A Portugal Paradise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 8, 2013

Portugal is a unique European country steeped in history, rich in traditions, with a society proud of its heritage.
Given that Spain is Portugal’s only neighbor —the Atlantic Ocean borders Portugal’s western and southern coasts — one might think the country’s culture is analogous to Spain.
But Portugal has been primarily influenced by its previous colonies and Moorish rulers, having attempted to refrain from adopting Spanish customs.
Portuguese is the national language, which is actually similar to Spanish.
There are a few cosmopolitan cities in Portugal, but most of the population lives in the suburbs or smaller municipalities.
Nevertheless, historical landmarks and monuments create a bond between these places, and large portions of Portugal have been declared as UNESCO sites. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Church spires are familiar sights when entering any town in Portugal, recognizing that Catholicism is the main religion in the country.
Most cathedrals, including several dating back to the 11th century, are elaborately decorated with icons, gold leafed altars and frescoed ceilings – all with magnificent detail.
Similarly, stunning and ornate castles abounded, some still possessing original period furniture, with beautifully manicured gardens that provide an array of colors and foliage. It was a photographer’s dream.
Comparatively speaking, everything seems so ‘new’ in the United States.
The last week of our trip found us cruising the Douro River Valley in very calm, almost glass like water.
Many locks were encountered along the route — one being the deepest in Europe at 114 feet — built to control what used to be fierce, turbulent, rushing water.
The sheer size and functionality made each lock fascinating to experience. And, due to the varying water height, the roof of the wheel house and sun deck “cover” had to be lowered on several occasions so that ships could pass under bridges. It was fun being able to touch the underside of the bridge.
The scenery was extremely picturesque during the cruise, with brightly colored homes donning terra-cotta roofs, an abundance of blooming trees and flowers, and mile upon mile of terraced vineyards.
Wine is a major export of Portugal, and Porto is the birthplace of Port wine, a sweet, fruity wine interlaced with brandy that is normally served with dessert.
Portugal’s drinking age for wine and beer is 16 years old, while their driving age is 18 years old.
Portugal’s stance is that most young teenagers will have their fill of alcohol and going to clubs by the time they begin to drive, thus reducing the incidence of drinking and driving.
The cuisine was surprising, as I thought most meals would be spicy, but I found it to be routinely mild but tasty.
However, Portugal’s famous signature dish, “Piri-Piri Chicken,” is usually prepared with a chili pepper-type sauce that can definitely be classified as fiery.
The Portuguese love bread and pastries, a testament to the many established bakeries throughout the small towns.
If you enjoy vacationing in places immersed in history boasting gorgeous landscapes, as well as consuming delicious food and wine, then look no further than Portugal.