From Lisbon to Porto and back - April 2017

Early spring in Germany is normally a wet and cold season, it is kind of an aftermath of winter and the flowers and leaves are still hiding. At the same time of the year Portugal is already in the middle of spring, as long as you do not visit the higher altitudes. But do not expect hot weather, even on the coast it is quite chilly during the night.

It is the second year in a row that we decided to visit this country on the south-western rim of europe, this time we choose the area between Lisbon and Porto, which is full of history and culture. In 2016 we spent most of the time in the beautiful Alentejo, which we enjoyed a lot.

Time has passed quickly since we returned, and summer has appeared as well, at least in Hungary where we are spending some days right now. Nevertheless it is more than overdue two write some lines about this trip!

This year we focused on the part of the country between Lisbon and Porto. Expectations had been high after the awesome trip last year, where especially the Alentejo was a unique experience. To make a long story short, the Alentejo is still our most favourite place, but the area north of Lisbon is well worth a visit. It is extremely rich in culture and history (many UNESCO world heritage sites), has good wine, extraordinary stretches of coastline and Porto is a busy, bustling and picturesque town. But we missed the Alentejo landscapes with its vast streches of olive trees and wildflowers.

For the parts of the North with higher elevations, it was still to early, maybe we should go there a bit later in the year in the future.

Nevertheless I highly recommed this part of Portugal for a visit!

Porto

Porto is the economic and touristic hub of the northern part of the country. It is a pretty town and it is fun to walk around in the old town, which is part of the UNESCO world heritage. Even at this time of the year it is full of tourists and it seems to be very popular for teens and twens from all corners of the world.

The mood is good in the town and lots of construction is going on, which is not so good for cityscapes....

Take your time in Porto and be prepared for lots of ups and downs. I do not know how many hills you can climb and river Douro, which runs with its valley right through the center, does not make walking easier. But the next bar or restaurant is never far away to enjoy some cold drinks.

Lets start with Porto's old town, the Ribeira.

The Ribeira is facing the Douro which is crossed by some picturesque iron bridges. Opposite of Ribeira is the quarter with all the port wine factories and visitor centers. Very touristy and not so much to my taste. But the view from the hills and from the shore towards the Ribeira is simply stunning!

The Douro in Porto

Of course there is more than the Rbeira, river Douro and the port wine factories. I do not want to bore you with details. Believe me, you can spend many days in this town not getting bored. As you can see, we had extremely good weather, therefore I skipped all indoors work, maybe next time....

 

Some more impressions from Porto

Cultural landscape Douro Valley - an UNESCO world heritage site

This part of the trip was a great surprise. I did research my picture libraries (and some competitors as well), tried to get some information from guide books, but somehow I could not visualize the valley. In Porto I bought a picture book and got a better idea, but I was not prepared to see a valley which was altered by mankind to such an extent. The term cultural landscape makes clear that it is influenced by us, but the massive earth movements to create terraces for high yield and mechanical harvesting wine production was a big surprise.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the economic reasons and I enjoyed the valley a lot, it is still very atmospheric and a wonderful place to spend the hot summers. However it seems to be a bit "out of trend" in the wine industry. I thought mass production was loosing ground against "terroir" oriented, small yield - high quality wines, but that is definitly not the case in the Douro valley. It reminds me a bit of the wine history of South Tyrol. When I was a kid they decided to go for high yield and cheap wines, the "Südtiroler Bauerntrunk" in the 2l bottle was characteristic for this period. This strategy nearly killed the vintners and it took many years to recover from that bad reputation. Perhaps the Douro wines vanish in the Port Wines and in this proces they loose identity. Anyway, it is not my business.

And the valley is still a very, very atmospheric place!

The high plains to the left and right of the Douro valley is a hot and dry area with small towns and a history dating back to prehistoric times. Do not miss to visit these high plains, it will give you a different impression of this area! But try to avoid the hours around noon, the sun is mercyless.....

The Coast

The coastline of Portugal has many faces and it is a way of life for the locals! In hindsight I think that it would have deserved some more days, there are so many interesting spots for pictures. Villages, rocky shores, cliffs and vast stretches of sandy beaches. Anyway. We visited (from south to north) Cascais, Cabo da Roca, Ericeira, Peniche, Nazare and Aveiro, sometimes only the beaches, sometimes only the villages, sometimes both.

Sintra and the Monasteries North of Lisbon

Now we finally have arrived in THE touristic hot spots. Truckloads of day visitors from the beaches, buses full of school children and the ubiquitous culture tours, all meet in these places! You may enjoy the atmosphere very early and very late in the day, but even that is not garantueed!

Nevertheless they are a must and they deserve to be visited and I must say I enjoyed the photography in these place as well. Batalha and Alcobaca have wonderfull architecture and you feel the might of the super power Portugal in these days. Sintra with its two very different palaces and gardens. Only the atmosphere of Mafra was not so much to my liking, for whatever reason!

 

 

Lets start with Mafra

Sintra, a UNESCO world heritage site

now to Batalha and Alcobaca. Especially Batalha was overwhelming

Batalha and Alcobaca are just like Sintra listed as UNESCO world heritage.

Alobaca:

Fatima

My feelings and impressions regarding Fatima are hard to describe and it is definitly not a place where I would go during a cerimony with thousands of people. The dimensions of the new church and the place where the open air services are taking place are incredible and a bit frightening for me. Interesting, but not one of my favourite places.

Do I regret to go there, definitly not. I do not want to miss the experience, but I would never visit Fatima full of people!

Obidos

Obidos is a small historic town with a little castle, very picturesque and very touristy. It is famous for its local drink called Ginjinha, its narrow streets dating back to the middle ages and its chocolate. During the day it was full of life, day trippers from Lisbon, in the evening and in the morning it was very peaceful and atmospheric. It maybe touristy, but it is a nice place and photogenic!

What else is to say?

It was again a great trip, with lots of impressions and lots of pictures. And it was definitly not the last time we had been in Portugal! The far north and the mountains are waiting to be visited and Madeira and the Azores are in the pipeline as well. It is just a question when it will fit in.

Right now I am still in Szentendre having a good time in our cottage and our garden, but the next projects are already on the horizon. My plans for spring in Germany did not work out, to much rain. Until we leave for Greenland in August, I try to do some smaller things like the UNESCO world heritage site Bamberg, a bit classic upper Bavaria and the Dolomites. It depends on the weather and my progress to bring all my files sitting in my disk(s) to the market!

I am in the process to develop the course material for the "From Patagonia to South Georgia" workshop. There will be some very interesting sessions and exercises! The workshop is still open for bookings. Please distribute the link, if you know somebody who might be interested! The wildlife which we will see and photography is not to beat!

Moreover the preparation for our Greenland workshop is now finished and it can be checked out and booked as well. We do visit some more remote areas with unique landscapes (and of course mighty icebergs), very interesting trip.

Link to my workshop pages

Link to Greenland itinerary

Link to Patagonia, Falkland, South Georgia itinerary

Thats all for the moment, stay tuned and enjoy the summer!

 

Szentendre June 2017