I could write to you of the small old streets in the Alfama district of Lisbon and the energy of that beautiful city. I could write to you of the gorgeous black rocky cliffs overlooking a wild and sometimes frightening blue green sea on the southwest coast. I could write to you of the jaw dropping views and the endless rivers that run through northern Portugal and the Douro River valley. But the real story of Portugal is found in the people and the food.
Everywhere we have travelled, which after a month now is most of Portugal, we find friendly and welcoming people. The average person here barely makes enough money to take care of their family. Many people averaging income around 450 Euros a month. In spite of the difficult life here the Portuguese will, for the most part, do anything for you. We only feel over charged in extreme tourist areas. The average meal including simple yet delicious food for two , lots of incredible local wine, and dessert runs around 15 Euro. Also the Portuguese bake wonderful bread and know how to make good cheese. Who could ask for more?
Yesterday we decided to travel east of Coimbria into the mountains of Serra de Estrela. It was one of our longest drives so far as we were coming from Sintra near Lisbon. It could have been complete in 3.5 hours but, as we normally do, we got off the expressway and drove on the small roads leading up to the mountains. We had made it to the mountains but were still in the middle of nowhere by 7pm and starting to want a place to rest for the night.
Michel noticed a sign on the road pointing toward a Posada (hotel) and headed into a small village. Following the signs we ended up driving down a street so small it would have been called a sidewalk in the US, FYI this is normal in Portugal. There we found a family with children playing in the yard. We asked about the Posada but it had been closed for a long time. The story of this village, it seems, was that a mining company started to mine here a few years ago which caused the creation of the village. There are small homes spread along the side of the mountain here that were built to house the employees who worked at the mine and their families. However, at some point the mine was moved and the village died. At that time some of these homes were sold for as little as 2000 euro. Now people from the cities own them and use them in the summer. One of the buildings has a few small apartments and we were offered one as a room for the night. Amazing, everything inside our two bedroom apartment is new and clean. Beds are comfortable, TV, hot water, and a kitchen with everything we need. Outside is a river winding through beautiful tree covered mountains. All of this for 30 Euros a night.
Last night we searched for a place to have dinner and after traveling through a few small villages and finding nothing but closed restaurants, we finally found one open a few kilometers down the road. We were served a huge meal of stewed lamb in an amazing tomato wine sauce. Along side we had pig skin stuffed with rice, herbs, and lamb. Amazing! We were the only people in the restaurant and the woman who served us was proud of her food. This is one in a long line of fantastic meals that we have eaten since our arrival in Portugal. Some of the most notable meals are: Feijoada with Chucos (cuttlefish), made from white beans and a lovely wine sauce, or Chucos and Migas. Migas is a side dish made from bread, vegetables, and sauce that I am now addicted to. Or perfectly grilled fish and octopus with another version of Migas made with bread, spinach, garlic, and black eyed peas. There are snails cooked in an oregano wine sauce or a type of tuber barnacle cooked in salt water. I could go on and on. Almost every meal has been a wonderful adventure. Michel and I groan each day as our clothes grow tighter and tighter.
And the wine. Who knew the Portuguese made such great wine. It is all locally made and the people have never gotten around to exporting it. Most of the time it is not served in a bottle but instead poured into a .75ml or .375ml serving pitcher from a white cask which came from the producer down the street. It is not rough but light and delicious….and drunk with every meal but breakfast.
moving forward in time about a month
Well our trip to Portugal is over now. We were just having too much fun to blog back then. Michel and I both look back on our time in Portugal as magical. Everyday was filled with new things to see, do, and EAT. We rented houses or apartments all along the road and we recommend this as the way to travel in Portugal (we used Trip Advisor & Airbnb). Many local people are ready for you to spend the night in their homes and we found them all welcoming and friendly. Some of them we now count as friends and would certainly return to see them again when we go back to Portugal.
We learned about the difficulties of buying a “Rustico” or ancient house and refurbishing it. Apparently the paperwork and red tape can go on for years. We observed that in the rural areas most of the young people have moved away. Either to the cities or to other countries where they can work and send money home to their families. We left our hearts back in the city of Lisbon were the mix of old and new generate an energy that cannot be resisted.
We know that while Portugal’s economy is observably recovering, many people still struggle every day. This has not caused them to lose their love for life or their generosity. Making the quality of life in Portugal very good for those who might choose it as a permanent home.
Below you will find some of the photographs Michel took along the road organized by region and the sequence or our drive.
South West – Alentejo
South East – Algarve and back to Alentejo
Middle – more Alenjeto and on to Coimbra
Heading North to Porto and the Rio Duoro
A little South to Sintra
North east – Beira Alta
And full circle back to Lisbon – our favorite city
Categories: Europe Travel