Portugal – Part 1: beautiful places, tasty food & bumpy roads

♥ by Julien

It has been some weeks now that we are here in Portugal, and there is already a lot to tell you about.

As I am writing these lines, I am imagining making it look and sound like the trailer of some American blockbuster… “A story about a young family road-tripping South, in the hope of finding both sun and warmth. A story about beautiful landscapes, amazing food, wonderful encounters and terrible roads! Portugal travel tales!”

So let’s start with the “search for sun and warmth.”

In about two weeks, we have been both very lucky and very disappointed! We were blessed with some really beautiful days – sun, blue sky and over 16°C.

And sometimes we got cursed with really but reaaaally bad weather. Like that time in the Mata Nacional Buçaco, near Coimbra: A wonderful forest, full of botanical and architectural history (we’ll write more about this place in a separate post) where we arrived at night, under bad weather, and where we spent the night with rain and winds up to 47 km/h – a huge branch broke off a tree and just missed our camper!

Since we arrived in Portugal, we have been to and seen some amazing places! We are not really the kind of people to visit all the museums or castles (even though there are some that we will likely come back to visit), we are more looking for what nature has to offer, be it a rocky beach, a lush forest, a huge dune or a majestic mountain. And boy, Portugal has plenty of these in stock! It’s just A-MA-ZING!

(Here though, I would like to raise a little red flag about the protection of the environment as it is always painful for us to see trash left in the middle of the forest, along the roads or spat out by the ocean. Tourists and locals alike carry this responsibility, and it is a shame that neither of them is much aware.)

Another thing that Portugal is famous for is the food and drinks!

We are passionate about food, so we really appreciate that.

A little bit of ice cream – it’s summer after all!

For one, we have started to make a mental list of the best pastel de nata (the link leads to the most famous pasteis bakery in Lisboa) we’ve tried so far. The national delicacy is one of Eva’s all-time favourite so we have them on a rather regular basis (like, almost daily, ehem) and so far, the best we had came from a tiny café in one of the pedestrian streets of Nazaré and a well-known pasteleria in Lisbon, the Manteigeria.

 

There they make them fresh, and they’re usually still warm when you buy them.

 

And right now the bakery shelves are also full of Xmas specialities, like rabanada (Portuguese French toast). Totally yummy! Eva is a huge fan of these, too.

Some finger food in Nazaré – bread, olives and fresh goat cheese

In Nazaré we also had some tasty grilled fish, and Eva’s parents treated us to the wonderful restaurant in Azenha do Mar where they have the best crabs on the coast they say.

In Porto, I even tried the francesinha after a waitress mimed me what it was. Personal note here: It was good. But honestly, whoever invented the recipe deserves a Nobel Prize for the Best Unhealthiest-yet-Tasty Food Ever. Well done, Madam or Sir!

Portugal is also home to the world-famous fortified wine: Port wine! And even though we did not visit any caves while in Porto (this is one of the many things justifying a second trip to Portugal), we still bought a bottle of the precious beverage. And the great thing about being here is that we also have access to more “special” bottles of Port, like 10-years old, 20-years old… AND price-wise, it is a bargain. So if you like Port wine but only ever buy the basic bottles from your local booze shop, treat yourself to a trip to Porto.
There are other wines made in Portugal and we are looking forward to try some but it is too early to write anything about them.
Fun fact: Portugal is actually producing a pastel de nata liquor! We haven’t tried it yet, but maybe we’ll still have a chance to do so.

 

We’re also meeting a lot of people all the time. The local people are all very friendly and super helpful and Carlotta is an absolute magnet – so much that it is sometimes too much (she’ll soon get kidnapped by a Portuguese granny). What surprised us the most about Portuguese people is how good they are with foreign languages! Almost everyone here is able to speak either English or French, and usually really well, too.

We’ve also met people travelling like us in a camper who’ve exchanged their old lives for a life on the road, or others who work for a couple of months just to spend the rest of the year in their favourite remote place at a beach. People who decided that there is more to life than the regular eat-work-sleep lifestyle and went on a trip with (almost) no plans. Some are travelling to surf all the surf-spots in Portugal. Others are literally travelling as long as they can, then stop for some time to do woofing and other small jobs until they’ve accumulated enough to travel again… We became friends with some people of the latter group. We’ve been exchanging tips and ideas, places to visit, things to do, having a nice chat and a drink, spending the day climbing or learning new things. It is refreshing to meet them and it also comforts us in our beliefs and the choices we made. Plus, it gives us a feeling of safety when we all end up together in a dodgy place… These encounters inspire us to continue and push forward.

And last but not least, a little warning to all our readers who will one day take their ride on a road-trip and discover the beauties of Portugal: mind the roads!

From what we’ve seen so far, Portugal is kind of binary when it comes to this: Highways are smooth, well cared for and not very expensive (when compared to countries like France for instance). But most other roads, especially in the countryside, are… bumpy to say the least. It is truly impressive to see that Portuguese people drive at speed on these roads with brand new cars without caring so much about the bumps and holes while we are constantly afraid to break something (our suspension system to begin with). We once drove on a road where the left side had been redone and was perfectly smooth for about two kilometres while the right side was a complete patchwork of holes/normal road/gritty road/fillings/holes… And as we were slowly driving on the right side, trying to avoid a breakdown, a couple of cars overtook us and they were driving steadily on the left lane for as long as there was no traffic. It puzzled us for a few seconds and then we just did the same! After all, that attitude made perfect sense but it still felt so alien at first that I had to write about it.

And if you are thinking now, well, the pics are okay, but I want to see BEACHES – here you can read about our favourite ones 🙂

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