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bargain holidays in portugal

Everyone deserves a holiday. Even us poor people, right? But we are not going to use the bad credit credit card. We want a cheap holiday. What can be done for a week in Portugal under €500?


Even when I was living on a beach, I still wanted to go to the beach for a holiday. Another beach. A less crowded beach. One with kangaroos on it.


Portugal has an oddly arranged coastline which is almost one interrupted beach encased in about 5 kms of deep forest. I applaud how pristine and undeveloped it all is but I wish that at the end of the road there was just one or two really nice restaurants and a couple of places to stay. Where there is development it seems to have gone out of control, like Peniche and Ericeira, which could be any surf town anywhere in the world.

I wont slag off Ericeira too much because at least there’s Coxos Beach Lodge, which fits in the under €500 budget if you have 3 friends you can live in close proximity with. That would put the accommodation at €910 between four for a week. The apartments are self contained so you can cook for yourself most nights and also have a splurge at the restaurant next door. Coxos beach is a short walk away, out of the way of the main drag, and it’s the least crowded beach at Ericeira.


However, the cheapest beach holiday you can have is to camp. Sneaky-camp. Yes it’s not very legal and you may get shot by hunters, eaten by bears, or stabbed to death by a family member, but if you can handle all that then paradise is yours. Get your hands on a brown or green tent, and a matching car, or better still, leave the car and hike in from the nearest station. I spent my sneaky-camping life under the stars because a tent can be a bit much to carry for one little chick. I’ve sneaky-camped in roman ruins, in the middle of sandy deserts and woken to a flock of wild swans staring me down at the edge of a lake in the middle of nowhere. Sleeping in the open is one of life’s small pleasures.


Camping is no joy without the right equipment. Battery powered or headlamps, a trangia or single mount gas cooker. Stuff to eat from. An esky. Mosquito repellent. Pack of cards. Chocolate. Quality bedwear: a down bag, a good thermarest and a silk liner will last you a lifetime. If you’ve got the car then all this is too easy and you can live like royalty. Don’t consider lighting any fires – but you could make a hangi on the beach. Bring a bag of coals and firelighters, dig a hole in the sand about a foot deep (away from the water, dude) get your coals red hot then throw in that fish you caught earlier, wrapped in foil and loaded with garlic and ginger and coriander, then cover it over with sand and use your intuition to decide when it’s cooked.

There are sneaky camping opportunities throughout the Pinhal de Leiria, or basically anywhere north of Nazaré. Reasonably quiet and vast beaches (with a café and a shower) like Tocha, Palheira, Costa do Lavos, Leirosa, Osso da Baleia and Pedrogão are all worth a survey. The further north you go the quieter it gets (except for around Fig de Foz and Porto).

The law of sneaky camping is to keep a low profile, don’t leave a scrap of rubbish behind and bury all your droppings. If you think you might be on private property then try to find the owner before they find you.


o homem verde

Roughing it isn’t The One‘s idea of a good time, so I’ve also researched cheap roof-over-head style lodging too. If the crowds at Nazaré don’t bother you, there is certainly an abundance of rooms to rent which are not on the internet. Go there now and let every little old lady show you their place and book it up for August. Or find another obscure beach you like and ask around on market day. There are a couple of hotels that might be worth investigating. The Hotel Teimoso, in Termoso, Cabo Mondego, just north of Figueira da Foz has rooms for €55-€60 a night per double. It’s right on the beach and although the photos of the Teimoso in the 1950’s make me weep with joy, the latest renovation isn’t too repulsive.

Searching for a official camping ground that is genuinely on the beach brought me to Cabedelo near Viana do Castelo. Hell knows how busy it gets in August but it does look like a reasonably nice camp. Again in the far north the beaches will be less crowded and there may well be small hotels begging for customers, not forgetting more little old ladies with rooms for rent.


