqueva is a stargazer's dream: it was the first site in the world to receive the Starlight Tourism Destination awarded by the Starlight Foundation, supported by UNESCO. In other words, it is one of the rare places in Europe where light pollution is still minimal, and it has cloudless nights for more than half the year. The hotels in the area have been lent high-tech telescopes and I am astounded to be able to see the rings of Saturn as I gaze through one of them.
Our trip isn't complete without a visit to Evora, the state capital, a UNESCO Heritage-classed town that is a great mix of Roman ruins, medieval walls, crumbling megalithic structures and 17th century palaces. Here you'll find lots of shops - it's the most touristy part of the region. Many of the items on sale are made of cork, which is grown a great deal in the region. You'll find cork bags, mats, wallets, hats and clothing... we even spot a cork wedding dress!
This town is also home one of the strangest places I have ever been: a creepy chapel made out of human bones called Capela dos Ossos, created in the 17th century by Franciscan monks. As the town expanded beyond its medieval walls the graveyards outside them were dug up so they could be built upon. Rather than letting all the bones go to waste the monks used them to cover the walls and pillar of the surch to remind anyone entering that life is a fleeting thing.
As we head home to the airport I think about who I'd recommend Alentejo to. It's certainly for those who like a bit of peace and quiet and who are keen to visit a relatively little-known part of Europe, ripe for discovery. The sedate lifestyle, fascinating history, beautiful landscape, starlit skies and laidback people make it a place to remember, and brings a lovely change from the usual hustle and bustle of Europe's more touristy destinations.
Photos by: Getty, Alamy and Melinda Rogers
Source: www.flightjumpr.com by Melinda Rogers
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.
1st "EXTRAORDINARILY ACCESSIBLE" DESTINATION
Lisboa is the first of five "extraordinarily accessible" destinations for this year, according to Forbes magazine.
In addition to this advantageous price / quality ratio, Lisboa is a "sumptuous city, with its well preserved castle and numerous museums and art galleries." The traditional Lisboa facades, covered in tiles, are one of the attractions of the Portuguese capital reported by Forbes, which recommends as Lisboa's "best bargain", the famous "Pastel de Belém", "that can cost between 0.75 and 1.10 euros "
Vacationing in Portugal is not just about Lisbon and Porto. While I agree that these cities are definitely must-sees for first-time visitors, I have to admit that for even a small country, you are really missing out on so much more if you don’t venture beyond these areas! If you take a look at this Basic Regional Map, Portugal is firstly divided into 5 distinctly different geographical regions, but then these are further split into.
Sub-Regional (Right) & District (Left), with the districts named after their capital city. These smaller divisions represent how even more different they are from each other within not just geography, but also architecture, culture and cuisine (including wine!). That then gives you a perspective of just how much of Portugal you’re actually missing out on experiencing!
I read recently that it used to be that most tourists in general searched for a vacation spot according to the three S’s- Sun, Sea and Sand, which is still apparent on Portugal’s long coastline for being a tourist hot spot. But now, more and more people are shifting to looking for a vacation with the three L’s- Land, Lore and Leisure, meaning they prefer to stay in a place that best represents the land around them, to learn about the place’s history and folklore while being able to enjoy it through relaxing leisure activities. And for me, this one seems to fit my natural inclinations very well.
For the last 3 years, Miguel and I have maintained a tradition of taking two mini-vacations around Portugal, one in the summer (June/July) and one in the winter (November/December). And each time, we have made sure to go as deep into the country as we can, in search of finding a hotel that provides those three L’s, along with some other preferences we have. For example, a comfy bed is a must, as I don’t know how one can relax on vacation without a good night’s sleep! Also, we prefer a room with a balcony, specifically one with a great view of the land around there, so I guess you could say we normally tend to go to the mountains. And lastly, if we go in the summer months, a hotel with a pool is usually nice to have.
