Portugal

Europe’s most beautiful golden beaches
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Given Portugal's recent win of the Euro Cup, I felt it only appropriate to shed some light on the beautiful country itself. But before I jump in, Congratulations Portugal!

Portugal, the magical Southwestern European country that's bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. A country that boasts cities with diverse attractions from ancient to contemporary, colorful medieval fishing villages, cultural diversity, rich architectural heritage, charming seaside towns, green luscious landscapes, impressionable rivers, and a coastline that will leave you fully relaxed. And then there are the Portuguese people. A culture that is welcoming to all; kind, charismatic, generous, and loyal. I say this, not as someone that has a Portuguese heritage, but as one that has lived in Portugal for seven years. I have experienced it first-hand.

If you are planning a trip to Portugal - or considering it - I would recommend at least three places to visit. The first is Lisbon, the seductive capital. Second is Porto, the majestic port city. And the third is an entire region, Algarve, which is the home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. I kid you not - look it up! Stunning.

Lisbon

 Lisbon, 25 de Abril Bridge

Lisbon, 25 de Abril Bridge

Lisbon, a city of culture, romance, and vibrant energy. Some of the most beloved districts of Lisbon are filled with graffiti-ridden facades that are homes to tourist-packed fado houses, restaurants, boutiques, and a multitude of bars. Some districts so elegant and sophisticated. And some that display the influence of Portugal's history in architecture, interiors, and even colors - spots where Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Magellan stood with dreams of discovering the world. So much beauty in Lisbon and so much to enjoy - it's a city that caters to all. A city that will not disappoint.

Below is a breakdown of the districts.

Baixa - Broad squares, 18th-century architecture, patterned pavements, popular cafes
Bairro Alto and Chiado - Vibrant nightlife, picturesque streets, classic and alternative culture, very chic, shopping, restaurants
Belem - The Age of Discovery; grandiose monuments, and museums in ornate stonework
Alfama - Medieval maze, spectacular views, the sounds of Fado, and imposing castle (ruins)
Uptown - Masterpieces and museum treasures, shopping
Parque das Natacoes - Futuristic architecture mostly built by innovative architects for Expo 1998
Praca do Marques de Pombal - Famous roundabout (Praca pronounced prassa)

I would highly recommend checking out the Estoril Coast - called Linha do Estoril which is west of Lisbon. It's a beautiful scenic drive along the coast with miles of beaches and breathtaking architecture. If you prefer public transportation (highly recommended here), there is a train that runs along the Estoril Coast and you can hop on and off to check out the sites. Such abundance in this area with no shortage of cathedrals, monasteries, boardwalks, beaches, bars, and nature spots. Whatever you prefer to explore, you will certainly find it along the way.

 Linha do Estoril

Linha do Estoril

Cascais is on the Estoril Coast which is another MUST see! Spectacular beaches, restaurants, historic landmarks, and the famous castle, Castelo de Sao Jorge.

Costa da Caparica is a popular beach spot. Very nice. But if you are looking to ride some waves, then Ericeira is the best surf spot in Portugal; and one known in the world of surfing.

Porto

 Porto, Dom Luis Bridge

Porto, Dom Luis Bridge

A city that is culturally diverse, with churches and monuments, and the region well-known for it's Port and Douro wines. The River Douro, seen in the above photo, runs between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia - the river is breathtaking. I have yet to spend some time exploring this magical city, sipping wine while overlooking the spectacular Douro Valley and it's vineyards. Imagine waking up to the below for even a day? Move over Napa.

 The Douro Valley, Vineyards

The Douro Valley, Vineyards

A few attractions to check out if you can pull yourself away from the above view.

Cathedral
Church of Sao Francisco
Casa de Musica
Serralves Museum
School of Architecture

Algarve

 Algarve Beach, Praia da Marinha

Algarve Beach, Praia da Marinha

Algarve has some of Europe's most beautiful golden beaches. It's also a golfing paradise with views of clear blue waters, and breathtaking scenery. From the Eastern side near the Spanish border, all the way to the Western Algarve is marked with spectacular sandy beaches and historic towns and fishing villages. Some of the most historic towns are Sagres, Faro, and Lagos. The western part of the Algarve is magical - less crowded also; so if you are looking to get away from the crowds or looking for a secluded cove, head West. Odeceixe is worth getting to. It's north of Sagres and one of Algarve's best kept secrets.

