When travelling in Europe, Portugal isn’t always the first country that comes to mind. It is often neglected in favor of the glamour of France, the history of Italy and the climate of Spain. However, all three of these qualities are beautifully combined within the small, but proud country of Portugal. And no, I’m not just saying this, because my Portuguese girlfriend is forcing me to.
Ask a Portuguese person to tell you about the Discoveries and they’ll keep talking until the cows come home. After Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s what they are most proud of. But this isn’t just shameless bragging, the Portuguese have a reason to be proud of their history, especially the Discoveries.
The Portuguese empire stretched for almost 600 years – from Macau to Mozambique to Brazil. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese dominated the spice trade, and this was partly, because of Vasco De Gama. He was the first European to sail around South Africa and establish trade relations with India.
Portugal’s maritime power was unrivaled, leading to them becoming one of the world’s first superpowers. And they have Prince Henry to thank for this, as in 1417, he founded the Nautical Studies Center, which had a particular focus on cartography and navigation.
And if this isn’t enough, Portugal boasts 15 World Unesco Heritage sites. These include the magnificent Palace of Pena, a fine example of Romantic and Moorish architecture, and the Tower of Belem, which was built to commemorate De Gama’s historic voyage to India.
Out of the Discoveries was also born Portugal’s great artistic legacy. The Manueline style arose from the meeting of so many different cultures, while Fado is deeply ingrained within the Portuguese tradition. Lastly, in thanks to the Moors, you’ll be hard pressed to find a palace, church or stately home that didn’t make some use of these beautiful tiles.
Bacalhau is salted cod fish and the Portuguese are obsessed with it, and, unsurprisingly, it traces its origins back to the Discoveries. There are over 365 ways to prepare it and rumored to be over a 1000 ways of serving it. Some most popular options include with egg and potatoes, with cream or you can have it deep-fried with arroz de feijao (soupy rice).
The Portuguese also love their pork. Black Pork is divine, due to the pig’s acorn-only diet. Speaking of pork there is also the Farinheira, a deep-fried sausage. And how can we forget the legendary Pastel De Natas – egg custard tarts.
Although as you might have guessed from these meat and dairy-heavy dishes, Portugal is not a place to go if you’re a vegan.
Portugal is located along the Iberian Peninsula, meaning that it experiences some gorgeous Mediterranean weather.
And what better way to enjoy this weather than by venturing onto Portugal’s spectacular landscape. Go hiking across the wondrous Azores or prepare to be amazed at the Douro Valley – home to some of Portugal’s best wines.
Cascais and Praia de Marinha are famed for their beautiful beaches, but if you want to visit somewhere more off the beaten track then the medieval village of Sortelha needs to be on your list.
The island of Madeira is unmatched in its splendour, while the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, aka a national park with the longest name ever, has been left untouched by civilisation and remains one of the finest coastlines in the world.
So, Portugal has a rich cultural heritage, delicious food and an amazing natural landscape, but before you start packing your bags, there’s just one more thing you should know. When you arrive in Portugal, under no circumstances should you call the Portuguese “Spanish”. Just don’t do it. Just don’t.
Originally published on Hungry Little Travellers