• Parlay Vacay

Level Up on Vacation: Learn Portuguese Fado Music in Alfama

By Chelsea La Near

Skill sharing vacations, a growing trend in educational travel, are experiences designed to help you develop a new or existing skill during your vacation - a dual purpose that may just be the motivation you need to start planning your next trip. Parlay Vacay is part of this growing travel trend featuring hands-on learning experiences for travelers.

This week, we talked to Humberto Bernardo, whose company takes clients on an intimate learning tour of Fado, a traditional Portuguese musical style.

Fado, which translates to "fate" or "destiny", is the most well-known of traditional Portuguese music. The genre, characterized by melancholy and longing, came into full form in early 19th century Lisbon around the port districts such as Alfama, the oldest district in the city. Humberto Bernardo offers tours through Alfama to help travelers discover and connect with this this beloved musical heritage in its place of birth, and perhaps even learn how to create the style themselves.

1. What is your personal background, and how does it relate to your business?

I started my professional life as an actor and TV Host. I believe that a substantial part of my job is to entertain our guests, so my early career skills are really useful. I also studied literature and culture at university, so I have an in-depth understanding of Portuguese culture and identity and the research skills to find original and truthful sources.

2. Can you describe a typical experience you offer your clients?  We provide a Fado music experience called "FADO @ Alfama." Fado is the popular music genre of Portugal, especially Lisbon. We start by meeting the guests and walking through Alfama, one of Lisbon's traditional neighborhoods. I give a 6-7-minute historical overview of Fado starting from the beginning of the genre in the early 19th century until our time. Afterwards, we walk to a private venue for an exclusive tribute concert to the ultimate Fado Diva, Amália Rodrigues. I provide some context during the concert by translating some of the lyrics and telling stories about the singer and her songs. After the tribute concert, we have a Portuguese traditional snack (Petisco) with the musicians where the guests can ask questions on specifics about the instruments, the Fado genres within the genre, the musicians' careers and their professional lives, etc.

3. What inspired you to create this experience for others? In one word: passion. Passion inspired me to provide this experience. I was born and raised and lived all my life in Lisbon, so I'm very passionate about our culture, identity and history. I've loved Fado since I was a child and attended my first concert age 11. The first CD I ever bought was one of Amália Rodrigues. In one word: Passion.

4. How have you expanded your offerings since you started your business? I haven't had the chance so far to expand because we just started one year ago, and we are just working hard to make what we do a sustainable business. I do have two plans to expand our offerings in the future. The first is to invite non-professional people to sing with our professional musicians. The idea is to give a chance for others who have never performed to experience their passion. The second is to give young Fado musician students the chance to perform two themes with professionals. These two ideas are a way to involve the local community in our events.

5. How do you think your company positively contributes to tourism in your area? First and foremost, we contribute to the industry by being truthful and honest. Our musicians are all quality recording artists, the food we offer is genuine, and our prices are settled and fair. By attending FADO @ Alfama, people are joining a real "Tertúlia" - a gathering of musicians and Fado lovers with authentic music, quality food and meaningful interactions. Basically: Fado, Food and Friends.

Learn about Fado music in Portugal

Interested in learning about Fado music and perhaps even taking some lessons from professional Fado musicians? Humberto Bernardo's tours can be scheduled through Tripadvisor as well as through AirBnb.


Chelsea La Near, M. Ed., is a writer, wanderluster, and language education professional from Missouri who spent the past 9 years teaching abroad in East Asia and is currently based in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @chelsealanear and Instagram @thenearsea for more.


Which language do you want to level up?