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Catherine de Boer

Portugal enticed me away from the European Continent, to travel and experience its unspoilt isolation, beauty and proud traditional culture. After my family and I first arrive in Lisbon, our taxi driver listens to a Catholic mass sung in Portuguese all the way from the airport. Fatima is mentioned 9 times. Welcome to Portugal, an 85% Catholic country!

We are here to see the trolley trams featured in the iconic Australian movie 'Death in Brunswick', partly because it's closing scene was filmed in Lisbon. We climb aboard a crowded trolley tram to wind our way through narrow cobblestone streets, to reveal spectacular views at the top of old Lisbon town. 

Facades of buildings are glazed in ceramic blue tiles, washing hangs out to dry from balconies high above us as we walk. Local people gather together in the shady plazas.. We are not disappointed with the Lisbon's custard tarts locals are queuing up for, nor the freshest of seafood (enormous prawns!) as we dine in the shade mid afternoon, resting on our full day walking tour through three neighbourhoods of the old part of town. 

We take in a day trip to Sintra, nestled 15 miles north-west of Lisbon- a UNESCO world heritage listed site, and former summer retreat of Portugal's kings. Penne Palace (Palacio de Pena) is the jewel in the crown of Sintra: we also visit a Moorish Castle ruin, and the National Palace.

Penne Palace, built in to late 1800's, was once the hilltop palatial home of King Ferdinand. It is suggestive of Moorish architectural influences, but with a playful disnification and mix of German and Portuguese styles. German born, King Ferdinand was known as a romantic, and he spent a great amount of effort transforming this palace into a magical fairyland of earthly delights. Its ochre walls contrast the vivid blue sky, with a beauty and simplicity.

We enter through white-washed walls, with sinewy balustrades carved out of wood, into exotic rooms with stone floors, decorative patterned wall tiles, and elaborate stucco ceilings. French silk fabrics line feature walls, dark 19thcentury furniture suggestive of each rooms use, including canopy beds, cast iron baths, ea de toilette for a queen. A smattering of late 17th century and early 18th century oil paintings allude to the former Royal inhabitants.

As we wander through the terraced garden, I imagine the Royals in their self imposed seclusion, enjoying the expansive garden of trees, temples, chapel, and exotic plants, down to a series of lakes, each with its own bird life, birdhouse and fountains. We relax with our lunch, the wind whistling through the mature and stately sequoia trees, imagining the Royal family enjoying this peaceful sanctuary, before being forced to flee Portugal in 1910, during its civil uprising.

Our final Portuguese destination is Salema. We alight from a trainload of tourists, escaping to the coast of Algarve, at Lagos. Whitewashed apartment buildings crowd the skyline. At the end of the train line we are hot and expectant of a rest, but it is still a one hour wait for our taxi to appear to take us to our final destination.

Salema, the last bastion of unspoilt fishing villages in this coastline, is tucked away in the far flung corner of the Algarve Coast of southern Portugal. It teems with German and British tourists at this time of year, like ants all over the beach. It is hard to escape the G-string brigade of all shapes and sizes, tanned flesh...ironically no one is swimming, a sea of bodies is lined up on hired sun lounges. Waves roll in from the Atlantic Ocean: my toe dipping tells me it feels colder than my Tasmanian waters back home.

The beach at first light is deserted and beautiful to walk upon. As we crunch along the sand we find ancient dinosaur footprints on a rocky platform. The light is beautiful and the fishing for the day is just done: boats, nets stowed ashore. Stray cats sun themselves on the folded piles of fishing nets. Octopus pots dry in the sun. An old man shuffles along the path for his daily walk. Salema reveals its true character, before the tourists swarm again as another peak season August day begins.

Our driver, Isabella, is a wonderful guide, and proudly shows us the pearls of her native homeland: Cape S Vicente, with its sandstone cliffs over 200 metres high, the lighthouse with its staggering views along the coastline, Marata beach, Sagres surf beach, and the fishing harbour of Saida. Oh Salema!...our visit to you is far too short, but we will return to savour your beauty again.

Portugal beckoned us and we were not disappointed by its rustic charm, friendliest of people, staggering history and sheer natural and man made beauty. Unspoilt by tourism, it retains its charm, its integrity, its Catholicism, and  proud history. Vasco de Gamas, was such an amazing explorer of his time. How adventurous were the Portuguese nation! We ponder with locals at the prospect that Australia, my home country, was very nearly Portuguese. My appreciation of Portuguese design is enhanced by this visit.

What an unspoilt corner of Europe! Ciao Portugal! ate' nos encontrarmos novamente !