When we travel, AB and I often try to do so outside of the peak season so that we will avoid the tourist mayhem and be able to enjoy the places in a more leisurely environment. Travelling off-season also means that there are more and cheaper accommodation options to choose from.
On the flip side, the weather might not be as good during other times of the year and some restaurants that we might want to check out may be closed for the season. Nonetheless, the positive aspects of off-season travel outweigh its cons.
The first time we went to Portugal was in December 2009. This was during the low season with several months of wet weather from November to March. We had not planned anything in advance aside from buying return tickets between Paris and Porto plus getting a new edition of Lonely Planet Portugal. Instead, we pieced together our one-week trip day by day as we drove around scenic highways and windy mountain roads, much of which was done in the rain.
The starting point of our trip was in Porto and we picked a hotel that was near the metro station to stay for the night. The next morning, it was drizzling. We bought an umbrella, zipped up our parkas and explored the cobblestone streets of Ribeira. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will find various styles of architecture in this historic neighbourhood including the impressive Sao Bento train station.
There were not many people on the streets – maybe it was due to the dreary weather. We passed a few tourists but most people looked like they were Tripeiros (this is what the locals call themselves) and were appropriately dressed in heavy coats and boots. Dressed in our relatively light windbreakers and jeans, it was not long before we were shivering and popped into the first glove shop we saw to better protect ourselves!
Our aimless wandering led us to the waterfront. The rain had stopped by then though ominous grey clouds covered the sky. As we were strolling along the River Douro, there was suddenly a strong gust of wind and seagulls flying frantically overhead. We looked behind us and saw a ‘rain cloud’ in the distance. It was an impressive sight! After admiring the approaching thunderstorm for several seconds, we realised that it was moving quickly in our direction, so we made a run for the nearest sheltered area!
The thunderstorm soon reached us and it was fascinating to see how it roll out. Fat drops of rain hit the river while seagulls were trying to fly against the wind (I think) in a flurry. I love the smell of rain in its first minutes.
After several minutes, the thunderstorm resumed its way down the river. A ray of the setting sun peeped through the looming grey clouds, creating a dramatic contrast that you see in the photo above.
P.S. We returned to Porto last year. This time, it was during summer. We were surprised by how many people (mostly tourists) there were! While the ambiance in the city was completely different from what we remembered from our first visit to Porto in December 2009, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously both times in Porto. If you have a chance to visit Portugal, I hope you will get to go to Porto.