Portugal Road Trip 2021
Bom Dia (s), good days in Portugal. Leaving from Barcelona, we flew to Porta on the Atlantic Coast in the Northwest. Our first reaction was how clean the city was with no litter, no graffiti, no grime on the buildings, no gum on the white marble streets. This was consistent throughout the country with some minor exceptions in Lisbon.
Our second reaction was that everyone was wearing masks despite the high vaccination rate and the low positive testing. A Covid test was required at our hotel, the self test kits are $3.00 at any pharmacy, we picked up a batch. This is a unified country after many centuries of foreign domination and oppression. “The First Global Village” by Martin Page is a very good read.
Our third reaction was the most everyone we encountered spoke fluent English. Our fourth was that almost every storefront was occupied and that throughout the country we saw both public and private investment.
Beyond those observations, the food was great, the sites amazing and the people gracious. We would highly recommend a visit to anyone.
From Porto, famous for its Port wines, we traveled up the beautiful Duoro valley where the port wine grapes are grown on the terraced hillsides on both sides of the river. If you are in Porto, you can take a train or boat boat up the river or do a combination….highly recommended.
Moving south we passed more vineyards, olive groves, apple and pear orchards, walnut trees….all manor of agriculture, the specific determined topography, soils and micro climates. Traveling on to Marvao, we encountered a walled city on a mountain top. This turned out to be typical along the boarder with Spain, more fortress than cathedrals to see in Portugal.
We continued on to the south coast with a stop for a few days in our favorite city Evora. Just the right size, full of heritage and away from the tourist beach crowd…the water here is about 58 degrees. “its for looking, not swimming” is a local joke.
Largo is typical of the coastal cities with its beaches and tourist accommodations and lack of parking. Unlike the coast of Spain, there are no high-rise building and a scattering of mid rise. A stop at Sagres took us to the propertied location of the famous navigation school reported to have been established by the great Henry the Navigator. Subsequent reading have disabused us of much of this ledgend; however, the nautical knowledge and tools used by the early Portuguese explorers opened the west to an understanding of the scope of the world.
On to Lisbon for a few days exploring its museums, restaurants, shops and even the aquarium. Quite a history, in 1755 there was a tsunami that originated in the Caribbean and was felt as far north as the British Isles and Belin. It struck the Lisbon on November 1, All Saints Day when the entire city was required to be in church. Only 5 of the 65 churches survived the devastation of the wave, it is estimated that more than two thirds of the population perished in the flooding, fires and aftermath of this event. The story goes that the king, Jose I asked his youngest minister what should be done and the future Marquis de Pombal said “Bury the dead. Feed the living. Rebuild the city.” Pombal did just that for the next 22 years virtually single handed and without budget constraints. A remarkable feat to remember as you walk the streets.
Sintra is an amazing little city about 15 miles from Lisbon. Ferdinand II built a palace here in the 19th century and what followed was a series of magnificent residences by those seeking access to the throne. Today the entire city is a World Heritage site. Give this place at least a couple of days.
A quick stop in Nazare, home of the 30 meter waves for surfers…sorry seas were dead calm. On to Coimbra, the university town with one of the oldest universities in Europe. Outside of Coimbia is Conimbriga, a major Roman city lost to the ravages of peasants, barbarians and time. A reminder of the fragility of our current situation.
Returning to Barcelona, we reflected on our decision of make our residence in Spain as opposed to Portugal. While we loved Portugal, we have to admit we also like the larger cities in particular Barcelona that is three times the size of the largest city in Portugal. We were also extremely fortunate to visit during Covid and the absence of tourists. No hotel reservations required, no waiting in line, no crowed restaurants….perfecto!