In early December, Saul and I made a decision to include a short visit to Portugal in our itinerary. After drifting lazily westwards through Spanish wine country, we finally tackled the drive to Porto on Christmas Day, hoping for quiet roads. This turned out to be an excellent decision and late afternoon saw us comfortably ensconced in a slightly weird industrial chic hotel on the banks of the Douro. The contrast between neighbours was quickly apparent with Spain’s rather understated sophistication suddenly rendered obvious by Portugal’s rougher edges. Even the language sounded decidedly rof en onbeskof to our by now Spanish-tuned ears. None of which means that Portugal was a disappointment. Fantastic seafood (and port, of course), a rather mind-boggling tourist attraction in Evora, interesting company for a New Year’s Eve party in an Algarve luxury hotel (that used to be a convent) and a New Year’s Day spent on my favourite type of beach (empty, atmospheric and windy) made for a memorable eight days.
The Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square) in Porto
Saul’s penchant for following the GPS anywhere and everywhere got us off the streets that had been cleaned up for tourists and onto the mean back streets
The Dom Luís I bridge is one of seven imposing bridges that span the Douro in Porto
We never found out whether the port casks on those boats actually contained port or were just for show
Our first port tasting put an immediate stop to the idea of visiting several port cellars before lunch – look at those tasting portions!
The former fishing village of Foz do Douro is now the westernmost neighbourhood of Porto. It is here that the mouth of the Douro empties into the Atlantic.
Toy-sized boats rocked dangerously in what I thought was rather rough water for the size of these craft
Saul suddenly decided that my bumblebee sunglasses amused him and started chasing me around the car park for close-ups
We arrived in Evora on a rainy evening and got thoroughly wet while hunting on foot for a recommended restaurant that turned out to be booked up weeks in advance. They looked at us as if we had turned up at The Test Kitchen without a booking.
The macabre Chapel of Bones in the Church of St. Francis in Evora is decorated with the bones from an estimated 5000 human skeletons
Bone chapels are supposed to make you reflect on the fact that you will (soon) die and that earthly life and possessions are therefore unimportant compared to your spiritual life. My reflections were more on the surpassing weirdness of the selfie cult, as I watched teenage girls using the selfie function on their phones to check their hair before snapping their beaming selves in front of the lovely bones.
It is the casually ignored location of this 2000-year old ruin rather than the structure itself that is “alucinante”, to use one of my favourite Spanish adjectives
Opened by the Jesuits in 1559. Ran for 200 years. Then closed for 200 years (while Jesuits were unpopular). Re-opened in 1973 and currently running as a modern university.
Judging by their continuous occupancy of the squares and benches of Portugal, Portuguese men do not participate in household chores
Saul takes a peek to see if the late afternoon light inside this church holds sufficient interest to justify paying the entry “donation”. As I recall, the vote came down in favour of coffee and pastries.
Tavira, our third and final stop in Portugal. With the touristy edge blunted by winter, it turned out to be as charming an Algarve town as one could possibly hope for.
With temperatures in the low teens, the hotel pool was better suited to scenic sunset drinks than swimming
On New Year’s Day we thought about the previous night’s 5-course dinner and decided to do the 6km round trip to Tavira’s prime beach on foot. The derelict industrial area that we walked through turned out to be surprisingly photogenic.
I took this photo because I rather enjoyed the contrast between the impeccable golden-sand-and-aquamarine-water surroundings and the utilitarian pier where we had to catch a ferry to get to the beach.
Small bobbing boats were periodically spotlit as the whipping wind opened temporary gaps in the clouds
Ten minutes later sunlight dressed up the Algarve in its more familiar tourist brochure guise
Until I googled the title I chose for this photograph, I didn’t know that flotsam and jetsam were formal marine terms with legal implications. Look it up – I think that shoe is jetsam, not flotsam!
Abandoned beach umbrellas hint at the absent summer hordes
Here you can rent a white plastic lounger to go with your thatch umbrella