Off the Clock: Portugal
Moira and I travel a lot for weddings, but we also do our best to fit at least one personal trip into our schedule each year. It had been a while since we ventured outside of North America (New Zealand in 2009), so we sat down this winter and opened up Kayak Explore to scan the globe. Our eyes immediately went to Europe, where there was an abundance of cheap flights available from the Mile High City. We ended up settling on Portugal for two reasons: 1) It’s one of the few countries in Western Europe I hadn’t yet been to and 2) my favorite foreign country is Spain, so I figured, hey, Portugal can’t be half bad. And after spending two weeks there, I’m happy to report that it isn’t.
We started in Lisbon with our base camp in a small studio apartment just across from the Lisbon Sé (cathedral). Our first order of business was the Castelo de S. Jorge; we hiked up the narrow winding streets to the castle through a neighborhood seemingly stuck in medieval times.
Then it was down to the commercial district where we took a ride up the Elevador de Santa Justa, followed by a walk through Bairro Alto and a tasting at the Port Wine Institute. We finished the day with a stroll around Parque Eduardo VII and dinner at a cool little café with great views of the Sé.
On day two, we caught the train at Rossio Station, which took us west to the beautiful town of Sintra. Most people describe visiting Sintra as stepping into a real life fairy tale and I have to admit, I wholly agree with that assessment. It’s filled with castles and palaces reached only by winding streets too narrow for actual vehicles, so the primary mode of transportation is by tuk tuk.
We walked around the expansive grounds at Quinta da Regaleira, complete with a stop at my personal favorite attraction in Portugal, The Initiation Well. Then we took a tuk tuk up to Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) and finished with dinner and drinks at a small wine bar in the village.
By now it was time to leave the city, so we rented a weird little car I’ve never heard of and made the 300-kilometer trek down to the Algarve.
We stayed in a beach-front hotel in Lagos and spent some time walking along the coast at Praia Dona Ana and hiking the rock formations at Ponta da Piedade. From there, we drove west to Sagres and the Fortaleza de Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vicente.
The following day, we spent the afternoon exploring the town of Lagos, an outing which was complete with a sardine lunch, a conversation with a local barber about Trump, and plenty of street art!
The Alentejo, Portugal
From the Algarve, we ventured north through Portugal’s heartland, the Alentejo. We parked outside the walled city of Evora and made a beeline for the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), where an inscription above the entrance greets visitors: “Nos ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos.” Translated, this means “We, the bones that are here await yours.” The chapel walls are covered with the human remains of a nearby cemetery that was excavated in the 16th century. I’ve always liked creepy shit, so I thought this place was really cool. The Franciscan monk who built the chapel wanted to send the message that life is transitory and that we should all appreciate our earthly comforts while we can.
From Evora, we continued north to the small village of Flor da Rosa and the Pousada Mosteiro Crato, a hotel built inside a 14th century monastery. A “pousada” is basically a modern hotel constructed in a historic building. They can be found all over Portugal and provide a very cool alternative to more traditional lodging options. Not to mention, they’re relatively affordable, on average costing about the same as a Best Western along the I-70 corridor or a linen closet in Aspen.
Serra da Estrela
Next stop: Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in Portugal. We liked the first pousada so much that we decided to stay at the Pousada Serra da Estrela, an old hospital perched on the side of a cliff face overlooking the university town of Covilha.
From the hotel, we drove up the windy mountain road to the highest point in Portugal, did a hike at Lagoa Comprida and stopped in at a remote charcuterie shop for food and a sampling of an unidentified electric blue liqueur. We also made a puppy friend. I call him Manolo.
From the mountains, we made our way back down to the Atlantic coast and our final destination: the stunningly gorgeous city of Porto. We stayed in a small apartment in Villa Nova de Gaia, where the majority of the port wine cellars are located.
We spent time photographing on the Ponte Luis I, hiked up the Torre de Clergios for a 360-degree view of the city, browsed books in the world-famous Livraria Lello, took a guided tour through Offley Cellars and, of course, sampled plenty of port wine!
We concluded our stay in Porto with a guided bridge walk on the archway underneath the Ponte da Arrabida, which was a perfect place to watch the sun set over the Atlantic.
Before heading back down to Lisbon, we spent an afternoon driving through the Douro Valley, which is Portugal’s primary wine-growing region. We had lunch in the iconic town of Pinhão and did tastings at Quinta das Carvalhas and Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo. The Douro Valley is beautiful beyond comprehension and if we ever make it back to Portugal for a second visit, we’ll undoubtedly be spending more time in this area.
From the Douro, we made our way back down to Lisbon to catch our flight to Paris, where we slept for approximately two hours before jumping over to London and eventually back across the pond to Denver. Thirty-plus hours in transit and two lost bags later, we were home – exhausted and a bit strung out, but also very grateful for opportunity to see another wonderful part of the world.