Romance is one of the fundamental reasons we travel -- and few countries on earth can summon up the romantic contrasts and attributes of Portugal. Located at the very southwestern tip of Europe, six hours from the United States, Portugal is one of the continent’s most endearing destinations: ideal for a vacation experience that is all about love.
Perhaps there are few more romantic facets of visiting Portugal than the country’s array of small, historic and unique hotels. There are dozens. Some are known as Pousadas and Solares. Pousadas are hotels that have been created within ancient structures such as castles, fortresses and monasteries. Each pousada is utterly distinctive and quite unlike the next. Vast care, imagination, creativity and taste have gone into the design of every pousada, designs that take pains to maintain the integrity, charm and beauty of the original structure. Solares are a parallel concept, with similar effort, imagination and a sense of style applied to the conversion of historic mansions, palaces, townhouses, farms and churches. What Portugal’s small historic hotels share is an intrinsic ambience of romance – an ambience that pervades the antiques that furnish them, the candles and lamps that illuminate them, the crisp bed linens and rich upholstery that enrich their guest-rooms, the flower-filled gardens that surround them and in the invariably inventive and elegant cuisine and wines that make every meal an occasion to treasure. These small, romantic, historic and uniquely Portuguese hostelries are to be found throughout the country – both on the mainland, as well as in the Azores and Madeira.
Lisbon is one of the most romantic cities in Europe. A series of contrasting neighborhoods pasted atop seven undulating hills and valleys descend down to the River Tagus. The ancient heart of the city, the Bairro Alto, is made for romance. By day its cobble-stone streets and quarters invite visitors to experience the best of Portugal in tiny boutiques, workshops, cafes and galleries. By night, the same streets become star-lit and magical, as restaurant after bar after restaurant after nightclub after restaurant after boîte draws visitors in to sample Portugal’s delicious cuisines, to sip its wines, Madeira and Port, to hear melancholy, bluesy Fado music, to gyrate to rock, disco or Buddha Bar.
Lisbon’s ancient Castelo, Alfama and Mouraria districts of Lisbon ooze romance too. At the top, the tranquil Castelo de Sao Jorge seems to remind Lisbon of its origins. It’s all quiet streets, unexpected piazzas, tree-lined courtyards, and the discovery of a restaurant beneath a bower of roses. It’s glimpses of the harbor caught in an unexpected turn of an alley, steep lanes lined with antique shops…all ideal for hand-in-hand strolling. Tiny, endearingly antiquated tram-cars rumble up the hills. It’s a village-like Lisbon, startling in it simplicity and charm at the heart of a thriving European capital.
Every country on earth has its romantic elements, every nationality falls in love. Yet few countries have the inherent charm, amenities and ambiance of Portugal. So much so that it is difficult for the coldest heart not to beat a little more warmly, for even the tiredest relationship not to find a new spark, a new reason to be rekindled. By the way, every traveler who hopes to find romance in Portugal needs to learn one sentence in Portuguese: “Eu amo-te.” We guess you’ll figure out what it means.