I love the calçadas Portuguesa, or Portuguese pavement that is so common throughout the country. The tradition goes back to Roman times when the Romans used stone laid in patterns to pave roads, plazas and even floors. The Roman mosaic style of pavement can be seen in Conimbriga and on the ancient road turned walking trail located at Alqueidão da Serra.
The years of Moorish occupation had an influence on the pavement as well. Many of the calçadas Portuguesa feature geometric patterns and designs that show the Arabic influence.
Several earthquakes in the 16th century and then again with the 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon, were great drivers for the use of Portuguese pavement. Many of the streets were paved this way after the 1755 earthquake. General Eusébio Furtado used Portuguese pavement to transform the grounds of São Jorge Castle into walking places using the mosaic pavement. He was also responsible for “Mar Largo” at Praça do Rossio, as well as Camões Square, Principe Square and Town Hall Square, all in Lisbon.
The stone is predominantly limestone quarried from the Aire and Candeeiros mountains of Portugal. Black, white, grey and occasionally red stones are commonly used. While geometric patterns are most common there are examples of the stones being used to display floral patterns, symbols and even portraits. Most of what we saw was geometric patterns.
Much like Portugal’s azelejos, the stonework has become a part of the cultural identity. Unfortunately, the future of the art form is at risk. It takes years to learn to cut and lay the stones and there are less expensive forms of pavement available. I hope that the cultural value of the Portuguese pavement outweighs the economic cost and the tradition continues.
The little town of Ponte de Lima was not on our original itinerary, but after several people we met on our trip suggested we make it a stop on our tour, we did just that. A half hour drive from Viana do Castelo, the town with a population of 2,800 was a nice stop on our way to Braga.
Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest towns in Portugal, beginning life as a Roman settlement on the road between Braga and Santiago de Campostela, Spain. A popular spot with Portuguese tourists, the village is full of charming shops and restaurants. Historical towers and walls are integrated into the newer buildings.
The most famous attraction, and namesake of the town, is the ponte, an ancient stone bridge that crosses the Ria Lima. The bridge was extensively rebuilt in the 14th century but the north end is still of Roman origin.
The local legend is that when the Romans first reached Ria Lima they mistook it for the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of Hades. The soldiers, afraid that the water would cause them to lose all memory, refused to cross the river. The Roman commander, frustrated that the river was impeding his military campaign, rode across the river. The soldiers were not convinced until the General, now on the opposite bank of the river, called each of the men by name. Today the legend is celebrated by a display of statues along the river banks- the troops on the near bank and the general on the opposite side of the river.
Another interesting little legend is the story pictured in azelejos on the Torre that now houses the Tourist Information Center. The azelejo is titled “Cabras São Senhor!” (They’re goats, M’lord!) The story goes that King Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, mistook a herd of goats for Moors and nearly attacked the herd. Fortunately for the goats, the king called off the attack once he realized his mistake.
There’s a lot of artwork, including several sculptures like this one celebrating folk life.
Walking through town is like walking through a park. There’s a lot of green space, monuments, and artwork. We spent time exploring the streets and stopped for coffee and cake in one of the cafés in town. It seemed that everywhere we turned we found another beautiful street.
Could we live in Ponte de Lima? Definitely, yes. For such a small town there are a lot of things to see and do. The one drawback would be that we’d have to drive more, as amenities are a little more limited than in larger cities. We enjoyed the short time we spent in Ponte de Lima and have this fantastic little town in our top three of places we’d like to live in Portugal.
Aveiro was one of my favorite stops on our visit to Portugal. It’s a beautiful city with a long history. It also has a lively feel, which I think can be at least partly attributed to the University.
We stayed at the Suites and Hostel Cidade Aveiro, a beautiful little hotel next to the Aveiro Museum and just a few minutes walk from the canals. It was a great location for exploring Aveiro on foot.
Aveiro is known for its canals, on which moliceiros, formerly used for harvesting seaweed, now provide tours of the city. Once a thriving seaport, 16th and 17th century storms blocked Aveiro’s access to the Atlantic Ocean. Access to the ocean has since been restored and the city is once again an important seaport.
There were a lot of things to see and do and we didn’t let periods of rain stop us. Next door to our hotel was the Mosteiro de Jesus, the beautiful 15th century convent where Princess Santa Joana spent the last years of her life. It’s now the Museu de Aveiro and home to the princess’s tomb.
Next to the convent is the Sé, or cathedral, of Aveiro. The 15th century baroque church is quite beautiful and has been a Portuguese National Monument since 1996. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the church, its bookstore, and the incredible cemetery behind the cathedral.