All of this you can easily find in a hotel using my favorite search site, Booking.com, just put in your dates and type “Portugal” as your destination then scroll down to the map and Portugal Overview where you can search by cities or provinces/regions or even closest airports. You can also check out Wonderfulland.com which recommends great Portuguese guesthouses and pousadas (luxury boutqiue hotels built within hisorical sites like castles, monasteries etc.) or Pousadas.pt directly for the entire list of pousadas. However, I find that these sites tend to be pricier to book with for the same hotel that you can almost always find on Booking, so I suggest that if you find a hotel on one of those latter two sites, look it up on Booking next to compare prices before reserving.
So now you may be asking yourself, when do you recommend the best time to go? What do I look for exactly? Well below are the guidelines I like to go by when choosing a hotel:
My Guidelines For Picking The Right Getaway Hotel in Portugal For You:
1. Avoid going in August at all cost!
EVERYONE in Europe goes on vacation in August, so most hotels, especially on the coast, are 2-3 times more expensive than other months. And even if you’re willing to pay the money, it’s almost guaranteed that your hotel will be packed to the brim with lots of families and screaming children….not exactly ideal for a relaxing getaway, you’d almost be better off staying at those people’s empty homes!
If you want the beach without so much of the craziness, try booking in late September/October when it’s still quite warm most of the time and the water has had the opportunity to heat up all summer Just saw a room at a 5-star hotel in Sagres for more than a €100 less per night in mid-October than if you had booked it in mid-August! And of course, staying during the week versus the weekend will always be cheaper.
2. Always check the hotel’s room photos carefully to see exactly what you’re sleeping in/on.
I’ve encountered some gorgeous little hotels in the most absolutely beautiful locations to find out that their rooms look like creepy medieval dungeons. Maybe some people think it’s cool sleeping on a 500yr old piece of history but I prefer my relaxing getaway bed NOT to be a rock-hard tiny mattress that’ll break you’re back as you stare up at a giant gnarled black crucifix. About as romantic as staying at your deeply-religious grandmother’s house for vacation….Pass!
3. Order your search results by highest rated, NOT most popular.
You don’t necessarily want the most popular hotel, especially if the popular vote comes from families with screaming children. However, you do still want an overall high rating for your hotel to begin with, as this usually narrows down your search to places with high-quality service and facilities. I usually tend to not go below about a 7.7 out of 10.0, however I have found exceptions to that before. If you want to really be sure, read several of the comments from past guests, making sure to read specifically the comments from your specific guest profile. As I said, it may be great according to families but not so much for young couples looking for a relaxing, romantic getaway. Also, older couples and families with small children tend to complain the most about any little thing, such as rating the place a 5 out of 10 just because there was no TV in the room. I think these are unfair complaints when they could have easily chosen a different hotel with those desired features beforehand, instead of crapping on an otherwise fantastic place to stay!
Bottom line, if you spend a little extra time searching, narrowing down and looking in detail at the placese you have in mind, you’ll have a better chance of choosing the right hotel in the right area that you´ll be satisfied and happy with after.
So, are you looking for some recommendations to start with? Well, if you have similar preferences as the ones I stated above, then check out the 5 hotels below that I’ve stayed at on my mini-vacations in the last 3 years!
Hotel Folgosa Douro-Folgosa, Douro Valley (Norte) | http://www.hotelfolgosadouro.com/en/
This small but modern 3-star hotel was just a little over a year old when we stayed there for the first time in November, 2009. Situated in the tiny village of Folgosa, near Peso da Régua, it’s in the heart of Douro wine country. Which is what we mainly did on our vacation there, spend the day driving up and down the mountains exploring the area and checking out the all the wineries and vineyards and the breathtaking views of the valley. We liked this place a lot for it’s location right on the river with a great view of the mountains and neighboring villages. The cleanly decorated rooms have comfy beds and nice mood lighting and the bathrooms have huge bathtubs that made for a great bubble bath to soak in after a day of wine tasting in the colder months.
The staff were very nice, offering us a complimentary glass port upon arrival and were very accommodating throughout our stay. The small restaurant serves inexpensive, good food presented nicely in front of their large window with a great view of the river. And if you’re willing to splurge, you got the famed Restaurante DOC by Chef Rui Paula just across the street from the hotel!
