Portugal: A Cultural + Immersive Experience
This blog post is sponsored by Delta Air Lines
Portugal: a country where each village has a slightly different egg tart recipe, where the #1 rule in Fado (traditional Portuguese music) is complete silence and a country where dinner doesn’t start until bedtime for some of us. All of these cultural differences, yet I was fascinated by it all.
As a traveler, sometimes we don’t want to just be a tourist, we want a more immersive experience; a way to somehow give back to the community we are visiting. I was greatly inspired by Delta Air Lines’ ethos of giving back and volunteering worldwide. I had no idea that all 80,000+ Delta Air Lines employees have one day dedicated to volunteering. From Habitat for Humanity to projects to Children’s Miracle Network hospital partnerships, Delta Air Lines deeply values the notion of giving back to others.
This time in Portugal I wanted to connect with locals who are positively impacting their communities and I wanted to make sure I was doing my part in understanding the culture through experiences.
One way to remember a country is to taste it – and in this case, you cannot leave Portugal without experiencing Pasteis de Nata. These custard-filled desserts are so delicious that it’s difficult to limit yourself to one. And if you can’t bypass dessert like me , it’s totally fine.
Because the more you taste, the more you experience Portugal because each village slightly changes their recipe. For instance, in Sintra, the recipe tastes slightly different (they use a bit more cinnamon than in Lisbon). One interesting tidbit of information we learned from locals is that only 8 people know the recipe for the most famous egg tarts at Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem - making it quite a secret. And if you want to explore all the various cultural cuisines, I highly recommend checking out TimeOut Market (you can even get an octopus hotdog).
Here are my favorite brunch spots (and my favorite egg tart from TimeOut Market):
Fauna + Flora, Cafe Janis, O Botanista
I wanted to better understand the history of Portugal and what better way than to connect with a local for a walking tour and experience of Fado music. This traditional Portuguese music originated back when sailors would depart on dangerous sea voyages, leaving their families behind. So naturally, the music is a bit more sorrowful. And the one rule you must follow during fado is: COMPLETE SILENCE; meaning no one is allowed to talk while the singers are performing. Our experience was especially unique because we had an intimate dinner with travelers, hailing from South Africa to Israel. It was so special to connect with travelers from various parts of the world and the thing that bonded us was the desire to learn and understand more of the place we were visiting. One of the most special nights in Lisbon!
To further expand on our exploration, we decided to go on a 4x4 tour to connect with nature and learn about the environment around us. During the tour, Gill was our guide who showed us some of the most unique places in Portugal. As we were driving through the terrain, he stopped to show us eucalyptus trees. I always understood eucalyptus to be a plant that smells lovely – however, on Portuguese terrain, it’s considered more of a weed. Why? Because eucalyptus roots expand to nearly 60 meters out! Which also means they take up a lot of water and it doesn’t allow for surrounding trees to get necessary nourishment. Additionally, don’t be surprised to see cows in the middle of the road in Madeira, Portugal – this is what it means to be free-range!
And what better way to end our trip than to be welcomed to a cozy winery owned by Leonel and his wife, Elda. Their hospitality was unparalleled as we learned about the history of wine making and wine tasting. Leonel shared his experiences of old techniques used in the barreling process of wine – as well as sharing his knowledge of Sao Vicente. We even had a chance to try ‘Village Drink’ which is a mix of Madeira wine and bubbly orange juice! And luckily, he also had some La Brisa which is only found in Madeira. It’s a non-alcoholic passionfruit drink (passionfruit is a seasonal fruit in Portugal). Although we learned about wine, I quickly learned just how hospitable Portegeuse are – Leonel had prepared an array of local snacks and we were surprised just how giving he was.
After these experiences, I felt more connected to the culture of Portugal. It was through these meaningful conversations that I was able to deepen my understanding through all 5 senses.
And the cherry on top was being able to connect with a local organization in Lisbon, Serve Your City, which gives back to the community through inspiring programming. Although their current programming is Portuguese speaking only, they asked if I would be interested in helping them start up an English-speaking chapter. I’m super excited to potentially be able to give back abroad and become even more immersed – perhaps, a trip back to Portugal is sooner than anticipated!
Thank you to Delta Air Lines for making this experience possible.
All the best,