This summer my wife ad I decided to spend 10 days in Portugal. We have been living in Brasil for the last two years therefore we took the challenge to practice our portuguese. The thing is not trivial at all and not just for a pure pronunciation issue. The Brazilian Portuguese is a mixture of words coming from the original portuguese, but also from african languages and of course from the local language spoken by the native populations (e.g. Tupi), therefore there are many words that no Lisbonense will understand (for example: pineapple is ananas in Lisbon but abacaxi in Rio de Janeiro). I have to say that in the end it was a won bet…and it was really funny hearing local people asking questions like: “I understand you guys are Italian, but how long have you been living in Brazil?”…I wonder how my accent sounds like…probably like listening a Japanese speaking Italian with the Roman or Neapolitan accent, if not dialect.
But let’s start with our journey. First of all I would like to thank my good friend Fabio Guccione (Guccione Viaggi) who helped me to organize the whole trip in a very efficient way and my “portuguese advisor” and former colleague in São Paulo, André Nogueira, for his invaluable insights and hints.
We arrived in Lisbon directly from Milan and decided to stay 3 days in the lusitan capital (I think it’s worth doing it), then we rented a car and drove towards the south: the Algarve. The motorway is perfect, therefore I recommend this solution instead of flighting directly to Faro (the capital of Algarve). You can also decide to make a little deviation and take the chance to visit very nice places like the Alentejo region (Évora in my opinion is a “must go” place).
In Lisbon we opted for a very nice hotel in the trendy Chiado area: the Bairro Alto Hotel. Highly recommended choice: excellent service and perfect location. The hotel has also a wonderful terrace in the roof top where you can admire a breathtaking landscape sipping a white port aperitif and a remarkably good restaurant: Flores do Bairro. If you decide to stay there, make a reservation for the restaurant, it’s worth doing. We had a dinner one night and the food was delicious. I personally tried an amazing “salada de bacalhau” (codfish salad…see below)
The best thing to do to experience the real lisbonense atmosphere is to walk around in the center without a specific path, following simply your instinct: Chiado, the Rossio Station; Praca Dom Pedro IV (Rossio); Praca do Comercio with its Arco Triunfal; Rua Augusta; Elevador de Sta Justa…but you can also try to take the tramway n.28 and you will have the chance to see almost all the most relevant places in town. Herebelow a few photos from our walk-around.
You cannot leave Lisbon without having visited Belém with its Tower (the landmark of Lisbon) and the Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos), UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Close to the Tower there is a replica of the first airplane that was able to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Last but not least, Belém is also popular for its famous “Pasteis de Belém” or commonly said “pasteis de nata”…a quick (depending on the queue) tasting visit is mandatory.
Sintra and Cascais
Before going to the Algarve we decided to spend a day to visit a couple of places just outside Lisbon (Sintra and Cascais).
Sintra is absolutely worth visiting, but I recommend to plan very well your activities and timing because in some period of the year (e.g. august) it’s an authentic nightmare to find a reasonable parking spot (we spent almost one hour and half driving around…crazy). A few snapshots taken during our visit at Palácio da Pena follow below.
Cascais is a pretty village, a bit touristic though. I found interesting visiting Villa Italia, once the residence of the exiled last King of Italy (Umberto II di Savoia), now a luxury hotel (who knows what Umberto would think about this…)
In the Algarve we stayed at Vilamoura. It’s quite central therefore it’s a convenient location because you can then easily plan your visits both to eastern and western coast almost in the same way. Quite crowded, though (really crowded!). We stayed at Tivoli Marina. It’s a 5 Star Hotel next to the Vilamoura Marina. It’s a good hotel and Tivoli is a very good chain, but…what a building! In Italy we usually call these buildings “Ecomostri” (Ecological Monsters)…The first impression was like looking at a cruise ship and also the rest was very close to that (I will never forget the queues in the morning to get a table for the breakfast or the need to wait till 10-10.30 am to receive an italian newspaper). I prefer smaller infrastructures or that try to be more homogeneously integrated with the external environment, but for the rest was a good stay. If you look for a quieter and slight higher standard location, definitely much better places in my opinion are: Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo with their luxury golf and beach resorts…but, of course, check your bank account first!