Hotel de Caramulo-Caramulo, Viseu (Centro)
This hotel is basically the only one perched at the top of the Caramulo mountains, just outside of the town of Caramulo. Don’t be turned off by its lower rating, this is mainly because the hotel is on the older side and some of the facilities need some fixing up but they have plenty of other reasons to make up for it. The rooms are modest but large and if you book a room with the “Valley View”, you get two double door windows opening up to a large balcony with a table and chairs and of course that GORGEOUS VIEW. The balcony was also great sitting out there in the evening in our hotel bathrobes and slippers breathing in the delicious mountain air under a star-filled sky with the towns all lit up below.
If the view still isn’t enough for you, the hotel has a fully equipped gym, spa, sauna, steam room and both an indoor and outdoor pool. The restaurant is a bit pricey but has good food, however their adjacent lounge/bar has a great mini-menu of soups and sandwiches and afternoon tea goodies that are great to spend a quiet, relaxing afternoon/evening with still that great panoramic view of the valley.
Hotel El-Rei Dom Manuel-Marvão (Alto Alentejo)
This was the last hotel we stayed at back in early December and also our first time vacationing in the region of Alentejo. I must say, we couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to go, with the cold, rain and immense fog, it made it hard at first to appreciate one of the best aspects of the hotel (room) and area-the view! But thankfully the fog did clear up enough for us to enjoy it and I can say it was definitely worthwhile after that.
This is only one of two hotels (the other is the pousada, which has a much lower rating) that are located in the historical village of Marvão, perched at the top of a large hill, complete with the ancient ruins of a castle. This makes it a perfect location to walk through the village and explore the castle and take in all the incredible vistas without ever having to worry about transportation.
Most of the rooms are small and a bit old-fashioned in decor, but the added rooftop terrace of a superior double room evens it out. The restaurant also serves good food, especially at breakfast and the staff are very hospitable.
This cozy, 10-room guesthouse located in a tiny aldeia (village) was rebuilt out of a 12th-century stone manor house and is run by incredibly hospitable Antonio Borges and his family, who live on premises. All the rooms are spaciously decorated with extra-comfy beds and some with a private courtyard or an outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside. Our room was located in the original stone house so we had the delight of the thick stone walls keeping our room naturally cool during the day and snuggly warm at night.
The family puts out a simple but homemade breakfast every morning with local fresh fruit and fresh baked sweets and though there is no restaurant, you can request to have a meal prepared for you in the dining room or you may be invited to dinner instead, if they are already cooking for themselves. This is what happened to us and the rest of the guests the first night and we had a casual, yet delicious family-style dinner, complete with Antonio and his family, they made everyone feel right at home!
The estate has an outdoor pool and you can also get recommendations from Antonio on local sports activities to do, such as hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, rafting, rapeling, BTT and more.
Casas da Lapa- Lapa dos Dinheiros, Serra da Estrela (Centro)
This tiny 8-room boutique hotel was built totally out of local stone and is perched high up in the Serra da Estrela mountains at the top of the tiny aldeia, Lapa dos Dinheiros. The super comfy rooms are stylishly decorated with even softer beds and furniture and all are equipped with jacuzzi bathtubs.
The outdoor pool has a great view of the valley and village below and since the hotel is so small, you almost feel like you’re the only guest there! There are also two rooftop terraces for guests to sit out and relax on, sunbathing or taking in the great view. The staff and service are impeccable and still retain the warm, local friendliness.
Breakfast is great and showcases a lot of local goodies, lunch is available and dinner can be arranged for you on their front terrace at your prior request. The night that we arrived though, it was already quite late, but the staff the kind enough to offer us the dinner menu that another group of guests had requested before so we lucked out!
Outside the hotel, you can walk up and down the historical cobblestone streets of the village and there is a praia fluvial (“river beach”) a short drive/walk down through the woods with a crystal clear mountain lake with a local “pub” that’s great to watch the moon come up over the mountain at night And of course, this place is perfectly located to explore all around the beautiful Serra da Estrela mountains and surround villages.
Boa Viagem & Happy Vacationing!
Lisboa's neighbourhoods of Belem, Alfama, Chiado and Baixa as well as the Paula Rego Museum in Cascais, are the five tourist attractions in the Portuguese capital recently elected by the Associated Press.
