Our Return to Portugal

In May of 2023 (May 21 to 30), we will return to Portugal, a country we love for its photographic and cultural diversity. There’s a good reason why many American ex-pats now make this wonderful country their new home and why photographers, like us, can’t wait to visit again.

In preparation for our 2023 trip, we gathered some fun facts about Europe’s intriguing most southwestern country, followed by favorite images from the famous Douro Valley, home of the Port wine vineyards.

Portugal is safe, very welcoming, and offers an amazing variety of breathtaking visual treats – a photographer’s paradise. Photograph trendy Porto, the lush wine terraces of the Douro Valley, the tile-covered town of Aveiro, medieval Obidos, a mysterious chapel in the surf, the impressive monastery in Tomar, and the fishing village of Nazaré.

Batalha Monestary Contemplation bw Portugal

Portugal is the oldest country in Europe.

Portugal has had the same borders since the 12th century, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe. The country remained a kingdom for almost 800 years until a revolution in 1910 turned it into today’s Portuguese Republic.

The world’s oldest bookstore is in Lisbon.

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The still-operating Livraria Bertrand was established in 1732 and is located in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.

The most delicious Portuguese pastries are Pastéis de Nata.

These lovely little custard tarts are crispy and creamy. You can visit the home of the Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon’s Belém district.

Belem Tower in Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has one of the world’s oldest universities.

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. The University is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013. The school now has over 20,000 students. Coimbra itself is a lovely city to explore and photograph.

Portugal is one of the world’s top surf spots.

Nazaré Boat Detail Portugal

Portugal’s 497 miles of coastline and 364 days of surf attract surfers from around the world.

A Portuguese explorer was the first to complete a full journey around the earth.

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan is said to have first circumnavigated the globe.

Piri-Piri originated in Portugal.

This sour, sweet, salty, and spicy Piri-Piri chili sauce is made with chilis from South America and is often used in a famous Portuguese chicken dish. Feel like giving it a try? Click here for a Bon Appétit recipe. »

Port Wine is Portugal’s most famous export.

Port wine is a fortified wine produced in the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal. It comes in sweet (most popular), dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.

Portugal is the westernmost point of  Europe.

Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula of Southwestern Europe.

Portugal is the world’s largest cork producer.

Portugal is home to the world’s largest cork forest and produces over 70% of the world’s cork demand. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.

Portugal was once incredibly powerful.

The Portuguese Empire was the first global empire in history and was one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries until Macau was handed over to China in 1999.

Portuguese is spoken in nine countries.

Portuguese is spoken by over 236 million people worldwide. It’s the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Principe, Sao Tome, and Equatorial Guinea. Portuguese is also spoken in Goa (India), Macao, and East Timor.

Portugal has the second-longest bridge in Europe.

The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 7.6 miles long making it the longest in Europe for about 20 years until the Crimean Bridge was opened in Russia in 2018.

Portuguese Fado Music is on the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Fado (meaning fate in Portuguese) originated in urban Lisbon around 1800. It is a mournful style of folk music passed down through generations orally. Listen to an example of this touching music performed by Amália Rodrigues known as the beloved “Rainha do Fado” (Queen of Fado).

Tile covered building Aveiro Portugal

Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery.

Portugal was heavily involved in the slave trade. However, it abolished slavery in 1761—half a century before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.

Lisbon is four centuries older than Rome.

Lisbon is the second oldest European capital after Athens. Many historians believe that it was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC.

Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history.

On the 1st of November in 1755, Lisbon was struck by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake which was followed by a tsunami and fires that destroyed 85 % of the buildings and killed 275,000 residents.

The Douro Valley — Portugal’s Golden River

In our fifth photo essay about Portugal, we’ll share with you images of the beautiful Douro Valley. The majestic Rio Douro (River of Gold) is Iberia’s third longest river and runs mostly through rural and strikingly beautiful landscapes, from central Spain into northern Portugal, to its mouth at Porto, the second-largest city of Portugal. Our last installment focused on the magic of this beautiful city. Read more here. »

The terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley create beautiful patterns especially when they're backlit in the early morning or late in the day.

The terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley create beautiful patterns especially when they’re backlit in the early morning or late in the day and the rim light just touches the top of the vines.

Port Wine Tradition

Wine has been cultivated in the Douro region for roughly 2,000 years with a focus on port wine production since the 18th century. The Douro vinhateiro (vine land) has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In the past, the wine was taken downriver in flat-bottom boats called rabelos, then fortified with brandy and stored in barrels in the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. The once wild and uncontrollable currents made this journey very treacherous in the past. Today, tanker trucks transport the wine from the Douro vineyards to Porto and the river is safe for fun daytime cruises.

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Douro-valley-vineyard-portugal

The Amazing Terraces of the Douro Valley Vineyards

The wide Douro River is flanked by vineyards on steep terraced hills reaching up to breathtaking altitudes. The roads leading up to the top are cut into the hillsides with dizzying drop-offs. The amount of work it must have taken (and still does take) to cultivate this land is awe-inspiring as are the wonderful patterns of the vines we get to photograph here. The best time to shoot is early in the morning and late in the day when the vineyards are backlit and attractive shadows give depth and a jewel tone richness to our images.

A Small World

Running into another Austrian in the remote hills of the Douro Valley

In the small town of Tabuaço high up in the hills of the Douro Valley, Jim and I stumbled across a restaurant of local fame known for its special Bacalhau (reconstituted salted codfish) dishes — still not a fan but here’s a recipe.

Interesting architectural detail in a small town the Douro Valley

Interesting architectural detail in a small town in the Douro Valley

The owner and chef of this restaurant is Thomas Egger, a transplant from Kitzbuehl in Austria. Thomas fell in love with the region and now runs the Restaurante Tabua d’ Aço as well as a small hotel together with his Portuguese wife Fatima. He also produces his own olive oil and wine. For me as an Austrian to run into another one in such a remote area reminded me again of the fun and unexpected surprises traveling often has to offer!

douro-valley-vineyard-pattern

Rod-iron cross in the old center of Provesende

Rod-iron cross in the old center of Provesende

Provesende

Jim and I fled our AirB&B in Tabuaço due to persistent mothball odors in our otherwise cozy room and ended up in a fantastic little hotel even higher up in the hills in the even smaller traditional town of Provesende.

A charming ivy-covered facade in Provesende

A charming ivy-covered facade in Provesende

An architectural detail at a hotel in Provesende

Architectural detail at a hotel in Provesende

Provesende is a very charming village high up in the Douro wine region of northern Portugal. This town is surrounded by vineyards and productive vineries. In its center you’ll find historical sites and stately manor houses which attest to an illustrious past. However, many of these old buildings are now in ruins. Time stood still in Provesende making it a very fun place to photograph.

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Blue door number 1

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Blue door number 2

Lots to explore in the back alleys of this small traditional village of Provesende in Portugal

Lots to explore in the back alleys of this small traditional village

Detail of a historic fountain in Provesende

Detail of a historic fountain in Provesende

Pinhão

Pinhão is a small town in the valley at the banks of the Douro. Even though this town offers a very elegant and expensive hotel, several great restaurants, and short river cruises, the rest of the town is pretty run down. Rick Steves, our local travel guru, calls it a place with “the charm of dirty fingernails.”

Beautiful painted tiles on the train station in Pinhão

Beautifully painted tiles on the train station in Pinhão

For photographers, that can of course means fun explorations of architectural details like the lovely azulejo tiles that adorn the Pinhão railway station.

Terraced vineyards oil the Douro Valley with the mighty Douro in the background

Terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley with the mighty Douro in the background

One of the many stately Quintas (agricultural estates) in the Douro Valley

One of the many stately Quintas (agricultural estates) in the Douro Valley

Douro-valley-vineyard-3-portugal

By now, you can probably tell that we love Portugal. Feel like exploring more yourself on our 2023 Portugal Photo Tour?

Don’t hesitate to call 425.672.9760 or email us with questions. We love talking about any of our tours.

Contact us for more information!

 

Quirky Portugese ceramics

Quirky Portuguese ceramics

Would you like to catch up on our previous photo essays about various fascinating aspects of Portugal? Check it out: