Few Americans have yet to discover Portugal. We went recently to visit my British family in Vila Nova de Milfontes in the South. Our journey started in Lisbon where we stayed in an apartment in the central part of Lisbon. Our airfares were inexpensive and our accommodations through Airbnb even more so (we never paid more than $100.00 a night).
Lisbon is a beautiful old city with a large Moorish section that wanders up into the hills behind the pastel colored, red-tiled houses that line the cobbled streets.
It has numerous beautiful squares and monuments and is scenically situated at the mouth of the Tagus River. If you are a foodie like us, it also has many inexpensive world class restaurants and markets scattered throughout the city in which to enjoy grilled octopus, ceviche, mackerel tartar, lamb chops, codfish cakes, cheeses and all manner of potatoes, salads, and gazpacho. How I love the different varieties of this tomato delight that to me represents the essence of summer.
It is advisable to take a ride on one or other of the red, yellow and green trolleys that go all around the city and learn Portuguese history. Ancestors of the Portuguese include Lusitanians (Indo-European speakers), Celtici (Celts), Calaicians, Coelerni, Cynetes, Narbasi, Tapoli, and many other tribes. Of course the Portuguese were great maritime explorers, mapping the coasts of Africa, Canada, Asia and Brazil during the 15th and 16th centuries.
For me however it is Portugal’s Moorish past that I find intriguing. During their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula starting in 711, the Moors brought an vital and unique culture with them. In fact many Arabic words still permeate the Portuguese language like Arroz for rice, and El-Gharb for what is now known at the Algarve.
From the teaming city of Lisbon we travelled South to Casa da Dina, a delightful bed and breakfast about thirty minutes from the seaside town of Milfontes.
Dina cooks traditional dinners for her guests and her husband Walter, a talkative and informative Uruguayan host, complements these with an unusual variety of Portuguese wines and cocktails. This place won’t come close to breaking your budget, affordable and absolutely authentic. It’s situated down a long narrow, dusty country lane surrounded by wheat fields and cork oak forests. The small village of Malavado nearby hosts a bar in which you can drink beer and watch soccer with the locals.
While staying at Dina’s we easily visited the Atlantic coastline and its spectacular beaches located in the South West Lengejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park. This 100km of coastline, stretching from Porto Covo in the Lengejo to Burgau in the Algarve is stunning, and it is a place where surfers can ride some of the best waves available in Europe. There is a wide variety of beaches, including long stretches of sand and small coves nestled between the cliffs and rocks, which sport a repertoire of forms and coloring caused by centuries of erosion.
Here’s a recipe directly from Dina’s kitchen, to yours. Grill Cod then mix in a bowl with boiled potatoes, homegrown tomatoes, cucumber, grilled green and red peppers and chopped garlic — season generously with the best Portuguese olive oil, salt and ground pepper, and some wine vinegar.
We ended our trip to the mainland of Portugal with a family reunion of three generations at my cousin’s house. Their rambling white villa is set in the South West Lengejo and the Vicentine Coast Natural Park on the tidal river of Mira, a ninety mile stretch of fresh and salt water, which meanders lazily down and up from the coastal town of Milfontes. Their property was once home to the local miller who tended the now abandoned rice mill next to it. Legend has it that the original owner lost the property many years ago to a neighbor in a game of cards. An honest judge however gave him half back!
I thoroughly recommend Portugal as an inexpensive and exciting place for middle class families like us to travel to. It costs no more to get there and spend a two week vacation than it does to rent a three bedroom house on the Cape or the Carolinas in August! Accommodations are cheap, the airfare is affordable from the East Coast, and food and wine are a fraction of what one would pay in the US.
In our family we have always skimped on buying and owning things in order to travel the world, to get out of the US and to understand first hand that the machinations of American politics have little relevance to others who share the globe with us. It was fabulous to learn about an important and different history and culture, to hear a different language, and to have the luxury to take time out of our busy lives to concentrate on family and the ones dearest to our hearts.
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