A Love Affair with a Portuguese Tart, Portugal September 2017

My latest travels have brought me to Portugal. Although unforeseen it strangely and naturally follows on from my previous travels in Central Asia, linked by ripples in history. Indeed it was the seafaring exploration of the Portuguese that opened up new sailing routes to the ‘Far East’ and replaced much of the ancient trade on the Silk Road. But I won’t lecture you with history as my quick visit to Portugal has been of a more touristic and gastronomic kind.

I started my sojourn in picturesque Porto in the north. Steep polished cobblestone streets run like rivulets down to the banks of the Douro river which is bordered by the old Port wine cellaring houses. Rabelo barges loaded with old port barrels still bob where they are tied up along the river’s edge. Terraced buildings tower over the narrow streets and laneways- a typical Portuguese vista of brightly coloured facades punctuated by large square windows & little iron balconettes, and decorated with traditional hand painted ceramic tiles (called azulejos).

I have also spent several days exploring Lisbon and its surrounds which is similarly built on steep sloping hills. Old wooden trams screech and rattle up and down winding through the Lisbon districts, or the odd 19th century iron elevator or funicular can also carry the weary to the suburban heights.

Far from the narrow laneways of old Porto, Lisbon has many grand avenues, huge squares and elegant fountains. Although the azulejo tile facades typify the architecture in Portugal, the centuries have left glorious examples of gothic, baroque and Manueline styles in the cathedrals and churches, and beaux arts & Art Deco styles in more modern buildings. Indeed the Belle Époque came to Portugal! It is a truly pretty and vibrant place to discover on foot.

And luckily there has been plenty of opportunity to stimulate the appetite for the gastronomic tour has also been grand. Portuguese seafood has been a standout for me and I shall miss the tender roasted octopus the size of my forearm and the justifiably lauded grilled sardines. There is vinho verde (green wine) to wash it down and vintage port for digestif. While I don’t generally have a sweet tooth I seemed to have developed a daily diet which includes scoffing at least one little luscious flaky golden custard tart. Ah – the Portuguese tart that stole my heart!

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