Our Portuguese music playlist


What gives national music its distinct character?  The great Leonard Bernstein answered this question in one of his Young People’s Concerts:

“[…] folk songs reflect the rhythms and accents and speeds of the way a particular people talks: in other words, their language — especially the language of their poetry — sort of grows into musical sounds. And those speaking rhythms and accents finally pass from folk-music into what we call the art-music, or opera or concert-music of a particular people; and that is what makes Tchaikovsky sound Russian or what makes Verdi sound Italian, or what makes Gershwin sound American.”

Portuguese is a language with closed vowels and shh sounds that can come across as Slavic. Our theory is that these traits emerged over time as a defense strategy against Spanish invasions. When the Spaniards, used to the open vowels and crisp enunciation inherited from the Latin, came to Portugal, they couldn’t understand the local language. As a result, they went back to Spain and left us alone since 1640.

If you’re traveling in Portugal, we invite you to use our Spotify playlist of local music as your soundtrack:


It is an eclectic list that includes classic fados from the great Amália Rodrigues but also the work of a wonderful new generation of fado singers that includes Ana Moura, Carminho, and Mariza. It features folk-inspired music by Trovante and instrumental music ranging from an elegant sonata by the 18th-century composer Carlos Seixas to a joyous rendition of dance music on accordion.

We hope this music, infused with the rhythms and accents of the Portuguese language, will enrich your journey through Portugal.

The bells of Mafra

The Mafra Convent, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, December 2016.

In 1711, king Dom João V vowed that if he was blessed with a son, he would construct a convent in Mafra. When a son was born in 1714, Dom João V spared no expense to fulfil his promise. By one count, the building has 880 rooms and 4,500 doors and windows. The convent includes a magnificent palace for the royal family and a basilica made of the purest marble, with intricate altars lavishly decorated with gold leaf.

To top it all, the king commissioned a 200-ton carillon. According to legend, when the craftsmen quoted the price of the carillon, they remarked that the cost seemed too dear for a small country like Portugal. Offended, the king replied: “I didn’t realize the bells were so cheap! I would like two sets.”   And so, two sets were made. Nicholas Levach made 57 bells for the North tower in Liége.  Willem Witlockx made 49 bells for the South tower in Antwerp.

The convent has many other bells: liturgical bells used in religious ceremonies, lecture bells that signaled the beginning and end of study periods, agony bells that rang when a monk was dying, refectory bells that reminded monks of their meal times, and the codfish bell that sounded in days when people should abstain from eating meat.

The carillon and some of the other bells were used to mark the passage of time with minuets and other compositions. In a world where musical sounds were rare, the bells of Mafra filled the village with harmony and grace.

The youthful joy of living by the sea

A Walk on the Beach - @mariarebelophotography.comOne of the joys of living on the coast of Portugal is to wake up and go for a walk on the pristine beach sand, letting the waves bathe our feet. We always thought of these moments as pure indulgence until we read Pablo Casal’s memoir “Joys and Sorrows.”

The great cellist continued to play in his 90s, maintaining a youthful spirit and an amazing creative energy. As we searched his memoir for clues to the source of his longevity, here’s what we found:

“I have always especially loved the sea. Whenever possible, I have lived by the sea… It has long been a custom of mine to walk along the beach each morning before I start to work. True, my walks are shorter than they used to be, but that does not lessen the wonder of the sea. How mysterious and beautiful is the sea! How infinitely variable! It is never the same, never, not from one moment to the next, always in the process of change, always becoming something different and new.”