Pinched between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal, with its many shapes, colours, smells and flavours, is bound to stir up emotions in anyone who visits. You can’t help but admire its flair for the old, wandering the medieval streets of Porto’s riverside Ribeira and Lisbon’s Moorish Alfama quarter. Or share its fascination with the new, standing in front of Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a tribute to the Portuguese fleets that probed the Atlantic and ushered Europe into the Age of Discovery. Get enchanted in Porto’s Livraria Lello, the 100-year-old neo-Gothic bookstore that is said to have put a spell on Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling. Then soak up the rays and lose yourself in the seaside bliss of the Algarve’s endless beaches. And when you leave, embrace saudade, the most Portuguese emotion of love that lingers long after something is gone.
Before growing into the world’s first global empire, Portugal was home to the Cynetes, a Pre-Celtic tribe that settled down in the Algarve region around the 6th century BC. Portugal’s capital, however, is storied to be born under rather miraculous circumstances. According to legend, it was the Greek Odysseus, avid wooden horse builder and travel enthusiast, who casually founded Lisbon on his way back to Ithaca. No wonder that in the 15th century it became the epicentre of Europe’s Age of Exploration. Portugal’s legendary adventurism is only rivalled by its love of life’s simple pleasures. Join Lisbonites as they flock to Baixa for a late-night meal, theatre performance or a glass of their beloved Ginjinha (sour cherry liqueur). Get on the water to appreciate the scenic beauty and world-famous produce of the Douro Valley. Or claim your combo of bica (coffee) and crunchy egg tarts at Pastéis de Belém and watch the waves break from Lisbon’s harbour.
Portugal doesn’t just love art. Portugal is art. Case in point: azulejos. Wherever you go, you’ll see churches and monasteries, palaces and apartment buildings, park seats and subway stations wrapped in delicate tin-glazed tiles. By the 18th century, traditional Portuguese tilework became an art form in its own right and an integral part of Portuguese identity. Besides local souvenir shops, find the biggest collection of Iberophone tile art in Lisbon’s Museu Nacional do Azulejo. To get acquainted with Portugal’s other favourite art form, you’d better look beyond the azulejo-painted facades. Or listen, actually: Lisbon’s UNESCO-recognised soundtrack, fado music, is played in dozens of casas de fado across the capital’s Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods. Don’t miss it. Portugal’s ongoing love affair with art is also on display in its vibrant contemporary art museums. Porto’s Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is just as striking on the inside as it is on the outside: the minimalist building houses some 4,000 pieces of art from the 1960s to the present day.
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar Wilde advises in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Let his words guide you on your Portuguese culinary explorations. Start your gastro adventure with the sandwich to end all sandwiches: francesinha. Portugal’s well-loved ‘little French lady’ is massive and certainly one to remember, made of thick slices of bread, cured ham, linguiça sausage, steak meat, fried eggs, heaps of cheddar cheese and tomato-beer gravy. Seafood is fresh, plentiful and comes in all forms imaginable in Portugal. With little exaggeration: some say that there are exactly 365 different ways to cook bacalhau, locals’ favourite dried and salted cod. Make sure to try at least one at Lisbon’s Time Out Market. Our recommendation: bacalhau à brâs, as perfected by Chef Miguel Castro e Silva. Sardines or sardinhas assadas are another celebrated seafood dish in Portugal. Quite literally: every June Lisboetas gather for the annual Santo António Festival, dedicated to Lisbon’s patron saint and, you guessed it, sardines.
With over 1,700 kilometres of coastline, Portugal has a beach for everyone, whether it’s crashing waves, jagged rocks, yacht-studded marinas or hidden coves you’re after. Praia do Norte’s motto would probably be ‘Go big or go home’ if it had one. Located in Nazaré, the North Beach is Portugal’s big wave surfing Mecca. It was here where Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa made it into the Guinness Book of Records after riding a 24.4-metre monster of a wave in 2017. The Algarve’s Praia da Dona Ana is what beach lovers’ dreams – and most of the Algarve’s postcards – are made of. It’s much photographed and much loved by families, couples, groups of friends and solo sun-seekers alike, thanks to its calm and crystal-clear aquamarine waters, dramatic limestone cliffs and soft, deep gold sand. Planning a Lisbon weekend getaway? You can still squeeze in some beachside R&R. Take a break from sightseeing and Port sipping a short train ride away on Praia de Carcavelos, one of the finest spots of the Lisbon-Estoril-Cascais coastline.
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