Douglas MacDiarmid has holidayed in Portugal on a number of occasions. On his first trip, in July 1965, he was charmed by the people, but didn’t find very much he wanted to paint. However, he did make a series of sketches of traditional Portuguese fishing boats with their high curved prow and stern, and later painted them in oils. He wrote to his parents, Gordon and Mary MacDiarmid, from Cascais, Costa de Sol, near Lisbon: “It was good to smell the Atlantic again but it makes for a more troubled, muddy light on the landscape and as such I’ve no desire to paint it. Made notes of innumerable varieties of sharp pointed sea craft – small coloured things of great attraction. Other odd features of the ocean here are its almost entire absence of tidal movement apparently and the inexplicable terrible cold of the sea water. Madly uncomfortable – come out with hands and legs aching. Staying in beautiful hotels made from old castles and mansions – with swimming pools.
“The Royal Court come to Cascais a lot for the summer, which means a lot of grandeur and truly lovely properties and houses still. Came with introductions to several, which meant the entrée into a rich circle of aristocrats who are more extraordinarily hospitable than any other of the Europeans who now have the time to be. We have been invited all over the place and found not only beautiful homes and objects but people whose conversation is a feast of intelligence and human interest. A great change from the same movement in Paris! And it has been great fun to go out at night and hear the national songs sung in intimate surroundings for us, guests of honour – music in such circumstances adds something precise and wonderful to the taste of the country, which is less harsh, more rounded than Spain, and the Spaniards. No less noble in the better layers but nostalgia more than austere.
“Out in the country we have been whizzed up and down. There are ravishing Moorish influences in the major architecture and the villages tend to be clean and white-washed – even the roofs very often. Also splashes of blue, pink and yellow and many whole walls in blue or green ceramic tile – again the Arab influence. A lovely country full of warm and worthwhile people – from all of which is a feeling of wellbeing.”