For serious tranquillity and some adventure there are bargains-a-plenty in Central Portugal. The buzzword of the day is Glamping, as in glamour camping, which is something I should’ve invented. It’s for backpackers who grew up. Yurts are popping up everywhere around here, offering a different, comfortable, getting- amongst-nature-without-the-dirt-in-your-food type experience. In Central Portugal you’ll inevitably be right near a crystal clear river for swimming or fishing. Many provide meals, or breakfast at least or the facilities to cook for yourself. Some yurting/glamping retreats will offer extras like lessons in permaculture, massage, hiking, pottery, horse riding or whatever they are into. And they are usually run by laid back people who don’t mind if you get nude and want to be left alone.



Glampelo has cabins of the luxo kind perched on the side of a valley. It’s near the village of Campelo which is a top spot for trout. €39 a night a double and the possibility of 3 meals a day for €24pp. Lobos Retreat in Sertã has a really plush yurts in an idyllic spot with your own river. €400 a week. O Homem Verde also has a yurt for €210 week, self contained. Quinta da Fonte is a B&B, has tents, a caravan and is also a campsite set in absolute seclusion in a stunning spot with a small river outside of Figueiró dos Vinhos. Prices up to €32.50 a double a night and dinner for €15.

If you need more action and excitement in this neck of the woods, you can talk to Go-Outdoor who can take you canoeing, caving, hiking and whatever other heart-pumping pursuit you fancy. In Lousã there is paragliding, and the hostel there is really not bad (and there’s €10 bar meals at the Palaçio – very civilised).


lobos retreat

Deep Country

I live in Central Portugal so I wont be doing any of these things. I want to go to Minho or Trás-Os-Montes and stay in a dinky little village with a small dividend of minor attractions during the day and an ungainly quantity of delicious food and wine at night. With dessert.


Castro Laboreiro, a small village near Melgaço and the Peneda Geres National Park is one of these lost in time Portuguese treasures. As if the traditional village life isn’t ancient enough, there are roman ruins and megalithic monuments and a medieval castle.

If stomping about looking at old rocks isn’t your game then you can get some white water rafting action in Melgaço with Melgaço Radical for a steal at €39.

I imagine you might stay in a sort of bedsit at the back of Dona Maria’s but Aldeias de Portugal have a bunch of little houses for rent of a quality and charm that even The One would find acceptable. €50 a night for two.


the chocolate factory, aldeias de portugal

Or there’s the odd bargain plush hotel like Casa Dos Braganças in Montalegre where a week would be about €385.

The Parque Natural de Montesinho seems to have more than its fair share of very nice places to stay, and is dotted with picturesque, rarely visited villages. The park is a haven for the endangered Iberian wolf, but you are more likely to see otters, birds of prey, deer and wild boar. Photographer’s nirvana.


casa dos braganças


Living in the interior one does get rather culture starved, and starved in the culinary sense too. But Lisbon and Porto will in all likelihood bust your budget. You might spend €500 just on cocktails, for example. But if it is big city you need then look for private apartments to rent. Don’t get sucked in by a cheap hotel, I have tried and tried again. As for eating – research your fine dining and share a main with dessert and coffee. We struck gold (excuse the pun) at Casa D’Oro, a stunning architect designed building on the water in Porto, with a pizza place upstairs. As for culture, there is usually free music to be had somewhere, and theatre and music are not always expensive. Look for small theatres or musical groups. It’s the clubs that will kill your wallet. Seeing an international DJ like Boy George, (in March in Porto) was €20. Ouch.

A few other cities in Portugal has a healthy cultural program. Coimbra seems to always have a festival on of some sort, and has theatre, fado & film fests. Try Guimarães and Viana.


