A Winter day in Portugal

If you were here today, you could spend the morning on the beach, collecting shells, wondering why no one told the sun that it’s not Summer. You could have a simple lunch of roasted chicken with piri-piri sauce, visit a romantic palace, and sit on a cliff, watching the sun bathe in the ocean. You could dine on grilled fish, drink a great local wine, and go out into the warm night to gaze at the stars. And, when the day is done, you would know the meaning of the word felicidade.

Sea mornings

Many visitors arrive in Portugal with their body clocks disoriented by jet lag. They lie awake in the early hours of the morning, stranded between dream and reality.

If you’re close to the ocean, this is your chance. Go to the beach and walk on the immaculate sand. Watch the sea put aside its black nightgown and try on different shades of blue. These simple moments can be extraordinary. Here’s how the writer Raul Brandão describes them in his 1923 book, The Fishermen:

“There are mornings when the dust of the sea mixes with the blue dust of the sky. A fresh, moist breeze, vibrant and salty comes from afar, from the deep, from an endless groundswell that makes us feel that life has no limits.”

Learning how to surf

Neptune rode the seas on a copper chariot. Surfers make do with much less, gliding the waves on their slender boards. Portugal is a great place to learn the art of surfing. There are many beaches with dependable, tubular waves, and schools like Ripar that provide instruction, equipment, and lodging. Every year, hundreds of visitors arrive in Portugal as ordinary humans and leave transformed into gods of the waves, ready to challenge Neptune to a race.

Click here for Ripar’s website.

Traveling in Portugal

It is great fun to read John Murray’s “Handbook for Travellers in Portugal,” published in London in 1864.  He warns that, to explore far-distant valleys, hills, and mountains, the tourist in Portugal “must be prepared for poor accommodation, poor food, and great fatigue.” But, at the same time, “to one who is in pursuit of scenery, more especially to the artist, no other country in Europe can possess such attractions and such freshness of unexplored beauty.”

So much has changed in the last 150 years! You can now travel throughout Portugal in great comfort, eating delicious food, and staying in elegant hotels, pousadas and bed and breakfasts. But, what remains unchanged, is the freshness of the country’s beauty. Take a look!

Sea pebbles

All the seas work hard to please Neptune. They take large rocks and polish them for years, decades, sometimes centuries, to make shiny round pebbles of different colors and shapes. The seas deposit these treasures on the beach sand as a gift from Neptune to those who venerate the majesty of the oceans. When beach goers ignore these offerings, Neptune goes into a rage and the seas shake with furious storms.

When we are at the beach we always collect sea pebbles. Later, in the dark days of Winter, we touch them to remember the Summer warmth and to appease Neptune.

Portuguese wine

After World War II Mateus Rosé, a sweet rosé wine, brought precious export revenues to a poor country. But it branded Portugal as a producer of cheap, easy-to-drink wine. Virgil famously wrote that “Bacchus amat colles,” (Bacchus loves the hills), implying that grapes cultivated on slopes are especially blessed. Portugal’s rolling hills going down to the sea are ideal for wine production. Large investments in technology and a new generation of enologists are making sure that the blessings of the ancient god of wine do not go to waste.

America discovers Portugal

Americans discovered France, Italy, and more recently,
Spain, as vacation destinations.  But Portugal has remained terra incognita. That is changing. The New York Times has written a steady stream of articles about Portugal. Most are about Lisbon; about the places to go, the culinary renaissance, the new restaurants, the new museums, the relaxed atmosphere, and the art scene. But the Times has also discovered Cascais and Évora. The Wall Street Journal tells its readers that “In Portugal you can pack seven days worth of castles, clubbing, seafood, shopping and luxury hotels into one perfectly affordable long weekend.” Now, perhaps Woody Allen will consider directing a movie about a writer who comes to Lisbon and discovers that the secret to eternal youth is a daily bath of piri-piri sauce.

Portuguese beer

Beer has been produced in Portugal at least since the Lusitanos occupied the region. Issues with refrigeration and poor branding prevented the Lusitanos from gaining market share in the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman conquest in 27 B.C. These problems were gradually surpassed over the next 20 centuries.

Two leading brands eventually emerged: Super Bock, introduced in the 1930s, and Sagres, introduced in the 1940s.  Both beers taste great on a hot Summer day. Both taste even better in their draft versions, which you can enjoy at many beach-side cafés.

Super Bock is more popular in the north of Portugal while Sagres is more popular in the south. We try not to take sides in the Sagres versus Super Bock controversy. But, the perceptive reader might find signs of a slight bias on our part.

The tide tables

During beach vacations life follows the rhythm of the tides. Low tide is the best time to walk on the hard, moist sea sand. The sun and the moon regulate the tides with designs that only physicists understand. Luckily, Portugal’s Ocean Institute publishes tide tables, so we don’t have to study physics to know the perfect time to walk on the beach.

Click here to see the tide tables.

Bem vindo!

It means welcome in Portuguese. Welcome to our blog about places to see, food to eat, wine to drink, poetry to read, and whatever else comes to mind. The Portuguese navigators discovered much of the world four hundred years ago. But the world has yet to discover Portugal. So the country remains the last secret of Europe. A place of castles and palaces, of mountains and valleys, of sand and sea. All bathed in warm light, all cooled by the breeze that carries the ocean’s salt, the salt of Portugal.