have a spot in my heart for Portugal, not just any particular city or town, all of it! All of its different landscapes, shopping… the beaches, the food and the list goes on.
I didn’t know what to expect. I can’t even remember why exactly Portugal was on my list of places to see. Maybe that is why this was one of my favourite places and will be “snowbird-ing” it here when I retire!
My first stop is Lisbon which has the best, best shopping! I love the European fashion and I loved the prices. Shoes, shoes and more shoes… where do I begin? Lisbon is a very walkable city. All the different districts are much closer than you think. Yes, there are hills, but this was one thing I was mentally prepared for and was forewarned about. Good walking shoes is a must! The cafes where people gathered daily sipping on their espressos and indulging in their croquettes fascinated me. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful buildings lined with the most colourful tiles that read like a storybook. History here is so strong you feel like you are trailing the footsteps of the great maritime explorers.
After about 10 pasteis de natas in 3 days, on to the Algarve! This is the southernmost region of Portugal where the infamous beaches and seaside fishing villages litter the coastline. We rented a car and went as far west as Sagres-Cape St. Vincent, which is the southwestern tip of Europe. Along the way we made stops at all the Praia’s (beaches) that I had read about in “Best Beaches to See in Portugal” and they didn’t disappoint. The spectacular cliffs, rock formations and natural ruggedness balanced beautiful sandy beaches.
We drove east as far as Faro, the largest city in the Algarve and definitely worth the stop to experience the old town and the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa which is accessible from a guided boat tour.
We also made a stop at Vilamoura where Cristian Ronaldo has his nightclub – a place for the rich and famous complete with new condos, suburbs, etc. Worth a quick stop if you are a fan.
A hot tip for accommodation throughout our stay here was from a colleague who happened to be Portuguese and shared with me her favourite place to stay, Sao Rafael which was away from the busy nightlife of Albufeira but not too far away that a quick bus trip or cab ride couldn’t take us in when we wanted have dinner, shop, explore. Sao Rafael was definitely my favourite, private beach ever! This little piece of heaven has a wonderful little bar that opened the oddest hours – it was all perfect!
Porto was our next stop. I have this image in my head that everyone has seen in brochures when they speak of Porto and that is the infamous bridge with the coloured buildings along the river. I wasn’t coming all this way and not going north to see this and store that in my vault. When we arrived and walked over that bridge I collapsed in tears. This was more beautiful than any picture in any magazine! Now I couldn’t decide which was my favourite town or city throughout these 2 weeks and I cried even more!
Porto is magical! Separated by the river there is the port houses side and the city centre side and both are equally stunning. Taking the venicular up the side of the mountain and checking out the train station tiles is a must along with Port house tours and exploring all the narrow cobbled hill streets. From here we also took a day tour to the Douro Valley for some wine tasting and more spectacular scenery.
All in all I had amazing, memorable meals here, great wine, fabulous shopping and learned about the Portuguese history and culture and did all of this in 2 weeks with money to spare…this trip is a keep sake I’ll remember always.