My pick for a city week would be Braga, of course. I’d be quite happy staying at the Francfort for €15 and eating at Taberna Felix every night €15-€20. The river beach of Adaufe will do fine for lying about and there’s always tea at the Amares pousada. The Câmara has a cultural agenda published monthly, as do most town halls.

safe haven: portugal in WW2


In the film Casablanca, Czech Resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife Ingrid Bergman are trying to get to Lisbon, escaping Nazi persecution in Europe. Humphrey Bogart is holding two transit visas, left to him for safekeeping by Peter Lorre, after Lorre murdered two Germans to get them. Lorre is subsequently arrested and killed by the police in Vichy-controlled Casablanca, leaving Bergman to beg Bogey for the highly prized “letters of transit”.

So it was for hundreds of thousands of refugees during WW2. After Germany’s occupation of France in May 1940 the exit routes from Europe evaporated, making Lisbon the main fire escape for anyone fleeing the war.

Neutral Portugal became a temporary haven for Jews, anti-nazis, artists and spies. While Spain was also officially neutral, it was cooperating with Germany. Franco had only just won the civil war and Spain was a miserable place besieged by the local secret police and the Gestapo. Refugees with the right papers could transit through Spain, but it was not a safe place to linger.


By contrast, in the summer of 1940 Lisbon was celebrating. The Exposition of the Portuguese World was a six-month long event held to commemorate the birth of Portugal (1140) and the Restoration of Independence (1640). A series of vast and elaborate exhibitions occupied the docks area in the west of Lisbon, and decorations, parades, fireworks and festivities entertained more than three million visitors during the event.

People arriving from the darkness of war-torn Europe must have thought they were delirious. Not only lights, here there was food, shopping, parties and freedom.


Most refugees were not permitted an indefinite stay. If you had made it to Lisbon it was because you had already climbed the bureaucratic mountain of several countries, and successfully passed through the swinging internal doors of Europe without being refused, turned back or arrested. Although once in Portugal you were relatively safe, entry visas were conditional on the presence of another visa for your next destination.

The refugees’ flight from Europe usually first brought them to France. Initially Paris was the home to the masses fleeing Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the rest of Eastern Europe. After the invasion, Parisians then joined the refugees and headed south, initially to Western ports like Hendaye and then when the coast became occupied, to Marseille, in Vichy-controlled France. There, they banged on consulate doors to plead for entry visas to the US, South America or to any other place that would accept them. To get to Portugal, you’d also need an exit visa from France, transit visas for Spain and the Portuguese entry visa, which could sometimes also depend on having booked transport out of the country. A good proportion of refugees were never going to make it to Portugal legally, particularly after Germany’s occupation of all of France in November 1942. Small boats taken off the French coast, night crossings of the Pyrenees, hiding in vehicles crossing through Spain: these were also part of the story of refugees fleeing the Nazis.


In France, the quotas for visas and the requirements for them changed from month to month. The waiting lines grew longer and one visa would expire while you waited for another. Offices of aid groups sprang up spontaneously and acted in shades of illegality until they ran out of funds or were ran out of town by the French. The Unitarian Service Committee, the International YMCA, the Red Cross, the American Jewish Joint Distributing Committee and the Quakers were all active in providing food, clothing and accommodation, arranging documents, negotiating for visas and escorting refugees over borders.

Once they got to Lisbon, accommodation was scarce. Hotels put in extra beds and opened up basements and staff quarters to ease the demand. As the war went on refugee centres were set up in Ericeira and Caldas da Rainha to cope with the volumes of refugees who had nothing, such as those who had been rescued or who had fled camps elsewhere.

Some refugees had a less difficult time than others, of course. Earlier in the war, the wealthy might have left their homes carrying small fortunes which could ease their escape. The casino in Estoril was frequented by wealthy Jews who could gamble alongside German officers of the Reich. The Aviz Hotel was the home of the moneyed allied-elite, who paid $6 a week (a month’s wages for an average Portuguese) for luxurious extravagance and exclusivity. Private homes in Lisbon and Sintra were opened to both paying guests or via invitation along the grapevines of the upper classes.


