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How a week in Porto, Portugal changed my travel perspective
When I was 21, during a semester abroad in France, I spent a whirlwind of a winter break traveling with one of my best friends. Over a span of 2 weeks, we hopped from Seville, to Rome (by way of a layover in Lisbon, because the flights were cheaper!), to Malta, and finally, to Marseille. It was ridiculously fun, and it was also a blur. When I think back to it, my memories are a jumble of early morning flights and on-the-go meals.
While I wouldn’t trade that trip for the world, in my time at Oldways, I’ve come to appreciate the art of slower travel—of staying put for a little while, meeting locals, and really trying to understand a place and experience it fully.
So last August, my mom and I—inspired by the mother-daughter trips Sara wrote about last spring—spent 7 days in the small city of Porto, Portugal.
Are you in Porto for the weekend?
Did you go to Lisbon and Faro, too?
What’s the next stop on your trip?
Everywhere we went, people were eager to know where else we’d be going. We’re spending the week in Porto, we’d tell them—and that’s when the good recommendations started to come out: restaurants, shops, nearby towns to visit, favorite walks and pathways in the city.
Here are just a few of the great benefits we experienced by planting roots in Porto for a week:
Flexibility and freedom to change plans. On the day we had planned to visit the beaches outside of Porto, we stepped out of our hotel to find grey skies and a chilly breeze. Not exactly a good day for the beach! Because we had a full week in the area, we had the flexibility to push it off and save the beach for sunnier, warmer weather.
So instead, we wandered around the city, strolled over the Dom Luís I Bridge over the Douro River and into Vila Nova de Gaia, where we happened upon a food truck festival and musicians playing live music.
And, by the time our beach day came around, we had gathered a lot more information from locals, who insisted that the freshly caught seafood by the beach in Matosinhos was not to be missed. So, we adjusted our beach day accordingly, and we were not disappointed.
A deeper understanding of local foods and wines. Spending a week in Porto meant trying local products once, twice, and even three times, understanding them more deeply and discovering our own preferences.
For example: by day two of our trip, my mom and I knew we liked the crisp Vinho Verde wine of the region. By day seven, we knew we liked the Vinho Verdes made with the Alvarinho grape, and that we can look for this same grape under the name Albarino on Spanish wine bottles.
Whenever we found a dish, pastry, or even cup of coffee that we loved, we could go back and experience it again (and ask questions about the food!). I left Porto with a note in my phone filled with delicious things we tried that I couldn’t wait to replicate at home—pumpkin jam served with cheese, grilled calamari, pastel de bacalhau, marinated sardines with red peppers, and vegetables with almond sauce.
One food I did not get the name of: this spicy, olive oil-based sauce we tried at restaurants, pictured below. Comment below if you know what this is!
Time to venture outside the center of the city. If you’re someone who enjoys nature, this is a must! With Porto as our home base for a week, we had time to venture outside the crowded city center and into the surrounding region to:
Jump into a waterfall lagoon and swim in Peneda-Gerês National Park (a real “pinch me”moment!)
Tour small wineries in the Douro Valley. (At one, the owner invited us to the backyard where a small fig tree stood. She invited us to reach up into the branches and each pick our own fresh fig!)
Visit a small coastal city to learn how sea salt is harvested
Take a cooking class to make pastel de nata from scratch, in someone’s home kitchen (and using her grandmother’s recipe!)
A more relaxing vacation. I think we often put pressure on ourselves to “check things off” our travel lists, to see as many different places as we possibly can before we head home. I feel incredibly fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend a week in Portugal with my mom, and I’m so glad we decided to stay put in Porto.
Although our week was filled with tours, hikes, and food and wine tastings, we never felt rushed. At a more relaxed pace, we could wander down streets and pop into art galleries and pretty boutiques, stop and talk with street vendors and artists, and have chats over coffee. How often in normal life do you have time to sit down in a cafe and swap book recommendations with your mom?! I’m so grateful for the time we spent together.
There are wonderful Oldways trips on the horizon that will give you this same kind of travel experience, where you leave feeling truly connected to the place you visited. Plus, on Oldways trips, you get the benefit of Oldways’ expert knowledge, and the perspective of chefs and nutrition experts. In March, you can spend a week with Oldways in San Sebastián, diving deep into Basque cuisine and culture. In April, you can travel to the Aegean Coast of Turkey for a small-group cooking retreat. In June, join Oldways in Costa Rica for a nutrition- and culinary-focused experience that will give you a robust picture of Costa Rican cuisine.
And if you have the opportunity to invite a family member along, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Comment below: What’s YOUR favorite city you’ve visited? Why was it your favorite?
Global Recipe: Red Curry with Kabocha Squash and Brown Rice
Kabocha squash, sometimes called Japanese squash, has a vaguely sweet ﬂavor and vibrant orange-y red color. It is delicious in this curry recipe, served over nutty brown rice. The perfect fall meal!
Travel Tip: Explore Travel Destinations You Haven’t Considered Before
How did my mom and I end up in Porto, Portugal? Truthfully, it was sort of by chance!
We had one week in August when we were both free to take a vacation. So, we used the Google Flights Explore feature to find destinations we could fly to for a reasonable price that worked for our budgets, during the week that worked for us. Porto, Portugal was it!
Porto had not been on my “travel bucket list,” but I fell completely in love with the city. The lesson I’m taking away from this is to embrace travel opportunities, and to not limit myself to destinations I already know about.
Travel to Costa Rica with Oldways
Have you always dreamed of visiting Costa Rica and weren’t sure where to go or how to organize your trip? Join us, and we’ll experience three very diﬀerent parts of this beautiful country: city, rain forest, and the Paciﬁc coast. Plus, we’ll travel with three experts for culinary and nutritional insights during our stay: Walter Willet, DrPh, of the Harvard School of Public Health; Chef Tom Berry, and Hannia Campos, PhD, who grew up in Costa Rica, and has returned to live there after her long career at Harvard.