Cristina Duarte excels at leading tours. She began working with Rick Steves as a local Lisbon guide in 2003 (remember our 20-day “Best of Spain & Portugal” itinerary?), and stepped-up to become a lead guide for our new — and now top-selling — Heart of Portugal in 12 Days tour in 2010. If you haven’t already had the pleasure of traveling with Cristina, let’s get to know her.
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 have been guiding our Heart of Portugal tour ever since we created it. Why is it so popular?
As I love my country, I'm excited to show everything on this itinerary! 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, so you don't feel lost in the crowd.
Outside the cities, we walk among 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 all 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 March. I like to go hiking, 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 with my dog.
All my family loves to travel so, ever since our children were small, we have traveled as family during their school break — always to somewhere where none of us have ever been. It is their birthday and Christmas gifts and it is always fantastic family time!
Every January, when I go to Edmonds for Rick Steves' tour reunion parties and meetings with all the other guides, I also try to go to other parts of United States. It’s a wonderful way of knowing and embracing the American culture.
Any other reasons why we should visit Portugal?
The wonder of traveling is to use our senses. If you don't actually experience 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!
Here’s what Cristina won’t tell you…but her tour members will:
“I cannot say enough about Cristina! Her depth of knowledge and enthusiasm was remarkable. I also appreciated her honest reflections concerning her country. She attended to the individual needs of the group positively and in a professional manner, and often added her delightful sense of humor! She offered great suggestions for restaurants, as well as post trip guidance. She was AMAZING!”
— Tracy in Oak Harbor, WA