In Portugal: Beaches, Plants and Tiles

What comes to mind when thinking of Portugal? For lots of people, Portugal is a pretty nondescript place - not necessarily in a bad way, we just don't hear that much about Portugal. One of the richest European nations during medieval times, thanks to its adventurers who brought home the riches of faraway colonies, it is one of the poorer countries in continental Europe, one of little political importance in the EU today. And yet, Portugal has a lot to offer - in a charming and non-ambitious way, with a flash of past greatness every once in a while.

 Town perched on a cliff: Azhenas do Mar

Town perched on a cliff: Azhenas do Mar

Here are my 4 highlights of our recent trip to Portugal:

1. Beaches, beaches.... and the sea!

Portugal easily features the most gorgeous coastline I have come across. If you like the wild and the untamed, you will love Portugal's Atlantic coast with those dramatic cliffs, the vast sandy beaches and the sometimes quite impressive waves. Not really made for swimming - at least not during winter - but all the better for surfing!

 Praia da Bordeira in the Costa Vicentina Natural Reserve

Praia da Bordeira in the Costa Vicentina Natural Reserve

 Praia Grande in the Southern Algarve

Praia Grande in the Southern Algarve

 Urban beach on the Rio Tejo, Lisbon

Urban beach on the Rio Tejo, Lisbon

2. Plants

I'm no botanist, but I'm fascinated with Portugal's flora. To me, it seems quite diverse - from the wild, wind-swept vegetation close to the southern beaches, to the humid, fairy-tale forests of Sintra and the cultivated agricultural crops, there are certainly a lot of interesting plants to be spotted. Kork oaks with peeled trunks (the kork grows back over the years), groves of imported Eucalyptus, oversized fern trees and quite a range of succulents and cacti, some with interesting flowers. 

 Kork oaks near Aljezur

Kork oaks near Aljezur

 Enchanted cloud forest at Sintra

Enchanted cloud forest at Sintra

3. Tiles and Cobblestones

Can't get enough of these! Who had the great idea of cobbling all the pavements / entire city centres? It definitely adds a lot of charm to the Portuguese towns. Another great design feature in Portugal are the tiles - sometimes used to accentuate a feature on a building, sometimes covering entire facades in flashy colours. I love the green house below, in the old city of Lagos. Combining the best of cobbles and tiles, you can also find some beautiful mosaic work in Portugal, see the lovely fountain below, photographed at the Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra.

 Cobbled sidewalk in Lisbon

Cobbled sidewalk in Lisbon

 Sardine store in Lisbon

Sardine store in Lisbon

4. Lisbon - Grand Places and Little Joys

Lisbon offers you a glimpse of the great past of Portugal - it boasts plazas and alleys far too big for this otherwise unpretentious spot, and impressive architectural creations from different eras. Personally, I'm more interested in the city's hidden gems like that bougainvillea-shaded fountain hidden in a court yard or the "little garden" flower store.