Fame was also a major advantage to putting you ahead of the queue. Writers, painters, and actors would receive preferred service from aid agencies and even lists were made of those most desirable for saving. But the names on aid lists were not just of celebrities. Prominent anti-nazis and individuals being hunted by the Gestapo were also singled out by consulates and aid groups, even to the extent of being actively searched for so they could be rescued. Once in Lisbon, they had to be protected, as the Gestapo might kidnap them from the streets. One of the concessions Salazar gave to the Axis was that the Portuguese secret police looked the other way.


Getting out of Portugal was yet another hurdle. For ordinary folk, passenger ships would be booked up weeks in advance and getting a ticket usually required paying a bribe. If you did secure a place, the steamships were inevitably overcrowded, with food shortages and filthy conditions. Ships that at the beginning of the war were considered to be at full capacity at 450 passengers, a year later would be carrying twice that amount, with passengers occupying triple bunks or mattresses on the deck. For the wealthy and well connected there were flights to and from Germany, Spain, Britain and the US, but seats were extremely hard to come by. The final option (apart from a fishing boat to North Africa) was the uber exclusive Pan Am Clipper sea plane which would make the New York trip in 24 hrs.


For rich or desperate there was no forgetting that there was a war on. Portugal’s neutral position could be upset by either the Axis or Allies at any time, and rumours constantly circulated about its precarious position. Salazar was playing a careful game of fence sitting. He didn’t support Hitler but he was a firm anti-communist, and being catholic and conservative dictatorship, Portugal had more in common with Spain and Italy than with Britian or the US. However,  the 600 year old treaty with Britain prevailed. Portugal’s neutrality really conferred that it was Britain’s ally.

But the neutrality could only be maintained because it benefitted both the Axis and the Allies to keep Portugal out of the war. Neither side wanted the obligation to defend her if called to. For Britain, Portugal kept supply lines open to Europe and tungsten and trade flowed to Germany. While Hitler saw the possibility that Britain might mount a new European front from the Portuguese coast, he also saw Portugal as as potential launching pad for an attack on Gibraltar and North Africa. Franco and Hitler discussed plans for the invasion of Portugal. Naturally, the plan itself was top secret but after Germany had so easily annexed Austria at the start of the war, the Portuguese were well aware of the danger, from a Spain bolstered by Germany, of being swallowed up by a larger neighbour.


Transient refugees probably only saw Portugal as an oasis, as any theoretical threat here would seem insignificant after having experienced the war first hand. The Portuguese, on the other hand could not glorify Portugal’s position. Initially the influx of foreigners was good for the economy, and ordinary people did benefit from the increase in demand for everything that was in short supply in the rest of Europe. However, by 1943 Portugal was in the midst of a food shortage and the scarcity of fuel caused uneven distribution of the food that was available. The influx of refugees and the increase in trade drove up inflation, doubling the price of staples like sardines and bacalhau since the start of the war. Black marketeering, crime and corruption peaked. For the Portuguese, neutrality did not necessarily mean peace.


mao’s great voyage

With the attention-seeking princess Purdy sucking up the admiration of the masses, I think it’s about time that Mao’s story was told.


Mao is a great adventurer. Not only is he the only cat in the world who can say his own name, but his brave and never-say-no attitude makes me proud to call him my own.

Mao was born in a cage. Separated from his parents and with his siblings sold months before, his access to love in his infancy relied exclusively on his breeders. He was, to put it bluntly, the runt of the litter. The one left behind. The unwanted one. So our first meeting became a rescue mission. He was so small, even at 15 weeks, and with eyes and ears so big we wondered if he would ever grow into them.


Only the owners of Burmese can understand how they are. Burmese demand a level of intimacy usually reserved for lovers. They sleep in your bed. They kiss. They want to be on your naked skin. I’m not trying to puke you out here, I’m trying to tell you that living with a Burmese is a passionate thing.