Algarve is indeed famous for its wonderful golf courts, but first of all for its magnificent beaches. There are really stunning spots that make this trip really invaluable. Herebelow find my personal ranking among the ones we visited:
n.1: Praia da Marinha e Praia da Ilha de Tavira
Praia da Marinha, maybe the most photographed beach in Portugal, is really astonishing, but it’s mandatory to rent one of the small boats waiting for you next to the shore and experience the cruise across the tenths of caves and smaller beaches only reachable by boat around the coast. Typically it will take one hour (cost is about 20-30 Euros/person), but definitely a must!
You can reach Praia da Ilha de Tavira by boat (there is a transport service from Tavira, not far from Faro, at the eastern part of the Algarve). This beach is part of the Natural reserve of Ria Formosa and is totally different from the more western beaches: no caves, no high shores, but almost 11 km of white sand. If you decide to take a walk be prepared to meet a few groups of nudist (naturism is a legal practice there…)
If you go to Tavira, don’t miss the chance to have a look at the typical salt pans…
n.2: Praia dos Tres Irmaos
Praia dos Três Irmãos is a very nice beach close to Portimão. It’s de facto a set of multiple beaches connected each other through several caves. A bit less spectacular than Praia da Marinha, but indeed a “must see” beach.
n.3: Praia de Quinta do Lago
Very well maintained beach next to the Quinta di Lago Hotel. You reach it crossing a long wooden bridge at the beginning of the lagoa of the “Parque Natural da Ria Formosa“.
n.4: Praia do Camilo
Close to Lagos, the Praia do Camilo is worth a quick dive, but maybe too small and too crowded to enjoy it in a proper way…out of season I imagine it would be amazing.
n.5: Praia da Falesia
Next to Vilamoura, Praia da Falesia, is definitely a nice beach with all these high “cliffs” in the background, but, still, as the Praia d Camilo…a bit too much crowded for my personal taste.
The Historical Sites
The Algarve offers a variety of historical and unexpected spots. Herebelow a few snapshots from our visit: the Fortress at Sangres, the ancient roman ruins of “Cerro da Vila” at Vilamoura and the historical centre of Faro.
The Algarve offers a rich gastronomic experience both traditional and more innovative and sophisticated. In the first cluster, Adega Vila Lisa at Mexilhoeira Grande (Portimão), deserves a special mention to let you understand the very “algarvian” cuisine. Honestly speaking, not my favorite food, but “culturally” interesting. You just get your seat in the bench of a large wooden table and wait to be served (whatever they bring to the table), forget the menu…last important detail: No Credit Card is accepted, therefore bring cash with you. You will have 4 courses and wine for 35 Euros. You could try the typical Morcela sausage, scrambled eggs with tomato sauce and onions or the roasted leg of pork. Everything simple and good…with one exception: a pasta soup that no Italian would never imagine to eat…but I might have a bit biased perspective.
As far as the more “gourmet” experience I definitely recommend to try at least one of the following three restaurants: Vila Joya at Galè close to Albufeira, Ocean at the Vila Vita Parc Hotel at Porches and Willies at Vilamoura. They all received Michelin Stars award and I will dedicate a specific post for each of them in the “Gourmet Experiences” section of this blog.
Together with Douro in the north, Alentejo is the most important wine region of Portugal. One city that definitely deserves a visit is Évora, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Very nice town, it has a very charming historical center with many things to see. Worth mentioning are the Cathedral (don’t miss to visit the rooftop) and the Roman Temple, one of the best preserved in the world. A few shots follow here below:
Finally, last mention, as usual, to the gastronomic side. One thing: the alentejan cuisine could be a bit heavy, rustic…whatever you like…but in my opinion is fantastic. The best place to experience alentejan food at Évora is definitely the Restaurante Fialho. When you arrive you will find the table already prepared with various starters like roasted mushrooms (cogumelos asados), fava beans and ham (favinhas com presunto), shrimps with garlic (sambas al ajillo) etc. You need to know that they are not for free…and you will be charged according to what you eat, therefore be careful (one dish could cost up to 14 Euros). Then you can choose among the typical courses from the Alentejo. We opted for the “Carne de Porco com ameijoas” (Pork meat with clams), maybe the most popular alentejan food and the “Borrego assado no forno com batatinhas” (Roasted lamb with potatoes). Deliciuos! The perfect conclusion of an unforgettable journey.