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Portugal, a hidden gem

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I went to Portugal twice while living in France, once in February to Lisbon, the capital, and once in April to Porto, which is in the north. Portugal stole my heart – it is by far my favorite country in Western Europe.

While the rest of the world suffered an economic recession starting in 2008, Portugal’s economy has struggled since the 1970s. Wages are incredibly low compared to the countries that surround it and the unemployment rate currently hovers around 17%.

However, along with the low wages in Portugal come a low-cost of living – and a low-cost of visiting!

Eating out in Paris, and in a lot of the touristic places I’ve visited, is anything but low-cost. Because of this, when I travel I live on the cheap.

But in Portugal, I lived like a queen. €2 glass of wine, €1 beers, €5 euro restaurant meals, €10 a night luxurious hostels… the list goes on and on! I’ll never forget the morning I arrived in Porto and purchased an espresso and a buttery croissant (sprinkled with sugar!) as large as my shoe, which probably would have run me €3 in Paris, for €1.30 – that was a wonderful morning.

Not only is the place cheap, but the people are unbelievably friendly. The second day I was in Porto, some friends and I rented a car to drive north into the Duoro Valley where Port wine is made. In an effort to be adventurous, we took nothing but some directions scribbled by a girl at the hostel- so we were forced to ask directions along the way. We stopped to get lunch in a small town where none of the residents spoke English. As none of us spoke Portuguese, we all had to rely on broken Spanish for communication, but the Portuguese people were so eager to help us they went out of their way calling their friends for Spanish/English translation help and directions!

We asked for directions numerous times throughout the day, always in very poor Spanish, and yet each time the Portuguese were not only happy to help, they were excited about it!

Along with the friendly interactions that day, and during the rest of my time in Portugal, I was awed by the beauty of the country – the beaches glistened (although they were cold!) and the mountains were covered in luscious vegetation and vineyards. In the cities, buildings were decorated with century old, brightly multi-colored, hand-crafted mosaic tiles which gave each city a unique character.

The most extraordinary place I visited was Sintra, about 40 minutes by train outside Lisbon. Located high up in the mountains and surrounded by a national park, Sintra is a World Heritage Site and houses six historical castles, palaces, and gardens.

I went to the Pena Palace, which overlooks several other ancient castles and the rolling mountains. The palace is surrounded by a park packed with trees, flowers, and shrubs so beautifully landscaped that it is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Over 2,000 non-native plants pepper the landscape, from both Eastern and Western cultures, making the park into an exotic wonderland. The blue, pink, gold, and white colored medieval castle glimmers in grandeur, a reflection of its last resident, King Ferdinand II in the 1800s.

Face it, Portugal should be the destination of your next vacation- cheap, friendly, and beautiful. Contact me if you have any questions!

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