Jayme Simoes, a renowned travel consultant for Portugal, knows all about this tremendously popular country, and gives us loads of inside info. We go over what makes Portugal so special, starting in Lisbon, and going on to the Portuguese Riviera on the Atlantic just outside the city. We also discuss the special regions such as the Aletejo, the Algarve, and Portugal's great and ultra-popular second city, Porto.
Jayme goes over cruising on the Douro, taking the train or driving. staying in pousadas, lodging based in former castles and monestaries.
And then we focus on the Portuguese islands of Madeira, off the Moroccan coast, and the Azores, off coastal Africa.
We end with Jayme's best memory. And a better appreciation of what makes Portugal such an exceptional destination for travelers and expats.
Jayme Simoes JS@lkarno.com is a top consultant for Portugal.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com. Please follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast!
We drop podcasts every other week, on Tuesdays.
*Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 0:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast, we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. The last few years, certain European countries have become the darlings of travelers and expats who wanted to move there, and no country more than Portugal. Portugal is located in southwestern Europe, bordered by the Atlantic to the west, the Gulf of Cadiz to the south, and Spain to the north and east. Its mild climate, varied topography, moderate pricing, and friendly people make it an exceptional destination. Our guest today is Jayme Simoes, marketing consultant for Portugal. He knows just about everything to see and do in his country. Welcome to Places I Remember, Jayme.
Jayme Simoes 1:01
Hey Lea, it's nice to be here. Thanks for having me.
Lea Lane 1:03
A pleasure. Let's start with an overview of Portugal. What qualities do you think make it so special?
Jayme Simoes 1:10
You know, it's funny that for years I've been saying Portugal is one of the most wonderful places to visit on the planet. And finally, the planet got the memo. And tourism in Portugal, up until 2020 was just growing by leaps and bounds. You know, there's so many things that make a destination special. But in Portugal, I think it's a combination of a uniqueness of place. Portugal is a very unique culture. It's so much unlike its neighbors and other countries in Europe. And for many Americans, that's a discovery. Because we don't have a point of common grounded understanding. So every corner that you turn, there's something new to discover that you didn't expect, in what is actually Europe's oldest country in terms of existing within its current frontiers. So there's that, but what really makes Portugal wonderful, for me, it's the people. They're so welcoming. They're so kind, they're so friendly. They're so glad to have you there, that it makes being in a place where the language is difficult, and the culture is unfamiliar, and the cuisine is all new, they make it special, and they make you feel like you can't do anything wrong. And then finally, you know, it's the climate. It's such a wonderful country. It's a Goldilocks climate. It's not too cold in the winter. It's not too hot in the summer, doesn't rain terrific amounts in the south. So I think the people, the typography, the culture, the cuisine, all of it, it makes Portugal a very, very special place.
Lea Lane 2:34
Well, you know, it's tucked in the corner there. So it isn't on the route, you know, the big France, Spain, all of that. So it's sort of a country to go to after you go to the two or three first ones, and I know when I discovered it many years ago, I was absolutely delighted with it. And the people, as you said, were so humble and sweet. They were very different from most people I've met in most countries, they were so happy to see tourists, and I'm glad to hear it's the same way now. So let's start with Lisbon. It's a dynamic pastel hued hilly, coastal city. Tell us about the history of Lisbon.
Jayme Simoes 3:11
Well, Lisbon's history goes back thousands of years. People have lived in Lisbon since antiquity. In fact, if you're downtown and walking down the Rua Augusta, you can make reservations in advance and go under some of the buildings. So there's a big bank block right towards the end as you get close to the river, that when they were renovating these buildings that were built after the the earthquake of 1755, they discovered Roman Lisbon and Carthaginian Lisbon. In fact, it wasn't long ago that some workers in downtown Lisbon broke into, accidentally, the Roman Cryptoporticus that existed along the river, the basis of Roman Lisbon. The name Lisbon means [ovicipo] or city of Ulysses because, according to the Romans, it was founded by Ulysses. But the city itself, as we see today, is mostly post-1755, when a massive earthquake, fire and flood basically damaged or destroyed huge portions of the city. So what emerged after that really unprecedented event was a city that feels very grand, very imperial, wealthy and celebratory. But up until about 30 years ago, it had fallen on hard times, and so many of its beautiful buildings had become abandoned or fallen into disrepair. But in the last 20 years, Lisbon has gone through an amazing revitalization. People from all over the world, people from Asia, people from Australia, people from North and South America and all over Europe have moved to Lisbon, bought crumbling but beautiful buildings and transform them into showplaces. So the city has really got a grandeur to it that it hasn't probably seen since the 19th century. It is booming today. And so there are all kinds of new restaurants and new museums and new hotels and things to do. In a sense, I mourn the old Lisbon. It was a wonderful kind of little bit tattered, former imperial capital. But today it is a multi-ethnic, fun and thriving city with all kinds of adventures and products. So you really don't have to look very far to find its history from its medieval quarter to its Moorish quarter to its fantastic Belem District with 16th century monuments in the age of Portuguese exploration. There's a lot of history, there's a lot of culture. But most of all, it is a city that is fantastically beautiful. Its colorful buildings climbing up i's many hillsides, its beautiful vast river, the red tile roofs, the wonderful churches, its little yellow trolleys, there's so much about Lisbon that gives you a sense that there's nothing else like it on the face of the earth.