Bestowed with "a special charm" that attracts "more and more visitors", Lisboa has been featured in the international agency's free weekly travel guide published in early 2013. In the guide, the Associated Press (AP) reports that the city has a good offer for hikers, a peaceful way of life, low crime and lots of history. The agency also stresses the "famous Portuguese hospitality" and "exceptional seafood in restaurants."
In Belem, the AP highlights Jeronimos Monastery, the gardens and the maps of sea voyages along the riverside promenade. "The Portuguese like to think (of Belem) as the starting point [ground zero] of globalization," the agency says, noting that the Discoveries Monument pays tribute to Portuguese heroes like Vasco da Gama. The guide also mentions the "famous and irresistible Belem pastries," the 25 de Abril Bridge, which says it is very similar to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, USA, and the "giant statue of Christ that stands watch over the city from the south bank of the river."
In Alfama, AP praises the neighbourhood's typical streets "that ascend towards the castle, where archaeologists have found traces of occupation from the 7th century BC."
Downtown Lisboa, or the Baixa as its is locally known, is another of the free destinations that AP recommends a visit, having been rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, in a "rare geometric pattern." In this area, the guide advises tourists to visit the antique shops and admire the black and white decorated cobblestone pavements.
In Chiado, described as a neighborhood of the 19th century Belle Époque, "when writers and artists gathered in cafés", highlights include the café "A Brasileira", with the statue of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.
Finally, the AP guide praises Paula Rego, described as one of the most famous modern artists, and recommends a visit to the museum with her name, in Cascais, in the Lisboa Region.
The Portugal Carnival is an annual event that has everyone is talking about. The Portuguese carnival is a fun and joyfull 3 day period (Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday) . This is the perfect time to mingle with locals and preach some pranks.
In Portugal we have a sain for pranks and people accept it as a Carnival thing. It ´means more or less the following.
"Its not personal, it's just Carnival"
You can take in the culture and have a blast. The carnival is a great place to stop if you are visiting the area or makes a nice destination all on its own.Carnival is all about music, dancing and, of course, the costumes. The elaborate costumes of carnival are something to behold. Many people spend months preparing their costumes for the celebration. From feathers to metal to sequins, you will see it all. Portuguese take carnival very seriously. They will be meticulous in preparing their costumes and they are focused on ensuring every detail is perfected. Carnival may be all about fun, but the preparation is hard work. Here's a glance about our Carnival from North to South.
Torres Vedras carnival maintains a strong traditional component, constituted by 13 large-scale allegorical floats, groups of masked revellers, typical figures wearing large carved heads, giant figures, and Zés Pereiras drumming groups, with traditional drums and bagpipes. The Carnival Kings, both of whom are male, are normally personalities from the region. The two kings are accompanied by a court of caricature ministers and “Matrafonas (“grotesque matrons”) and also a caricature of the Royal guard.
In Mealhada, the elders still remember the Carnival, the masked raids and street games, the dances and also the anonymous letters with declarations of love and social criticism.
There was also the "Feast of the Rooster", on Sunday, a parade of students from each class to their teachers' homes. They used to carry the rooster in a wheelbarrow decorated with streamers and mimosas.
Carnival feast enjoys a great tradition in Sesimbra, not only due to the satirical rituals (“cegadas” and “cavalhadas”), but also to the night balls organised by several associations from the beginning of the 19th century. After the 25th April Revolution, the “organised carnival” was born, as a result of an agreement between the groups that attended the balls. Later emerged the first samba schools that parade on Carnival Tuesday along coastline avenue.
These schools tackle social themes and problems on their “sambas de enredo” (plot sambas) using a critical language. Cultural and social associations were created to organise these parades, standing out as meeting points for young people and others, who learn there to play music and to dance. Sesimbra Carnival is increasingly becoming one of the most significant cultural and social moments in the council, not only in terms of leisure, but also of social cohesion.
Estarreja carnival was born in the 19th century. Local families sponsored the Flower Battle, as well as the carnival cars. From the 60’s (20th century), spontaneous groups emerged on Carnival Sunday and Tuesday.
