On a Road Trip Through Portugal, Discovering a Reverence for the Past—And an Embrace of the Present

Even before leaving Lisbon, I met one such woman. The artist Maria Ana Vasco Costa, whose sculptural hand-glazed tiles adorn building façades in Lisbon and around the world, took me on a tour of her neighborhood, Estrela, and nearby Bairro Alto, where we visited several of her projects. My favorite was a veneer of sage-green geometric tiles on an apartment building; Vasco Costa pointed out the aberrations in the glaze. “The mistakes and variations that result from the handmade process give the tiles a depth,” she said. Later, we had lunch at Instituto Macrobiótico de Portugal, a health-food institute cofounded by the macrobiotic-cookbook author Geninha Horta Varatojo, followed by a chilled glass of Limo vinho branco at Comida Independente, a market that sources artisanal produce, meat, cheeses, and wines from across Portugal.

The next day, I headed north to Porto. Cruising along coastal roads with views of rugged cliffs that plunged toward golden beaches, I reached Duas Portas, an eight-room boutique hotel in a former home whose austere white-washed exterior belies the warm, relaxed rooms within. Co-owner Luísa Souto de Moura, whose mother designed the space, told me that Portugal owes its craft ethos to its unique history. In the late 20th century, when other European countries were embracing modernity, the Portuguese were struggling under a dictatorship and mired in poverty. “We had to find a way to use what we had: local tools and materials. Our style was plain, but it had its own poetry.”

The artist Maria Ana Vasco Costa, in front of a Lisbon apartment building adorned with her glazed-tile façade

Christine Chitnis

Prado Mercearia, a market, bistro, and wine bar

Christine Chitnis

The landscape grew lush and mountainous—and the roads increasingly treacherous—as I made my way toward the village of São Cristóvão de Nogueira, home to A Padaria Farmhouse. The refreshingly simple family-owned inn, which opened in 2020 in an old bakery, is full of objects made in the area: furniture crafted by the town woodworker, linens from a nearby market. On my first morning, I woke to a spread prepared by the owner Maria João Sousa Montenegro and her mother, Jacinta: juicy kiwis and crisp apples from the orchard; moist yogurt cake made with local olive oil; and tiny glass jars of homemade raspberry, apricot, and sour-cherry preserves bottled the previous fall, served with crusty bread from a bakery down the road. Maria’s family has lived in this area for three generations; she and her mother have sought to harness the traditional cooking and gardening methods of their forebears to create this bucolic experience.

A week after setting out on my impromptu jaunt, I arrived at Peluda Vinhos, the vineyard in Mondim de Basto where Mariana Faria Pala produces the Suba I’d first tasted at Prado. Pala, who runs the vineyard with her grandfather, aspires to produce wines that highlight the region’s unique varietals: The endemic grapes used in Suba’s popular pét-nats, Azal and Espadeiro, thrive in the dry, warm climate and granite soil. When Pala began working at the vineyard in January 2019, her grandfather had initially resisted her ideas, like creating a low-intervention wine with no added sugars or gas, but since then he’d come around. “It’s important to honor traditions,” Pala told me. “But I’m bringing a fresh perspective to them.”

This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here. 

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