Lea Lane 5:49
You're making me want to go right now. I think I I agree with you. I see color. When I think of Lisbon, I think of seeing it from the sea, from a cruise ship, let's say, and you look over the hills and it's all beautiful colors with the sun seting. It's magnificent. Just full of light and color and history. If you did come off a cruise ship, let's just say many people only have a day there, what would be a couple of the things that you absolutely shouldn't miss?
Jayme Simoes 6:16
That's a great question because there's so much to see and do in Lisbon. I almost say throw the guidebook away and don't hit the popular points. Everyone's gonna head to see Jeronimos Monastery but you're probably going to wait in line for an hour to get in. I think what you want to do is try and get some of the off the beaten path places in Lisbon that most tourists don't go to. For example, everybody is going to head to the [____________] with its wonderful cafes and restaurants and shops. Well worth it. But if you're down there, don't take the Eiffel styled Santa Justa elevator up top because you're gonna pay five or six euros and see nothing, and in COVID, being in elevators is probably not a good idea. Walk up and tour the most stark monument, Carmo monastery, to the earthquake of 1755. A beautiful church built by the sainted Constable Álvares Pereira in the 14th century, its roof collapsed in the earthquake and it really is the only place where you can get kind of the power and horror of that day of November 1, 1755.
Jayme Simoes 7:19
While you're up there, there's a wonderful park not far from there, San Pedro de Alcántara, that has sweeping views of the city. A lot of tourists don't know about it. You can see the castle on the hill across from you. And it's not far from the wonderful Church of San Roque, which has a chapel in it. So it's a baroque church, but it has a chapel in it. It was given to the king of Portugal by the Pope and has amazing lapis lazuli, blue marble that is just out of this world. So it's to dig into these kinds of things, one of my favorite ways to see Lisbon. People take trolleys, and certainly they're fun. But most tourists don't realize that for a couple bucks, you can take a cousier to a ferry boat across the Tagus River to casinos on the other side, and get these stupendous views of the city. And when you're over there, there's a historic boat that you can visit, there's a statue of Christ in His Majesty. There's a famous Ponto FInal restaurant. So it's getting off the beaten path and looking for the undiscovered parts of Lisbon. One of my favorites, I'll end with this, Lisbon hacks, Portuguese food's terrific, but if you're in Lisbon, try and find a Goan restaurant. So Goa was a Portuguese city in India for 450 years, and the food that emerged there is so unique and different from the rest of India. It's a really cool combination of Portuguese ideas and Indian implementation. Goan food is phenomenal. You know vindaloo, of course, Goan is vinha dalhos. If you haven't had vinha dalhos at a shamusa, you should try it. Goan food is fantastic. There's several really good restaurants featuring Goan food in the historic part of Lisbon.
Lea Lane 8:50
Fabulous. I love, love your ideas. Let me ask at night, locals go to fado clubs. Tell us about fado.
