Portugal: Small Country, Big Value

Portugal may be a small country in Europe, but it is packed with things to do, food to eat, wines to drink, and trails to hike. Not to mention the beaches, the cities, and a rich historical past.

Chris on the Camino Portuguese, an alternate route to Santiago de Compostela

I first visited Portugal in 2008 when I was teaching school in Angola, so I was already familiar with the cities of Lisbon and Porto. For this trip, Chris and I flew in to Lisbon and spent just a few days there. We joined a walking tour, explored the Chiado and Alfama neighborhoods, and ate as many pasteis com natas as possible. We went out to the Tower of Belem and the Monument to the Discoverers, and walked back along the river for a while before hopping on one of Lisbon’s ubiquitous yellow trams. At night we walked through alleys with the sounds of fado singers spilling out, and smelling of baked bacalou from the kitchens.

Lisbon, the city of seven hills
Monument to the Discoverers

As Lisbon, like most of Europe, was experiencing a heatwave, we hopped on a train and headed up to Sintra. Happily, Sintra was 15° cooler, and we were able to spend two days exploring that magical city. We took the bus all the way up to the Moorish castle walls, and from there we walked to the National Palace de Peña. We spent a few hours exploring inside and outside the brightly colored castle. From there it was a long walk home, but downhill most of the way. The next day we were able to take a short walk out to one of the most unique places in Europe, the Quinta de Regaleira. This UNESCO site, designed by a Brazilian millionaire and an Italian architect, must be seen to be believed- please visit it for yourself one day.

Sintra tried to keep us there by having a train strike, but we were able to share a taxi back to Lisbon, and from there take a bus to the coastal town of Nazarè. Home to the largest surfing waves in the world, this peaceful fishing village transforms into an international destination on summer weekends and when weather conditions create the perfect waves.

Traditional Nazarè fishing boats

A quick bus trip landed us in Coimbra, where we picked up our Camino Portuguese credencials at the cathedral. These passports identify us as pilgrims walking the Camino, allowing us to stay at public alburgues, pensiones, or donativos at lower or no cost. From Coimbra we shouldered our backpacks and headed north along the trail, looking for the distinctive yellow arrows or the blue and yellow seashell tiles marking the path.

Between Coimbra and Porto we walked 128 km over five days, staying in some lovely and out of the way places, meeting other pilgrims, and drinking as many espressos (before 11 am) and cold Sagres beers (after 11) as possible along the way. Each day after hiking we had huge dishes such as feijoada á transmontana, or leitoes (suckling pig). However, due to some issues with my foot, which led to issues with my knee, we made the decision to stop hiking at Porto. Of course Chris, the Super Hiker, was fine to continue, but as I (Deah) have veto power, I made the decision in the end to leave the Camino. Perhaps one day I will go back and finish from Porto to Santiago de Compostela- I will certainly hang on to my credencial just in case- but it won’t be this summer.

Deah in Porto, probably looking for the next port wine tasting

After a few days resting up in Porto, we were ready to pivot to our next set of plans: islands! Stay tuned to see where the next bus, plane, and ferry take us.

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