Today’s blog features an interview with one of our clients’ favorite hostesses, Sofia of our Delectable Portugal culinary tour. Sofia is tour guide, hostess, cooking instructor, and more during this week-long cooking vacation. The secret to her success? Understanding the unique mix of old and new that is inherent to Portugal.
1) When did you become a tour guide, or why did you decide to work in the tourism industry?
My parents had a inn in a neighborhood close to the Lisbon`s airport, so, dealing with Bed and Breakfast was something I was used to since I was a teenager. But my own work in tourism started in 1992 as a national tour guide in Portugal (all over), starting in Lisbon where I was born and raised. Then I graduated in tourism management and started with my mother the business in Portel at Refúgio da Vila, in 1999.
2) How did you learn about the history and sites of Portugal?
During my graduation as a tour guide I had a course of 3 years with history, culture, languages — I also speak French, and Spanish (and Portuguese, of course!) — geography, gastronomy, and we visit all the country. Today, I have a special source: my husband is a history school teacher! It really helps, because we are always learning more and more, with great pleasure.
3) How do you get people interested in the places they see and visit?
Portugal, and specially the Alentejo, the South region where I live, is full of charming, beautiful small towns and villages, where everything is real, with character, authentic. it is an area that have prehistorical vestiges from 8000 years before Jesus (older than Stonehenge), passing through the Lusitanians (a big tribe that gave us our identity), the Romans, the Moors, the Cristians, the discovery times. From all these periods, we got our architecture, our vocabulary, our faces, our traditions…some details and traces that we can see and feel everywhere. And its funny and pleasant to combine all that with today, with the way we live, we cook, the way we combine the old and the new, respecting the past, the traditions, but also facing the present and future.
Answering your question, I try to let people feel all this, according to their interests. It is quite easy in such lovely places. People here are naturally friendly and we are considered a safe country, that also helps.
4) Where is your favorite place to bring guests, and why?
As a town I love Évora (50,000 inhabitants). It’s a magic place (belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Patrimony). Inside the 16th-century walls it looks like a medieval small village with less than 10,000 inhabitants. I was lucky to live here for about one year. I felt it so special that I created a one week program for small groups at my house (we cook in my kitchen, eat in my dining room ) and the guests stay in a 4-star hotel on a 3 minutes walking distance from me. It is in the old Jewish quarter (16th century).
As a village I love Monsaraz (hilltop village, 13th century), Portel (medieval town), Arraiolos (14th century, known for the fabulous handmade rugs). The atmosphere is unique: it looks like you are going into the past, dressed as you are today! That combined with great wineries, good food, lovely handcrafts, fabulous landscape, its great!
5) Why should people choose your tour/vacation over other trips to Portugal?
Well, I feel what my program offers is a real experience in Portugal, visiting the great monuments, castles, churches, palaces, but also going into public buildings that are not museums, tinny local restaurants, local small potteries (non touristy), visiting food stores and great different kind of wineries.
About cooking, each class offers the real Portuguese food of the south (we can say Mediterranean), where I choose the recipes that could be easily reproduced and which allow me to explain some stories: why we use many breads, what is the connection between the convents and yolks, between the monks and the cork; why Portugal is the 1st world producer of cork; why we eat so much codfish; why we can´t cook without olive oil; why the Jewish people created a special sausage in this area in the 16th century, etc. I try to offer an experience of Portugal in one week, concerning food and wine, culture, traditions and tours.
6) Anything else you’d like to share with The International Kitchen about your background and why/how you like to welcome people to Portugal?
Most of the times, I also cook with the group. I ran (with my Chefs, of course) my one restaurant for 15 years. Last March, I rented the restaurant and know the cooking classes are run by me and other Chefs invited I already worked with. Today, as an example, it was Chef Miguel Amaral that ran the class. I also work with chef Pedro, or Chef Narciso Peraltinha. Also Chef António Nobre.
Check out our video of cooking with Silvia:
By Peg Kern
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