Jayme Simoes 8:57
So fado is one of those things you have to hear it to understand it. It's a traditional Portuguese form of music. Some people compare it to flamenco. I think that's unfair to both flamenco and fado. We believe that fado's origin goes back to the Middle Ages and provencal poetry, but it certainly saw a golden period around the time of the Portuguese civil war in the mid 19th century. Today, you know, fado is one of those things that has found a new soul and a new generation of young fado singers. But if you're looking for a fado house, I would say look more to the Mouraria and the Alfama than to the Bairro Alto. Go for the fado houses that are more driven towards locals, like Cafe Luso and not towards tourists. And where anybody can walk in off the street into these fado houses and sing a set of fado songs. You know, the postman, the clerk from the store, the cafe, but a couple things you need to know about fado. It is cathartic. People describe these as sad songs, they're not. They're very sad, yes, and loss and longing and then tattered relationships, but there's a certain ability to cleanse your soul with the sadness of this music, to make you actually feel good. So Portuguese go to hear fado, it actually makes them feel better about things.
Lea Lane 10:11
It sounds like the blues.
Jayme Simoes 10:12
It is, it is like the blues Yes, very much so, very good comparison. So anyways, so try and find one of these local fado houses where local singers sing and Portuguese people go, but the number one rule is, the later you go, the better the music and the number two rule is, be quiet, be silent. It is respectful, you know, because in Portuguese we say you know fique quieto vamos cantar o pai, "Be quiet we're going to sing the Fado." That is a sign of respect to the person singing, and enjoy it. You know, there are more tourist-oriented clubs that do more of a floor show, and those are fun, too. But that really isn't the fado. That's more of a stage thing. And it's fun to enjoy. But I say go hear the real fado, hear the soul of Portugal laid out in all of its beauty.
Lea Lane 10:50
Absolutely, it sounds fabulous. Now, just to the west is a very affluent area, beachy coastal region, called the Portuguese Riviera by some where we have several wonderful things. Tell us about what we should not miss there.
Jayme Simoes 11:05
Well, so getting west of Lisbon isn't hard. You've got a really good rail service that will take you to Cascais and to Sintra. These are kind of the the highlights for many people who are visiting Lisbon. Let's put Sintra at the top of the list. This is a royal town. There are not one, but two royal palaces, one medieval, one late 19th century, kind of Portuguese Victorian. There is an ancient Moorish Castle, there are all kinds of palaces that belong to the nobility, because the port was there, the king was there, the queen was there. So it's a really, architecturally speaking, beautiful town. Lots of monuments to see and enjoy. Great food, great restaurants, very posh as well, and a very cool climate. So even in summer when it's warm, Sintra will always be 10 degrees cooler than Lisbon.
Lea Lane 11:50
Yeah, it's beautiful. I think it's an Instagrammer's dream, I would say it all the time now, because it is a fairy tale area.
Jayme Simoes 11:58
It is. But get there early. You know, the palaces do tend to draw crowds, and the King Philip and Galena and other places can be very busy. If you have a car, you can then drive down to Colares, which has a wonderful winery and some great restaurants, and end up at Cabo da Roca, which is the western-most point in continental Europe with some spectacular cliffs that you can overlook. And then you can kind of wind down the coast [_________] which has phenomenal beaches and wonderful surfing and some very nice but pricey seaside restaurants, and end up in Cascais and Estoril which, again, is what people often say is the Portuguese Riviera. These are very wealthy towns, once fishing villages, but they turned out in the 19th century that made the post kings and queens thought it was a good place to go live. So there's some very spectacular architecture, wonderful museums, very chic restaurants along the ocean beaches. These are affordable by European standards, expensive by Portuguese standards, but it's still a nice place to spend the day, especially if it's sunny out. So many things to discover, places to walk around, and great shops selling tiles and antiques and high end shoes and all kinds of really nice clothing. Fun place to spend a day or two.
Lea Lane 13:07
Yeah, sounds like you could easily spent a lovely week in the Lisbon area without question. Let me take you outside a little bit, Alentejo. Tell us about that region south of Lisbon.
