Perfect Portugal: Porto, Panela and Coimbra

“It’s bloody hot” has become a phrase we’re all used to shouting out since we arrived in Portugal. “It’s like being on the surface of the sun,” is another. And, while we’re all often prone to exaggeration, it is quite possibility the hottest place I’ve travelled to in a while. Despite the searing high temperatures in Bali, nothing can quite top the ball of fire currently raging above in the sea-blue skies of Portugal. As I write this I am currently stashed away in the air-conditioned dining area of my accommodation – the new home of my friends’ mother and partner, a two building villa-type-affair complete with pool and an acre of lush green land – hiding from the heat.

Its 5 pm and the temperature is still a just-about-bearable 37 degrees.

Hidden high in the hills, approximately 40 minutes outside the historical town of Coimbra (home to the world’s oldest – and Portugal’s most prestigious – university, Panela is a sleepy, traditional haven where the friendly locals speak very limited English but are more than happy to engage in a lengthy chat with you anyway (after a slow walk back from the local shop with my friends’ mother’s neighbour, Aminda, we’d learned through lots of pointing, gesturing and guesswork, that her daughter was currently holidaying in the Algarve, she was about to have a knee operation in September and, most importantly, we were walking on the wrong side of the road and into oncoming traffic)

While this particular holiday is more about spending time with great friends and lounging by the pool (oh and also dog sitting two very beautiful Portuguese puppies which was one of the main reasons my friend is holidaying here for two weeks and we get to tag along) we have also done a bit of sight-seeing. Luckily for us, my friends mother very kindly left us the use of her car to get around the area (being high up in the hills and all) and my friend, Jess, has picked up driving with ease despite the insane driving methods of some of the people on the roads.

Our first road trip was to the nearby town of Panela where a local market is held every day (think more east-end stall full of questionable dresses and wicker baskets and less fresh-food markets). Navigating the sloping hills and tiny, bendy roads – not to mention finding a parking space close to the market and the nearby castle – was an adventure in itself but completely worth it once we’d parked up and began to explore the area.

Panela is beautiful. Full of cobbled streets and blanketed with traditional orangey-red topped buildings, it’s a bit like stepping back in time. After exploring the market we decided to head up to the castle as we’d been told the view was pretty stunning. And it didn’t disappoint.

The castle appears as if from nowhere, just above the rooftops of one of the sunny cobbled streets. Although not large in stature, the castle is full of charm and takes only a few minutes to walk around. The views from the highest point are stunning and worth the short trek.

There are a few cafes dotted around the town but the locals seem to congregate around the three small catering vans at the entrance to the market, sitting on plastic white chairs and chatting animatedly to one another. The smell of roast chicken permeates the air, wafting deliciously from the metal carts serving as rotisseries for mouth-watering chickens which the locals eat along with fresh bread and red wine (all before 11 am). Although we didn’t get to try this particular chicken, we did head towards one of these vans where – in broken Spanglish and much gesticulating – we ordered strong espresso from the smiling woman behind the counter, then sat and listened to the hum of people going about their everyday lives, chatting and working. My favourite way to spend time when travelling somewhere new.

Have you visited Portugal recently? What did you think? Have you holidayed somewhere remote and local? Do you prefer spending time absorbed in local life or do you prefer bustling cities and bright lights?  Get in touch and leave a comment below or come say hello over at Facebook or Twitter (@EmmaYatesBadley)


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