Portugal (Jul 2016)

Making a trip of this magnitude happen was no small feat, and we will proudly say that on any given day, we were ahead of the curve with our plans. But one small oversight had a big impact on the last few weeks of our trip. From the moment South America was off the table, we knew that we wanted to end in Iceland. We would spend the last few weeks of our trip driving around the perimeter of this magical island, hiking, exploring, and being amazed by nature’s beauty. We even had a flight booked from Granada to Reykjavik. What we didn’t realize was that Iceland sells out in the summer months. We had read that you need to book accommodations well ahead of time if you want to get outside of the Reykjavik area, but surely a month would be early enough, no? No. The vast majority of towns on our route were completely sold out. Apparently this happens as early as March. Duly noted, Iceland.

Time to figure out a Plan B, and fast. We were all over the place – we almost ended up in Scotland, Christine was pushing for Italy, there was even talk of flying to California and driving across the US. In the end, simplicity won out. We decided to rent a car and extend our time right where we were – driving through Portugal, then Northern Spain. We were disappointed about Iceland (and we’ll definitely get there one day!), but we put together a new itinerary that was an equally exciting finish to our trip.

Our first stop in Portugal was Lisbon. It took us an entire day of driving to get there from Spain. Lisbon is Portugal’s capital and largest city. Like most European cities, Lisbon is a contrast of old and new; the city is modern, but the old architecture still exists, and there’s even a thriving system of old school trolleys as part of their public transportation that is just fun to watch. We spent five days there, and packed those days with food and culture. About that food…Lisbon is the home of Pastéis de natas, our favorite pastry. We had a few at the world famous Pastéis de Belém cafe, then took a class with a pastry chef to learn how to make them ourselves. We also took a class to learn how to carve a cured jamon. No matter where we are in the world, cooking classes are always among our most memorable experiences and learning to make Pastéis de nata is easily a highlight of this trip. There will be Pastéis de nata and jamon in our future in the US. On the one day that we weren’t doing something food related, we took a day trip out to Sintra to see some amazing castles and historical sites.

Our second stop in Portugal was Porto, just a few hours drive north from Lisbon. Porto is the second largest city, and the home of port wine – another Portuguese creation that we are very fond of. Porto is a very picturesque, walkable city…although it’s got some hills! We only stayed there three days, which was just enough time to explore the city, taste some port wine, and take a day trip out to the Douro Valley, where the vineyards are. The day trip was the highlight for us. Seeing the endless terraces of vineyards surrounding the Douro River, then getting to taste a bunch of different ports while learning about the differences in how they’re produced was as good as it gets.

Our decision to add Portugal to our itinerary wasn’t made just because it was close to Spain. Christine is half Portuguese (the half of her that loves to drink wine is the Portuguese half – the other half that enjoys drinking large quantities of wine is the Irish half.). Her grandparents were born in Portugal, and immigrated to the US. This decision was also about going to visit her motherland, and to show Kevin what Portugal is about. Having a car offered us the freedom and flexibility to explore. We took our time on many of our drives and stopped in little towns along the way. Incidentally, on our drive north from Porto back into Spain, we passed through a small town where some of Christine’s family lives. We stopped in to see them, and spent an afternoon having conversation that was a hodgepodge of Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

Here are our favorite pictures of Portugal – enjoy!

Lisbon and Sintra

Porto and the Douro Valley