This holiday trip was extra special for a few reason; First off, it’s our first time traveling across the pond together since COVID-19. Secondly, it’s our first trip together to Europe, thanx to my new passport that allows me to travel to Europe (or basically almost anywhere in the world for that matter) without needing to apply for a visa, aww yiss! and third… I don’t remember what the third thing was. Dang it.
Anyhoo, it doesn’t matter. What matters is we’re going vacay yay yay yaaay!
The destination chosen for this extra special travel was PORTUGAL. The land of pasteis de nata and port wine.
There are so many reasons why people flock to Portugal like seagulls to a fresh catch. It's a flaming hot European destination nowadays, but my reason was simple yet personal: Nico has been saying that he wants to travel solo to visit the country for years but he never made it happen. He adores fortified sweet wines and Portugal is renowned for its sumptuous ones; the Portos! So with my newly acquired passport color in hand, I told myself that Portugal would be my first destination and I'd take him with me, so off we went!
We did the whole itinerary in more than 20 days, which although seems to be extensive, we’d wish we had at least one extra day in each place. It is true that Portugal is a relatively small country, compared to other European destinations like Spain, France, or even Italy. But, there's just too much ground to cover, things to do, places to visit, beaches to stroll at, and local pastries to taste in just a few weeks.
Lisbon - stay
As we hopped off the plane, Nico was lit up like a Christmas tree, pulling me behind him as if I was a shopping cart. He had a serious case of FOMO for this travel and I giggled at his enthusiasm. Our first stop was Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. We spent our first few days in Lisbon exploring the architecture and indulging in the local cuisine. We stayed at Alfama district, the oldest neighborhood in Lisbon, perfect place to start our bearing for the trip and get our first bite of the famous pasteis de nata.
Sintra - day trips
Everyone knows it would be an outrageous travesty if you didn't make time to explore Sintra while you are visiting Lisbon! a picturesque town located just a short train ride away. What everyone didn't seems to care to explain in details were that Sintra could not be conquered in a mere day. It's one of those places that demands multiple visits, with its vast array of hidden gems tucked away in every corner of this charming country side. We did two trips to Sintra and it was barely enough!
Cascais - stay
Next, we arrived at the bustling coastal town of Cascais. Cascais is known for its stunning beaches, beautiful scenery, and vibrant nightlife. The town has this old-money vibe, you know, resort-y and all.
Azenhas do Mar - day trip
Have you ever stumbled upon a place that's so breathtakingly perfect, you start wondering if it's all just a figment of your imagination? Welcome to Azenhas do Mar, a hidden gem along the coast of Portugal. It's like someone took a postcard and made it come to life, complete with quaint white houses perched on cliffs and a stunning beach surrounded by crystal clear waters.
Lagos - stay
Lagos is our first base location at the Algarve region. The Algarve is a stunning region located on the southern coast of Portugal. Famous for its stunning coastline, golden beaches, charming fishing villages and beautiful mountainous backdrop, it's no surprise why this part of Portugal is a traveler’s paradise.
As we arrived in Lagos, I could immediately feel the salty sea air caressing my skin and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore was music to my ears. Nico and I, we both love the ocean but in two distinct ways. While I'm happy to be in the water, letting the waves carry me away, Nico's idea of a good time at a beach is watching all the folks getting dunked.
Tavira - stay
After spending a few days in the delightful town of Lagos, we ventured to the quaint Mediterranean town of Tavira. As I strolled through its cobbled streets and narrow alleys lined with charming vintage buildings, my mind instantly began imagining living out my retirement days here; a thought that comes to me every time I was smitten with a new city. I told Nico that's how I'm preparing my retirement and he scoffed at the idea. He said to prepare for a retirement, one should financially prepare for it instead of looking for where to relocate. To end our battle of wits diplomatically, I suggest that as a team, we both should take care of different tasks; he'd be in charge of financial planning while I research potential retirement spots full of exciting activities. He rolled his eyes in agreement.
Santa Luzia - day trip
While we're in Tavira, we visited next door fishing village called Santa Luzia, known as the octopus capital of Portugal. FYI, I'm all about seafood- especially the tentacle-y variety like octopus, squid and calamari, so of course a trip to Santa Luzia was a must!
Evora - stay
Driving from the southern part of Portugal to the northern part was quiet the far, although mostly can be done on one shot driving nonstop for 5 hours through the Alentejo region, we decided to break it in a few places, and our first stop was Evora. Evora is famous for its Capela dos Osos. Capela dos Osos or CHapel of Bones is literally a chapel-like crypt with walls and ceiling covered in human bones. Well, of course there are other interesting things in Evora to visit, I mean, what freak would go to Evora on purpose just to visit a chapel made out of bones, right? - laugh nervously-.
Coimbra - stay
Coimbra, is our next destination in the Alentejo region before reaching Porto. Coimbra is a vibrant city filled with culture, history, and activities. Located in the heart of Central Portugal, Coimbra is home to some of the country's oldest universities, stunning architecture, and a variety of outdoor activities. Joanina library inside the Coimbra university is the reason for our stop in this student city. and sentugal pastry. Rumor has it, Joanina biblioteca or Joanina library is the one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.definitely overrated, IMHO.
I already struggled walking through the hilly cobblestone-y Lisbon, my legs definitely didn't love me more in Coimbra. Oh man, this city was built on a steep hill. Exploring the city felt more like grappling than strolling.
Aveiro and Costa Nova - day trip
Ah, Aveiro; the Venice of Portugal. Aveiro is a nice stop for lunch between Coimbra and Porto. The canal that runs through the heart of the city along the colourful old building on each side does reminisce that of Venice. And instead of gondola, you can have a moliceiro (traditional Portuguese riverboats) ride through this canal and learn about the city history. Aveiro was once a major center of salt production. While that industry has slowed down, you can still see how salt is produced at the Aveiro Salines, or salt ponds.
