This week, as we start to get back to our new “normal” in a post-COVID and quarantine Europe, travel has started again. We were able to chat with two of our favorite tour guides in Portugal and they shared some of their favorite memories, travel tips and advice for those of you dreaming about a future Portuguese holiday.
Portugal is an amazing destination that has become a dream for so many people in recent years. It’s been getting a lot of attention and there is good reason why. This small nation hugs the ocean, but also has mountains, breathtaking vineyards, hills, historical cities and wonderful food. The Portuguese are warm people, proud to show off their special country to visitors, and it has become one of our favorite places to visit.
1. What do you love about being a tour guide in Portugal? Why did you decide to become a guide?
Joel, our spectacular local expert in Lisbon who covers the whole country (below):
I like the name local expert. Not because I’m an expert, but because I’m a LOCAL! I love the “local” concept. So I’m a local guide in Portugal, a local driver and a local expert.
After 18 yrs in an investment banking area, I decided to change my life and do something I really love. Those encompass talking with people, showing them my country, my culture and heritage. Portugal is a small country with 900years of history. It’s where the art of hosting people is in our blood.
Mariana, our local in Lisbon who is a professional guide and amazing with kids:
I decided to found my company after traveling with my family to Madrid. We felt the need for this kind of service/product. These were family tours focused on the kids’ interests, engaging them in learning about a place in a fun way.
Becoming a tour guide in Portugal wasn’t actually in my plans for a long time. I’m actually a landscape architect! But I do love Lisbon. I love history and arts (and there is a lot to tell about history and arts in Lisbon) and I love kids! Nowadays, doing family tours in Lisbon is indeed my favorite job in the world!
2. What is a destination or site that you most enjoy taking guests?
Mariana (below): In Lisbon, there is a lovely secret playground, placed on top of a hill (the Castle hill). It’s called Miradouro do Recolhimento. You have an amazing view from there (to Alfama and the Tagus river), a small garden (with aromatic Mediterranean plants and orange trees), and a few benches for families to relax for a while.
Joel: Definitely my city, Lisbon, on a walking tour. On other hand Alentejo region. Here we can explore at the same time, Medieval history, Wine, Cork, Olive oil and walled cities. Can you imagine, a glass of wine on a terrace inside a medieval castle looking at a lake on the sunset?
3. What is your best moment with clients that you can remember?
Joel: I was organizing a Hiking Tour through Vicentina Coast with a small group from Australia. In one of the trails, the place I had planned for lunch had a problem with the kitchen pipes and they had to close. In the middle of nowhere, while the group was hiking, I found a small farm where we had a great Cooking Experience with the owners. We didn’t do the hiking trail that we planned for the afternoon! Oviously, we were a bit full after a lot of cheese and smoked ham, local wine and Black Pork tender loin! This is just one of many moments for why I love being a tour guide in Portugal.
Mariana: No doubt: every time a child holds my hand during the tour. And in the end of the tour, when the kids give me a hug just because they want to. These moments really make my job meaningful and each tour special and unforgettable.
4.Your recommendation for the best time of year to visit your country/city/town and why ?
Mariana:Although June is the local festivities month, I think the best time to visit Lisbon (and Portugal in general) are May and October. In these months, the weather is usually perfect (not too hot and not cold). It’s not peak months, so you will be able to visit the major monuments and museums without the usual crowds. Also, May is when Jacaranda trees bloom (and there are a lot of Jacarandas coloring squares purple in Lisbon) and also orange trees bring an incredible fragrance to Alfama neighborhood.
Joel: For a quiet cultural holidays, March/April and end of October until mid November. If you want to feel the Portuguese soul, i recommend June for the saints festivities, St Antonio in Lisbon or St João in Porto. The old neighborhoods dressed in colors with a lot of music, food, wine and beer. For the wine harvest, September and October, where you can experience some activities, like stepping the grapes with the wineries workers. Alentejo and Douro Valley are the regions to explore. For beach holidays in Algarve, from June till mid October. For golf, March till November
5. What you find most exciting or inspiring about your area?
Mariana: Lisbon has an incredible light (due to the wide Tagus river, reflecting the sunlight), and you’ll find beautiful colorful architecture in every corner. I love the ceramic glazed tiles covering the walls of the buildings, and I love strolling around the city center, walking up and down the hills, finding amazing viewpoints.
Nowadays, I also find that Lisbon is becoming more family and kid friendly, with more parks and gardens, pedestrian streets and squares, playgrounds and cycle paths. The city is also more connected to the river…
Joel: I think is the people. Portuguese people are very nice and friendly. Always ready to help, even when they don’t speak a word in english. The gastronomy is unique and, I would say, that the most inspiring experience in Portugal is to sit at a table on a local restaurant with local people, eating, drinking and talking.
6. Which place do you love to visit in their country?
Joel:We are a country of conquerors and sailors, so I have two places, Cape St Vincent, the most south western spot in Europe (we call it “the end of the world”) a windy place where you can see, at the same time, South and West Coast. The other spot is Monsaraz Castle, on the Eastern side, close to the Spanish border, with the biggest European artificial lake (Alqueva) between us. Right in the middle of a completely flat region, there’s a knight templar castle from the XIII Century, on the top of a hill, from where you can see…the world.
Mariana: I love visiting Porto, in the north of Portugal, because it’s a beautiful city with so much to offer and a big diversity of environments – riverside, ocean line, hills, modern and traditional architecture…
For a relaxing dive into nature, I recommend exploring Aldeias do Xisto, in the Centre of Portugal. And, of course, the Algarve for the beach.
7. If you could give a tour to anyone (from the past or present), who would it be?
Mariana: I would love to give a Lisbon tour to Greta Thunberg when she was a child or maybe in the future, with her own family…
Joel: If i could give a tour to anyone? Anthony Bourdain
8. Personal favorite restaurant?
Joel: Wow. That’s hard….. i have a lot, maybe Taberna 1300 is in Lisbon, inside a fantastic area called LX Factory. By the way, LX is the nickname for Lisbon.
Mariana: Ha, one of the “perks” of being a tour guide in Portugal is getting to “test” some many wonderful restaurants!
In Lisbon, in my neighborhood, I elect ‘A Colina’, with good genuine Portuguese food. I remember going there since I was a child, with my family (some of the waiters are the same J).
Out of Lisbon, I really enjoy having lunch in Alentejo, on our way to the Algarve. ‘Armazém Central’ in Lousal is a great place for a family meal – on weekends they sometimes have popular local music groups singing ‘cante alentejano’ while we are having lunch. It’s quite an experience! And after lunch you can explore the science centre and learn about the mines that used to labor there.
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