One of our favorite destinations for a cooking vacation? Portugal! It has everything you can ask for: great food, friendly people, wonderful local wines (and I don’t just mean Port!), amazing cultural sites, and a beautiful and diverse landscape. We were so distraught to hear about the recent wild fires there, and the deaths they caused. And it made us even more determined to share our love of this country with others.
I found Portugal to be surprisingly different than any other country I’ve been to in Europe. The Portuguese people display a sort of casual friendliness; they never seem to be trying to impress, but just let the beauty of their country speak for itself. They are friendly without being effusive and proud without being pretentious, and this sort of “down to earth” quality makes it easy to be a tourist there.
See all of our amazing trips to Portugal.
Portugal has its surprises! I had no idea there were so many castles there. I knew of a few of the more famous ones, but really there seemed to be a castle ruin on the top of every hilltop. And indeed we found out that was so, and done for strategic purposes so that the castles were never more than a day’s ride by horse from each other, and were close enough to form a visible chain of communication via smoke signals. Yes, just like the “beacons of Gondor” in the Lord of the Rings. Even some monasteries and churches were built to look like fortified castles to discourage attack and invasion.
Another surprise was the pervasive presence of the Templars. After their suppression in 1312, they a second home in Portugal as the Military Order of Christ, which found protection under the Portuguese monarchy.
This means that you will find Templar castles, artifacts, and monasteries spread throughout Portugal, and they make for some fascinating excursions.
So where to go? I think our Flavors of Portugal and Authentic Algarve itineraries are particularly well suited for our younger travelers. First, Portugal is much less expensive than France or Spain (a glass of wine can be had for a few Euros, a wonderful meal for under 20 Euros). Also, Lisbon, Porto, and Braga are university towns, so are full of young people. In Lisbon a walk down to the river bank on a warm evening provides plenty to see and do, with artists and musicians setting up to entertain. Porto is architecturally different than any city I’ve been to – sort of a Portuguese mixture of New Orleans and San Francisco: Portuguese in the colorful tiles and paint colors, New Orleans-like in the wrought iron balconies, and San Franciscan in the hilly neighborhoods and trolleys.
Discover Lisbon on our 3-night Lisbon Food Tour.
Braga’s pedestrian-only city center has musicians peppered throughout the streets at just large enough intervals that they don’t interfere with each other’s music, and a main square bustling with life. And the Algarve? It is a breathtaking place of cliffs, beaches, and seaside villages.
Another amazing place to visit in Portugal is Evora, home to our Delectable Portugal cooking vacation. Evora is a smaller city positively steeped in history (it is a UNESCO world heritage site) and appropriate for anyone wanting to learn more about Portugal’s culture and the modern lifestyle in the south. The Alentejo, the region where Evora is located, is so known for its relaxed way of life that the locals are said to have two speeds: slow or standing still! The result is lazy strolls through the arcaded city center, past Roman and Moorish ruins, historic churches and monasteries, perhaps while stopping for coffee or a warm “Pastel de Nata,” the ubiquitous local pastry.
Learn about one of our favorite experiences in Lisbon.
And of course, for us travel is always all about the food. Portugal is known for its “bachlau,” or salt cod, which is found everywhere and prepared a variety of ways. But you will also find wonderful regional specialties – such as grilled sardines along the coast or Black pig of the rural Alentejo region, where the half-wild pigs are free to forage the acorns of the holm and cork oak trees.
Learn more about one of our favorite cities: Évora!
By Peg Kern
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