Updated: May 28
Having dreamed about visiting Portugal for what seemed far too long, I finally decided to take a few days off, jump on a plane to Lisbon, hire a car and explore as much as I could. From the moment I arrived, I was surprised by the polite kindness of everyone I came across. Car hire agents, for instance, are often quite stressed by the demands of tired customers. However, the calm manner of the rental car employee gave me a delicious taste of the relaxed courtesy of the Portuguese people.
Lisbon is a modern city with excellent roads. Coming from Australia, it didn’t take long for me to get used to driving on the other side of the road and whenever I was a bit confused, the other drivers seemed to forgive me my mistakes. Just out of Lisbon I crossed an engineering miracle called the 25 de Abril Bridge, which seriously made me wonder if I had teleported to the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks deceivingly similar and its length of 2278 metres connects the city of Lisbon with the municipality of Almada. It is Europe’s largest suspension bridge and the date name remembers the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of 25 April 1974.
My destination was Setubal, a quaint seaside town with one wide main street and a multitude of narrow, cobbled stoned alleyways. Since I wanted to take the car ferry to the island resort just off Setubal called Troia, I had to get some food before heading over. Troia is apparently an alive place in the summer, but in the winter, it quietens down and I wasn’t sure if any restaurants would still be open.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to park in front of a supermarket, select the most beautiful, fresh fruit, fill the trolley with mineral water and nibbles, and be forgiven at the cash register for not speaking a word of Portuguese.
I made my way over to the car ferry where I was met by my friend John who has been lucky enough to have enjoyed this particular region of Portugal for quite some time now. Being an old-fashioned, well-mannered gentleman, John helped me to find my hotel on Troia and then took the passenger ferry back to his place. The minute we got to the island I was hit by unimaginable silence. When you live in a city and get used to the noise and constant buzz, the peacefulness of a natural setting provides an unexpected relief. The ears and eyes take some time to adjust to what should be their default position.
Troia is a slice of paradise, no exaggeration. A hidden gem that has not been spoilt by uncontrolled tourism. The surrounding beaches remind me of my island home, Australia. The vegetation is mostly evergreen Mediterranean trees and bushes whose fragrant oils cleaned my airways.
It took a day before I could begin to let go of the tension in my nervous system. City life equals a constant bombardment of the senses. Troia allowed me to drop, to get in touch with my true nature again, to enter a zone of joyful relaxation.
One destination that I finally got to visit was Pestana, an eco-resort that is famous for its picture-perfect three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses. A beach buggy took us to the natural, ecologically designed townhouses. Solar panels are everywhere and the waste water is treated so that no ecological footprint impinges on this paradise. The lucky residents must at times pinch themselves. Being a water kid myself, I was gobsmacked by the plunge pools on top of the luxurious houses. I could see myself sitting in the pool in the middle of a balmy night, looking up at the stars and never wanting to leave.
As if these private plunge pools were not enough to cool you down, there are also public pools, indoors and outdoors, that every resident can enjoy. There is only one drawback. How would you decide whether to use your own or the public pool or just head for the beach? We are certainly blessed with the most gorgeous beaches in Australia. But the long sandy beaches on Troia are just as stunning.
And while one day wasn’t nearly enough time to discover all there is to see of Pestana, I feel like I got a taste for this truly wonderful part of Troia. I am determined to get back there.
John and I took the Jeep for a spin the following day and drove down some unsealed country roads. We discovered a sleepy village with one café that reminded me of movies in the 50s. The coffee was great and so were the Portuguese pastries. For cleaning freaks like myself I might add that regardless of where we stopped, the toilets were cleaner than in most international airports.
The isolated unsealed roads took us through forests straight out of Jurassic Park. In Europe it is not easy to find spots that make you feel like a pioneering adventurer but we drove through pristine areas around Melides that gave us the thrill of discovery. The beaches there are quite treacherous though. John wanted to film the breathtaking beauty of the cliffs near one deserted beach. I swear a wave came out of nowhere and before we knew it, it grabbed John and pushed him onto the rocks. I was ready to jump in and save him when I saw his head re-emerging. He was extremely lucky to get away with some scratches and a grazed knee. However, the unpredictable wave made us realise that the Atlantic Ocean is not to be underestimated.
After his near-death experience, we rewarded ourselves with checking out a cute fish restaurant overlooking the ocean. Fresh fish and seafood cooked in a copper dish according to ancient Arab customs soon soothed our nerves. John managed to hobble out back into the car for further explorations of Cascais, a coastal town west of Lisbon. The wind was strong at the Marina near the medieval Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort. We explored the area, caught up with a friend and headed back to Setubal.
Many other little adventures deserve to be mentioned, however, Troia was one of the highlights of my trip. Pestana was definitely my favorite resort to visit. It feels like a natural retreat place for discerning holidaymakers! A slice of peaceful heaven on earth.
Overall, I hope to return to Pestana and see much more of the nooks and crannies of the region. Just as long as I bring my bathers and some books with me to really hang loose.
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