The next Florida

Our vacation was so cheap we had no problem justifying extended jaunts to Lisbon and Sintra. You would have to be hopelessly unromantic not to be smitten by Sintra’s mossy winding lanes, misty mountains and fairy tale castles. No wonder the poet Lord Byron loved it.

To get the lay of the land in Lisbon, we hopped aboard historic tram 28 and rattled and lurched up and down the oldest quarters, a medieval jumble of Moorish alleys, cafés and laundry hanging from ancient balconies. Then we hiked up to the belvedere of São Jorge castle for a panoramic view.

Never have I visited a cleaner country. Even in bustling Lisbon, the streets were litter-free. I spied a woman mopping the cobblestones in front of a church and another up on a ladder in a gas station scrubbing the toilet sign.

So is there any drawback to Portugal? Just one that I discovered. The Portuguese word for diesel fuel is gasoleo. It sounded like gasoline and the nozzle fit into the fuel tank. Let’s just say that the car rental company was not amused.

Getting There

JM Vacations Ltd. ( is the leader in organizing long-stay packages in Portugal and Spain. Two-week deals, including Air Transat charter flights from Toronto to Faro and accommodation start at $1229; eight weeks start at $2499. Some packages include a car rental for part of the stay; for those who prefer not to drive, transfers to and from the hotel and shuttles to beaches and towns are often included. Independent travelers tend to opt for an equipped apartment or villa where they can cook or dine out. Others prefer all-inclusive packages that include activities, breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets with local wine, beer and spirits, plus snacks.

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From the February/March 2003 issue.

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