Jayme Simoes 13:18
Yeah, so Portugal's divided in half by the Tagus River. Everything north is central and north, everything south is south,and Lisbon's right on the Tagus. So everything south of the Tagus River all the way down to the mountains of the Algarve is Alentejo. This is 30% of Portugal, but it has less than 5% of the population. This is a country within a country, very easy to get to by rail, excellent new highways. But there are no big cities. The biggest city is Evora, which is one of Portugal's most beautiful cities. It has just 50,000 people and everything is smaller from there. I think this is the kind of place that people seek out now. There's a real culture there. There's fantastic wines, olive oil, companies, luxury hotels, set in the middle of the cork forests, surrounded by olive groves. You have a wonderful Atlantic coast, with no overdevelopment, no big high rise. It's just nice small hotels, small fishing villages, beautiful uncrowded beaches. And inland, aside from the orchards of olive trees and the endless forests of cork, there are vineyards, there are lakes, there are small towns on the top of hills surrounded by walls and castles. Everything is painted blue and white, and every now and then you'll come across a Roman or an Arab building that you wouldn't have expected to find, or monuments that date back to the dawn of modern humanity, in some cases 6, 7, 8000 year old prehistoric sites. The people are what make it amazing. We were there this summer in the town of Arraiolos, which is known for its fantastic handwoven rugs. I speak Portuguese fluently, we're walking around looking for a restaurant that had been recommended to us. An older gentleman was also walking down the street, and I said to him in Portuguese, hey, I'm looking for Alentejo, you know where that is? He's like, I'll show you how to get there. And he took us 10 minutes out of his way, he walked us to the door of the restaurant, and wished us a good day, They're that kind of people. They are so welcoming, so kind, so sincere, they're happy to have you in their part of Portugal. And so I say, if you go to Alentejo, be prepared to meet the nicest people in Europe. Be prepared to have some of the finest wines.
Lea Lane 15:22
Oh, my goodness, I want to go right now.
Jayme Simoes 15:25
It's the place you want to go to get away from things and see the stress melt away, because that's what Alentejo is all about.
Lea Lane 15:31
Well, we do know about the Algarve along the southern coast because of its beaches. What would you say are a couple of the very best beaches there?
Jayme Simoes 15:39
So, to enjoy the Algarve you have to go where everybody else isn't. And so for me, and I'm going to share the secret as a Portuguese with you now, avoid the big beach towns like Vilamoura, Lagos, and of course, Albufeira. Head to Cacela Velha, which is one of the last and only well preserved historic towns on the coast of the Algarve. It has a fantastic beach with no people. There's a simple parking lot, great little restaurant, a sweet little town with a ruined castle and some historic churches, and it's just a wonderful, wonderful place to go and enjoy a few days. If you can find a place to stay nearby, do so, because there are no hotels. It's the way the Algarve used to be before development arrived.
Jayme Simoes 16:22
But there's other places I love in the Algarve, too. Tavira is a great city, very nicely historically preserved, good restaurants, beautiful downtown, wonderful bridge, not that far to Cacela and all the islands of the barrier beaches in that area. Formosa Natural Park, which is kind of the middle of the Algarve, you have to get there by boat. But there are some beautiful, beautiful beaches, again, just not a lot of people. I'm a huge fan of Sagres and the area around Sagres, which is the westernmost point of the Algarve. Again, it's one of the areas that's also been preserved in terms of the environment, and overbuilding has been prohibited. Very nice town, nice beaches and really good hotels. Very sweet and great surfing up towards Aljezur, which has wonderful beaches. It's also within that area is conservation of the Cape St. Vincent Natural Park. Finally, I would like to put a plug in for Vila Real Santo Antonio. This is right on the mouth of the Guadiana River, across from Spain. It is the prototype for Lisbon. So when Lisbon was being rebuilt in the 18th century, they looked to Vila Real, which had just been constructed a couple of decades earlier. It was built by the Portuguese king and his first [__________________] to send a message to the Spanish who had been poaching fish in Portuguese waters. So they built a very impressive city out of nothing right across the water from Spain and made it a major fishing port. It has the same architectural design, layout, and feel of downtown Lisbon, except instead of being three or four stories tall, the buildings are just two stories tall. But it's a very cool place, quite lovely, and for the most part undiscovered by tourists
Lea Lane 17:55
Very, very cool. That I have not seen, and I want to go. Now, I don't want to leave this area, because you're making it sound so wonderful as it is. But a few hours up the coast, a short drive or train ride on the Douro River, is the city of Porto, and everybody loves Porto. They're discovering it, and I love it, too. So what is it about Porto? I compare it, I think of Lisbon as sort of LA and Porto as San Francisco. That's my concept of the two cities. They're both great. But tell us what makes Porto special.
