Once a powerful seafaring kingdom that dominated the merchant routes to Africa, South America and the Orient, Portugal today is a friendly, low-key place with a laidback vibe and a fantastic coastline, much of it fringed by golden sands and endless dunes.
Its rolling interior is perfect for exploring on foot, by kayak, by bike or even on horseback although a large part of the country’s charm comes from languorous days on the beach, dining on fabulously fresh seafood and kicking back with a beer to watch the sunset over the Atlantic.
The legacy of Portugal’s former wealth and power can be seen in its historic cities, yet the capital, Lisbon, is as popular today for its lively clubbing scene as for its grand monuments and medieval alleyways. Porto meanwhile, the country’s second city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the best place to sample some of the many varieties of Portugal’s other notable contribution to the world, port wine.
Portuguese cuisine can be slightly tough on strict vegetarians and you’ll be eating a lot of omelets, chips, salads and pizzas. Almost every restaurant serves up a really basic vegetable soup, though beware of the caldo verde; a kale, onion and potato broth, which usually is cooked in some sausage meat for flavor.
Portuguese fruit is a particular joy, especially in the Algarve, Estremadura and Beira Baixa, and any market should turn up some excellent local produce. You may even find officially certified organic produce, though it has yet to make much of an impact on mainstream food buying habits.
In Lisbon, Porto and some parts of the Algarve, there is a reasonable selection of vegetarian restaurants; Italian and Indian establishments where you should be able to eat well. Also, most towns have health-food shops (or supermarkets with health-food sections) where you can find cereal bars, gluten-free biscuits, dried fruit and the like.
Even though Portugal has still some learning to do when it comes to high-end and mainstream Vegetarian cuisine, the main important thing is you will not be disappointed, no matter where you happen to eat. Their motto everywhere is: “Happy Food & Good Spirits!”