David Leite takes us on an insider's tour of six of Portugal's tastiest regions.
It used to be that the most travelers saw of Portugal was what they glimpsed out of an airplane window or a rearview mirror as they skittered across tarmacs or caromed down mountain roads on their way to their final vacation destinations in the Mediterranean or northern Africa. For years, Portugal was Europe's great refueling station. But during the past two decades, foreigners, especially those with gastronomic inclinations, have been lingering, extending vacations, sometimes even canceling plans, to stay within Portugal's borders.
And for good reason.
Ever since the recent Spanish culinary explosion, led by the lionized Ferran Adrià (chef and wizard of El Bulli on the Catalan coast), eyes have been trained on Iberia. It was only a matter of time, the Portuguese knew, before glances would start wandering over the border to discover the pleasures of comida Portuguesa. One perk of Portugal's becoming a card-carrying EU member was that highways were built to connect remote regions and treacherous dirt roads were paved, creating an infrastructure that welcomes tourists without spoiling the country's natural beauty. As travelers wander into Portugal's 11 historical mainland regions — along with Madeira and the Azorean islands — they discover a country no bigger than the state of Indiana that nonetheless encompasses a staggering number of microclimates and terrains. These conditions conspire to create some of Iberia's finest artisanal foods and regional specialties. Add to this mix a coterie of talented young chefs and restaurateurs, and you've got a country that's ready to steal the spotlight.
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