Portugal hugs the Atlantic on the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with the much bigger Spain. Until recently, Portugal has been an under-the-radar destination for Western European travelers. But those days are over—especially thanks to the country's amazing food scene. Keep a lookout for its famous black pork as well as port wine. Portuguese black pork, called pata negra or porco preto, is part of the diverse influences of Iberian cuisine.
Why You Should Visit Portugal
There are many reasons why you should visit Portugal. Its economy is on the up, with a rising culture of art collectives and new local businesses. It's a diverse country geographically with loads of history, interesting architecture, and exciting cities like Lisbon and Porto that are full to bursting with cafes, bars, clubs, boutiques, fine hotels, and museums.
It has enticing beaches on its Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, which includes the beautiful Algarve. Then there are the islands—Madeira and the Azores. And all these appealing attributes are wrapped in an alluring Mediterranean climate. Plus, a trip to Portugal will cost much less than most other places in Western Europe.
Alentejo Region: A Foodie Favorite
The Alentejo region is south of the Tagus River in south-central Portugal, a relatively short drive from Lisbon. It's known for its fine wines, cork production, Roman ruins, cheeses, castles—and a dark-skinned pig fattened on acorns. The meat from this porto preto breed of pig is called black pork. During the fattening phase, these pigs, which have never been crossbred, roam freely over the countryside, eating the acorns of holm oaks and seeds of cork oaks that are native to the area. The acorns are the secret that makes these pigs so special, lending the meat a somewhat nutty flavor and a fat content that is a bit more healthy than that of other pork.
Pigs don't convert the fat they eat, and fat from acorns is similar to olive oil in that it is monounsaturated. The muscle and fat they gain during this phase are key to succulence and taste beyond compare. There is simply nothing like this pork anywhere else.
Black pork, also known as raca Alentejana, is a specialty found only in the Alentejo region. Many of the restaurants use the Spanish term pata negra, even though the correct term is porco preto, the name of the breed of pig.
A trip to Portugal just wouldn't be complete without taking a drive to the Alentejo region to see some of its Roman ruins and castles. Head to the fortified town of Estremoz, whose history is interwoven with that of Portugal. This town has been in existence for thousands of years and has been home to Romans, Visigoths, and Muslims. It's known for its exquisite marble, which is a major Portuguese export. After a day of sightseeing, head out for a great dinner at Adega do Isaías restaurant in Estremoz, where dishes made of black pork are on the menu, along with a variety of Portuguese wines to try.