Jayme Simoes 18:32
I think Porto is like Lisbon, a unique combination of factors. First, again, it's the people. Northerners in Portugal are very different than Southerners. They're a little bit more old fashioned. They have a wonderful twangy accent in the way that they speak, and you can meet someone from Porto and immediately know that they're from Porto. But what makes Porto wonderful, I think, is its architecture. Its granite-faced buildings with bright and wonderful tiles set alongside the mouth of the River Douro, the way the city kind of scales up from there, all of its big squares, its elegant avenues, its wonderful bridges across the river. And then Gaia on the other side full of port wine companies where you can go and sample wine and hike some pretty steep hills. Porto has a bustling kind of commercial feel to it. You can tell it's a prosperous city, yet its oldest parts, the area around the cathedral, you know, they are very real and very authentic. There's lots of great little restaurants and historic buildings, very well preserved. Porto just seems to have the right combination of being a real place that hasn't been over gentrified, with really nice public spaces and great buildings that have been restored and lit at night. And of course there's the food. Anybody who's Portuguese will say that the best food in Portugal is in the north. And Porto is a great culinary city, a better culinary city than Lisbon, by far. Excellent wines. And of course, when you're there you have to try the world famous Francesinha sandwich.
Lea Lane 19:56
I had it. I can't explain it. It's big.
Jayme Simoes 19:58
It is big. Well, according to what I've heard is, it was invented in the '50s by a restauranteur who had taken his inspiration from the croque monsieur in Paris, but he took it like several steps higher. So you've got a sausage, you've got a steak, you've got ham, several layers of bread, cheese on all sides except the bottom, an egg on top, and it's floating in this wonderful secret beer sauce with french fried potatoes. Not a meal you're gonna forget, not a meal to have if you're not hungry. We'd recommend it for lunch over dinner. But that and a Super Bock beer, my gosh, that is a typical Porto experience.
Lea Lane 20:34
Then you go on the hills, you walk a little.
Jayme Simoes 20:36
You walk a little, the hills, yes. Walk along the river, and take a trolley. Porto has its own trolleys that run from the riverfront area downtown all the way to Farsne Douro, which is a beautiful part of Porto that is right where the Atlantic meets the Douro. Lovely, lovely 19th century architecture and some great restaurants and places to visit.
Lea Lane 20:53
Two places I remember the most from Porto that I would recommend it, one is the train station. It's one of the most beautiful train stations I've ever seen. I think Antwerp in Belgium is one I love, and I think this one in Porto is another.
Jayme Simoes 21:08
It's Porto Sao Bento Station, yes. You go in the main room, it's got historic scenes of Portuguese history on all four sides. It's quite impressive. Yes, and from Sao Bento Station you catch the connecting train, the more modern [______] station where you can be in Lisbon in two-and-a-half hours, that's an hour less than it takes to drive.
Lea Lane 21:26
Jayme Simoes 21:27
Because it's high speed.
Lea Lane 21:28
The other place is very popular now. You have to get a ticket to get in. Nobody even reads the books, but it's Lello Bookstore, which is an art nouveau gem with a staircase to die for. And I highly suggest, even though you may have to pay a little bit to get in, to go inside there. It is exquisite.
Jayme Simoes 21:46
Go early, not late. Don't go late in the day, go early in the morning before they get busy. I mean, now some things are a little bit slower, but Harry Potter fans will recognize the architecture, supposedly inspirational in the way some of the buildings look.
Lea Lane 21:59
Exactly. I always recommend going off-season and off hour, always go as early as you can and offseason if you can, but even if it's a bit crowded, this one is gorgeous.
Lea Lane 22:09
I want to just ask you quickly about river cruises. I know now people are going on the river north to south. I guess with the situation right now, we're not sure what's going on, but that's another way to to see the entire country from the river, the Douro or whatever, and I I think it would be gorgeous. I did not do that. But what do you think?
Jayme Simoes 22:27
I think, I haven't done the cruise but I've seen the boats, and they're very nice small river boats. Very elegant, proportionally the right size. I think that you have a more intimate experience. They cruise all the way up the Douro, in some cases into Spain. So you can do a week or six-day cruise. The Douro is beautiful. Let's just say, get that out of the way. It is terraces, it meanders, it is just lovely. The harvest is usually at the end of August, beginning of September. But it's lovely anytime of the year. Obviously, in the winter it could be cooler, more rainy. But from a cruise ship, it's still absolutely breathtaking, but it's not the only option. So the cruises are there. And you can take anything from an afternoon cruise to a week cruise. But there's a historic train that runs along the river, too. There's a couple, there's this passenger train that [say pay] does for tourists. And there's a new presidential train that's high luxury in beautiful restored carriages, so you can take the train along the river as well, to Pino, or you can drive. The road along the river is very windy, but very enjoyable. And finally, there's new hiking trails along the Douro and above the Douro, some of them that connect into the Camino de Santiago trails. So you could hike, you could drive, you could take the train, a steam train in some cases, or you can take a cruise ship. The Douro is one of the special places in Europe without a doubt.
