Amongst international celebrities, Europeans, Americans, Royals and every other culture under the sun, Portugal is one of the most sought-after destinations amid all ages. With its rich history, gorgeous rivers and seaside towns, Portugal ranks high on the list for travelers wanting historical charm, religious sightseeing, fantastic Mediterranean food and fine wine; it’s the place to be.
Karen Kelley and Donna Christensen, Senior Travel Specialists of Preferred Travel of Naples recently visited Portugal on a weeklong trip. Although Karen and Donna were there several weeks apart from each other, they have a compatible description of the journey. They both agreed that they want to return to explore more of the country and Karen loved it so much; she would even contemplate retiring there if the language was not so difficult. This piqued our interest since both ladies are very well traveled with a combined travel history of nearly 70 years. Both women opted to the see the country via a luxury motor coach tour by Tauck World Discovery.
Karen and Donna both expressed the blend of the Douro River, winding stone streets, friendly native people, history, churches, mild temperatures, sunshine, and safety were a major draw to the area. Both of their trips started in the second most popular town in Portugal called Porto. Porto is a fabulous old city known for its port wines, of course. It’s a city on a hill that faces riverside, an ancient city full of life and energy.
Their hotel in Porto was the Freixo Palace, which is a baroque style resort designed by the Italian architect, Nicolau Nasoni. This Palace is nestled alongside the river, and the frescos and ornate furnishings are spellbinding. One of the old owners had used part of the palace as a flour factory, so the rooms are cuddled within the old factory and are full of life and nostalgia. It’s a leisurely 45-minute walk to town, or you can take a taxi. Donna explained that everywhere in Portugal is relatively easy to self-navigate. She and Karen both agreed that renting a car would be an easy venture, as the street signs are well marked, and the vehicles operate on the right side, just like here in the states.
They spent two nights in Porto, which gave them time to visit the Douro Valley. With a few hikers, bikers, and visitors the valley is still so serene and quiet as the winery cultivation only takes places for three weeks in the fall.
The isolated vines are tiered on the hillside and have unique grapes for each style of wine. In Portugal, you may not always be familiar with the names of wine, because they have many distinct varieties of grapes that only grow in their country. The day trip to the Douro valley is beautiful and of course affords the opportunity to visit a winery and enjoy a typical rural meal and sample the regional wines. Portugal has very high quality white and red wines. The popular vinho verde is a light refreshing white wine and of course port is very popular.
The next stop was the city of Coimbra, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is the town that has grown in popularity due to its connection with JK Rowling and her well-recognized Harry Potter books. Coimbra is thought to
be the place that she based the Hogwarts setting. The public library there has a steep staircase (mentioned in her best-sellers) among the thousands of old books. She lived in Portugal for a short while with her Portuguese fiancé.
The University students in Coimbra also gave JK Rowling a bit of inspiration. These students wear a particular style of “uniform” reminiscent of the characters in Harry Potter, which is called a Praxe. The Praxe dark clothing was initially intended to rid the students of societal influences such as convention and worldliness, but today it’s more of a rite of passage. Either way, Karen, and Donna found it wildly entertaining and touching to see the students dressed so proudly.
Although the language of Portuguese is complex, the flow of the words are mesmerizing, and the vast majority of the natives speak English, so as a tourist, you never have to worry about not knowing the linguistics. However, the Portuguese appreciate it if you try and say a few words like thank you, which is obrigado.
In the central part of Portugal, the pigs are feed black chestnuts, which makes their meat succulent and sweet. The Portuguese people take pride in their dishes ranging from the prized pork, Norwegian cod and fresh local seafood, colorful fruits and vegetables, to their flavorful traditional dishes like Caldo Verde, a delicious green soup made with kale.
The next stop was the town of Evora where the ladies had the distinct opportunity to stay in a convent, actually a converted monastery hotel called Espinheiro. With a sizeable original church built inside of the hotel, the atmosphere was peaceful and relaxing. Karen loved the spa and the wine cellar that offered nightly tastings and dinner with an exceptional ambiance.
The city of Evora features whitewashed buildings, an exquisite Roman temple and aqueducts, and the only cathedral in the world with a statue of Mary that features her pregnant with Jesus.
In the 16th Century, Franciscan Monks built the chapel of bones because there were over 40 cemeteries at the time that were taking up valuable land. The Monks wanted to honor the bones of the dead, by making them into the intricate artwork of the cathedral. By doing this, they relocated the bones of the dead and paid homage to their souls.
The sign above the entrance door reads, “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.” This thought-provoking ideology sheds light on the fact that we all must have a final resting place in the end. The peace and beauty of the church will supersede any apprehensions you may have. Donna and Karen both agreed that it was a site not to be missed on any trip to Portugal.
And the monks made sure to make visitors understand their faith and purpose in building a church of bones by placing a sign above the altar that states, “The day I die is better than the day I was born.”
Evora is also known for cork production. Donna and Karen both had the opportunity to visit a cork factory and were amazed to find that in addition to wine corks, beautiful artistic shoes, purses, clothing and household items are all produced.
The most famous city, Lisbon, was the last destination on the tour, which features a welcoming town, world heritage sites, palaces, celebrated porcelain tiles, and an array of broad culture and life in the air that you might actually think you’re in Europe. With its tiles, national rooster symbols, a plethora of the countries cherished sardines and walkable streets, Lisbon has something for everyone, including the palace Queluz. An 18th-century palace where the Royal families used to spend holidays, and quiet time, the Queluz offers French gardens, and neoclassical designs to whisk you away into another time and place of enchantment. Karen and Donna both enjoyed a spectacular dinner at the palace.
From Lisbon, they took a day trip to Sintra and Cascais. Both were spectacular towns that are a must see. Sintra is a picturesque colorful town amidst tree-covered hills. It’s whimsical and elaborate buildings are breathtaking, especially the National Palace, Palácio da Pena a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal.
Cascais is a tourist beach town with a grand casino. There, you can enjoy eating outside and taking in the breathtaking view, enjoying delicious gelato and great coastal seafood. Cascais boasts a glorious rocky coastline with turquoise water, museums, artwork, shopping market, and magical beaches.
Karen and Donna were impressed with the warm, friendly Portuguese people that are very proud of their culture and country. From the wineries, restaurants, museums and historical sites, Portugal is at the top of their lists for travelers wanting to experience something different and exclusive. With the reasonable price ranges and opportunities, Preferred Travel of Naples can customize your trip for you first hand.
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If you would like to learn more about your opportunity visit the world, Preferred Travel of Naples is the best place to start. With the highly traveled and experienced staff to guide you, rest assured that you will be in the best hands.
To find out more about Portugal, or other fascinating destinations, please contact Preferred Travel of Naples at 239-261-1177 or visit preferrednaples.com.