A Grand Seafaring Past Meets Relaxed Modernity
Tiny Portugal often sits in the shadow of its flashier, larger neighbor Spain, overlooked by the many who visit the Iberian peninsula, even though it has as much history and glory as any of the European giants. Its tumultuous saga as both conqueror and conquered can be seen in the complexity of its national identity, with locals keenly loyal to Portuguese customs and language. Its role as the departure point for seafaring voyages that would change the course of history tinges the air at the desolate, wind-battered cliffs of Sagres, once considered the end of the world by explorers like Vasco da Gama. There are also Roman ruins, medieval towns, and ancient monasteries scattered throughout the country to remind us of its eminence of yesteryear. Yet Portugal’s charm lies in the way it has embraced a sense of modernity while still minding its past – Lisbon is as cosmopolitan as they come, while the Algarve turns into a flamboyant backpacking hotspot during the summer months and Porto’s easy sophistication will suggest comparisons to Paris or Buenos Aires. Its location has great perks as well – being on the water guarantees not only beautiful coasts but also a cuisine that relies on fresh seafood, and the fertile expanses of the central and northern regions teem with lovely vineyards and olive trees, the products of which naturally appear on the dinner table. While modernity butts heads with tradition in other parts of Europe, Portugal has achieved a unique synchronization of new and old in one of the most picturesque and bountiful landscapes on the continent.