Would you “fall” for Portugal?
When Vos first told me about the photo and travel book she was working on, I immediately found it a funny and original project: she went traveling through Portugal with a friend photographer, Lisbon based Yves Callewaert ( www.yvescallewaert.com ), and dropped dead in every picture. Because to her, she said, Portugal is a country so unique and extraordinary it’s simply ‘to die for’. Hence, in every picture in the book we see her ‘dying’, in awe of so much beauty, only to happily resurrect each time, and to discover even more amazing places in Portugal. The book is aptly named ‘To Die For Portugal’ ( www.todieforportugal.com) and invites curious visitors to discover the country the way Vos and her photographer did: in a slow travel mood and as an engaged wanderer.
Vos is a Belgian journalist and biographical writer ( www.walkandtalkbio.com ) who moved to Lisbon back in 2012. Together with a friend, she set out from Brussels with her old Saab 900 crammed with books, vintage clothes and high heels, with Lisbon as their final destination. The way she has moved to Lisbon is very similar to how she would travel through Portugal to make her book: with friends, spontaneous, full of enthusiasm and always ready for the unexpected, loosely drifting through the landscape. And of course accompanied by a healthy appetite, which is why her road trip from Brussels to Lisbon included culinary pitstops every so many kilometers. I’ve always noticed how eagerly Vos embraces the moment, and how eating delicious food and tasting local specialties is part of Vos’ take on life. I must confess: it is contagious! “After about 4 days of road tripping we finally ended up in Lisbon”, Vos recalls her happy arrival in her new city. “My apartment in the heart of Alfama was furnished so I only had to hang up my clothes, and then it was time for an aperitif on a sunny terrace.”
After her smooth arrival, Vos immediately started to discover Lisbon and the rest of Portugal. “As a newcomer and eager to ‘integrate’, I frequently went drifting through the country with the intention of becoming immersed in Portugueseness, to come closer to the soul of this country, and to enjoy the way people are”, Vos tells me. Many friends came to visit her immediately after she had moved, and together they embarked into cheerful road trips. Afterwards those friends sent her their friends, relatives and colleagues, so that Vos decided to launch her one woman travel company Lisboneye (www.lisboneye.eu ) and to organise guided tours, press trips and city trips to Portugal. “I just love to introduce visitors from all over the world to the country,” says Vos, who thus transformed from a full-time journalist and writer into a part time city guide and travel companion. However, she wanted to do more with her travels through Portugal, and the idea of a book that would allow others to travel around the country the way she did emerged. For several years, all her free time went to this project. Often she accidentally discovered hidden gems, was dragged to absolutely fabulous places by locals, or found herself suddenly in the middle of breath-taking landscapes. The book ‘To Die For Portugal’ is the result of all this. “I travel the way I am, not in a straight line but rather zigzagging, always eager to chat with people. I invite everyone who travels through Portugal to do it like that.”
I personally just absolutely love ‘To Die For Portugal’: it’s a must-have travel book for anyone who is or wants to fall in love with Portugal; a beautiful and handy guide full of fun stories and dazzling photos of the most special locations in Portugal; a book that gives us a strong desire to travel. Vos not only takes us along rather unusual and hidden places in the country, she also has an eye for sustainability, rural tourism and all kinds of community initiatives. ‘To Die For Portugal’ invites us to discover Portugal in a unique way, often with a comical touch. This exceptional travel guide is literally ‘to die for’.
Here is her Top 3 of her favourite places in Portugal:
“As a curious person, I am literally interested in everything, so to select a top 3 of my absolute favorites is an impossible challenge. Nevertheless, these are places I recommend you to visit.” (excerpts from the book ‘To Die For Portugal’)
With its wooden stilt houses in vivid colours, and its dogs and cats lazing in the sun, this typical fishing village on the right bank of the Tejo would certainly win the award for ‘cutest village’ – if there was such an award, that is. A long time ago, the fisherman of Palhota, like their colleagues in other Avieiras (fishing villages along the river Tejo), would make their living with the eel, lamprey and Taínha fish from the river. Since life was hard, some emigrated, looking for a better life. In summertime, they join the remaining villagers when they come spend their holiday in Palhota, hence the French and Luxembourgish cars. The entire Ribatejo region around the riverbanks is beautiful and little known, and Palhota is the best preserved historical Avieira village, which has been classified as ‘Heritage of Regional Interest’.
This small seaside fishing town on the Silver Coast gained world fame when in 2011 American big wave surfer Garrett McNamara caught a wave of 24 metres, thus beating the world record of the biggest wave ever surfed. In 2017 his record was beaten by Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa surfing a wave of 24.4 metres. For those who don’t surf, Nazaré is just a beautiful romantic town to visit. And of course there is the legend of the deer, depicted in Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. The story goes that on a misty morning in the 12th century a knight on horseback was saved by the Virgin Mary from falling of the cliff when chasing a deer. To thank her, the Ermida da Memória chapel was built.
Absolutely charming are the ladies dressed in colourful aprons, selling nuts, tremoços and dried fruits next to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Nazaré. They’re wearing several layers of skirts to keep warm, a tradition going back to the times women waited on the coastline for the return of their fishermen husbands and sons. Sometimes in vain.
First the good news: Óbidos is a breathtaking, well preserved medieval village on a hilltop, with a castle and a fortified wall with beautiful azulejos (tiles) at the entrance gate. Here it takes little effort to imagine how life was centuries ago. The other news is that during the summer months Óbidos transforms into a theme park where no expense is spared to bring the Middle Ages back to life: think of actors dressed like knights, lords, serfs, witches; of a pillory for tourists who want to make fools of themselves; of souvenir shops with medieval paraphernalia; of chained hawks and owls to take selfies with. In the midst of this touristic overkill, there is an oasis called Ler Devagar, a second hand bookstore which has all sorts of curiosities like ancient volumes of the wacky satirical French magazine Hara Kiri. The building is the former market hall of Óbidos, so it makes sense Ler Devagar shares the space with a small bio market with vegetables, fruits and all things good from the region.
Cova da Moura
Not in the book, but nevertheless a place we all should visit, is Cova da Moura (see picture by Sander De Clercq (https://www.instagram.com/sanderdeclercq/?hl=nl ). Cova da Moura is a mainly Cape Verdean neighborhood at the outskirts of Lisbon, built in the years 1974-75 when Portugal’s dictatorship ended and its African colonies got their independence. At that time, a lot of immigrants started coming to Portugal. During the day they would work, and at night they built their own homes, like here in Cova da Moura. Many in Lisbon call places like Cova da Moura a shanty town, and it has a reputation. But it’s getting better, and Cova da Moura is also a neighborhood with hardworking people who share a real sense of community – the main difference is that the housing was initially illegal. The place is also home to dozens of hairdressers who are renowned for the most creative hair sculptures of Lisbon, ánd the best cachupa of Lisbon is being served here by dona Maria Patriarca in restaurant O Coqueiro. By the way, Cova da Moura is well located neighborhood, which gave some wealthy real estate investers and politicians inspiration to regret this prime location being occupied by ‘illegal’ buildings full of rather poor people. It is therefore our duty to go there and support the residents. Not as a passive tourist but rather as an engaged visitor.
All pictures © Studio Yves Callewaert except B&W portrait and last image by Sander De Clercq, 3rd picture by Paula Franco. this article was first published on Luz Editions blog on February 10th 2021.