No, it’s not possible to capture the depth of a place in words. So why try? Instead, let most of the sand slip through our fingers until a few specks remain. New York City could be summarized as “people; lots of people.” But this would miss the incredible culture, diversity, and character of the city. At some point, we have to draw the line. We remember what we remember. The things that remain resonate with us. So, I’ve tried to describe the essence of the places we visited, so you’ll also be interested in going!
Monsaraz: “castle overlooking cobbles and local art”
Reguengos de Monsaraz: “families in the square”
Castelo de Vide: “wise souls wander the narrow streets”
Marvao: “castle in the sky”
Sortelha: “true medieval ramparts”
Monsanto: “rock village hospitality”
Tomar: “Christian Convent on the hill”
Fatima: “pilgrims in awe of God’s miracles”
Obidos: “history plus modernity equals quaint streets and tasty tapas”
Nazare: “big waves hit beach cliffs”
Aveiro: “gondolas, bike paths, and industry”
Guimaraes: “mountaintop over cafés in the square”
Coimbra: “discover deep wisdom here”
Lagos: “local vibe among touristy beaches”
Portimao: “best boats and best caves”
Sagres: “the edge of the world”
Sintra: “touristy fairytale castle”
Porto: “expressions of pure style on both sides of the river”
Lisboa: “the genuine experience, with a taste of San Francisco and spice from Barcelona”
My wife, our two friends, and I traveled to Portugal on vacation in March, 2022 for 16 days. What an amazing time! I highly recommend vacationing in Portugal for many reasons, but mostly because of the healthy balance between comfort and newness.
When we go on vacation, we go off the regular path. We explore back streets, talk to locals, and wander. Here are the unique things we noticed on our trip.
People go slowly and spend quality time
We often saw big groups out for lunch in every city and town throughout Portugal. Friends catch up in the square. They sip espresso under umbrellas at quaint patio tables. Well-dressed professionals go to lunch for two hours, typically ordering a few bottles of wine and three full courses. There’s no rush, even during the workday. The most important thing is to slow down and enjoy the present moment with friends, family, and colleagues.
One night in Porto, we sat down for dinner at the crowded riverside and looked around. There were at least one hundred people in view. Every single person was strolling, relaxed, and chill. I counted zero people in a rush or stressed.
Another day, within the winding streets of beach destination Nazare, we watched in awe as a truck lumbered down a one-lane street between three-story buildings. The driver stopped the truck in the middle the road, blocking the way. He got out, grabbed his delivery from the back of the truck, and strolled into a doorway. Meanwhile, three cars idled behind the truck. A whole 30 seconds passed before the driver came back out, waved nicely at the cars behind him, and continued on his way. Half a block later, he stopped again! By the end of this ordeal, the cars behind him had been delayed a whole three minutes. But they did not honk. They smiled and waited. Tell me any city in the USA that has this kind of patience for more than 10 seconds!
Steep cobblestones are no problem for strollers
Portugal towns and cities are filled with history and culture. They were built on hilltops and mountains, overlooking kilometers of lush countryside. Buildings and roads are tightly packed; they were built for people and animals. Cars are made thin to fit the narrow, winding streets. Parking is impossible unless you know the best spots. Good luck renting a car in Portugal without scratches along the sides!
All of this is fantastic. I love it. There’s so much character, uniqueness, and depth in towns that have endured for centuries. Technologies come and go, but the towns remain. An elderly woman walks hundreds of steps down and up to get groceries. A family pushes kids in a stroller across the square. They are experts by now. Parents lift the little ones up rain-slick stairs and maneuver stroller wheels down steep stone paths.