In the 80’s, the town hall also engaged in this feast.
Tickets began to be charged, providing revenues reinvested in the carnival parade, consisting nowadays of groups of children and samba schools.
The year 1906 marks the beginning of the first “civilised carnival”, contrasting with the aggressive way that characterised carnival celebration until then. In present day, Loulé locals play with serious issues, national politics and current polemic matters for three days.
Carnival parade crosses José da Costa Mealha Avenue. The allegorical car parade, the way people celebrate it and the “Flower Batlle” make it quite famous. Loulé Carnival is one of the most important celebrations of the kind in the country, as well as one of the main tourism highlights of the Algarve during low season.
The parade featured 17 floats, street entertainers and Samba schools, with hundreds of people taking part to bring colour and glee to the heart of the city. Being one of the most colourful events in Portugal, Loulé Carnival is known for its originality and enormous sense of humour.
Thousands of people visit Loulé each year just for its Carnival celebrations.
About 1,000 local schoolchildren parade in carnival costume along Avenida da República in Olhão and the Moncarapacho parish also seen a parade of floats, a ball and a fancy dress contest.
The traditional parade, which has taken place for more than 100 years in Moncarapacho, have over a dozen floats, entertainment groups and local senior citizens encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle by walking regularly.
Do you remember as a kid in the playground, climbing to the top of a slide and looking down to the bottom, thinking how high up you were? Well, standing at the top of any of the near-vertical vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley is a similar sensation!
The Douro Valley runs west to east, 70km inland from the coastal city of Porto, and sits along the winding Douro River. The scenery in the valley is some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen in a wine region. Not only because of the precipitous nature of the vineyards, which are striking in their own right, but also as you stand on the top of a vineyard and look around, you see a kaleidoscope of shades of green much like tiles of quilt, made up of individual plots of vines, olive trees and shrubbery, all tied together by the meandering jade coloured river.
It is from these vineyards that some excellent red table wines are produced along with one of the world’s most revered wines, Port, for which the region is renowned.
Demarcating the Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is one of Europe’s oldest demarcated wine regions, meaning there have been regulations in place for over 300 years to protect the styles of wine produced there. It was back in 1756 that the Marquis de Pombal, then Prime Minister, instituted a sequence of actions to standarize the sales of Port, and amongst many of the things he did, was restrict the area within which the grapes planted for Port production could be grown.
There are three distinct regions within the demarcated area of the Douro Valley and we visited all three on a recent trip. Every quinta (farm) that produces port, or dry table wines, must be located within one of the 21 municipalities within these three areas. As I tried not to get car sick as we wound our way along narrow mountain roads and around stomach-churning hair-pin curves, we discovered that each of the 3 areas produce wines of different styles.
The vineyards in Baixo (by-sho) Corgo receive the most rainfall and therefore produce a lighter style of wine with less ageing potential that are used mainly for cost-effective, entry level ruby ports. As I tried not to get car sick as we wound our way along narrow mountain roads and around stomach-churning hair-pin curves, we discovered that each of the 3 areas produce wines of different styles. The vineyards in Baixo (by-sho) Corgo receive the most rainfall and therefore produce a lighter style of wine with less ageing potential that are used mainly for cost-effective, entry level ruby ports.
In the middle of the valley lies the Cima (see-ma) Corgo. A few of the wines produced here will become dry wine, but most are used for some of the region’s best ports, including Late Bottled Vintages and many of the premium vintage ports.
Vineyards in the Douro Valley
The Douro Superior, on the very eastern end of the valley, close to the Spanish border, has numerous vineyards whose grapes are destined for port, but its main claim to fame is it produces the best dry wines of the trio.
As you can imagine, harvesting these extremely steep vineyards is not easy. Historically, when the vineyards were first planted, two or three rows were grown horizontally across the hillside on terraces. These were similar to large steps carved into the hillsides and built with the support of high brick walls. This worked well enough, but the vineyards had to be harvested by hand as they were too narrow for a tractor to pass between them.
