Portugal is a well-known country but easily underestimated.
To the astonishment of everyone, three weeks are not enough to discover the richness and the diversity the country has to offer.
City of Bridges
Porto, the city that gave its name to Portugal, has nothing to be envious about her big sister Lisboa.
And for a good reason! The city was elected as the Best European Destination in 2012, 2014 and 2017.
It would be an euphemism to say that Porto caught my heart, but she sure did!
I spent many days pacing the city streets flanked by colorful houses, some of them decorated with azulejos, others with hanging clothes fluttering in the wind.
Porto's landscape is shaped by many bridges, but the most famous one is indubitably the double deck bridge Luiz I.
Built on hills along the Douro river, you will leave the city exhausted but with rock solid legs!
A good starting point
Porto and its surroundings are well served by buses, metros, and trains. Just name it! And on top of that, it's cheap! What else? Everything is an invitation to exploration.
Braga and Guimarães, among others, are two good options for a day trip away from the bustling Porto. But if you choose to go there during a rainy day like I did... do not worry! Both cities have plenty of nice coffee shops to relax in the dry while listening to the sound of the rain. And since you already made it to here, do not miss the Sanctuary Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga and its Baroque stairway that climb 116 metres.
After a few days, I left Porto and headed to Coimbra.
The city is home to one of Europe's most renowned universities and Portugal's number one.
It's worth it to take a peek of the beautiful architecture inside, or just to feel better knowing that you are traveling while others are still studying hard!
For the ruin lovers, Conímbriga is one of Portugal's most important Roman antique cities and is about only 18km away from Coimbra. The historic setting, away from the city and surrounded by nature, takes you back in time in a blink of an eye.
Lisbon the Big-Hearted
Portugal's capital doesn't need an introduction any longer. Its yellow trams, pastel de nata, architecture and nightlife are world-famous.
However, it is always enchanting to visit the castle of Saõ Jorge with its gardens overlooking the entire city... or to go Praça do Comércio, where everyone arriving by boat centuries ago used to disembark... or to wonder how the hell the massive Torre de Bélem stood the test of time so well.
But the one thing I took with me from Lisbon would be the joy for life and the passion for music the locals share. During the day and even after night fall, you will find music bands playing at every single viewpoint of the city. And there is nothing better than to witness a beautiful sunset while listening to some melancholic lisboeta music as the sunlight turns golden.
To infinity and beyond
As for Porto, Lisbon's surroundings offer many day trip activities. There's something for everyone: beach, sport, nature, history, architecture and culture.
The city of Sintra is located at the foothills of the mountains, therefore the weather is way more humid, conducing to the growth of lush vegetation.
Now that the stage is set, all you have to do is to imagine a very high vibrant colored palace and you will get the Palácio da Pena.
They are numerous other castles, monasteries and palaces in the area and you will need more than one day if you want to visit them all.
After Porto, Óbidos is undoubtedly my crush.
This small fortified town of 3,400 souls almost didn't change since the modern times and the conditions of its fortifications are beyond reproaches.
Strolling in the cobblestoned streets, lined with old houses that are frozen in time, and on the ramparts, will definitely subjugate you.
You're standing here on "the westernmost extent of mainland Portugal, continental Europe, and the Eurasian land mass", said Wikipedia. No less!
Or in a more poetic way : "Here, where the land ends and the sea begins", said poet Luis Vaz de Camões (1524-1580).
A lighthouse overlooks the ocean at 140 metres. You can get inside, and if you really want it that much, you can buy a little paper attesting your presence on the westernmost point of Europe (yay!).
There are some hikes around the lighthouse leading to a few peaceful beaches through the colorful surrounding hills.
Évora is one of Portugal's most preserved medieval towns with a rich historic past. Various medieval and Renaissance palaces are superbly maintained. Therefore the city is an open air museum of the Portuguese architecture.
Only one Roman structure managed to survive, and it is quite odd to see it in the middle of all these overwhelming Renaissance buildings.
This Roman temple is commonly called "Temple of Diana", but this association with the roman goddess has never been officially proven.
The South Coast
Going to Faro was not part of my plan, but in the end I decided to make a little detour as there was no direct connection from Évora to Lagos. And I do not regret it!
Usually seen as a simple getaway to other more famous seaside resorts, people do not take the time to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere that reigns in Faro's picturesque streets.
The Ria Formosa Natural Park is located in the lagoons on the edge of the city and is ideal for birdwatching.
If you have time, take the train that follow the coastline from Faro to Lagos with several stops. It is an original way to move around. Otherwise you have plenty of buses.
Once I arrived in Lagos, I immediately went to my hostel to drop my backpack before to go for a walk on the rugged coastline as the daylight was slowly fading, turning golden. You understood by now that I just LOVE the golden hour!
There are paths everywhere and you can walk to Ponta da Piedade, a natural monument of rock formations and a popular spot to watch the sunset.
When the weather is right, several beaches allow you to take the sun and the plunge.
One last thing, it is very windy here even in summer so do not forget to take something if you're sensitive to the cold.
The massive Sagres Fortress built on the hillside and on the edge of the water lies 35km away from Lagos.
There is not much to see here as most of the fort was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake followed by a gigantic tsunami. Nevertheless, the setting is breathtaking!
The fortress offers panoramic views on the ocean and the Cabo Saõ Vicente in the distance.
Speaking of the Cabo, this is the southwesternmost point of Europe. I wanted to reach it but unfortunately that day there was a cycle race and the buses were not driving beyond Sagres. Maybe, there too, you can ask for a paper attesting your presence to show off in front of your friends! Who knows...
Back to Porto
Here I am. After almost three weeks exploring Portugal I came back to my starting point and spent one last day in the fabulous city of Porto.
There are so many other places I wanted to discover such as Marvão, Nazaré, Tomar, Peneda-Gerês National Park, Serra da Estrela Natural Park... But due to a lack of time, transport, or weather conditions, I wasn't able to. By the way, I was there in February which isn't the ideal period to expect long and warm sunny days. My mistake!
People seemed disconcerted when I said I would stay three weeks in Portugal.
This country has so much more to offer than what one might think. Three weeks are not enough, and it is with a great eagerness that I am waiting for the next time I will set foot on this land.