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Making our way from Granada, we coasted into the beautiful city of Seville. Made rich and fat off the back of the slave trade and accompanying gold and silver wrenched from the hills of South America. We chanced upon a grand square ringed by tiled historical battles depicting the military history of Spain. Delightful! Seville also gave us that most Spanish of breakfast options, the churro. A deep-fried curly dough stick that you optionally can dunk into a hot chocolate drink. Nothing says “I love life” more that 1,000 calories in the morning.

A short BlaBlaCar trek across the border and we were in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and another notorious slave trading nation. We loved it. It was stinking hot but that’s just another excuse to sink a tinto de verano. Ever since I read the Night Train to Lisbon I was enamoured with its narrow, steep streets and crumbling facades. In actual fact, the place is booming and a huge amount of development is taking place as Portugal emerges from its 2008 property crash. At a quick guess, the bulk of the renovations will likely convert to short-term stay accommodation like Airbnb but at least the salty buildings get scrubbed up. The place was rammed though so I’d suggest taking the shoulder season next time. Shopping was excellent and the food absolutely divine. S. took me to a spot owned by a fado musician. At a certain time in the evening he swung his Hogwarts black cape over and around himself and picked up a bulbous Spanish guitar and plucked out a lament accompanied by a singer and bassist. Fado swims around two main themes: love and loss. We scoffed inked risotto, wild boar croquettes, spiced octopus and of course red wine. We also managed to get to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, a true treasure trove of a collection put together by an Armenian who got rich by dint of Iranian oil. For the rest, we simply ate (sardines the national dish!) and quaffed wine.

We ventured west from Lisbon to Sintra, a beautiful small town renowned as the playground for the royalty and gentry of yesteryears. Our room was reminiscent of a homestead from the American mid-west but a stormwater drain being installed below our window added some much needed rawness. We hiked up to the Pena Palace through the lushly forested hill into a confection of turrets and colourful walls. A real castle in the sky with the tourists numbers to match. The surrounding gardens were welcome after so long in cities and we rambled about. On our stroll back down into town we were about a minute from being flattened against a stone wall by a tuk tuk which failed to take a corner with six tourists in the back. No serious injuries apart from the moaning driver grabbing his shins and a sorry excuse for a vehicle manifestly unequal to the task of ferrying fat tourists down steep, windy roads.

North we were driven, through some stunning countryside towards the city of Peniche, a surfing hotspot. We secretly wanted to test out the idea of surfing this behemoth but instead we ate and walked and visited the old fort. The fort had served the function of holding political prisoners during the Salazar dictatorship that ruled Portugal from 1933-1974. Diving into this history made for sad reading but ultimately Portugal is now a solid democracy! It is currently home to a museum, artists’ ateliers and a dance school. So the world heals itself.

Bussing further, we reached Porto, known of course for the production of port wine. Our apartment was in Vila Nova de Gaia, the riverside area choked with a forest of warehouses and port caves managed by the big port producers like Sandeman, Dow and Kopke. Due to some overcommitting we managed to miss out on a cave tasting tour but did manage to get quite well-treated by a Dutch/Portuguese port ‘pop-up’ bar run by Niepoort. We loved the city, the Douro River slicing the place in twain, the high bridges, the romantic bars and bustling riverfront. JK Rowling was inspired by the local bookshop to write the Harry Potter series and I can see how the city casts a special charm with it’s narrow alleyways and grand architecture. We will be back!

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