Interview with Cristina Duarte

The ever-enthusiastic Cristina Duarte, guide for Rick's Heart of Portugal tour, will take any opportunity to show off the beauty of the country she's so passionate about.

Please tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I was born and raised in Lisbon, but my family has always been from the countryside — in fact, from the same village where my husband grew up. We visit there often with our two children to maintain our family roots.

When I was about 15 years old I took a vocational test at school and I found out that my great interests in history, art, foreign languages and dealing with people — all made me well-fitted for being a tour guide! Three years later I followed that vocation by attending a university to earn a major degree in tourism. I have been guiding since 1989 — and I still love it! Since that time I have taken foreign tourists all over Portugal. I have also taken Portuguese groups through France and Italy.

You will be guiding our Heart of Portugal in 12 Days tour. What places are you most excited to show your tour members?
As I love my country, I'm pretty much excited to show everything! To start with, we have very tasty food and wonderful wines that are a nice surprise for a visitor because of their quality.

I have a special love for cities like Lisbon (because of the number of quality monuments and museums), Évora (a wonderful 'white town' in the south) and Porto (because it is completely different from all the rest, with its granite facades and the Douro river). Portuguese cities all have a wonderful human dimension and so you don't feel lost in the crowd.

Outside the cities, we'll see the cork tree fields of Alentejo region, the light and the fine sand of the Nazaré beach, and the amazing valley of the Douro, where the vines for Porto wines grow. The people are very friendly and have a great sense of humor. It takes no time at all for a visitor to feel welcome and at ease.

On the top of this I would add the wonderful weather. What could be better?

What is your life like after your tour groups return home?
I usually have downtime between November and April. I like to go to the gym, attend lectures on art and history, and organize dinners at my place. Lisbon is very near to the seaside and I like to stroll in the winter along the waterfront. Also, since my husband and our children (12 and 7) are mountain lovers we usually go to the Pyrenees for a couple of weeks in the winter. While they ski, I stay in the warm lodge and study for the coming tour season! This past winter I loved flying to Edmonds for Rick Steves' Tour Reunion parties and meetings with all the other guides. It was so inspiring!

Any parting thoughts?
I think that the wonder about traveling is to use our senses. You can read all kinds of descriptions about Portugal. But if you don't go there and actually see the colors of the sunset in the ocean, the smell of the laundry hanging to dry, the taste of the grilled sardines, and feel the coolness of the Atlantic on your bare feet, you will never know what you are missing!