The following post is written by Ken from our Camp Hill and Colonial Park locations. Ken recently visited Portugal and shares his experience of this often undiscovered, yet treasure of Europe.
Portugal had always been near the top of my travel bucket list even though I couldn’t exactly tell you why. After visiting Portugal this fall, I can now give dozens of reasons why this small country is worth a detour. No one visits Portugal by accident. Almost as big as Pennsylvania, it is located in far southwestern Europe with nothing beyond it but the big Atlantic. You don’t see Portugal just passing through on a grand European adventure. This is actually good news because Portugal is worth a vacation all to itself! Sure you can throw in its neighbor Spain (which I LOVE), but Portugal can definitely stand alone.
First of all, let me mention the wonderful Portuguese people. They love their country and are eager to share it with the world, which they are doing more and more as tourism to Portugal is growing rapidly. Except for the oldest generation, the knowledge of English is outstanding. Portuguese – very different from Spanish – is not a very widely spoken language so every student gets 12 years of English in school. Their younger people know all about American pop culture, music and movies. The older folk, often seen in traditional clothing, wore Portugal’s tough history in their tanned wrinkles but also in smiles that seemed to say, “At last, times are good.”
We visited 10 locations: Lisbon, Evora, Sintra, Palmela, Sesimbra, Obidos, Nazare, Aveiro, Porto and the Douro River Valley. Lisbon (“leash-bo-ah”) may have the grandest locations of any European capital city. It is often compared to San Francisco with its large bay, steep streets, trolley cars, beautiful overlooks and even its own “Golden Gate” bridge look-a-like (which is almost twice as long!). Lisbon also has the history of a devastating earthquake which destroyed almost the entire city in 1755. One area unscathed by the earthquake is the soul of Lisbon: Alfama. Today this is where you go to enjoy the local Fado music or stroll the narrow, winding streets looking for Portuguese or ethnic foods. On the waterfront, you will be find Belem. This is where Portugal’s explorers left for new worlds. Go to Belem to be impressed by the Monument to the Discoveries, the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery. Lisbon is definitely worth 3-4 days. In addition, nearby cities are Sintra, Sesimbra, Evora and Obidos which are excellent day trips from Lisbon but equally worthy of an overnight stay.
Sintra is a fairy tale town in a gorgeous natural setting among tall trees. Once home for the king, Pena Palace was built more for romanticism than for protection. This quirky, mountaintop summer palace has many styles and Crayola colors. On the neighboring mountaintop you can see and visit the imposing Moorish Castle from 711 AD. In the valley below, wealthy commoners built vacation homes to be near the king. One of these, Quinta da Regaleira, comes complete with enchanting gardens, towers, hidden waterfalls and many subterranean passageways.
Just north of Lisbon you will find Obidos, a quaint medieval village with shops and restaurants serving local dishes like bacalao and caldo verde. Just to the west in a wine region, Evora has much to see. There are many well-preserved Roman ruins, a chapel lined with hundreds of human bones, and a Nativity Museum filled with scenes made around the world.
Lastly, it would be a shame to miss Porto, Portugal’s “second city”. Porto is not second rate by any means. The city is smaller than Lisbon but with tons of walkable charm. Porto’s emblem is the two level Luis I Bridge and it’s amazing day and night. Harry Potter fans will love the city’s influence on JK Rowling. Wine enthusiasts will love the city’s namesake port wine. If you think you don’t like port wine, wait until Porto! There are so many varieties. Then, go to the source of the port wine, the Douro River Wine Valley. The scenery alone is fantastic, but wait until you visit one of the many quintas or vineyards! The Douro Valley is just incredible.
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