When you’re planning a trip to an international destination, it’s always good to check the various sources of information. Regional travel bureaus are a great place to start, with reliable information from those in the know. I gathered some friends around a bottle of portuguese wine, here are our thoughts.
Travel websites often have good insight in the form of reviews from people who have visited. Yet for my money, the best source of information is friends. When I started thinking about a trip to Portugal, I recalled that several good friends had been there in the past couple of years. What better excuse to pick up the phone and chat, or get together over a meal and a glass of wine, than to pick their brains about the best things to see, do, eat, and drink in Portugal!
I talked with friends and fellow bloggers, John & Irene Ingersoll of Topochines Vino, Kristy Harris of cavegrrl and her husband Andy, and friend Edward Decker. It was fun to hear their various perspectives on their favorite parts of Portugal.
The five common denominators among all of my friends’ accounts are these:
- Accessibility: Portugal is a very accessible country; with good public transportation and easy to navigate by car. Roughly a two hour drive east to west, and a day’s drive north to south, one could easily see the all the main parts of the country during a week long vacation.
- Affordability: Compared to other European destinations, Portugal is quite affordable. Meals and wine top the list. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine can be less than what you’d pay for one person in other countries.
- Seafood: Oh, the seafood! Octopus, shrimp, cod, sardines (not the canned kind, but fresh caught sardines) are plentiful and delicious.
- Wine: So much variety in wine, and all very reasonably priced. The wines all showcase the local regions, and do not try to mimic big, internationally recognized regions or styles. In Portugal, the wine represents Portugal. With more than 250 winegrape varieties, there is much to taste and enjoy. Combine this with the affordability mentioned above...very few bottles over $10, and none of my friends paid more than about $16.
- Lisbon: The capital city is beautiful and cosmopolitan, with plenty to see and do. Easy to navigate on foot or by tram, Lisbon is a must-see city. Each of my friends said Lisbon reminded them of San Francisco on a smaller scale, right down to the Ponte 25 de Abril; the near identical twin to the Golden Gate Bridge. If you like San Francisco, you’ll love Lisbon!
Where To Go, When To Go:
As luck would have it, the combination of friends provided me an overview of the whole country and nearly the whole year. John and Irene were there from mid-May to early-June, They drove by car from Seville, Spain, and first visited the wine regions of the north; Douro, Porto, Dão and Vinho Verde. They enjoyed the great springtime; not too hot, and not too crowded. Eager to experience the Portuguese wine regions to the fullest, John and Irene were surprised by the proximity from one to the next; less than an hour’s drive. Being wine bloggers, they were impressed by the quality and variety of wines. During their 10 days in Portugal, they tasted at least 50 different varieties of grape. All the wines were true to the grape with little use of oak, allowing the wine itself to shine. Their time in Porto was a favorite, with more than 100 port houses available to visit.
After spending a few days in the north, John and Irene drove south to Lisbon where they enjoyed more great weather, and the charm of this beautiful city. The history and the sights were enchanting, including monuments and statues, the hill-top Lisbon castle with it’s nearly 360 degree view of the city, and the colorful Alfama district with its brightly painted buildings.
Edward arrived in Lisbon in late September and was in Portugal until early October. He said the days were still warm, and the nights cool, but at no time did he need to unpack his sweater. Edward relied on public transportation to get around, travelling south from Lisbon to Lagos on the southern coast, and then east along the coast to Albufeira, before venturing into Spain, only to return to Lisbon. Edward was looking for a beach resort experience, and he found exactly that! He was able to relax on the beaches, read a book, take a charter boat excursion to see the cliffs, and enjoy ample amounts of fresh seafood. He described several restaurants in which he could pick his fish from the tank, and have it grilled to order.
Though he loved his beach vacation, his time in Lisbon was Edward’s favorite. He said Lisbon is easy to walk, albeit hilly, and the affordability makes it easy to “live large” while on vacation. He enjoyed the meandering, hilly vistas, the comfortable cafes, and the cultural sights like churches, monuments, and the bustling waterfront.
Kristy and Andy celebrated New Years Eve 2018 in Lisbon. Though cool, they said it was sunny every day. They were very pleased with the food and wine selections, and amazed at the history. They visited the Lisbon Cathedral, an impressive and iconic building that is 850 years old. Coming from the United States, where “old” is 200 years, they were astounded that this structure had withstood earthquakes, wars, and the test of time. One of their favorite parts was their excursion to Sintra, home to medieval castles, grand palaces, and breathtaking views.They also enjoyed Tram 28, a quaint, historic rail transport that provides a great overview of the city, as well as a convenient way to get around.
Kristy and Andy were on a food quest during their trip, and they were not disappointed. A must-visit is the Timeout Market, a veritable gastronome dream destination with gourmet food stalls and something to please every palate. They, too, mentioned that they enjoyed top quality wines for very reasonable prices, and exquisite food their entire trip. As they rang in 2019, the fireworks display in the square was the best they’d seen!
What They Didn’t Get to Do, But Wish They Had
There is much to see and do in Portugal, but only so much time. Sadly, the vacation must come to and end, but this only creates an excitement to return to see and do even more.
John, Irene, Kristy, Andy, and Edward all had a list of places and sights they wanted to see, but just couldn’t get to. Top among them is Evora, in the region of Alentejo, home to an ancient Roman temple and other Roman ruins. Another is the former capital city, Coimbra. Located about halfway between Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra boasts a well preserved medieval old town and the 12th-century Romanesque Cathedral Sé Velha.
John and Irene would like to have been able to venture south to the Algarve region along the south coast, to enjoy the wines from that area, and the beaches at Faro. Kristy and Andy plan to visit the Fado Museum in Lisbon on their next trip, and take an excursion to the St. George Castle, a moorish castle overlooking the Tagus river. Edward’s dream is to return and visit the northern wine regions and explore the castles, towns, and of course, the wine. In Lisbon, he will tour the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and it’s fine art exhibits. He also wouldn’t mind returning to the south, enjoying the Algarve wines, and spending more time being pampered in the spas.
It all sounds wonderful to me. After talking with my friends, learning about the sights, adventures, and flavors, I’m more excited than ever to plan my trip to Portugal, and get packing and Tour Portugal from North to South!