Daily Wanderlust: Portugal

Portugal, on first-glance, looks a bit worn around the edges. A bit tattered from the Atlantic Ocean air whipping against its old buildings. But, it also offers a warmth I’ve never seen before. Doors, walls, entire buildings, offer such character and life.

There were plenty of times during my visit to Portugal (when I wasn’t trying to party it up like an Aussie or cure my hangover in the Atlantic) when I would just grab my camera and wander down the little side streets, marveling at the intricate detail of homes. Even the door knows I came across were artistic.

My favorite thing about the architecture in Portugal is the colors. The pastel pinks and blues against the lime greens and yellows. The bright tiles half-way up the exterior of buildings. The street lamps which cast a yellow glow against the white stones in the squares. A perfect example? This weathered home in the coastal town of Faro.

Yes, Portugal is beautiful.



Escape of the Week: Sintra, Portugal

A quick train ride from Lisbon lies the hilltop town of Sintra. It’s a quaint little town that conjures up memories of times when fairytales were quite possibly real, with its maze-like cobblestone streets, castles and palaces.

Once the summer home of Portugal’s kings, today Sintra offers a place for history buffs to roam the streets and explore all of the town’s nooks and crannies. There are the homes and streets that show evidence of a long life …


For the traveler seeking a place to rest their feet, there are cafes to enjoy the fresh air and scenery.

In the center of town, there are plenty of options for culture. The most popular option (and largest) is the sprawling Palacio Nacional de Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a medieval royal palace that is a focal point of Sintra.

There are also views of the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, it is very possible to imagine seeing all the way across to the other side of the world. (My favorite view is actually at a Chinese restaurant near by the train station.)

At the top of the town, there are the eighth century ruins of Castelo dos Mouros and Palacio de Rena. You can reach them either on foot (it’s a good 3 km hike up to the Castelo and another bit to the Palacio) or via bus (buy a day pass) to the top of the forested peak.

In Sintra it isn’t uncommon to find someone with their head jutting from an open window, taking in the sights and sounds of the world outside.

This friendly man stopped me on the street below and asked me to take his photo …

And then, there is my favorite thing to do — wander around the maze of narrow cobbelstone streets, taking in the homes awash in bright colors … and the display of clothing drying on lines strewn between windows and buildings.

Getting there: From Lisbon, hop on the train (there’s one every 15 minutes) to Sintra at Rossio station. The ride is about 40 minutes and shouldn’t cost more than a couple of euros.

Sadly, I was sick when I visited Sintra, so there was no hiking up to the ruins. Have you had a chance to visit Sintra? What was your experience?

Traveling ’round? If you want to check out another city where fairytales echo in your mind, check out Edinburgh. Stay at a hotel in Edinburgh’s city centre and head out to explore the magic of this gorgeous Scottish city.


Escape of the Week: The Colors of Portugal

I spent time in Portugal, but not quality time. Mostly because I was sick. And, then I was drunk , and then I was hungover.

Fortunately, there was at least one good day in the middle of my 10 or so days in the country when I was moderately healthy and totally sober.

I met a few girls in Lisboa and convinced them (thanks to the fantastic advice from Abby) to head to Sintra for a day-trip. The city did not disappoint. Curling up a hill, the city offers so many gorgeous colors, textures, and of course, a view of the ocean from many vantage points.

I love taking photos of buildings … especially in the coastal cities of Portugal, where the salty air mixes with the once-vibrant colors.

This is one of my favorites:


Destinations Portugal

Seeking solitude in the Algarve

This is a guest post by Kirk Shackleton.

The Algarve has never really held much of an attraction for me.  I prefer to risk twisting my ankle off the beaten path, which is something I always assumed would be difficult on Portugal’s well-trodden southern crust.

In my mind, I imagined a canvas painted with horizontal blocks of colour: the crystal cyan of the Mediterranean Sea, the roasted golden grains of sandy beaches, an oily bronze of reclined torsos sunning themselves like walruses, the faded white of Algarve hotels, a vivid dark green golf course and, at the top, a cloudless sky blue.

The reality?  Not wildly different, except, possibly, the addition of a neon strip for the clubs that come to life in Praia da Rocha at midnight.