Mao grew into a beautiful and regal animal who solicited adoration from everyone he met. But he was also shy and would only share himself in a particular way. There were some people he inexplicably disliked – but they were mostly of the small and annoying kind. Some people mistook his guardedness for neurosis, so typical of humans who have no sense for understanding. He wasn’t some ordinary moggie, he deserved respect!

Anyway many of his quirks were run-of-the-mill Burmese characteristics. Mao enjoys long and loud conversations. He likes his own personal space and will hide there for days if necessary. He likes to play fetch in four-hour marathon stretches. He has a taste for cockroaches, those two-inch beauties you only find in Sydney. Crunchy.


I wouldn’t say Mao was an easygoing cat nor one I would expect to embrace change. Although he cried to be let out into the apartment corridor, he did not like leaving the building. He hated going to other people’s houses to be minded and would promptly disappear into some obscure space for the duration.  He only knew one other cat and he despised all other animals. I would say that his state of mind at this time was not entirely robust.

When I announced I would bring him to Portugal the brevity of the mission was summed up succinctly by my sister as “If he can’t stand 10 mins in the car how the hell will he cope with 36 hours on a plane!?”


no cat bowls thanks, we're burmese

But I had no choice but to take the risk. We had already been apart for two years, and rather than forgetting me and moving on, when we were reunited he was so glad to see me it almost broke my heart. So we found a pet shipper we could trust, someone who sympathised completely with owner-related anxieties and I kissed him goodbye, promising that I’d be waiting for him on the other side of the dark time travel tunnel.

Mao was collected by the pet shippers a few hours before I was due to leave for Portugal. I knew the whole travel cage thing would be a drama, but I wish I hadn’t been there to witness the 45 minute fight to get him in there. He did not want to go. He couldn’t know his destination but he sure as hell was NOT going anywhere in that thing. So I boarded my own flight somewhat traumatised. I had to avoid getting inside his poor little head in a cage in the dark pressurised hold alongside angry Alsatians and whining wolfhounds and sinister sausage dogs. He’s alone and cold and frightened. He can’t move, he can’t sleep and he can’t get away from that doggy smell. I had nightmares.


I arrived in Lisbon in the morning about two-and-a-half days later and the first thing I hear from Sydney is that no one knows where he is. Lisbon’s morning is Sydney’s evening so I had to wait all day until they woke up again. I tried to sleep in the back of the car. I felt sick.I checked into a hell hole hostel and waited for an appropriate hour to call Sydney again. My sister has been making calls to the pet shippers and we are texting and trying to call and email and it’s all taking a very long time. The official word is – he is lost. His flight to Kuala Lumpur was delayed and he missed the connecting flight to London. He had left Malaysia, it was sure, but they couldn’t find what flight he went out on. Chaos reigned.


I felt awful. No I mean really awful. The hideous affects of jetlag gripped me like a psychosis. So tired. So tired you can’t sleep. Delusional. Hallucinating. Sweating. And now Vomiting. And Diahorrea. The worst diarrhea I’ve ever had actually, no small feat considering the dirty corners of the world I’ve been. Man, I’m sick. Very sick.

And then I remember dinner with an old friend just before leaving Sydney. He’d gotten up during main course to throw up. Just a 24 hr thing he said. A 24 hour thing for a big man, perhaps, but it’s a near death experience for me.

I can walk again by about 2am so I take myself off to hospital leaving the poor hostel staff to clean up the unfortunate mess I’ve made of the room. At the hospital I’m put in a queue behind people whose conditions are not nearly as fatal as mine. They can sit up, for example. They are not green for example. They are not seeing things.  I go to the triage nurse twice to beg but she ignores me despite throwing up in her wastebasket. Then a breakthrough comes when I start uncontrollably sobbing in the corridor and that upsets people. I get seen to finally, and have never been more grateful for a needle in the bum in all my life.


I don’t remember much more of the hospital except how agonising it was not to have a bed, and the waves of sickening terror that Mao was dead. A nurse finally helped me lie down and while pulling a blanket over me I whispered a thankyou so feeble and broken like I was taking my last breath.

