You don’t have to surf the big waves in the traveler’s online sea to hear that Portugal is a travel bargain. Some say it’s even cheap.
Well, it’s not “cheap” by any means. It’s affordable. We will attempt to put some figures on that in a minute.
But first, let’s talk about expectations and data. We’ve all seen just how cheaply one can live anywhere. Yes, go to the bakery, buy a miniscule bit of bread or some sort of mini-pizza, ask for some water, and you’re good to go. Have a coffee in a bar and hope there’s some sorta little cookie balanced on the little saucer your tiny cup goes in. Add lotsa sugar; it’s free. Meal, done.
But you don’t come to Portugal to eat like someone just having been tortured in a military prison. Or I’m arrogantly assuming this isn’t the case.
Portugal has great food. You shouldn’t miss it. So let me start at the high end. But let’s not do the high end of Lisbon or Porto, the big cities that are more expensive. Let’s start at a medium city in the center of Portugal, one I like called Aveiro.
It is in Aveiro that you’ll find Salpoente, a high-end restaurant that specializes in cod (Especialistas em Bacalhau!), built inside a defunct salt warehouse. I will show you the picture of Salpoente’s “special” table. It’s the chef’s table.
I, a lowly scribe, did not eat at the “special” table. But that’s a specially designed copper light fixture worth more than my car, just so you know what a special place Salpoente is. The chef’s name is Duarte Eira and he’s not here to wean the Portuguese off cod, but to entice them to see it in a new light.
The place is awash in modern art by hip Portuguese artists. Exhibits change often. You can get such fanciful items as a cod martini, a traditional cod soup all fluffed up and served in a martini glass with a cracker gangplank atop it, upon which cod sushi balances precariously. No kidding. The dish is there on the right. It was tasty as all get out.
Ok, so you want to know how much the most expensive tasting menu would set you back at Salpoente? The Menu de degustação, 5 plates selected by the Chef, will have you reaching into your wallet to the tune of 45€ per person. It’s not cheap, not like yesterday’s stale bread, but try to find a better deal for top notch food in San Francisco or even Peoria, for example. And remember, the tax and service is included, so it’s a better bargain than you thought.
But that’s a top notch restaurant. Let’s walk around Aveiro and see what the Hoi polloi are chowing down on. Well, there’s this:
Yes, in a place where folks get together to eat “regular” food, traditional stuff like the soups the Portuguese are nuts about, a big bowl of vegetable soup will cost you just over a Euro, say a buck and a half ($1.50).
If you’re used to paying a lord’s ransom for wine as you do in a top restaurant in the US, you will be glad to know that you’ll save even more in Portugal. There’s also a craft beer Renaissance going on, if that floats your boat.
The sign is from the Bolhão Wine House inside the fabulous Porto Market, Bolhão Market, where you can taste 3 different port wines for a mere 7 Euro and get some cheese and ham for just a bit extra. The Bolhão Wine House has lots of things to nibble on—and you get to watch the colorful parade of Portuguese shoppers buying fresh vegetables and meats for no extra charge.
Yes, the savings apply to lodging as well. Portugal was late to the hostel game, which means they missed out totally on the “cram as many beds in a room, clean it once a month and call it a place to stay” part of the hostel game.
But Portugal has caught up. A Medium sized hostel space with kitchen access can be had for about 20 euros a person. I’m talking award winning, clean, spacious hostels. Portugal is king in that space.
Ok, so decipher this: Lisbon, Lisbon, Porto, Lisbon, Lisbon, Lisbon.
Give up? These are the first six places in the category “top 10 medium hostels” around the globe! according to Hostelworld’s Hoscars 2014. Oh, Lisbon took 9th place as well.
Of course, if you want a historic place to stay in luxury with a restaurant inside that serves fine food, there are always Portugal’s famous Pousadas, often available for less than 100 euros a night for a double, nearly half what you might pay in Italy. Look at the specials to save even more. Note that if you’re older than 55 years of age, the price can drop as low as 69 euros for a hotel room inside a historic convent or castle.
Here are some prices to check out, just so you know I’m not pulling your leg:
The bottom line is that Portugal is every bit as exciting a destination as Spain, France or Italy. There are great Roman sites (and Roman wine!), fabulous restaurants, historic places to stay, a ton of coastline, and fine weather. And you don’t have to pay a premium for all these things. Thank of that when you plan your European Vacation.
(A good source of the cost of common things in Portugal is found here: Travel Prices in Portugal.)