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Portugal: 5 Reasons to Visit Europe’s Hidden Gem

Town of Porto in Portugal

Portugal surprises people. Sometimes overshadowed by neighboring Spain, the country – known as Europe’s hidden gem – presents its visitors with rich history, vibrant culture, and incredible vistas at every turn.

As you consider your travel options for 2022 and beyond, read on for five reasons why Portugal should move to the top of your travel bucket list. Then, take a look at our fantastic Trip of a Lifetime to Portugal, March 31 – April 10, 2022. Featuring a 7-night river cruise through the Douro River Valley and an optional 3-night stay in Lisbon, this curated all-inclusive trip hosted by Kim Gibbons is designed to showcase the wonders and surprises of Portugal.

Lisbon’s historic Belém Tower

1. Immersive history

History surrounds you from the moment you arrive in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. Back in the 15th through 18th centuries, known as the Age of Discoveries, the city was the launch point for many well-known explorers, including Vasco De Gama and Ferdinand Magellan. Today, Lisbon is a dynamic blend of old-world charm and bustling modern metropolis.

Lisbon’s historic Belém Tower serves as a ceremonial gateway to the city. This ornate fortress and four-story tower, which stand in the middle of the Tagus River, were constructed in the 16th century to guard the harbor’s entrance and protect the city. A climb to the top is rewarded with a panoramic view of the river and surrounding waterfront.

And, speaking of memorable views, visit the Santa Justa Lift, which links the Baixa neighborhood in lower Lisbon to the Chiado district on the hill above. This century-old iron elevator now doubles as a transport system and favored tourist spot with stunning 360-degree views from its observation deck.

To feel as if you’ve stepped back into medieval time, visit Barca d’Alva, a tiny village surrounded by mountains. Or hike even further back in time with a visit to nearby Foz Côa, an archaeological park centered around the discovery of prehistoric engraved rock drawings that date from 22,000 to 10,000 years B.C.

2. Awe-inspiring art

In Portugal, art is everywhere you turn. A center of fine art since the 15th century, you’ll find historical and contemporary art in both formal and informal settings throughout Portugal. The National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon houses an impressive collection of “national treasures,” encompassing paintings, sculptures, and textiles. In the city of Porto, the Museu Serralves presents a more contemporary art collection along with a vibrant mix of contemporary dance and musical performances.

Outside of galleries, Portugal is known for its street art, especially in the cities of Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra. As you explore, you’ll find colorful paintings and murals – both serious and whimsical – adorning buildings and street corners. As you enjoy the street art, seek out strolling fado singers for an immersive cultural experience. Even if you don’t speak Portuguese, you’ll feel the melancholy emotions of the traditional historical songs accompanied by haunting mandolin and guitar music.

3. Memorable wines

The Douro Valley, along the winding Douro River, is one of Europe’s oldest wine regions with more than 2,000 years of winemaking history. The area is famous for its Port wines. (In fact, the city of Porto is named for its most well-known export.) Beyond Port, the region is home to more than 90 varieties of grapes and produces a broad range of distinctive, dry wines.

The historic wineries are picturesque, built into steep, terraced slopes along the river, with vineyards creating a visual patchwork tapestry. Some of the older vineyards have a mixture of grape varietals growing all together, to the point that sometimes vintners aren’t sure of all of the types they have. This unique mix produces one-of-a-kind “field blend” wines you won’t find anywhere else.

For an authentic experience of the Douro Valley wine country, opt for a guided tour of Quinta de Seixo, an ancient vineyard and modern winery. Or take a local vineyard hike for an up-close view. Both options include wine tastings amid breathtaking scenery.

4. Architectural wonders

As you explore Portugal, its striking architecture will inspire and amaze you, with historical and contemporary buildings side by side. The Jeronimos Monastery on the Tagus River is richly ornate, with elaborate maritime themes carved within its limestone structure. In Lisbon, don’t make the mistake of walking past the São Roque Church. While its exterior is remarkably plain, the inside reveals nine opulent chapels, filled with Baroque masterpiece paintings, mosaics, and sculptures.

And, in Coimbra, take in the ancient university you have to see to believe. One highlight is a visit to its Biblioteca Joanina, the ornate baroque-style home to 57,000 books, and the inspiration for the magical library in the Harry Potter series.

5. One-of-a-kind cuisine

One of the best memories from a trip to Portugal is the delicious food. Traditional Portuguese cuisine focuses on fresh ingredients, leaning toward meaty and robust in the northern part of the country and deliciously Mediterranean in the south. Beyond the traditional regional dishes, Lisbon is an emerging culinary hot spot, with cutting-edge chefs who are creating a delicious gourmet food scene.

Which traditional Portuguese dishes should make your must-try list? Start with Caldo Verde soup, made with potatoes, chorizo, and kale or other leafy greens. It’s typically accompanied with Broa, a corn and rye bread that’s perfect for dipping. For a hearty meat dish, sample Alheira, which is a smoked sausage made with bread and different types of meats, such as pork, chicken, or veal. In the 15th century, Alheira was served with boiled vegetables, but today they’re more likely to be accompanied by fries or a fried egg. When it comes to seafood, Bacalhau is a flavorful favorite. Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, particularly dried and salted cod.

Discover the wonders and surprises of Portugal and the Douro River Valley. Please join us for our Trip of a Lifetime, March 31 – April 10, 2022. For more information and answers to any questions, call us at (877) 999-4533 or email us at today.

Waves to you and smooth sailings ahead!

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