A better title for this post would be “Why I would move to Portugal in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t speak a word of Portuguese and kept accidentally speaking Spanish instead.” However, that’s a bit too long and has less of a ring to it. Hopefully you realize either way that I had an incredible time visiting Portugal!
Shamefully, it was my first time, despite the fact that I’ve visited its next door neighbor (hint: Spain) several times in the past two years. Why? I have NO clue! I blame everyone for not informing me that Portugal was this magical land filled with beautiful landscapes, friendly locals, delicious food, and incredibly low prices.
I was lucky enough to team up with Visit Porto and North Tourism Board who put together an unforgettable three days of exploring the Douro Valley, Porto, and quaint, surrounding towns such as Amarante, Guimarães and Braga. I’ll post in more detail about these places later this month and next. In the meantime, I hope these photos give you a small glimpse into why I fell in love with Northern Portugal.
1. The Food
Now, this list is in no particular order but is it really a surprise I’m choosing to start with food? You’re welcome.
Salmon, monkfish, swordfish, shell fish, I had it all. If you’re not eating seafood every day in Portugal, you’re doing everything wrong. It’s fresh, affordable, and according to everywhere I ate, beautifully presented as well. My most memorable meals included trying monkfish for the first time at Quinta da Pacheca and the perfectly cooked salmon at the Vintage House Hotel, which are both located in the Douro Valley.
2. The Luxurious Hotels
More specifically, I love how affordable these top-notch hotels are. The Vintage House is a 5-star hotel on an 18th century estate, right beside the Douro River. Every single room, and there are about 40 in total, face toward the gorgeous river and most include terraces as well. The atmosphere is incredibly tranquil and you’re only minutes away from several vineyards. After all, this is wine country!
If you’re looking to stay somewhere even more historic, Pousada de Guimarães Santa Marinha provides a fascinating stay, as it was once a 12th century Augustin Monastery. Yes, you read that correctly… 12th century! Thankfully, the rooms are modern but very cozy. You can also enjoy their extensive gardens which are the perfect place to get lost in and for meditation, which is exactly what the monks did hundreds of years ago! They appear untouched which is something I really loved.
Every five-star hotel I visited was under 130-150 euros a night, and even lower in the off seasons. This is affordable luxury at its best which is what I aim to find and share on Bon Voyage Lauren!
3. The Churches
There are no shortage of churches in Northern Portugal. Although I’m not religious, I’m always in awe of these magnificent buildings and how they were built hundreds of years ago with no modern machinery!
Most churches I saw in Portugal, including the Bom Jesus pictured above, were white and fairly plain on the outside, with stunning interiors of gold everything and over-the-top altars. In other words, a feast for the eyes!
I enjoyed the fact that several churches, especially in Porto, would cover the facades with those famous blue tiles. I learned that these were added on only recently (well, a hundred or so years ago!) as a way to spruce up and add more color to these aging buildings.
4. The City of Porto
Porto deserves its own shoutout because it’s just that great. Home to only 230,000 people, this small(ish) coastal city needs to be on everyones list and is the perfect weekend trip for anyone in Europe. Like the rest of Portugal, it’s extremely affordable, and the public transportation is great, while also being a very walkable city.
I will have an entirely separate post to explain my love of Porto as I’m still editing through hundreds of photos. Literally, hundreds. Porto is a very romantic city, with its cobbled streets, colorful merchants’ houses, and wine tasting rooms with stunning views of the river almost everywhere you turn. It’s also a very hilly city but you’ll hear no complaints coming from me, as this just provides several gorgeous viewpoints!
And before I forget, Porto is home to the famous Lello Bookshop, one of the oldest bookshops in Portugal and the most beautiful building I’ve ever set foot in. Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic but I feel at home in a bookshop AND this one just happened to inspire Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, when she was living in Porto some years ago. That staircase just screams Hogwarts, if you know what I mean.
5. The Douro Valley
This list would not be complete without mentioning the Douro Valley, or the Enchanting Valley as some people call it. I think it’s easy to see why…
I really was blown away by this part of the north. The rolling hills and vast green valleys seem to melt into the Douro River as you drive through admiring the incredible landscape. It’s impossible to take a bad photo here. I especially enjoyed seeing the autumn colors at the vineyards, as we don’t really have seasons in Los Angeles!
Writing this overview of my trip was very difficult for me as it meant I had to narrow down my favorite memories and photos. I will go into so much more detail in my posts over the next couple of weeks which I hope will provide you with a wealth of information about visiting this beautiful part of the world! Big thanks to Visit Porto and North for collaborating with me and showing me the very best of your beautiful country!
Have you visited Portugal before? What were your thoughts? I’d love to know in the comments below!