(c) Johan FourieThe Portuguese have a saying: “Há Mouro na costa…“, there’s a Moor on the coast. The Moors were the Muslim people from North Africa who lived in the Iberian Peninsula between roughly 800 and 1200 CE. Reconquered by the catholics, the Moors remained a “threat”. The expression, though, refers not to war but to love. You say this when there’s a person threatening to invade someone’s heart.

Helanya and I recently traveled to Portugal for a short but memorable vacation. We spent one night in Lisbon, before traveling to Porto, Coimbra and back to Sintra. Although Portugal’s economy is struggling, it remains a rich country; rich in history, tradition, culture, colour and taste. Portugal gave Europe the Age of Discovery, it gave the Cape its name, it gave Holland it’s Tulips, it gave Brazil its football and the world Christiano Ronaldo. But there is an immense sense of sadness, of melancholy, of a golden age that will never be again, best embodied by Coimbra’s forlorn Fado music. Perhaps, also, this is its appeal.

The Portuguese are probably the friendliest and most hospitable people you will meet, especially in the less touristy areas. Tourism is a large share of the country’s GDP (about 5%) and a huge employer. Although tiny in terms of land area, there is enough diversity to justify returning again and again (this was my third trip). Porto, especially, is a romantic city. The city rises from the banks of the Douro River, with tiny houses and factories and cathedrals clamoring for space on the steep hills. On the opposite bank are the “caves”, which invite you to explore the flavours and sensations of port wine. I’d recommend Croft. And if you need a place to stay, try the 6Only hotel.
Visiting Portugal is a bit like going back into the past. The Portuguese have another saying: “Àguas passadas não movem moínhos“, past waters don’t power past mills, meaning you shouldn’t worry about past things. Perhaps so, but the past might just be its saving grace, if it manages to make more visitors, like me, fall in love.