Portugal is one of those places that often gets missed due to its infamous loud and proud neighboring countries
Sunshine, shopping, and scintillating sunsets on the sea, what’s there not to love!?
Portugal is one of those places that often gets missed due to its infamous loud and proud neighboring countries like Spain, France and Italy.
When people ask you where you would want to eat like royalty, you would probably choose France. If they ask you where you think you’d find beautiful artisan quality handcrafted goods, you might be tempted to say Italy. For those beautiful beach holidays you’ll probably consider the south of Spain! The truth is that Portugal is all of these things rolled into one fabulous country. Not only does it share the Mediterranean sun and aspects of its lifestyle, but the Portuguese diet is equally impressive and at a much more affordable cost (we’ll get into that later).
So why is Portugal one of the most underrated countries in Europe? Could the cold water of the Atlantic be scaring people away from its pristine beaches? Maybe it’s just a lack of Portugal’s tourism promotion?
10. Porto Is A Historical Hub
So far we have made mention of Portugal’s capital city a few times but we haven’t gotten into the splendours of Portugal’s second biggest city, Porto! Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996, Porto has a lot of history that dates back to 300 BC. It developed an important commercial port during the Roman occupation that allowed for trade between what is now known as Lisbon and Braga.
In 1387 Porto hosted an important political marriage between John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster which cemented what is today, the longest recorded diplomatic alliance in the world between Portugal and England.
The Romans who arrived in the second century BC began wine production alongside the Douro River, where it is still produced. Port wine as we know it today (a major export of Portugal) was not produced until much later with the first shipment leaving Porto in 1678.
9. The Oldest Bookstore In The WORLD Is In Lisbon
To be fair, Lisbon has its fair share of history too!
Portugal’s capital city has within it, the world’s oldest bookstore. Opening in 1732, this bookstore holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest bookstore in operation. Opened by French immigrant Pedro Faure, he eventually passed it on to his next of kin.
After the earthquake of 1755 totalled the bookshop (and much of Portugal), it almost closed. It was then partner Jean Joseph Bertrand who had the determination to rebuild the shop albeit in a different location to preserve it further.
The bookstore itself has remained open to this day for 286 years and has become the first of many bookstores in the now infamous Bertrand book chain. Fun fact: The sign displayed out front is in a font created by the Bertrand brothers who held printing and writing workshops at the time of its creation.
8. Fado Music
Fado means fate, as in it’s your fate to travel to Portugal and take in this heavenly Portuguese folk music! As with many folk songs, the lyrics are expressing the hardships associated with daily life and “Saudade” which is Portuguese for longing or sorrow. Today you can often find Fado music in popular cafes, bars and restaurants which is different from when it first came about in the 1820s.
Fado music has two styles associated with its history:
Coimbra Fado originates from the University of Coimbra and has a more privileged lilt that can only be sung by males in proper uniform of dark robes, capes and tights.
Lisbon Fado allows for improvisation, whereas the Coimbra variety insists on a tightly rehearsed variation.
In either case, fado music is famous for its emotionally expressive melodic performance, which can only be described as mesmerizing.
7. Astounding Cork Production
Cork is an incredibly versatile wood-like material that can be used for virtually anything! Most of us who know cork for the boards we hang above our desks tacking our plane tickets up as reminders to keep on traveling. Whether it’s for decoration, function, even fashion cork has become an incredibly popular material.
Roughy 8% of Portugal is covered with cork oak trees which thrive in its climate. Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world producing about 310,000 tons per year which is why you will probably notice it in the decor whether it’s a coaster, a placemat or even on the key ring at your hostel. I dare you to try to not to bring back an awesome Portuguese-made cork souvenir.
6. The Hostels Are Like Hotels
We already mentioned (a few times) that Portugal is a great value option when looking to do a little exploring in Western Europe. For those of us budget travellers, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing hostel options available on the cheap.
Hostel dorms located in the heart of Lisbon range from as low as 10 euros up to 20 euros, depending on what you’re looking for and Porto falls into the higher end of that range. We don’t have to tell you, the savvy traveller, how incredible that is price-wise!
Perhaps the best part is that they are really high-quality hostels that often include breakfast as well as comfy and clean spaces. It is a true testament to the inherent hospitality of the people of this country.
5. It’s A Top Surf Spot
Not exactly the first place you would think of when you hear the words ‘hang ten’ but with 364 days of surf and 2,799 hours of sunshine a year, it’s a surfer match made in heaven! The best part is you can surf practically anywhere in Portugal from Lisbon all the way down to the Azores.
The country has become so well-known for its ideal surf conditions after the world’s largest wave was caught by Hawaiian surfer Garret McNamara at 90 feet (30 meters) that there are a number of surf accommodations that have onsite instructors too! Starting at 15-30 euros a night for the bed, it’s a great option if you’re wanting to learn and still get that awesome community vibe of a hostel.
4. Europe’s Longest Bridge
If you’re an architect, historian or just plain into bridges, you might be pleased to learn that Europe’s longest bridge is in Portugal!
The Ponte Vasco da Gama bridge is located in Lisbon and is a whopping 10.5 miles (17 kms) long. It connects the North with the Southern part of Portugal. Named after Portugal’s great explorer who first discovered a sea passage to Asia, it is truly a sight to behold. Except on a cloudy day!
The bridge is so long that if there are clouds it is impossible to see from one end to the other. Taking 18 months to build the Vasco Di Gama, and about 3,300 workers to build it, is the main reason was to alleviate the traffic congestion in Lisbon.
3. Portugal Once Owned Half Of The ‘New World’
Portugal isn’t one to brag but it was kind of a big deal…
After the signing of The Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 Portugal was assigned over half of the ‘new world’ which included the likes of Brazil, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Macau, Nagasaki, Bombay and more! This move began its fate as the largest and longest-standing global empire ever.
The empire wasn’t disbanded fully until 1999 (less than 10 years ago) when it transferred sovereignty of Macau to the People’s Republic of China, the last remaining colony. To this day 8 of the former colonies have Portuguese as their official language, making Portuguese one of the 6 major languages of the world.
2. There Is A Chapel Made Of Bones
Perhaps a less endearing artifact and maybe not one that will draw every traveller but nonetheless a curiosity that is definitely worth mentioning is Évora’s chapel of bones.
Built in the 16th century by Franciscan monks, the chapel bears the inscription nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos, or in english, “we bones, are here, waiting for yours.” Could this be the setting for a horror movie? It’s really more philosophical (and weirdly more practical) than that…
The cemeteries surrounding Évora were occupying valuable land. Instead of condemning the souls by building atop them, the monks volunteered to relocate the bones. They chose to build the chapel this way as a reminder to the inhabitants of Évora that life is fleeting and so are material possessions as it was an affluent society at the time and the monks were concerned about their superficial lifestyle.
1. It Is The Oldest Country In Europe
It can be difficult to believe but it’s true, Portugal is indeed the oldest country in Europe! It has preserved it’s original borders for the past 800 years and the name Portugal first appeared in the year 868. Let that sink in for a moment…
Lisbon is four centuries older than Rome.
It all comes back to the point that Portugal is at the most amazing intersection of having an incredibly rich history that while, being a source of pride, is just the beginning of what makes it a great country. The Portuguese are a people that appreciate and cherish the heritage but continues to forge ahead in search of better ways. That is true modernity in all sense of the word, even for the oldest, most underrated country in Europe.