Terraced vineyards still exist, but these days you will also see two other types of vineyard orientation: ‘patamares’ and ‘up-and-down’. Patamares are the modern answer to terraces. The vines are still planted horizontally across the hill, but there are no more walls, instead the rows of vines are connected by sloping ramps which are wide enough for a tractor to drive through.
The third style of vineyard you’ll see amongst the patchwork scenery, is the most common in other wine regions – the multiple rows or ‘up-and-down’ plantings. Tractors can rarely scale such heights, so these have to be harvested by hand by pickers who, while doing the back-breaking work, also have the added degree of difficulty of trying to keep their balance! We got out into the vineyards and tried our hand at picking grapes which was great fun for about the first 20 minutes, any longer and you start to wonder if you’ll ever be able to stand upright again!
One piece of advice I’d offer if you ever go to the Douro Valley, (do it if you can!) – travel as often as possible by boat or train, instead of driving along the winding roads by car, not only because of the tasting you’ll be doing at the quintas you visit, but, because experiencing the landscape from these different vantage points is exhilarating and it will prevent you from turning as green as the river, like I did!
Rating Douro Wines
A fact about the vineyards in the Douro, which I found interesting and that very few wine drinkers are aware of, is that they are classified by a rigorous rating system. The better the vineyard site, the better the rating, the better the perks for the winemakers.
There are twelve features that are taken into account and points allotted, based on such elements as aspect, exposure to sunlight, soil density, gradient, age of vines – and according to Quinta do Tedo owner, Vincent Bouchard, the most important element in attaining a high rating is the vineyard location.
So what are the benefits of having a good rating? The main one is that quintas with the highest scores are allowed to make more wine that those with a lesser grade which means they’ll have more to sell.
Vineyards are given a score between A-F, and only about 2-2.5% of the vineyards have top ratings of A or B, the majority fall into the C and D categories. This doesn’t mean the wine are inferior, just that there’s not as much of it.
Grapes of the Douro Valley
We’ve talked a lot about the vineyards so far, so now let’s take a look at the grapes themselves. Incredibly there are over 90 varieties growing in the Douro and all of them are permitted for use in the port blend as stipulated by the Port and Douro Wine Institute (IVDP), which is charged with overseeing the modernized regulations set forth by the Marquis de Pombal.
Through several series of tests over the years, five grape varieties have been recognized as the ones best suited to Port production (many of which you’ll also see on the labels of bottles of dry wine from Portugal). They are: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo in Spain), Tinto Cão and Tinta Barroca, but there are many others used including Sausão, Tinta Amarella and Tinta Carvalha.
Historically vineyards were planted with a mixture of varieties all growing in amongst each other, to the point where even the growers weren’t sure exactly which ones they had on their land! This is still the case today and such vineyards are known as ‘field blends’. We picked grapes in a field blend and to our untrained eyes all the grapes looked the same – they were purple! But on closer inspection, the size of the berries varied slightly and when you crushed the grapes between your fingers and rubbed the skins together, some had dark, staining skins while others were juicy and pulpy with barely any colour at all.
Many of the newer vineyards are planted with just one variety simply in order to ensure all the grapes reach maturity by harvest time, since not all grapes in a field blend are as ready to be harvested as others.
The Extreme Douro Valley Climate
One thing all the varieties grown in the Douro Valley have in common is their ability to withstand extremely warm temperatures. Summer in the Douro can see the mercury rise to over 40˚C for days at a time. Manuel de Novaes Cabral, President of the IVDP, describes the climate in the Douro as “9 months of winter and 3 months of hell!”.
Even though we visited at the end of September when the weather is usually still very hot, we got an early dose of winter with windy, cool conditions and didn’t experience the savage summer heat. It is the unbearable high temperatures that compelled Port shippers in the 18th century to send the wines away from the Douro Valley to age. They wanted to avoid the roasted characters, known as the ‘Douro bake’, that are associated with wine matured in the oppressive heat. The spring after the harvest the wines were always shipped down to the coast and the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which lies across the river from Porto near the Atlantic coast.