Award winning resorts can be found in Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago, and Vilamoura. I actually spent years of my childhood in these three areas - just spectacular! A very relaxed beachy vibe and there is a nice marina that is worth checking out, particularly for any boat lover. If you are in search of that beach vibe with a bit more action, then head to the tourist mecca, Albufeira. Albufeira has some of the most famous beaches and has a fun party scene. 

Waterslide Parks have become quite popular in Portugal since the early 80's. In fact, my dad built some of these waterslide parks. The two that are still going strong today are AquaShow which is located in the Vilamoura and Quarteira area and then there is Slide & Splash in Lagoa. Slide & Splash is the best-rated one by TripAdvisor which is awesome. Clearly, makes me proud even though it is no longer owned by my family. 

 Portimao Marina

Portimao Marina

Before I sign off, here's a list of the top 10 beaches in Algarve. Two of the most famous and popular are Praia da Oura in Albufeira and Praia da Rocha in Portimao. One of my childhood beaches was Praia da Falesia which is located between Albufeira and Vilamoura. It's six kilometres of golden sand and cliffs. Simply breathtaking. But again, any beach in Portugal is pretty spectacular.

Praia da Marinha (Carvoeiro)
Dona Ana (Lagos)
Ilha de Tavira (Tavira)
Praia dos Barcos (Albufeira)
Praia da Rocha (Portimao)
Sao Rafael (Albufeira)
Meia Praia (Lagos)
Praia da Oura (Albufeira)
Praia de Vale de Lobo (Vale de Lobo)
Praia de Odeceixe (Odeceixe)

If you have any questions or would like to add to this post, I would love to hear from you.

Happy Travels!

An expression of praise to living off the land

Living off of the land is a beautiful gift!
 This was taken in 2015 when my mom met Ava for the first time in San Francisco.

This was taken in 2015 when my mom met Ava for the first time in San Francisco.

A couple weeks ago, during one of our regular Skype chats with Portugal, my mother paid me a compliment. She has always been generous and kind with her words so this wasn’t out of character in any way – but – it was the way she said it. There was a tenderness in her voice; a sense of pride was very much present. In Portuguese, she told Ava that she was a lucky little girl to have a mama that took such good care of her, a mama that spent time with her, and played with her. A mama that made an effort to provide her with wholesome food, food that took love, thought, and effort to prepare. She turned to me and told me that I was a good mama.

Sometimes I feel as though I have no idea what I am doing as a mother, and other times, well, I feel like a superhero. Bam! Those are the great moments – those superhero moments. More of those, please!

What an amazing acknowledgment from an extraordinary woman, my mom. Seriously. A woman who dreamt things for me before I could see them for myself. A woman who always put my needs first, who made room for my plans before her own. Of course, it got me teary-eyed and feeling all fuzzy inside. It was a huge compliment!

After our conversation, I began reminiscing - taken to my own childhood. More specifically, how the food I was given as a child influenced me and shaped me into the woman I am today.

Before moving to Portugal at a young age, I had the privilege of spending my first seven years of life in the most beautiful part of British Columbia, Canada, the Okanagan Valley, also known as wine country. My family owned an orchard, acres of land, filled with glorious fruit trees from apples, cherries, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, the most delicious fruit I have ever had. We also had a vegetable garden (including some fruit of the berry variety) that would yield fresh organic produce to keep the family fed.

The memories of this time are endless! I enjoyed playing in the orchard – playing in large fruit bins when I was a wee girl and then venturing off with our dogs to see what we could find in the orchard. There was always something fun to do and explore like running around barefoot and having the fallen cherries squish between my toes. The late night canning of fruit and vegetables to last us for the entire year. Canned peaches and pears that we would have with vanilla ice cream, canned cherries, pickled onions, beets, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, and the list went on. We had a grand selection of fruit jams – apricot was my favorite and still is! There were also the hot green peppers that my dad would have with my mother’s soup. Her soup was good too. Maybe that is where my love of pickles comes from – we had a cooler room full of them and the best pickles ever! In fact, everything from that cellar was incredible. And then there was the smell of my mother’s fresh bread out of the oven, I can still taste that warm bread with the melted butter. So much freshness and so much goodness - does it get any better than that? Not for me.

I plan to one day have our own garden and maybe even a few fruit trees – okay, maybe the fruit tree part is a little far-fetched but still, I will continue to keep that dream alive as living off the land is a beautiful gift, a more sustainable one, and one that I love. Before all of that, though, I want to acknowledge my mother and thank her for her teachings that I can now pass on to my little girl. Thank you, Mom. Thank you for everything.