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Off-the-clock

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.

Lisbon

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.

cool photo of the bridges of lisbon portugal
lisbon castle
wine tasting in lisbon portugal
library of port wine in lisbon
beautiful garden in lisbon portugal
lisbon street scene
black and white portrait in lisbon portugal

Sintra, Portugal

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.

Quinta da Regaleira well
Quinta da Regaleira well portugal
well at Quinta da Regaleira sintra
riding a tuk tuk in sintra portugal
cool castle in sintra
cool castle in sintra at sunset
street scene in sintra portugal
architecture in sintra portugal
lisbon train station

The Algarve

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!

drinking beers on the beach in lagos portugal
the beaches of the algarve
black and white portrait
the cliffs of the algarve portugal
old fort on the cliffs of the algarve
old fort in the algarve
hiking the cliffs of the algarve portugal
the beaches of the algarve
silhouette photo in the algarve portugal
walking the beaches of the algarve portugal
hanging out on the beach in the algarve portugal
beautiful beach scene in the algarve
street art in lagos portugal
street art in lagos
street art in lagos portugal

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.

bone cathedral in Evora Portugal
bone cathedral in Evora
street scene in evora portugal

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.

Flor da Rosa and the Pousada Mosteiro Crato swimming pool
Flor da Rosa and the Pousada Mosteiro Crato portugal
drinking wine at Flor da Rosa and the Pousada Mosteiro Crato
selfie at Flor da Rosa and the Pousada Mosteiro Crato

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.

old hotel in Serra da Estrela
old hotel in Serra da Estrela portugal
infinity pool at old hotel in Serra da Estrela
old church in the mountains of portugal
hiking in the Portuguese mountains
hiking through the Portuguese mountains
Portuguese cheese shop
street dogs in portugal

Porto, Portugal

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.

beautiful sunset in porto portugal
riding the train in porto portugal
walking the alleys of porto at night
walking the streets of porto portugal
touring livraria lello in porto
touring livraria lello in porto portugal
wine tasting in the cellars of porto
port wine tour in porto portugal
gondola ride in porto
sunset in porto portugal
skyline photo of porto portugal
skyline photo of porto at night
peacock in porto portugal
bridge walk in porto
wine tasting on bridge walk in porto portugal
bridge walk in porto

Douro Valley

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.

wine tasting in the douro valley
wine tasting in the douro valley portugal
wine tasting in the douro valley

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.

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