As I said, Aveiro is a beautiful city. Like a lot of Portuguese cities, Aveiro has some great displays of azulejos. A prime example is the estação, or train station, of Aveiro. Opened in 1916, the station is covered with the famous blue tiles, which display scenes from around the Aveiro region. It’s undergoing a renovation, but it’s still quite a sight.
There are also very nice art nouveau examples throughout the city. This building was across the street from our hotel, and has some beautiful tile work as well.
Another Portuguese architectural tradition I really like is the use of patterned stone to pave roads and sidewalks. Known as calçada Portuguesa, the tradition goes back to Roman times and is common throughout the country. Praça da República is a great example of the art of the pavement.
There are a lot of beautiful parks in the city as well. Parque Dom Pedro Infante, or the City Park, is a great place for a walk. It has a lot of interesting things to see as well as duck ponds, benches and walking paths. Ann Marie took this beautiful photo.
There’s a lot of street art in Aveiro as well. Graffiti and street art are common in cities throughout Portugal. Here’s an example from near the Aveiro train station.
We really enjoyed our time in Aveiro. It was one of our top stops in Portugal. While the canal area is quite touristy, most of Aveiro is quite nice. It’s very walkable, with lots of nice restaurants, shops and things to do. It’s just a few minutes from a couple beaches and less than an hour from Porto or Coimbra. And, to top it off, it has some spectacular sunsets…
On our last night in Portugal we had the pleasure of dining at Flor da Laranja, a Moroccan restaurant in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon.
Morocco and Portugal have a history that goes back to the eighth century. Moorish influence can be seen in architecture and art (Portugal’s famous azulejo tiles are of Moorish origin) and heard in place names throughout the country. Despite this history, Moroccan restaurants are relatively rare in Portugal.
We asked our hotel to make reservations at the restaurant, which was fortunate, because without a reservation you will not get in. The owner keeps the door locked and you must ring the doorbell to get in. If you don’t have a reservation, she turns you away. There was never more than three groups dining at one time, which allowed for a very personal and intimate experience.
Stepping out of the night and into the restaurant was our first indication that this would be a unique dining experience. The interior is bright, with lots of flowers and candles, and Moorish-influenced art and furniture. Moroccan music added to the vibrant atmosphere.
Flor da Laranja is truly a one man- or in this case, one woman show. The owner, Rabea Esserghini, does it all, from waiting on the tables, to cooking the food, to answering the door. I asked her about doing everything herself and she replied that it’s not much different from cooking dinner for her family. A native of Casablanca, she loves sharing her country’s food with her guests.
And the food is really good. We started with a glass of white vinho verde, or green wine. The wine gets its name from the fact that it’s made from young grapes, not from its color. It’s a bit sweet and slightly bubbly. With dinner Sra. Esserghini recommended a bottle of rosé vinho verde, which was very good.
For the entrees, I chose a stuffed pepper and Ann Marie chose chicken with preserved lemons. There were several small plates of eggplant, spinach, chickpeas and potatoes, which were all very good. Sra. Esserghini made sure I didn’t forget about the sauce from the pepper, actually scooping it up and pouring it over the pepper. She was right. The sauce was awesome.
We enjoyed our dining experience at Flor da Laranja. The food was outstanding and it’s obvious that Sra. Esserghini loves to share her culture and cuisine with her customers. If you’re in Lisbon I recommend you make Flor da Laranja a stop on your journey. But don’t forget the reservation.
We had an ulterior motive for visiting Portugal. We are considering retiring there. Our trip included meetings with an immigration attorney and a solicitor who has experience with helping expats immigrate to Portugal, but most of our time was exploring the country and trying to get a feel of what it’s like to live there.
There’s a lot to recommend a retirement in Portugal. First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Portugal is inexpensive. According to Numbeo, a website that compares cost of living data from around the world, the cost of living in Portugal is over 30% less than the United States. Our retirement nest egg will go much farther in Portugal than in the United States.
Healthcare in Portugal is good yet inexpensive. Citizens and residents can take advantage of the national healthcare system at little or no cost. In addition, there is private healthcare and insurance for those who choose this option. I received a quote for private health insurance in Portugal. By comparison, the cost for my wife and myself was about $1,400 per year. That’s about what we would pay for health insurance in the United States per month. I could never afford to retire in the United States, but with the national health system and private health insurance in Portugal, retirement becomes a possibility.
Portugal is quite safe as well. Violent crime is very low in the country. They’re ranked number three on the Global Peace Index.
Now for the good stuff. Portugal is a beautiful country, full of historical and cultural places to explore. Their history goes back many thousands of years and everywhere you look there are monuments and museums honoring their history. From cave paintings to Celtiberian ruins to Roman bridges, history is everywhere. A beautiful example of this is the Carmo Convent in Lisbon, built in the 14th century.