The next morning I was still alive and while Sydney had no more information for me I went to the airport. They confirmed that Mao had still not arrived, even though they had expected him the day before. Now it’s Sunday, and Sunday night in Sydney. But the pet shippers were doing their best to contain the disaster and were putting in some double time along with their global airport contacts. First they were able to confirm that Mao had left KL on a flight to Amsterdam. But nothing else. And there was a problem. If he arrived in Amsterdam they would stop him there and “process” him, as it would be his first entry into the European Union.

Good people, the Dutch. Several hours later they had located my cat, alive and well. He’d been out of his cage and was being patted and spoilt. But where, exactly, was he?






He would be here tomorrow, then. But no! Tomorrow came and Mao didn’t. His paperwork, a vast volume of credentials about his health and vaccinations and destinations, had only been included in Portuguese and not English and certainly not Dutch! And to further complicate things it was now a public holiday in Australia and nothing could be done.


So I drove home and built a kitchen from old wine crates. That night they were able to say that they had found someone in Holland to translate the documents and that he’d be ready to fly on Tuesday. Cargo space pending…

Back I went to the airport and several hours of to-ing and fro-ing and he was coming and he wasn’t coming, and he’d landed and was fine and he had landed and there was something wrong! And they’d sent him back to the vet!

Wait. Wait. Wait. A very nervous young woman approaches me. Ele… não tem dentes? Yes, he has no teeth! I tell her, much to her relief. Mao has no teeth, and that’s OK.

The blokes in the cargo pickup queue were mighty curious about what a girl was doing in their queue and all the attention she was getting from the airport staff. So curious in fact, when my crate finally arrived they all gathered around it. I was so nervous I almost chucked again. I very carefully opened the cage door and put my hand inside…

and Mao was purring. Purring madly. It had been a great voyage!



almost bathroom

Several Things are standing between me and happiness.

All The Papers on my left which must be dealt with by thinking and typing and reading and thinking and listening and sitting still, but mostly typing. Just sometimes I take photographs and it’s a relief but it also takes time, time, time is another thing that stands between me and happiness.

Papers, my enemy. Telephone, my enemy. Facebook, my enemy.


Happiness comes with a paintbrush. My happiness is many small jobs to be done in order and added up will make a bathroom, an office, a kitchen, a home. People might think it’s work but my happiness comes with a screwdriver, a spade, dirty hands, a bottle of acid, and stones. Especially stones.

Everything Is Almost Finished, unfinished, never finished.


The bathroom is the closest to happiness. Just the beautiful door, the frames, the hole in the bath and a small wall of tiles to go. Just four small things: but not four small hours, not even four small days. But still, the bathroom is already loveable. I love the windowsill. I love the white. I love the blue. I love the fish. I love it all.

Next, The Hallway. At least a week. Render, frame, plaster, clean, paint and two ikea assemblies! Another trip to ikea! A whole day I have to give away, again.

The Office Stands in the way of the kitchen, which I am desperate for. So many months drawing! Imagining! A white kitchen, a kitchen with drawers, an industrial stove, an island, less cupboards, more gadgets, an empty kitchen, an invisible kitchen.


The office is drowning in sawdust. Clean, drill, frame, plaster, paint, floor, door. 7 things! Two weeks? Three weeks? Ever?

And Then Before the kitchen, the floor, the walls, empty the room, live somewhere else, the pets, secure, clean, stain, lime, varnish, paint, clean.

Assemble Ikea! Call the carpenter! Frame the walls! Call the electrician! Oh god bring me a kitchen! A girl cannot live on microwave alone!


five cool hotels

You have to have a stash of good places to stay even when you live here. And they take some time to find, except if you’re lucky and you chance upon a sweet spot when you first land. I had that luck in Braga. The hotel francfort will probably always be my choice while Dona Eugenia’s doors remain open – which will not be forever.


