Where does one begin describing all there is to admire about Portugal, with such a long list? Rolling hills provide vistas of an azure ocean. Breathtaking, centuries-old churches and monasteries wait around every corner. Jumbles of red-roofed homes cluster together in valleys and on neighborhood hills. Reminders of Roman settlements intermix with modern architecture. A vibrant food and wine culture is booming.
Here are a few of the things I admired most:
Perhaps my most indelible memory of Portugal—among many unforgettable aspects—will be the elaborate glazed tiles, or azulejos.
The prolific use of this beautiful decoration surprised me. I expected to see it on floors and perhaps some interior walls, but I did not expect it would cover entire interior walls, or even more surprising, entire exteriors of buildings. As we moved through the country, I was constantly pleased to find yet another unusual application—on park fountains, church altars, city walls, street signs, bathroom vanities, you name it.
The National Tile Museum in Lisbon was one of my favorite stops. Its impressive and informative collection includes tiles from the 1600s and a 37m-long tile panorama of pre-earthquake Lisbon from 1730.
churches + monasteries
Europe is filled with take-your-breath-away, historical churches. Yet I'd place Portugal's intricately designed churches and highly ornate monasteries, with their spellbinding cloisters, in a category of their own.
Our group visited many beautiful churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, including three stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Jerónimos Monastery (Lisbon), Alcobaça Monastery, and Batalha Monastery. I could fill separate pages with photos of each place, and dedicate a whole page just to the cloisters. I was completely smitten with the cloisters and would love to return someday to simply linger there and soak up the beauty and peacefulness of the spaces.
Graffiti, murals, and other artwork add unforgettable character to Portugal; street art creates an open-air art museum in Lisbon, Porto, and everywhere in between. One of the most well-known urban artists goes by the name Vhils, who is famous for the carved portraits he creates with drilling or explosions (first row below, second from left). Frederico Draw is the artist behind the portrait pictured in the second row, second from left.