For a tiny country 900 years old and only measuring 1200km coastline by about 200km, Portugal packs a massive punch; for mind-altering overland experience, a colourful crazy history, and house music loud extrovert fun people. Our initial plan – to rip up this country in a short 2 weeks travelling the coastline – ended up very close to a month crisscrossing the entire country.
But beware; all is not as it seems in Portugal. You should take note of the following!
ONE: It is almost impossible to leave such an incredible contrastingly beautiful country.
You will forever want to go back for the striking sunsets over Douro valley, the sunny warm days on the beaches in the Algarve and old cities like Porto and Lisbon. Portugal is an incredibly diverse country of deep valleys and rolling hills. For generations, families have eked out a living from the steeply terraced vineyards of the mountainous north, and from the cork oak plantations.
The coolest thing about Portugal is that you do not have to cross continents and travel mega miles to see interesting stuff. There are new things to experience around every turn. It’s a compact country which offers an intense travel experience.
The Douro River winds its a way through winelands and olive farms. Picture perfect, a wonderful mix of old farming methods meeting the new modern. Now mix in some Port tasting stops and you have fresh new heaven!
Portugal will even leave those who maintain the highest appreciation for the wonders of nature speechless. Storybook picturesque mountains lay to the north. Everywhere you turn gives you a post-card like a view.
The Algarve region in the far-south features mostly rolling plains. Its coastline is notable for limestone caves, grottoes, and mind-blowing beaches. If you enjoy being surrounded by large-scale natural beauty, golden beaches and a surfers paradise you will love the experience of being in Portugal.
TWO: The Portuguese will wear you out!
That is if you are an introvert and not much of a social soul. If however, you love mixing with people and making new connections, Portugal is for you. The Portuguese are loud, social, lively, warm and adventurous, with a romance language with Latin roots. This is one of the first countries both of us agreed we could quite easily make our home.
And this is the problem; it is easy to get comfortable with local folk.
It is not easy to say no-thank-you for an invite to eat and drink any time of the day. We received invites from complete strangers insisting we share lunch or dinner with them. We loved the bold personalities that can be very entertaining and fun! You will not want to leave; it just feels like leaving old friends and family behind.
Saul & Isabel and Braza from Faro bike club
Pedro, Helder and Paulo we have met in Angola for the first time and now again at their home in Lisbon. And Daniel with his cool family.
The folklore is vibrant and there is often traditional music played, home-made items for sharing, and elegant artwork. The signature of Portuguese art is beautiful blue paintings on white tile. With that the religious history of Portugal has inspired some really beautiful structures and arts.
We came in from Spain at the top of Portugal, on directions from our old friend Pedro (friend we previously met in Angola on his and our travels in 2010), we headed back North towards Braga and then the Gerês. Our first day already gave us the most fascinating experience. We entered a small town and found a ‘shop’ selling old motorbikes – wrecks are a better description.
No one could speak English, but the mutual admirations we showed toward the bikes were enough. A visitor started telling Michnus in VERY broken English about more priceless ‘motos’ that could be found in a private collection consisting of around 1000 motorcycles between Cabreiros and Ferreiros. A few hours later, with no address and very vague directions, we headed in that way, anyway…
On entering a circle at the first town, we saw a bike shop on the one side and Michnus stopped to ask if anyone had an idea where the collector might be found. The shop owner did not understand English very well, a visiting customer in the shop immediately took us under his wing. He also knew about the collector but himself never made it to a viewing. He got on the phone, then in his car and told us to follow him …
Short of the long, we did not find the collector, but ended up spending a memorable day with this family – enjoying the first of many hospitable Portuguese days. We were treated to a traditional lunch of oven baked chicken, beef and potatoes with rice. It reminded me so much of our South African ‘boerekos’ (fresh home made food).
We spend two nights at a very neat and affordable hotel, Cavalcho Adaujo, as it was raining constantly. We walked the streets, observing the tourist and locals alike, took outrides with our bikes into the park and even got a glimpse at how a funeral was held in a small town. The stunning scenic views at Gerês and Parque Natural Peneda/Gerês are unbelievable. The park borders Spain and has some of the highest peaks in Portugal.