So many people venture to Spain each year. They flock to Madrid for the museums, to Barcelona for the beaches, Seville for the history, and then to Granada to sweat through a tour of the Alhambra. Who could blame them? A holiday in Spain is as sweet as cheap sangria. Likewise, Italy seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. Rome, Florence, and Venice are a trio of must-see places for every international visitor. Even small Capri has a reputation the ten times the size of its Blue Grotto. Do not even start on France with Paris, Lyon, and its wine and cheese.
Mention Portugal as a favorite European destination and people seem suddenly befuddled. True, Rome is not in Portugal; there is no Guernica or Statute of David. There is no city of canals and masks, or Eiffel Tower, or running of the bulls. In fact, choosing a singular, stand out sight or experience in Portugal is difficult. Yet, there are so many reasons to go!
First and foremost, the people are friendly. Incredibly, undeniably, without hesitation or reservation the Portuguese people are friendly. Whether you are lost on the winding streets of Lisbon or amongst the olive trees outside Evora, someone will set you in the right direction (often only to find yourself lost again). Recommendations for restaurants come easy from shop owners and bar recommendations can be procured from restaurant staff.
Second, the capital city, Lisbon, is a gem. Tile shops and flower stalls open by day along alleyways and back roads. Bakeries sell pasteis de nata for take away to visitors who quickly become addicted to the sweet and small desserts. The streets are small and confusing as they twist up and around Lisbon’s many hills. However, completing the walk from Baixa to Barrio Alto is a great reason to celebrate in one of the neighborhood’s small restaurants or bars, and the view alone is worth the exercise. Alternatively, the hike to Alfama offers the reward of dimly lit haunts where traditional fado can be heard.
If Lisbon is the standout, then Porto is its charming younger sister. The city center is a string of cobblestone streets and adorable balconies. One laneway leads to another, and soon all visitors find themselves seated at a restaurant or bar with a glass of sweet smelling liquor. While the rest of the country drinks the fantastic and inexpensive wine grown in central Portugal, in Porto it is all about port. Its trendy bars serve the city’s signature drink to willing patrons all day and night.
Then there is Lagos. The entire Algarve is a stunning stretch of coastline dotted with perfect beaches and umbrellas dug into the sand, but Lagos stands out from the other towns. By day locals and visitors flock to beaches tucked between yellow and orange cliffs. It is not uncommon to see people standing, hands on hips, overlooking the perfectly blue water for hour or more. The first time you see Praia Dona Ana, you will understand.
By night, central Lagos comes to life with twinkling lights outside local restaurants and music wafting from crowded bars. Backpackers buy kebabs in corner shops and party until dawn. However, the balance between traditional Portuguese places and the lively backpacker bars remains, as even the older generation likes to sip on wine until they see the sun come up over the tiled rooftops of town.
It must be that people do not return to Portugal because they do not think to go in the first place. For after a visit to this beautiful country, it would be nearly impossible to stay away.