Lea Lane 23:38
Well, I just want to go, but you know I have to stay somewhere. I know lodging varies from modest to grand luxury. But I want to ask you about pousadas. I stayed in a pousada when they were just open many, many years ago. They were exquisite. Tell me what the situation is with that today?
Jayme Simoes 23:54
Well, the Pousadas company which is a Portuguese hotel company, that started in Madeira, runs the Pousada chain and has for the last decade. And so they've created some new pousadas based on how people travel today. So now there's a pousada in Porto. There's one in Lisbon. They've made it easier if you want to stay with the pousadas. You can stay in places like Obidos, which is a walled town. And they've got a wonderful, two I think now, pousadas, one in the middle of the town itself and one in the castle. So what they've done is they've taken historic buildings, restored them, and offered a certain level of service that is, you know, quite good, and they're everywhere from throughout the Alentejo up into the north. You can find lovely pousadas set in monuments like castles and palaces and convents, or set in just remarkably lovely natural settings. So they are a great way to see the country, and then you have access usually to local towns with great restaurants and things to do. So that's one way to plan your trip there. They're quite nice. And if you check on their website, they often have some very good deals.
Lea Lane 24:50
I remember when we went, my children were very young, my two sons, and I remember what they said because we were going to pousadas one after the other. And my son said, after about three or four times, do we have to stay in another castle? He wanted to stay at a Holiday Inn or something. He was complaining bitterly, but it was gorgeous. Anyway, I just can't tell you how gorgeous this stuff is. But there are two. There's another area we must talk about, those are the Portuguese islands, the Azores and Madeira. Those are exquisite. Many people have been there when they're going on repositioning cruises. I've been many times, going, repositioning, and you stop at Madeira for a day. But you could say, many days Madeira is beautiful with flowers and mountains and cliffs and wonderful little town of Funchal, the capital. And the Azores, well, can you tell us a little more about their glories.
Jayme Simoes 25:46
The Azores are where you expect to find absolutely nothing. Two thousand miles from the US off our east coast and a thousand miles off the coast of Lisbon. So they're really in the middle of the Atlantic. They're there because of volcanoes and a series of volcanic events that happened millennia ago. We have nine islands today, divided into three groups. So obviously, eastern, western and central. Each island is a little different. Each island has all kinds of wonderful surprises. The highest point in all of Portugal, Pico Mountain, 7700 feet above sea level, is an island in the Azores. So it goes from that to the phenomenal Sao Miguel, which is the main island in the Azores. It has about half the Azore's population on it. It has everything from geyser or rather hot spring lakes, to volcanic craters, to waterfalls, to mountains, to seaside villages. What's nice about the Azores, aside from the people, who are wonderful, aside from the food, that is fantastic, aside from the beauty of the nature, there's this, it's like no place else. And every island is a little bit different. Like, I love Terceira with its main city of Angra, that is one of the most historic cities in all of the Azores, a beautifully, lovingly restored city that has a great 18th century feel to it. But then Flores Island has something like 40 waterfalls on its western coast, all cascading off this enormous cliff. There's something about the Azores, it's one of those places you just don't go once, you go back time and time again. And the climate is very mild, it really never gets below 60. And it probably very rarely gets above 75. It can rain any day and everyday in the Azores, but just for short periods of time. They're very, very green, think kind of like Ireland meets Bermuda. I mean, they're in between those two sets of islands. But that's what you're getting, but very affordable, very safe and excellent infrastructure, good roads. Madeira, though, is very, very different, because Madeira is off the coast of Morocco, about 250 miles off the coast of Morocco, just north of the Canaries. And this is a beautiful volcanic island where the volcanism is much older and therefore not active. So no hot springs really, no smoldering fumaroles. But what you get is an island of just remarkable forests where two-thirds of the island is conservation land, and the majority of the population lives on the south coast in and around the bustling big bright city of Funchal, that seems to have everything from wonderful gardens to fantastic ...
Lea Lane 28:12
I love their doors, they paint their doors with the most graphically, you know, clever as you go walking through the restaurant area, it's so delightful.
