Just as we were building up to leave Portugal behind, we have fallen in love with it all over again.
It was one of those everyday moments in life, taking the children to the park in the small town of Vila da Praia Anchorage, North Portugal. Standing back, watching the children run around and explore, chattering casually to other parents. We encountered a sweet portugese family whose little boy wanted to play football with our children.
So we got chatting, we got inside info that the fairground carousel (we’d been successfully distracting our children from all morning!) was actually offering FREE rides all day as part of the Mayday flower festival so that immediately opened up a whole new world for the small ones!
As a whole hour went by of non-stop carouselling we sat and chatted to Joao and Elisa on the sidelines exchanging stories about travel, our children and the beautiful country of Portugal.
As the carousel closed for lunch and the children were all forced to vacate! Our new friends invited us out for lunch.
Now we never have money for eating out but as we felt it was kind of a special occasion we said yes and thought we’d carefully order some bread and chips maybe whilst soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the company.
Upon arriving at the most amazing local eatery down a side street filled with locals, they took us by the arm and warmly said they wanted to invite us as their guests and not to worry about paying for anything. We were in complete shock!
They asked us if there was anything we didn’t eat, we said we were up for trying anything. They spoke to the waiter in portugese and ordered our dishes without even looking at the menu. The food arrived on large sharing plates, full to the brim of beautiful smells and exciting colours.
Our favourite by far was the special bread and shrimp soup with tomato, garlic, paprika and coriander. There was an abundance of salad, spicy fish soup, grilled calamari, battered fish fillets, bread rolls, fresh local cheese, olives, grilled meat, roast potatoes & gravy, spring vegetables, rice and even chips for the children! They thought of everything, it was by far the most beautiful and indulgent meal of our whole trip.
The red wine just kept flowing as they spoke to us of portugese history and the traditional food of the different regions. We learned that in his grandmother’s generation a lot of people did not have a lot of food due to the overbearing policies of the dictatorship, the food that was available was mainly simple and vegetarian, which is why the portugese take their food very seriously these days and are very obsessed with meat! Joao told us the older generation of portugese were very hardy, his grandmother had 12 children and two days after having the last child was back in the fields working with the baby. He went on to say that there is a an old portugese dish from these times, that translates into English roughly as ‘old tired horse’s soup’ made simply of bread, red wine & sugar for when you have no food but need energy to keep working in the fields. It was so hard to imagine that these stories and dishes were in the living memory of people of today, especially sat here in front of this amazing Portugese feast.
The warmth and generosity of Joao and Elisa was astonishing, sometimes it is hard to believe that such random acts of kindness from complete strangers these days are possible, but it is obviously still going strong, tucked away in this hidden gem of a town in North Portugal.
They explained that a couple of times when travelling they had been invited out to lunch by kind locals and had been inspired to pass on this gift to other travelers too.
The most wonderful and meaningful gift, graciously passed from one traveler to another. Offering the warmest of welcomes to a destination accompanied with the tastes of foods that would never otherwise be sampled. They laughed as they told us more about their travels, living off bread and cheese for weeks on end, backpacking around Europe. So when they were treated to a lunch of meat and fresh vegetables out at a restaurant they were beyond excited and grateful, they completely understood every part of the ongoing dilemmas of a travel budget!
They treated us to a stunningly sweet portugese desert made of eggs, sugar and condensed milk. Followed by ice creams for the children, they did not scrimp on a single thing! A full three course lunch with all the wine we could drink. We spent the rest of the day learning all about the history of the area and getting some amazing tips on traveling the rest of Europe, as all the children played happily for hours splashing around in the beach river. They even sent us off on the road with a bottle of port and a beautiful bottle of white direct from Elisa’s family vineyard an hour away up in the mountains. We are definitely planning a stop on the way through at some point!
It is impossible to find the words to say thank you enough to this incredible family. It has made our trip, given us a new view of the world and made memories happen for our children that otherwise would have been out of our reach. The love they gifted us will stay as a memory in our hearts forever. One of those crazy stories from travelling that you can’t wait to share with people, around the campfire.
If ever you are trying to think of the perfect gift for a traveler…let it be this. We have been inspired to keep passing this gift on whenever we are in a situation again that makes it possible.