As an outsider, Portugal welcomed me. It’s now my chance to do the same for Flashpackers

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Once upon a time, I myself was a visitor to Portugal. I was actually born in Spain but moved to the country five years ago, after falling in love with a Portuguese man. I met Bruno on a night out while I was studying in Budapest. We had only been dating each other for three months when I decided to move back to Lisbon with him. 

From the moment I arrived, I felt like the city embraced me. People are so welcoming. It has a traditional charm but is also very modern, with a culture that blends Mediterranean and Atlantic influences. 

I’ve been a tour guide since I was 20 and I wanted to continue my career in Lisbon. So, I set about getting under the skin of Portuguese history and culture by leading walking tours of the city. 

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After moving to Lisbon, I started leading Flash Pack’s Portugal trip

I learnt a lot, including the Portuguese language; it’s similar to Spanish and I became fluent after about a year. But then Covid came along and everything paused. 

When our borders finally opened again, I moved into my current role leading Flash Pack’s new group adventure to Portugal. At first, I was unsure about admitting to my groups that I’m actually from Spain. But I began to recognise that I can offer the best of both worlds. 

On the one hand, I’m very immersed in Portuguese culture and I’m always looking to discover new local restaurants, experiences and partnerships with the people who live here. But equally, I also share the outsider perspective that Flashpackers have when they discover Portugal as an entirely new place. 

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We have a week together, but friendships form quickly

I think Flash Pack does a great job in setting the group dynamic. As solo travellers, everyone is alway very open to adventure and spending time with one another. I always enjoy the mix of my groups. 

We only have a week together, but friendships – and sometimes couples – form quickly, often within the space of two or three days. It’s beautiful to see. 

My favourite part of the trip is the Douro Valley wine region in northern Portugal, with all its dramatic scenery. People tend to think of Portugal as a coastal place because of its shape stretching down the Atlantic. 

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One hotel we stay in is surrounded by 40 acres of vines

Few expect to see the lush green hills and rolling vineyards we find when we travel to Quinta de Casaldronho – a magical wine estate we stay at in the heart of the region. 

Even getting to the hotel is tricky. It’s surrounded by 40 acres of vines, along with olive groves and fruit orchards, so the roads are remote. 

It’s a million miles away from the pace of cities like Porto or Lisbon. The hotel has a rooftop pool and also a resident cat who’s basically the boss of the place. If you leave your door open at night, he’ll end up on your bed. 

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In Douro, we visit independent wine producers

As you’d expect, I’ve built up a lot of knowledge about Portuguese wine over the past five years and I love introducing travellers to different regional varieties. People always want to try port, our most famous export, so it’s great that we get to visit the wine barrels and gardens of one of Porto’s iconic port houses early on in our trip. 

Yet I also enjoy the fact that in Douro, we get to visit a mixture of independent wine producers, including very small, family-run businesses that are keeping the traditions of Portuguese wine-making alive. I usually suggest a different bottle of wine to share at dinner, too. For example, I like vinho verde: a slightly fizzy northern-region variety known for its green, citrusy notes. 

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We learn how to make traditional pasteis de nata

As for Portuguese food, there’s so much to explore. I’d recommend a dish called peixinhos da horta, which is a delicious vegetarian dish made from green beans coated in tempura (contrary to common belief, tempura is a Portuguese cooking technique. It was introduced to Japan by Portugal in the 16th century). Also, bacalhau (dried and salted cod) is a must-try. People here say that there are more than 100 ways of cooking it.

When it comes to sweet treats, bolo de bolacha is an incredible dessert made from intricate layers of tea biscuits soaked in coffee and buttercream. It translates as “cookie cake”, which sounds generic; most tourists don’t realise how special it is until they try it. 

Of course, our pasteis de nata (custard tarts) are a highlight, too. We learn how to make them on our Flash Pack trip and I usually turn the session into a bit of a bake off.

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I’m at my happiest as we approach Lisbon

I really think Flash Pack’s adventure goes deep to show off the best, most local side of Portugal: our cultural history, our wine culture, our seafood, beaches and the Atlantic coastline, including surfing, which is a huge trend and so much fun to try. 

Our sunset cruise on the River Tagus in Lisbon is another exceptional ritual. Flashpackers always sense I’m at my happiest as we approach Lisbon towards the end of our trip. That’s because it’s my home; the place that has invited me in. It’s now my honour to do the same to new visitors. 

There’s always this moment on the sailing yacht when the sky is lit up in gold against the city, just moments from sundown. Everyone in the group falls silent. It just happens spontaneously and it’s beautiful. In this loud, fast world we live in, for one moment, we’re all united in stillness. 

Eva Lois is Pack Leader for Flash Pack’s adventure in Portugal, including a sunset cruise in Lisbon, wine tasting in the Douro Valley and surf lessons in Ericeira. 

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Images: Flash Pack

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