Beautiful Portugal: Small but Mighty

Don’t get fooled by its quaintness. At its height, Lusitania’s imperial influence stretched across 50 countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

As soon as you land in Portugal, you’re welcomed by a country of melancholic red roof houses against the tranquil backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

Moreover, as you drive southward from its historical capital Lisbon into the charming Algarve region, you realize the entire country is probably not larger than the state of Indiana.

Lisbon, Portugal

That’s why it’s hard to reconcile the fact that the Portuguese Colonial Empire was one of the more extensive in the history of humankind: it stretched from the Americas through Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The legacy is immortalized by Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries), located on Lisbon’s Tagus River (the point where ships departed from in the Age of Discovery).  

Map of Portuguese colonies at the Monument of the Discoveries

Aside from the structure itself, which depicts Henry the Navigator leading his crew on a sailing ship, the Praça do Império (Imperial Square) includes red limestone Mappa Mundi representing the global Portuguese colonies. 

Also, a symbol of the Age of Discovery, the nearby Belém Tower, stands at 98.4 feet since the 16th century, when used as a point of embarkation. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

Belém Tower, Lisbon

Another major landmark, Praça do Comércio, stands on the site where Paço da Ribeira, Portugal’s most important palace, lived until 1755—when an earthquake and tsunami of biblical proportions destroyed it.

Here, captains and merchants planned voyages to Brazil, India, and other territories and would trade their goods upon returning.

In 1908, King Carlos I and his son were assassinated on the square, which ultimately led to the fall of the Portuguese monarchy.

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

The Algarve

The Algarve is the southernmost region of continental Portugal, with its administrative center in the city of Faro.

It is a magnet for visitors and retirees because of its natural beauty, climate, safety, cuisine, and affordability.

It’s also popular amongst global golfers, kayakers, jet skiers and surfers.

Praia do Camilo, Algarve

With its stunning rock formations and cliff views, Praia do Camilo was delightful.

It’s accessible through a long wooden stair that offers the most Instagrammable views.

Make sure you arrive early, as the beach is not huge and decreases in size as the tide rises.

Praia Grande de Pêra, Algarve

If Praia do Camilo felt crowded, in Praia Grande de Pêra, you feel like you have the entire beach to yourself.

Its dune field extends for over a mile, and what it lacks in cliffs makes up for golden sands and clear waters.

As the sunset hits, it treats visitors with quite a beautiful spectacle.

Comporta, Algarve

But the Algarve is not only beach life. It also has beautiful countryside with lots of crops and fantastic farm-to-table restaurants that serve delicious meals.

Dubbed “The Portuguese Hamptons” by some (after the New York summer town), Comporta is ideal for taking a lovely stroll through, followed by a glass of wine by a rice field flanked by an infinity pool.

Lookout of Santo Antonio, Lisbon

We enjoyed our last couple of days in Lisbon, strolling about the hilly town. 

We hit its miraudores (lookouts), such as Santo Antonio, Largo Portas do Sol and Santa Maria Maior. 

These are charming places to enjoy a cold beer while watching the iconic cable cars pass.

Palace of the Marquises of Fronteira, Lisbon

We also checked out the Palácio dos Marqueses de Fronteira. Built in 1671, for Dom João de Mascarenhas, 1st Marquis of Fronteira. King Afonso VI bestowed the title for his loyalty to the House of Braganza in the Portuguese Restoration War.

Aside from exquisite interiors with plenty of art and antiques, the palace boasts a stunning terrace garden adorned with beautiful tiles and sculptures representing various mythological figures.

Lisbon’s iconic cobblestone pavements

We admired Lisbon’s traditional black and white cobblestone pavements on one of our last strolls. If they look familiar, they have inspired the ones in Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Like many other cultural expressions from the Old World, they might be a dying art. Despite creating a paver’s school in 1986 and partnerships with job centers to preserve the tradition, it’s failing to attract young people who keep flocking to more modern and lucrative occupations.

Author: Alex Marin

Natural-born explorer and storyteller. I grew up in Caracas and moved to New York City 20 years ago to pursue a career in media, which led me to work with broadcasting and tech companies. Last year, one month into my dream job with a famous social network, I had a significant health event that forced me to learn how to walk again. And now I'm training for the New York Marathon. All the words and photos in this blog are mine. You can reach me at Cheers!

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