This past June, the Portuguese production service company, Ready To Shoot, an LMGA business member, invited LMGA Members Lori Balton, Ken Haber, Kent Matsuoka and myself to tour their country. CEO Margarida Adonis and one of their top scouts, Joao Alves, showed us unparalleled views of Portugal. From Porto to Lisbon, the country offered varied European looks, including majestic mountain ranges, medieval castles, twisting roads, sophisticated modern architecture, endless vineyards, ports, charming villages and alluring beaches.
Our route can be seen with this interactive map from Ready to Shoot: MAP.
This was my first trip to Portugal, and though the visit was short, my impressions of the country linger. After a 12-hour flight, our first connection brought us to the Madrid-Barajas Airport which featured awe-inspiring, cavernous light-filled spaces. If this was a sign of things to come, we were in for a great adventure! After a puddle jumper from Madrid to Porto, we embarked on a visual journey that held my attention at every turn.
Portugal can tell a myriad of stories, all within a couple hundred kilometers. As I walked the cobblestoned streets, beneath wrought iron balconies with their brightly colored porticoes, I felt at home. The people were warm and welcoming, the seafood extraordinary. As we drove, Margarida and Joao explained the history, language and geography of their country, correcting our misconceptions. We all expected Portuguese to be similar to Spanish, but its romance roots are really closer to Romanian. Also, Portugal is not as big as we thought. It is the roughly the same shape and half the size of California.
We started in Porto, the second largest city, and then moved south towards Ribeira and Guimaraes. We saw cities supported by the old river routes, locks, medieval castles, highway performance roads, bridges, beautiful vistas filled with tundra and geographical formations that one might find in the Swiss Alps or the fjords of Norway. We saw Venetian-like canals, replete with gondolas – all within 100 km.
Aveiro, the “Venice of Portugal,” looked as if artisans spent their whole lives intricately decorating their neighborhoods with tile. As we continued on our journey, we trekked to the higher elevation of Serra de Estrella. The mountainous landscape revealed a variety of terminal moraine, mixed with lichen and moss and alternately felt like Iceland, Greenland or even Scotland. The picturesque roads are conducive for a variety of car commercials, print ads, or any medium that requires majestic beauty shots.
Moving down the mountains back toward the coast, we arrived in Coimbra; a university town with intimidating Fascist architecture that I had only seen in photos of Germany and Russian. Driving towards the coast we entered geographical vortex. In a span of a two hours, I saw versions of Mykonos, St. Tropez, the Amalfi Coast, the Gold Coast of Australia, Copacabana and bits and pieces of Switzerland. It was AMAZING!
Other areas of interest were Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site partially enclosed by medieval walls, with Roman temple ruins in the town square. We were transported back in time by its mixture of ancient architecture and winding cobblestone streets; barely wide enough for a horse cart, let alone a modern-day vehicle. Sintra, where royalty summered, offered a storybook landscape, dotted with fairytale castles. We explored the Pena National Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the middle ages, with an eclecticism of architectural styles: Moorish, Gothic, Islamic, Renaissance. At every turn there was a profusion of wonder and beauty.
Entering Lisbon, we were greeted by an expansive modern bridge and array of architecture that arrived with the World Expo almost twenty years ago. The highlights were the convention center, the aquarium and the trams soaring before the Vasco de Gama cable-stayed bridge, but the ‘piece de resistance’ was the Calatrava train station. Designed by World renown architect Santiago Calatrava, the station is one of the most unique pieces of architecture I have ever seen, wherein function follows form.
Between the architecture, history, geography, weather, food, the locals and my new found Portuguese friends from Ready to Shoot, it seemed that the stars had aligned. I sipped wine with friends on a café terrace and watched kids play in the street as grandmothers hung laundry from the windows. Portugal has a charisma that lures you back. Some places wow you, some take your breath away. Portugal, quite simply, captures your soul.