“Seductive” may well be the best way to describe the rich and vibrant cultures of Spain and Portugal. Sultry music, mouthwatering foods, ruby-red and bubbling wines, and architectural wonders that stir the soul provide a provocative glimpse of the passions of the Iberian people. Join us, and give in to the seduction when you sample these cultural touchstones:
In terms of acreage, Spain boasts the most vineyards of any nation in the world. It’s only because of its relatively low yield that it falls to third place in actual production. Rioja in northern Spain is best known for its red wines; Rias Baixas in the northwest is beloved for its white, including the fizzy cava. In Spain’s relaxed culture, wine is commonly enjoyed with lunch and dinner.
In Portugal, fortified port wine is the prize. These typically sweet vintages, grown in the Douro River Valley, are a potent blend of wine and brandy—the latter was added to bottles in the earliest days of wine production to prevent spoilage during long journeys to England and other nations.
Spaniards and Portuguese cherish their long and rich history. Nowhere is that history better represented than in their combined 59 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—44 in Spain and 15 in Portugal. These cultural treasures, protected by their United Nations status, stand as architectural masterpieces that define their era. In Spain, Discovery Tours travelers visit the hilltop city of Ubeda, Granada’s Moorish fortress of the Alhambra, the Seville Cathedral, and three of Gaudi’s masterworks in Barcelona: Casa Mila, Casa Battlo, and portions of La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. In Portugal, we’ll visit Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery and the quaint city of Sintra.
Many associate the Spanish flamenco strictly with the fiery dance. But flamenco also encompasses the music—the song, the specific style of guitar playing, and the hand clapping. The performance art originated in Andalucia, more specifically Seville, among the Romani population in the 18th century. Several of today’s artists are descended from these gypsies and keep their tradition very much alive in dance halls and on the streets of Spain.
In Portugal, a very different style of music fills the clubs, though it is equally sultry and dripping with passion. The style of fado is mournful and full of resignation and longing. In fact, the term is believed to have originated from the Portuguese suadade, or “longing.” Earliest fado—from the 1820s or before—centered on the sea or on the lives of the poor, but today’s songs could be about most any form of loss.
Tapas is perhaps the most familiar form of Spanish cuisine. In Spanish cities, tapas bars seem to dot every corner. These small plates pack big flavor and varied textures, creating a noshing delight made all the more sumptuous by any number of wines. Dishes might be as simple as spicy meatballs, as hearty as croquettes, or as exotic as a fried quail egg over bread with a hot strip of red pepper. Paella is also hugely popular in Spain. Typically prepared in a large pot, the traditional dish has strong Moorish and farm origins and consists of rice, green vegetables, saffron, and rabbit, chicken, or duck. Popular versions are also prepared with prawns and mussels instead of meat.
In Portugal, one of the most prevalent dishes is bacalhau, a dried and salted cod. This plentiful fish has been on European menus for 500 years. Centuries ago, the dish was created out of necessity in order to preserve the fish. Over generations, it has become a staple of the local diet. Many Portuguese even have an affectionate nickname for it—fiel amigo, or faithful friend. Today, it is prepared in hundreds of ways. From seaside to countryside, the Portuguese also love their caldo verde, best prepared fresh off the farm. This simple soup includes potatoes, collard greens or kale, and olive oil and is usually served with slices of chorizo sausage.
Olive groves blanket the countryside of the entire Iberian Peninsula. But the largest in all of Europe surrounds Ubeda, featured on our Spanish & Portuguese Heritage itinerary. It is impossible to overstate the significance of the olive tree to Iberia and to the Mediterranean culture as a whole. Its oil carries great symbolism for the three major world religions, with the ability to heal, cure, and cleanse. Today’s culinary uses may overshadow its religious meaning, but its history gives us lots to contemplate.