Friday, February 28, 2014

Portugal, A Bit Of Text

Portugal was so wonderful.

It was one of the countries in Europe neither Devin or I had visited in our joint or independent travels.
Once we found cheap tickets to Lisbon (which was really easy thanks to Ryan Air) we planned the rest of the trip down the southwest coast to balance out the big city with some adventures in nature.

Immediately after landing in Lisbon and hopping in our rental car (a Fiat Panda, so cute!), we began to notice how much Lisbon resembles San Francisco. A town hovering on the ocean's edge, a bridge that was modeled after the Golden Gate, and landscapes that appear to be a mix of Napa/Sonoma and Tilden/Mt.Tamalpais. In short, I got high on the scent of eucalyptus.

We found an amazing house in Aljezur that was truly a home away from home. Two levels, a Juliette balcony, two decks, lovely views across a river valley towards the mountains, and the sound of cow bells chiming up from the green field below. Beaches and trails were all just a short drive away.

Devin, the best adventure buddy a girl could have, found one of the most beautiful places to hike that we could have found, the Rota Vicentina.

From the website:
The Rota Vicentina is a long distance path along the southwest coast of Portugal. Comprising the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail, totals 350 km to walk, between the city of Santiago do Cacém and the Cape of St. Vincent, the most southwestern point of Europe.

We didn't manage to walk the entire thing in our 8 day stay, but we did complete about 15-18 miles of the Fisherman's Trail (combined with bits of the Historical Way) down near the southwestern most bits of Portugal. The trails were very well marked, leading you through private and public lands, and the entire time we hiked we saw maybe 10 people, total. I'm sure in the warmer months it gets much busier, but for us the lack of other humans was wonderful.

We hope to go back to Portugal someday and do the whole trail, or at least a lot more of it. It would be lovely to take advantage of all the wonderful beaches and a warmer ocean in the late spring or summer months.

After 4 nights in Aljezur we headed back up the coast to Lisbon. We weren't quite ready to leave the beautiful countryside and if we had it all to do over again, I think we'd turn our 8 night trip into a 6 day / 2 day split. What can I say, we're not really city-folk.

Lisbon though, to be fair was lovely. We walked all over that town, up and down hills, up and down stairways and through numerous museums, castles and palaces. There's a lot to take in and Lisbon and no shortage of things to do. We stayed near the Rato Metro station, near Barrio Alto and Principe Real. A very nice area with sweeping views down the hillsides and within walking distance to many sights and shops. We found some lovely vegetarian friendly restaurants which we'd quickly recommend to any future travelers.

Duck Tail (Asian fusion)
Os Tibetanos (Nepalese)
Natraj Tandoori (Indian)

Also worth mentioning, the coffee in Portugal was really, really lovely and you must try the local favorite pastry called Pastel de Nata, which by English standards is a small version of a Bakewell tart, sans jam. So basically a sweet custard tart. Caloric and definitely enough to get your day off to a sugary start!

Sights around town we visited (to name just a few):

Castelo de Sao Jorge
Jeronimos Monastery
Cultural Centre of Belem
National Coach Museum
Botanical Garden of Lisbon
Parque de Edward VII
Centro de Arte Moderna
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Our last full day in Portugal we took the train north of Lisbon to the town of Sintra. It's a magical town where the Portuguese royalty used to spend their summer holidays and it really is a magical little place. A UNESCO World Heritage Sight, it's definitely worth seeing if you've made it all the way to Portugal. Here's a great article in The Guardian about it, with some lovely pictures to drool over. We didn't make it down to the beaches nearby, but if we had had more time we definitely would have hiked around more.

Places we visited in Sintra:

Pena National Palace
Sintra National Palace
Castle of the Moors

Overall a fabulous vacation in Portugal and we are so glad we went!
Now to plan the next trip! We're hoping to make plans to somewhere in the Alps for my April Easter break from the schools.

Pena National Palace

Portugal In Photos

Just a fast and easy photo post to share a few more photos of our time in Portugal.
Dates: February 14 - 22, 2014
Locations: Aljezur, Rota Vicentina Trails, Lisbon and Sintra.