The francfort is a old maid of a place and by old I mean about 100 years. Check out this postcard – that’s the francfort behind the tree on the right. She is a bit worn and tired and the hot water is crap but you will not find a better collection of furniture or bedspreads anywhere. And it’s a bargain. Don’t forget your earplugs.


Speaking of grand dames, the Viscondessa of Espinhal’s old house in Lousã – the Meliá Palácio da Lousã –  is another of my favourites. I love a historic palace conversion, but they so rarely get it right – ripping out too much of the old character in favour of blandness and mod-cons. But this little countess of a place is a treasure. I confess that the rooms are a bit beige (and forget staying in the new wing) but the restaurant and the three salons are some of most charming interior design I’ve ever seen. I adore the white painted ornate doors, partly mirrored, subtley gilded. Gorgeous. Get married there, go on.


Also old and not renovated is a place in Porto whose name cannot be spoken. We are afraid, you see, that we will never be able to get in there if everyone knows about it. The castle, shall we say, is something unique. Of indeterminate age, this fabulous hotel is a pastiche of time-forgotten Portuguese splendour. It’s all wallpaper and tiles, obtusely decorated. Unlike the Meliá, you wouldn’t call it stylish. It’s probably a private home which the hoteliers have left just as they found it. Everything seems to work perfectly, so there must have been some discreet renovations, only you wont find them in the bathroom porcelain or door handles.


I don’t just like old hotels. I also like the Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon. And the Lisbon Lounge Hostel. They are sister hostel/hotels both in the Baixa and both funky as all get out. The Lisbon Lounge is a hostel – it has dorm rooms and is more of a party place. Although the Living Lounge has it’s parties too… but they have very groovy little themed doubles and singles. It’s all modern and clean and very ipad friendly.

I feel like the concept of these hostels came from an ex-backpacker like me, who wondered why hostels worldwide had the charm like a mental institution. Someone clever here also realises that Stylish and Expensive are mutually exclusive things. Although I do know they spent some money on the fit out, it needn’t have cost a million. Take a nice old building with original stonework feature bits, add retro furniture, funky junk decoration, some wall decals and a whole lotta white paint and you have a hostel that puts all others to shame – and outclasses hotels of the same price range.

You have to book weeks ahead. It can be noisy, the bathrooms are shared (in concept, but not really in practice) and the luggage thing is a hassle. But if you’re not too decrepit, you only brought a small backpack and you always carry earplugs, you might be very happy here.


The Living Lounge is also fortuitously located across the street from a sushi place. And if you’re arriving late after a long train or longer flight there’s nothing better for it than a big plate of ricey fishy wasaby goodness. Oh and did I mention the pancakes in the morning. Mate, I am (still) a very happy backpacker.


Speaking of young people, you might have to be one (deep down in your heart) to get a smile out of staying in this rat-infested, cold and cranky creep-o of a hostel. No, the Pousada Juventude Gil Eannes in Viana do Castelo does not actually have rats, but it should. The Gil Eannes is an ex-army hospital ship part slightly-macabre hospital museum and part state-run youth hostel. And it is faithful to the rudimentary-institutional theme of most of the Pousadas Juventude, only here, floating on the water in a genuine rust bucket, the brutal austerity is appropriate. And rather fun.


On my first trip to Portugal I spent quite a while in Viana, looking a property in the Minho. I must have been young then as a youth hostel and a small joint were my poison. At the Gil Eannes there was usually just me and one other resident (hello daniel) staying there and we would sneak around the dark and sinister ship, freaking ourselves out a little. It was not just the ship’s long, narrow passageways and portholes, but the rooms. The girl’s dorm room is huge, but stacked with triple bunks – truly sardine like – but if you’re a sailor-boy-guest you get to sleep in a real metal hospital bed. As the only guests however, we had our pick of the officer’s quarters. I was a bit peeved that my friend would get the captain or first officer’s rooms and I would get the nurse’s. Still, that was preferable to the room for “infecciosos”.


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