Discovering Portugal

Hi, I’m Emily and I’m a final year Modern Languages student. For my first contribution as Portuguese section editor, it seems only fitting to go back to the place where my love for the Portuguese world began: the small and beautiful city of Faro. Having never been to Portugal before, visiting this area was a truly wonderful first experience of the country. The stunning beaches, serene islands, and even more spectacular caves were a feast for the eyes!

Unlike the typical sun-seeking tourists that I met along the way, the main factor that brought me to Faro was improving my language skills. I had started learning Portuguese that academic year – as if German and Spanish weren’t keeping me busy enough – and was in dire need of some practice before exams. Fortunately, one perk of a modern languages degree is that travelling can count as revision! So, after convincing my sister to come along and keep me company – not much persuasion needed there – we hopped on the plane to Faro, hoping to return a little more fluent in the language.

This will definitely go down as one of my most relaxing holidays, with our days including an obligatory nap on the beach, basking in the Spring sunshine. We didn’t spend all our time lounging about though and made the most of the short time we had, beginning with a boat trip out to the islands of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. This involved a peaceful cruise across the calm waters of this languid lagoon, taking in the wildlife and the fresh sea air, before disembarking to explore the islands. Beware of changeable sea conditions, though! An oncoming storm resulted in a rocky boat trip back, presenting us with the unsolicited bonus of a healthy dose of sea spray.

Another recommendable excursion from Faro is to the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail near Lagoa, offering a scenic coastal walk that looks down on exquisite cliffs, caves and rock formations, with the odd hidden beach to discover along the way. 

One of my proudest moments of this holiday was actually during the taxi journey to this trail, when I managed to sustain a lengthy conversation in Portuguese with the driver. While this may sound trivial, it’s these moments of connecting to people in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible that I love about learning foreign languages. During my endeavours to practise the language, one of the most encouraging things that I noticed was that people really appreciated the effort of simply trying to speak their language, be it popping into the tourist information for a chat, chatting to other hostel residents, or stumbling through my lunch order at a restaurant. 

That brings me to the food. How I lived 20 years of my life without trying the heavenly delicacy that is pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), I do not know. It was long overdue that is for sure. If you haven’t tried them yet, you are in for a treat!

Although just a 4-day trip, my first adventure in Portugal didn’t disappoint. My language confidence improved considerably over the short period of time and my interest in Portugal was officially sparked. I have since been drawn back to this magical country to see other amazing cities like Porto, Aveiro and Coimbra. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to return, but in the meantime, I look forward to exploring more about the culture through your articles in this section of the magazine! 

Emily Petrie

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