Jayme Simoes 28:21
On Santa Maria Street in the old part, yeah, the doors are all brightly painted. And then there's some great restaurants, some really cool shops. There's an old fortress there, which has an art museum in it. But the climate is like Hawaii, even in the winter, it very rarely gets below 70 or 68 degrees. People are quite nice, the food's terrific. But it's very cosmopolitan now, they have a casino and, you know, sky riding cable cars. But once you leave Funchal it becomes much more rural, and exploring the southern coast is so much fun because there's all these great little towns with wonderful people.
Lea Lane 28:53
Yes, I have to say, we ate lunch, we went up very high in the mountains and we had a lunch that had all chestnuts. It was in the chestnut area. So every course was chestnut-related. It was fabulous, with this view of the mountains. It was something else.
Jayme Simoes 29:09
It's a great place to go in January, February, March. And there is now a new weekly nonstop flight from New York, for the first time ever. Before, you'd have to fly through Lisbon, but you can fly on a variety of airlines. So yeah, Madeira is certainly unlike the rest of Portugal. It really feels like [one word]. It is a tropical destination.
Lea Lane 29:28
I predict going now, as soon as you can. Let's put it that way, before everyone discovers it. While it's still, you know, absolutely special.
Jayme Simoes 29:35
Yes. The climate is phenomenal. And it has a sister island of Porto Santo that has one of the nicest beaches in all of Europe. Well, Madeira has hardly any beach, because it's volcanic. Porto Santo is nothing but beach, so you can get the best of both worlds.
Lea Lane 29:47
Well, I'm sold on Portugal. So, Jayme, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. Would you share with us one of your favorite memories of Portugal?
Jayme Simoes 29:58
I have so many, and I was so lucky to have been a teenager who got to spend every summer there with my family and explore the country from north to south. My family's from the central part of the country, which is also phenomenally beautiful. But if people, you know, say, Is there a story that kind of sums up Portugal to you? For me, it's this. I was probably about 18. We're driving to the Algarve where we're going to spend two weeks, we're going through the Alentejo. Back then there were no highways in Portugal. So all the roads are two lane and windy. Unlike today, where all the roads are five lanes or six lanes. We came to the town of Ponte de Sor. It was August, and the car decided to blow its fan belt and die. So here we are in this small town in the middle of the cork forest. You would think that we would be hard in our luck, but we weren't. There was one man who had a garage there. I remember him. He's Mr. [_____], 30-some years ago, he was fantastic. He said, I'll take care of the car. Here's a restaurant, go have lunch, and then come back and we'll tell you what's going on. We did, it was very good food, went to his his garage, and it was a Sunday. So he came in just to help us. He said, I'm sorry, your fan belt's blown. You got to change a head gasket. Here's what we're gonna do. My friend's gonna drive you down there today so you don't miss your holiday. And in a week when the car is done, I'll have it delivered to you.
Lea Lane 31:15
Oh, my goodness.
Jayme Simoes 31:16
What? What did all this cost? It was like 800 escudos. It was like $120 to get, I mean, it was just so amazing that this man was so nice. So kind, helping somebody who is completely out of luck on a hot summer's day in the middle of literally nowhere. That's the kindness of the Portuguese people. And I think that's what makes the destination so special. Because it's not just the beauty of the place, the food, the climate. It's the people who matter.
Lea Lane 31:43
You know, you're saying this, and I'm just remembering way back. We were driving on some black ice. We must have been there in the winter. I remember. And the car skidded a little off the road. And in about two minutes, about 10 people came by to help from the countryside. It looked like no one was there. And you made me remember this just now, the same kind of thing. They got the car up on the road, nothing but friendliness and kindness. So yes, I I agree.
Jayme Simoes 32:10
And we have to know that Portugal has some of the lowest crime rates in Europe, and the highest vaccination rate for Covid in the world. So, it's two good reasons to go. No crime and everybody's vaccinated.
Lea Lane 32:21
It's perfect! Almost ... as perfect as things can be.
Jayme Simoes 32:25
As perfect as humans can be. There are things about Portugal that could be fixed. But you know what, it's a short list.
Lea Lane 32:31
Absolutely. I want to thank you, Jayme Simoes. I can't wait to get back to Portugal. I can see why everyone wants to go. Well, thank you very much.
Jayme Simoes 32:41
It's good to see you again. Nice to chat.
Lea Lane 32:48
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and at bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going