I spent a couple of days in the aforementioned, soaking up pummelling bass vibrations along with the lingering sweat in the palpable morning-after air, before telling the group who had dragged me to the Algarve I was off to find some peace and quiet and would be back the next day.

Sagres is about as far west as you can go along the Algarve before the coastline cuts north, tucked away in the bottom corner of Portugal.  It has been proclaimed the end of the world, a sudden dead end that tumbles towards the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Few travellers make it to Sagres.  Although there is still plenty of Algarve accommodation there, along with the facilities and amenities that most holidaymakers seek, it is not an obvious destination because it is so remote.

The town sits upon a distinctive stretch of coast, a sheer, crumbly edge that could have been carved roughly by a gigantic hacksaw.  The land here is flat, which serves only to enhance the dramatic way in which the earth suddenly succumbs to the crashing ocean.

I was told that in summer, the Algarve beaches in Sagres attract surfers like frugal shoppers to the January sales, but I had them to myself; a solitary figure in no hurry, aimlessly wandering between the lazy wash and the shelter of the cliff wall.

I had spent that morning pacing the perimeter of a fascinating outcrop that hangs tenuously from the base of Portugal like a drip on the end of a hooked nose, dissected by roads that seem like a distant cousin of the Nazca Lines.  Upon it sits Fortaleza de Sagres, a fortress dating back to the 15th century, standing resolute before the Atlantic Ocean.

I happened upon a weathered-looking local dozing heavily against a rock, who stirred as I approached.

‘You want boat?’ he proffered hopefully.

‘Boat where?’ I didn’t have any plans for the afternoon, besides joining the man in his siesta beneath the glowing heat of the sun.

‘Where you want go?’

‘Where do you go?’

After a few more minutes of misunderstanding and unanswered questions, Diego led me to his boat, a small wooden vessel with flaking blue paint and a piece of worn rope holding it loosely to a desolate pier.  As it bobbed gently with the lull of the tide, the rope strained and loosened, groaning as it did so.

It was one of those perplexing tubs which arouse a mild panic as you wonder how is it still afloat? and, more pressingly, what will happen when I step aboard?

I needn’t have worried.

Diego fitted the outboard engine and we were away, chugging doggedly along the coastline like an OAP making a beeline for a table of rich tea biscuits.  Our boat’s momentum punctured the still, clinging air, creating a breeze that feathered our skin against the penetrating sunlight which reflected blindingly off the water’s surface.

I felt like we could go anywhere in our trusty craft; Spain, Africa, America, or just back to Sagres.  Diego, through his silence, was good company.  I let my thoughts wander, eventually settling upon the friends I’d left I Praia da Rocha.  I’ll head back that way… I reasoned …eventually.

About Kirk: Kirk was reared in Australia’s Outback before travelling extensively across the globe, eventually settling in London.  He is passionate about food, travel and any sport that isn’t cricket, and enjoys driving cattle in his spare time.


The otherside of the Atlantic Ocean

Covered in sunscreen (SPF 30) and armed with my book and a sheet to layout, I headed to the beach.

The sky looked a bit threatening that morning … teetering between sun and clouds and sunny with clouds, so I wasn’t sure if a beach day was even possible. But, I had to make it to the Atlantic Ocean.

I grew up with the Atlantic Ocean. Every summer my family would venture the three hour trip and spend time at the beach. I would stare out over the horizon and wonder what was on the other side.

One day, I will be on the other side of the ocean.

That day happened in May 2010 … in Lagos, Portugal.

I stepped onto the beach and was immediately struck by its beauty. The ocean in Lagos is so much prettier than the mucky Mid-Atlantic Ocean where I used to swim. It is green and blue and bright and gorgeous and lined with the most magnificent cliffs I have ever seen.

I threw my stuff on the sand, tossed my dress to the ground and walked into the water.

Holy hell, it’s cold.

I had to swim.

I walked further into the water, lungs hurting, goosebumps emerging.

Come on, D.

Then, I went for it.

Balls to the walls, man.

I dipped under.


And then, it wasn’t so bad. And then, I was swimming! Past the cliffs, turning around and looking back at the shore.

So, that’s what the other side of the Atlantic Ocean looks like.

Hangover cured.

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