‘Gaia’, as it’s referred to, may be considered the spiritual home of Port. Even though no wine is actually made there, the city is intrinsically tied to the Douro Valley, not just by the winding thread of the river, but because up until a couple of decades ago, every bottle of port produced in the Douro Valley had to be exported from the city of Gaia.
The Famed Port Lodges
We walked around the town amongst some of the vast lodges (cellars) owned by the big port shippers like Taylor’s, Cockburns, Grahams, Ramos Pinto, Sandeman, enjoying views of the long, slender Rabelo boats that used to bring the wine from the valley down to Gaia, before trains took over. We paid a visit to Taylor’s and saw the hundreds upon hundreds of barrels of port of all shapes and sizes resting in Gaia’s moderate climate, which unlike the heat of the valley, is ideal for ageing these special wines.
Until only a few decades ago, all the wine made in the Douro Valley had to be sold and shipped from Gaia, meaning many of the 32,500 winemakers had no choice but to sell their entire production to one of the big shippers who could afford to own a lodge in Gaia. Thankfully this restriction was lifted in 1986 and people like the fabulous, young, passionate Oscar Quevdeo can now ship his family’s wines directly from the Douro Valley, which is great for them and even better for us!
The Douro Valley and the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia are fascinating – dramatic and striking is the landscape, alive and enthusiastic is the passion of everyone involved with port production (and almost everyone is in one way or another!) and steeped in tradition yet contemporary and refined is the wine.
There is great history and pride in every bottle of port and dry wine from the Douro Valley and whether you drink one in the steep vineyards or at home with friends, each one brings us a sense of pleasure in much the same way as slithering down that slide gave us as a kid.
The country with the oldest borders in Europe, the first to adopt its local tongue as its official language, has against the odds survived nine centuries of battles, wars, earthquakes, revolutions, the creation and loss of the world’s first global empire. The Portuguese resilience and adaptability makes certain that no matter what crisis the country goes through, there will always be a nation named Portugal, a bright city called Lisbon, the Tagus, the Douro, and the hills of Sintra…
With such an inviting coastline, Portugal has never been limited by its borders. Being the first Europeans in so much of Asia, Africa and the Americas allowed the Portuguese to transplant their culture in every corner of the globe. The result is that now Portugal has the broadest global spread of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of any country. There are Portuguese forts, churches and other monuments in the oddest, most unlikely of places – from China to Iran, Morocco, India, Malaysia, Kenya… And walk around Brazil and you’ll feel Portugal in a more tropical climate, including in Rio’s beaches, with their Lisbon-inspired wave-patterned pavements. Go to Thailand and the desserts you eat are of Portuguese influence. Learn Japanese and you’ll find that many words originate from Portuguese. Portugal is, more than any other, a global country.
Money can’t buy time and Portugal values time. Everything is discussed and decided over a long lunch or dinner where eating is less about being fed and more of a social ritual meant to be well savored. Portugal feels confident and mature enough to just sit back and relax, like a wiser old man who’s had a long fulfilling life and pauses to appreciate the views or a good cheese and bread, a fresh fish just out of the ocean, a glass of wine… Making time, being present and enjoying the now is what makes Portugal so seductive. Spend a few days in Alentejo or even in Lisbon and you begin to feel the clocks ticking slower, telling you to enjoy the moment. Time is Portugal’s wealth.
It’s Mediterranean but it’s on the Atlantic, it’s Iberian but it’s not Spanish, it’s European but focuses more on the ocean, it’s Latin but with a more reserved Nordic-like temperament. Portugal is difficult to define in familiar terms, a low-profile land with a feeling of apartness, in its own little world that’s more ocean than dry land, more an island than part of a peninsula. It’s a tiny oasis of peace that prevents it from showing up on the radar screen of world news, making it an inconspicuous, indefinable, often overlooked country in a world driven by flashes, categories and trends. It’s a soulful place with a rare individuality, with a consciousness of its unique character, and with little-known treasures that make it so enigmatic and magnetic.
