Portugal is somewhere that until a few days ago I knew nothing about. My knowledge is still very limited, but I can let you in on what I know so far. Portugal, having a strong maritime background, was one of the first countries to sail off and colonise a load of places. They were the first to build decent ships and compasses that worked – mainly due to a chap called Henry. They developed good trade with some Asian countries, took over Brazil, and set up shop in Africa. Meanwhile as the rest of Europe caught on to the idea of sailing about and taking over places, the Portuguese hold began to diminish.
They’ve had a love/hate relationship with their neighbours Spain, at one point they even shared a monarchy, ending a healthy relationship with the Brits when they lent a few ships to Spain to join the armada (low blow). Obviously Britain wasn’t having any of it and eventually the Portuguese also decided to tell the Spanish to jog on. Then a French bloke called Napoleon stuck his nose in, and took over Portugal, sending the Portuguese monarchy to Brazil with their tail between their legs. The Brits, having a soft spot for the crafty Portuguese, came to the rescue and saw off the French but by this time a lot of the Portuguese had already packed their bags and buggered off to Brazil.
The Dutch, feeling like they were missing out, also decided to have a pop at the Portuguese. Focusing mainly on their Brazilian and African colonies. The Portuguese were losing interest in their African buddies, but were adamant they weren’t going to hang up their flip flops just yet and kept hold of most of the east coast of Brazil. Then a fella called Pedro chirped up and declared the independence of Brazil. He had a son, also called Pedro, who went on to have a daughter, unfortunately not being able to call her Pedro she was called Isabel. Anyway Isabel ended slavery in Brazil and booted out the Portuguese.
Their African exploits also ended after having a series of wars with the locals, the military in Lisbon decided enough was enough, and had a winge at the government and they brought everyone home.
This brings us to modern day, and our own invasion of this historic country. From what we’ve seen – Portugal’s coastline is stunning. Very similar to the coasts of north Devon, it has a million beaches but the towns are a little scarce. The Atlantic hammers away at the sandy shores, meaning most of them are suited to surfers rather than swimmers, and with a noticeably cooler temperature you may need to pack some warmer clothes.
For some reason Portugal is on the same time as England, which has thrown us out a little having spent the last month in Spain and enjoying long sunny evenings. We have mixed views on Portugal so far, as we drive north we’ve seen a big divide between the poor locals and wealthy people that have moved here to buy cheap property in the sun. There’s loads of derelict industrial buildings around, giving the place a bit of a depressing feel, and we’ve noticed a significant lack of people in the smaller towns. As you would imagine there are a lot of surf camps along the coast, and literally every other car on the road is a campervan. While this sounds good, I think some are giving the campervan scene a bad name – trying to play up to the surfer image, some of the people we’ve seen emerge from their grotty vans look a right state.
Fuel is expensive, food is expensive, campsites are expensive – but with no justification. It’s noticeably poorer than Spain, but everything is EXPENSIVE???
We’ve found a few beaches so far that have had decent facilities but not many, so coupled with not being able to swim in the sea – it’s been harder to wild camp here. We’ve decided to hit the two big cities, Lisbon and Porto, while trying to find a few nice coastal spots in between. We’re speeding up our stay in Portugal due to the cost, and to be honest we’re not having that much fun here. If you don’t surf it’s very limited.
I’m sure the cities will be great, and despite it being a little too barren in parts there is this stunning coastline. I don’t think we will be returning to Portugal though or even to the south of Spain, it doesn’t have the buzz of northern Spain or the bakeries of France. With too many other places to see the only reason we may be back this way is to get to Morocco. After speaking to some people that have kitted out a 4×4 sprinter and are making their way to Africa, if they come back alive, we could be convinced to give it a shot.