10 minutes drive to the north of Aveiro brought us to Costa Nova, a coastal city with its pyjama-patterned house. We discovered the city by accident, and quoting from Bob Ross, it was a happy accident.
Porto - stay
After our eventful journey through the Alentejo region, we finally arrived in Porto, the city of wine. The beautiful Douro River flowed through the city, and the aroma of port wine filled the air. Just kidding, LOL.. No, it's not that wine-y up there, it's rather a charming romantic city than an alcoholic paradise.
Porto is one of Portugal's most beloved cities. Located in the northwest corner of the country, it is the second-largest city in Portugal and is known for it's port wine cellars and gothic style buildings. It is yet another of those cities that makes me think about retirement.
Douro valley - day trip
If we talk about the wine region of Porto, it's the Douro Valley. The Douro Valley is one of Portugal's most spectacular sites and home to its famous port wine vineyards and cellars. The Douro Valley is a stunningly beautiful region with picturesque landscapes, stunning vistas, and world-famous wine production. This valley is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world, and has been producing wines since the 18th century. The vineyards in this region are situated along steep slopes, reminds me a lot of the way we grow our rice field terraces; a series of terraces, or artificial slopes, to create a system of irrigated fields that allow for efficient water management and improved soil fertility.
I myself don't drink wine unless it's mixed with fruits and called sangria, or if it's fortified, but I did enjoy our trip to the valley so much we're planning to go back soon!
Obidos - day trip
If you're like me, and thought that Porto was Portugal's national drink, you'd be in for a shock!. It turns out that their national drink is ginjinha. I know - mind-blowing, isn't? Ginjinha is a cherry liquor made from sweet ginja berries infused with aguardente, sugar, and spices. You can find this traditional liqueur all around Portugal but particularly in Oeste and Lisbon area. Obidos is one of the cities in Oeste region that is famous for its ginja production, it is also known for its well-preserved medieval walls, narrow cobbled streets, and colorful houses. We had our first sip of ginja in Lisbon we decided to visit Obidos just for the sake of knowing more about this sweet berry liquor.
Peniche - stay
We had plans to explore the beautiful Berlenga Island, and the easiest way to go to the island was to take a boat from Peniche, and that's why we spent a night in this city. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans, the howling winds and choppy seas made it impossible for boats to venture near the island. However, we made the most of it and strolled around this quaint city instead, which had an alluring vibe of its own. We also had the best portuguese dish called Cataplana de mariscos, some kind of seafood stew with shrimp and lobsters, and honestly, it was the summum of all of the portuguese dishes we had during our trip! I'm drooling just by writing this sentence... yummmm!
Belém, Lisbon - stay
You can visit Belem as a day trip from anywhere in Lisbon because Belem IS part of Lisbon. However, we decided to stay a few days in Belem before catching our flight back to Canada simply because there are so much to visit in Belem itself; the Belem tower, the Monastery, the MAAT, the legendary Pasteis de Belem pattisery shop, the LX factory, and the list continues.
So there it was, our counter-clock wise itinerary around Portugal. Now, lets round up some practical tips to know before the trip, shall we?
Although wifi is everywhere in Portugal, but it's always fun to be cyberly independent and have our own connection through out the trip. The gadget nowadays let you to conveniently purchase an e-simcard online for your travel abroad, but since we're using a prehistoric artefact to get connected like us, we need to buy a physical simcard either from the amazon, OR at the Lisbon airport. Nico and I chose a different provider in purpose with the hope that if one provider sucks, the other one should cover. Nico bought an Orange simcard from Amazon, and I bought a simcard from Vodafone at the airport for about 50CAD for unlimited data. Vodafone definitely has better coverage!
Public transports (trains, trams, buses, tuktuks...)
Living in Quebec with its lack of public transport system, I am practically singing praises for the Portuguese public transport system, it's affordable, seamless, and easy for anyone to navigate, even for those who can't speak a word of Portuguese. For intra-city transport, big cities like Lisbon and Porto has multiple choice of transports; tram, subway, bus, you name it. For inter-city transport, their train and big buses work extremely well, on-time, and economic.
Renting a car
Now that I have said my praise of Portugal public transport, should we rent a car to explore Portugal? Not necessary if we explore locally and take the train to the next city, BUT since we'd like to have more independence and go on our own schedule to explore more of the off-beaten paths, having our own transport was very practical.
Roads in Portugal are well-maintain and clean, highways and main road are wide and smooth BUT the city roads are TINY, narrow and tight, unlike my waist line. Getting a small car is definitely the best option.
Cash or card
I'd say I took 100 Euro cash and it was enough to pay all the small stuff during our travel when I couldn't use the card, but the hot glare Nico is giving me when I said that meaning it was only possible because he paid most of the stuff, so bring more of those liquid cha-ching cha-ching in your pocket folks! You'd prolly need it to pay church entrance fees and parking. Rest assured, an ATM is never too far away but opt for those with Multibanco sign written on it. Withdraw cash in large lump sums to avoid being charged repeated ATM fees and surcharges. For other stuff like eating out, shopping, most of the shops and restaurants accept cards.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to bring a pair of good shoes. Well, okay, I probably should have said purchase a good travel insurance is the most important advice, but if you travel, having a comprehensive protection insurance in case anything goes wrong should be a default thing to have, you know, like a pair of extra clean underwear.
So i'd stand with my good shoes advice. Having comfortable shoes with good ankle support and dependable soles is a lifecode that will affect your vacay in Portugal, I ASSURE YOU. Cities in Portugal are hilly with cobblestone walks, it's nice to look at but a pain to walk on.