Portugal was the pioneer of world exploration, giving “new worlds to the world” five centuries ago, but the country remains a land of discovery today. It probably has the most beautiful places you’ve never heard of and it’s very likely that it has the biggest variety of landscapes per square mile in the world — from the volcanic craters of the Azores to the subtropical world of Madeira, to the plains of Alentejo, the mountains of the Beiras, the verdant parks of Minho and Trás-os-Montes, to the ocher cliffs of Algarve. If the Gerês National Park or the medieval villages of Monsaraz or Marvão were in Italy, France or Spain they’d be filled with tourists at any time, but they’re usually deserted in Portugal. This is a country of constant surprises and unexpected, unsung wonders.
A small rectangle on the edge of the Iberian Peninsula which only takes two hours to cross from east to west really doesn’t have an interior. Portugal is therefore just one long coastline, a natural port that’s the entrance and exit point of Europe with an endless stretch of sand. Best of all are the mystical capes of Espichel, Sagres, Carvoeiro or Roca which still give you the feeling of being on the edge of the Earth as they did centuries ago before everyone knew the planet was round. It’s not surprising that the Age of Discovery and globalization started here by crossing the horizon as the West looked for the East.
Portugal is still energized by the ocean and the rivers that flow into it, getting from them much of what it eats and drinks – from the Atlantic, the Douro and the Tagus. Some of the country’s biggest icons also float on water – the rabelo boats, the old caravels and the colorful moliceiros of Aveiro.
You may paint the word “Portugal” blue. That’s the color that covers the country, and not just because of the Atlantic. It’s also the color of the skies (Algarve is the region with the most sunshine hours per year in Europe and Lisbon is the sunniest capital), the color of the Azores stunning lagoons, and above all the color of the tiles (“azulejos”) that decorate the country from north to south. They’re in almost every church interior (and exterior, as seen in Porto), in train stations, in palaces, and in ordinary homes around Lisbon. Blue also colors the edges of buildings in the many mostly-white villages such as Obidos and around Alentejo. Portugal is blue.
Portugal is also golden. That’s the color of Algarve’s cliffs, of the profusion of jewelry used in Minho’s folklore and traditional costumes, and of the filigree of the local handicrafts. But then there’s the extraordinary gilding in the churches and palaces, perhaps second only to the azulejos as Portugal’s national art. And gold and blue often go together around the country, presenting some of the most artistic and unique baroque art in Europe (in fact, the word “baroque” derives from Portuguese).
One of the most curious and fascinating aspects of Portugal is its abundant use of stone and how well preserved its pre-historic heritage is. From the world’s biggest outdoor Paleolithic art gallery in Foz Coa, to the numerous dolmens and stone circles in Alentejo, to the dinosaur fossils and footprints around the town of Lourinhã that is a real Jurassic Park. There are also the works of art in cobblestone that cover almost every city, the marble towns of Alentejo (Vila Viçosa, Estremoz), the well-preserved Roman mosaics of Conimbriga, or the Manueline architecture that stuns for its carvings. And the countless medieval castles or entire villages made of stone like Monsanto, Marialva, Sortelha, or Piodão… And every town of any importance has a “pelorinho,” stone columns or pillories, symbols of municipal authority transformed into works of art, usually richly decorated with Manueline motifs.
Using “Portugal” and “saudade” in the same sentence may now sound like a cliché but it’s true that one word defines the other. Saudade has no exact translation in other languages, and it’s much more than nostalgia or melancholy as it’s often explained. It’s an intense passion for life, an acceptance of the incomplete, an appreciation of achievements or generating strength from the good and the bad times. It’s being aware of the passage of time, knowing that you can’t always control the randomness of fate, an insatiable appetite for romance and romantic images; it’s closing your eyes for a moment as you enjoy the image of a fantasy that you don’t dare say out loud. It’s filling the heart with a good memory brought about by a smell or by a feeling caused by a sound. It’s enjoying the view, feeling the serenity of a moment of silence as you sit in the sun or gaze out to the sea and the horizon. It’s finding happiness in simplicity and in small pleasures. It’s living with passion in small steps and being at peace between reality and desire. All this is caused by Portugal, through its history, its geography, its Fado music, its traditions and its “gentle ways.” So to truly understand Portugal you have to be consumed by “saudade” and that only happens after spending some time in the country. Saudade is Portugal and Portugal is 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