Posted: 09/24/12 | September 24th, 2012
They say you just know when you’re in love. That this feeling of certainty comes over you, that it gets into your bones and changes you completely.
While I’ve never been in love, that’s a feeling I’ve experienced before.
I remember the moment I walked out of the metro onto the Champs-Élysées in Paris. I knew right there I loved Paris. I could feel it in my bones. I loved Paris, and every day I’ve spent there since has only made that feeling grow stronger. Paris and I were destined for each other.
And that’s exactly how I feel about Portugal.
Walking along the streets of Lisbon as I made my way to my friend’s house, I got that feeling all over again. I knew instantly I was in love with Lisbon. But more than that, I knew I was in love with Portugal.
I don’t know how I knew, but I did — and as I spent two weeks in Portugal exploring Lisbon, Porto, and the Port wine region of the Douro Valley, I fell even more deeply in love.
As I made my way up to my friend’s apartment on that initial walk, I couldn’t help but notice the trash, graffiti, and abandoned buildings everywhere. Half the buildings were broken down with boarded-up windows and looked as though they were filled with squatters or drug addicts. Yet unlike the Italian city of Naples — which has that same outward appearance — Lisbon didn’t feel gross or unsafe. It didn’t make me feel like I needed a shower. No, it simply felt lived in.
I spent four days traversing the city, and every tiny, cobblestoned street that opened onto a café-lined and church-filled square just made me love it more. Lisbon had history. It had depth. It had a personality.
Since Lisbon is a very hilly city, you are never far from a sweeping panoramic view of the city and its classic red-roofed homes. The old Alfama area is a maze of tiny, meandering streets, and if you visit the space between the Museum of Fado and Museum of Portuguese Art, you’ll across dimly lit local restaurants and unpretentious homes where the locals go about their lives far from the tourist crowds.
I left Lisbon in awe and headed north to Porto, the famous city on the Douro River known for its port wine. While I didn’t love Porto the way I loved Lisbon, it was still a fabulous city with very cheap wine and a gorgeous riverfront. I think the area around the river is stunning and has some worthwhile panoramic views (try to get across the river and head to The Yeatman Hotel, where you can have a drink in the bar, sit out on the terrace, and enjoy the view without being a guest).
What I really enjoyed was the surrounding Douro Valley, with its thousand-meter peaks and thirst-quenching wineries. The wineries are high up on the hills and a bit of a drive along winding roads, but it’s like no wine country I’ve ever seen. Sitting up on the patio looking out over this incredible valley was jaw dropping.
Not only was the country beautiful but all the locals I met were friendly, warm, and welcoming. They took the time to help me, explain Portuguese life, and show me their culture. I particularly remember a woman who ran a restaurant in Lisbon (which has since closed, unfortunately). It was a tiny place: only three tables. I went there for dinner, and she prepared a four-course meal paired with wine. The food was good and the wine great, but her charm and amazing conversation are what I’ll remember.
And then there was the amazing staff at Gallery Hostel that cooked elaborate 10-course meals and sat down to eat with the guests.
Portugal charmed me, dazzled me, and wooed me. It’s been a while since a country took me aback so much. (Japan did a few months ago, but I was already in love with it before I went.)
I love most countries I visit, but few leave lasting impressions this strong (France, Cambodia, and Sweden come to mind), and in my two weeks in Portugal, I loved what I saw.
But I still have more to explore: the Azores, the Algarve, Lagos, Faro, and everything in between.
Portugal is talked highly of among travelers, and after spending time there, I understand why. If you haven’t been yet, I suggest you go. You might even run into me while you’re there, because with so much left to see and my undying love, I’ll be back soon.
Book Your Trip to Portugal: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Looking for More Information on Visiting Portugal?
Be sure to check out our robust destination guide to Portugal for even more planning tips!