Saturday, 14 May 2011

Portugal: The scenic route from Porto to Faro

I recently spent a few weeks travelling from Porto in northern Portugal to Faro in the country's southernmost region, the Algarve. It's a journey I've made three times now in the name of travel guide research. Every time I return, I'm struck by a number of things: the beauty and diversity of the landscape, from the verdant fields of the northern Minho region, to the rolling hills of the central Beiras and the rocky coves of the western Algarve; the quiet friendliness of the Portuguese, less obviously ebullient but just as welcoming as their near neighbours the Spanish; the amazing value of a generously-sized meal and a bottle of local wine.



Every time I return to the same streets, my eye always chances upon something previously undiscovered: a stunning view that had escaped my notice, a restaurant with a tempting menu or even a newly-opened art gallery. At first glance, though, Portugal is a country that seems to change relatively little: independent retailers selling homewares or religious paraphernalia sit alongside trendy boutqiues and international chainstores, bacalhau (salt cod) still features highly on menus, resisting cosmopolitan competition. Every town is speckled with crumbling facades, somehow adding to the country's low-key charm while also hinting at tough financial times.

Evora's quiet streets

Yet despite the tumbledown houses dotting the landscape and the occasional feeling that time has stood still, Portugal is developing. Lisbon and Porto boast cutting-edge galleries and museums, as well as impressive infrastructure installed in the run up to Euro 2004. The traditional and modern seem to coexist happily, resulting in an appealing fusion of old and new. In Porto, the slick metro glides across the top of the nineteenth century Ponte Luis I, depositing its human cargo high above the riverside Cais de Gaia. Making your way down the hillside to the swanky restaurants on the water's edge with their panoramic windows, you wind through quiet cobbled streets where washing waves in the breeze and cats lounge in the sunshine. Grocers shops and neighbourhood bars are the only businesses in these lanes; you could be in a small rural town anywhere in the country. Emerging on lively Cais de Gaia, you're plunged back into Porto: a low-key, laid-back city, but a city nonetheless.

Ponte Dom Luis I seen from Gaia's streets


It's just this blend of old and new, of calm and bustling, that makes me hope that I'll keep returning to Portugal for years to come.


Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about my experiences of travelling around Portugal by bus and train. For now, here are some photographs of the towns and cities I visited on my journey from north to south.


The coast at Foz, Porto

Casa Serralves, Porto



Bom Jesus do Monte, near Braga
Coimbra's old town

The Convento de Cristo, Tomar


Lisbon
Church, Vila Nova Milfontes

Storks, Faro

The coastline near Lagos


You can find more of my posts on Portugal here. You may also be interested to read the article on Porto I wrote for The Travel Belles.

2 comments :

  1. hi kate! i am following your blog and was hoping to get your input on which side of the train i should stay in on my way from faro to lisbon, PT. in my head, the one on the left side of the direction of the train is more scenic as it will provide views of the sea, but it's hard to tell form the options. if you can still remember, would appreciate your tip! :)

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  2. Hi Rhea! I haven't taken that particular journey in that direction but I would imagine you'd need to be on the left hand side of the train to see the coast more clearly (although I don't know how much of the journey is down the coast). I'm sure you will get an interesting view on both sides though. Enjoy your trip!

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