The convent was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1755, which destroyed much of Lisbon. Rather than tear the convent down and build a replacement, portions of the structure were rebuilt, with the arches left as a monument to the earthquake. Today the convent houses an archeological museum and the arches are evidence of the earthquake.
Art is everywhere. In Portugal, you don’t have to visit a museum to see a beautiful work of art. Whether it’s a statue in a roundabout, azulejos on the side of a building, the painted prows of Aveiro’s moliceiros or even graffiti on an old wall, the Portuguese people value art.
The weather is very good. While it rains a lot in the north of Portugal during the winter, we still enjoyed the weather. Temperatures were in the 50s day and night and about half the days were rain free, with most of the remaining days experienced intermittent rain. By comparison, lows in North Carolina were in the 20s and 30s, and it actually snowed one day.
The food in Portugal is great. Half of Portugal’s border is coastline so, naturally, seafood is a big part of the national cuisine but no matter where you are you’ll find excellent food in Portugal. . Each region has its specialties- ovos moles in Aveiro or francesinhas in Porto, for example. Fresh fish, meat and vegetables can be had at the groceries or markets and wine is exceptional and inexpensive.
The one negative, I guess, is that gasoline is very expensive. That cost can be offset by the fact that most of the cities we visited were very walker friendly or had excellent public transportation. Portugal also has an extensive train and bus system, so you can get anywhere in the country at a reasonable price using public transportation.
Portugal has been singled out as a great place to retire by International Living, Forbes and AARP, as well as many other organizations and publications. There’s a lot of information available on the Internet; we did a lot of research prior to our visit, so we had an idea of what to expect. We also had an idea of where we wanted to look and what we were looking for.
We were not interested in Lisbon because it’s much larger than what we’re looking for and it’s very expensive. We also eliminated the Algarve because it’s a very popular vacation spot, which meant that the summers would be crowded. We wanted a more peaceful place to spend our retirement years. So we limited our search to towns and cities north of Lisbon, along the Silver Coast and north to the Green Coast. We found many things to enjoy about each of the cities and we have a lot to discuss, but we were able to determine one thing. We want to retire to Portugal.
My wife and I spent the first two weeks of March exploring Portugal. It’s a beautiful country and we enjoyed our visit immensely. I’ll go into our journey in more detail over the next few weeks, but for now here’s our itinerary.
All flights from the U.S. fly into Lisbon, the largest city in Portugal. It’s a beautiful city with a myriad of cultural and historical sites to visit. It was our first taste of Portugal and we were impressed, but our plan was to explore some of the smaller cities and towns along the Silver Coast. We picked up our rental car and headed north.
Our first stop, after Lisbon, was the beach town of Nazaré. Nazaré is one of the most popular beach towns on the Silver Coast. It’s famous for it’s world class surfing at Praia de Norte, where waves can reach huge heights. In 2011 Garrett McNamara surfed a world record wave of 78-feet.
Aveiro was one of my favorite cities on our tour of the country. It’s a beautiful place. It’s also the home to a vibrant university, which probably contributes to the youthful feel of the city.
Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and is a wonderful place. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto has been around since the Romans founded it as Portus Cale. Porto has an international feel. Its most famous export is port wine and people from all around the globe visit the port wine cellars every year.
Viana do Castelo
Another favorite stop on our tour, Viana do Castelo was an important port during the 16th century when it was a major entry port for Portuguese explorers during Portugal’s great Age of Discovery. It’s still a vital seaport and a beautiful city.
Ponte de Lima
Ponte de Lima was not on our original itinerary but, after being mentioned several times during our trip, we decided to stop in the town after leaving Viana do Castelo. A small town of only about 2,000, Ponte de Lima is a fantasticly beautiful little village that feels much larger than it is.
Founded by the Romans as Bracara Augusta in 20 BC, Braga is the historical and cultural center of the Minho region. It’s a beautiful city. It has long been a religious center of Portugal. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a church and it’s biggest annual celebration is Semana Santa, or Holy Week.
Guimarães is considered the birthplace of Portugal. That’s because it’s the birthplace of the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques. It was named the European Capital of Culture in 2012.
Another city that has historical ties going back to the Roman Era, Coimbra has for centuries been a cultural center of Portugal. That’s because it’s the home to the University of Coimbra, the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world. It’s also famous for its version of Fado, the Portuguese music that was named to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2012.
After our two week tour we returned to Lisbon and then flew home. It was a great trip and we returned with memories that will last a lifetime. Over the next few weeks I’ll share the various aspects of our trip. Stay tuned.