Romancing in Portugal
By Kelly Villasuso
Arturo was a lowly Portuguese fisherman who fell in love with the governor’s daughter, Katarina. When the governor found out, he banished Arturo from his beautiful, beloved Portugal. Before going out to sea, Arturo pledged to Katarina he would return and would notify her with three blasts of the ship’s horn.
One cold and foggy night a year later, Arturo sailed into the territory and sounded his horn three times. After hearing his call, Katarina dove from the rocks into the water below. Arturo yelled from the ship, “Katarina, Katarina” and Katarina responded, “Arturo.” He could not see Katarina through the dense fog, so Arturo dove into the icy sea to find her.
Legend has it that they both drown, meeting at the ocean’s floor to be together forever. When the sea hits the rocky shores and the spray rises, it is said to be Arturo and Katarina making love.
This tragically beautiful tale kept me wondering about this small country (just slightly bigger than the state of Maine) for decades. With Portugal now on every “must-go” travel list in global media, I finally got my chance to experience the home of the legendary Arturo and Katarina and traverse through three of its seven diverse regions — Lisbon/Sintra, the Algarve, and Porto in The Contemporary Renaissance of Port Wine story.
As the older sibling of Rome by 400 years, Lisbon clearly has had practice being the global “it” city. Lisbon effortlessly introduced me to a few of its many faces: The “City of Seven Hills” as I climbed the calçada portuguesa (hand-laid mosaic stone) walkways throughout Lisbon, taking in the old, the new, and a rooster or two; the “Queen of the Sea” as she reigned over the Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River, making unique fish and seafood, such as sardines, Pato clams, and Gooseneck barnacles, delectably accessible to me; and the “City of the Light” as the long summer days ushered in gorgeous sunsets over the city’s brilliant waters. No matter which face Lisbon unveiled for me, I fell for it much like Arturo did Katarina.
Discoveries to Experience in Lisbon:
- Visit Cais da Favorita, a sailboat-turned-bar with sling-back chairs to relax at the river’s edge while sipping on port under the brilliant Portuguese sun.
- Take in the most spectacular views from the coolest rooftop bar at one of the finest hotels in Lisbon: The Sky Bar at the beautifully renovated Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa Hotel. Ask Bartender Henrique Pimpao Caio Oliveira’s for his signature Portuguese Sour, garnished with a tiny Szechuan Button (also known as buzz button, ting flower, and electric daisy). Between the drink and the view, your night will be electrifying … only to be amped up by Tivoli’s Cervejaria Liberdade restaurant’s Clams Bulhão Pato and Arroz de Lavagante (European Lobster Rice).
After Lisbon, we set out for the mountain town of Sintra, about 20 miles — yet a world — away. We were awestruck by the majestic Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira, and the spectacular Palácio Nacional da Pena, as we inched toward our hotel, Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.
Had we not had four wheels on the ground, I might have thought we had driven straight into the pages of a fairytale. Manicured lawns and gardens rolled out toward a mélange of flora in every direction, only interrupted by yet another breathtaking palace. As the crown jewel of Portugal, Sintra has more royal abodes per square mile than any other place in Europe — and has UNESCO world heritage status to prove it.
As we entered the grounds of Palácio de Seteais, our role in this fairytale world crystallized. In a matter of miles, we had magically transformed into a prince and princess. The “most beautiful place in Portugal” (stated the king of fairytales himself, Hans Christian Anderson, about Sintra) was where one could write their own romantic legend … with a happy ending.
Discoveries to Experience in Sintra:
- Experience the romantic utopia of Sintra with a stay at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, opting for full immersion in their royal offerings with a dinner for two in the majestic Pillement Room discreetly accompanied by your private butler (Armenio was utterly charming) and harpist (Katherine was extremely talented).
- Visit the neighboring palaces, Pena or Palácio de Monserrate, by way of horse and carriage for an authentic and romantic adventure.
After Sintra, we set out on a three-plus-hour drive to Vilamoura in the Algarve region. As we headed south, the landscape of Portugal changed yet again, taking on a balmy, tropical feel. The Algarve rolled out a proverbial royal carpet of almond, fig, and orange trees, among other Algarvian-grown treasures.
The humid breezes blew through the car window as we descended on our hotel, Anantara Vilamoura, bringing promise of sun-soaked hours (of which the Algarve has nearly 3,000 hours each year) lounging oceanside or by the pool — much needed after the bustle of Lisbon and our royal appearances in Sintra.
Never did I feel closer to the soul of the Portuguese fisherman, Arturo, than in the Algarve, where fish and seafood are the culinary star, and to the noble soul of Katarina as I fell in love with the authentic Algarvian hospitality (we were greeted with glasses of sweet carob and Algarvian orange juice, almonds and figs), song (the evening Fado performances were amazing), food (EMO in the hotel was on par with the six Michelin-starred-restaurants throughout the Algarve), and wine (particularly from the Negra Mole grape grown exclusively in the Algarve, which produces a beautiful wine like Pinot Noir).
Discoveries to Experience in Algarve:
- Spend the morning shopping in Loulé, a traditional Portuguese market town in the Algarve, with the utterly charming Loulé resident — and Anantara Vilamoura’s Executive Chef — Bruno Viegas. Get up close and personal with the local merchants and the shoppers who represent daily Portuguese living in this slice of heaven.
- Master the Arnold Palmer designed Oceanico Victoria golf course at Anantara Vilamoura or one of 29 other courses in the Algarve.
minorhotels.com/en/tivoli/tivoli-avenida-liberdade-lisboa; minorhotels.com/en/tivoli/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais; vilamoura.anantara.com