Lisbon: A big day out

The story so far: Lil Chicky and I managed a six day rendezvous in Lisbon at the beginning of October. We ate, walked, did a little shopping and took squillions of photos – here’s another installment of our adventures.

After a couple of days squeezing a whole lot of value out of our 48 hour HOHO (Hop On Hop Off) bus ticket, we decided to venture farther afield and let someone else take the reins. Cue Andre from Portuguese for a Day tours who collected us from our apartment on a bright blue-sky Monday morning and drove us to the mountain village of Sintra.

For those of you who don’t know, Sintra is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape site set amidst the cool woodlands on Serra de Sintra about a 30-40 minute drive from Lisbon. It’s the site of many royal summer palaces featuring a range of architectures and this makes Sintra a really delightful and interesting day out of Lisbon’s hurly burly.

This was Lil Chicky’s first trip so she wanted to see and learn ‘lots’ whilst I went to Sintra as part of a tour back in 2002 – our then group spent time at the National Palace of Queluz but got very little time in Sintra itself so I was keen to see something different and take a little time to relax. With Andre’s help, we got all of that and more.

After a pleasant drive, full of getting-to-know-you chat as well as discussion about the area and the day ahead, we found ourselves on a shaded winding road, climbing up the mountain through Sintra itself and onto the Parque da Pena.

The park is absolutely huge and you could spend at least a day exploring all of its nooks and crannies but our focus was the spectacular Pena Palace. This summer palace was built for Dom Ferdinand II, consort of the young Queen Maria II (and cousin to Prince Albert who married England’s Queen Victoria) and is situated over the remains of a Hieronymite monastery found on the site in the 15th century.

There’s 15 minute steep-ish uphill walk to get to the palace but it’s absolutely worth it – we walked all over it and also around it, getting some fantastic views from the ramparts.

pena-panoramas

These panoramas were taken on my phone on the way up. Inspiring, yes but I found myself wondering throughout the visit – and since – how on earth could I represent the wonderful-ness of this place.

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L to R: View of the entrance archway from the ramparts; beautiful blue and white tiles cover this part of the building; I captured this quiet moment on the way into the palace itself.

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There’s an absolute cornucopia of amazing colour and texture around every corner.

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There were stunning views from everywhere but I especially loved this view of the coast through the Moorish arches.

Wandering around outside the palace is included in the park entrance fee but we also paid a few extra euros to go inside.

pena-interiors-montage

The palace interior was a bit crowded and warranted a bit more time than we had but was full of delicate detail, reflecting Ferdinand’s interest in the arts. But all of these trinkets take an awful lot of dusting…

We met Andre back at the entrance after 90 minutes and as we drove back towards Sintra, we had a chat about what to do next. But it was as we drove past Quinta da Regaleira and heard Andre’s stories about the eccentric millionaire with masonic connections who had it built in the early 1900’s that we were sold. So it was back out of the car and with map in hand, we spent an hour exploring the symbols of religion and the occult scattered amidst the web of shaded paths.

quinta-tunnels

Andre had told us about the network of secret tunnels and the Initiatic Well so we headed towards the Portal of the Guardians (top left) and entered the tunnel (top right). After a short walk we emerged at the Initiatic Well (bottom left) then climbed down the narrow spiral stairs to capture the view from the bottom (bottom right).

quinta-montage

A further wander around the gardens yielded a view of the country house, or quinta (top left), many towers and turrets nestled amidst the trees (top middle and right), the lake of the waterfall (bottom right) and a grand mosaic fountain near Leda’s Grotto (bottom left).

quinta-church

Before we headed back to meet Andre, we visited the tiny chapel nestled under the trees not far from the quinta itself.

We were feeling pretty hungry after this visit so Andre took us to a great place in Sintra called Adega das Caves where we sat outside and enjoyed a beer and some local fare – my cod fritters were delicious!

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L to R: The blue tiles of the post office building – you can see the Adega das Caves entrance under the balcony; an interesting merchandising display overlooking our lunch position; driving past the Sintra National Palace.

Before leaving for the drive back to Lisbon, we stopped at Piriquita to stock up on Sintra’s claim to pastry fame (and Andre’s favourite Portuguese pastry) – the pillow-y travesseiro – so we had a little something sweet for the three of us on the way back. (I did not get any photos but there are great descriptions/photos provided in a blog post by Leigh and Lucy from their visit back in 2013.)

We started the meandering drive back to Lisbon along the coast, stopping first at Cabo da Roca.

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Cabo da Roca is the western-most point of mainland Europe and lines up very nicely with New York on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We stretched our legs, took some photos…and had a giggle at some of the tour groups milling around.

tour-bus-at-cabo-da-roca

Probably entirely innocent but it did look a bit like a bus for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Bunnies

And then it was back into the car for the drive past the beaches of Guincho and Estoril, and a 20 minutes leg stretch in Cascais before heading to one of Andre’s old haunts to enjoy a quiet moment watching the waves and savouring our travesseiros.

(As we drove in, we surprised an older couple necking in their car much to their embarrassment. Andre had told us he used to come here and drink with his mates so this was a great opportunity to tease him about what else he might have gotten up to.)

And with that the day was done and less than an hour later, we were deposited back at our apartment tired, windswept and absolutely thrilled with our Big Day Out.

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Andre from Portuguese for a Day Tours with his two happy customers at Cabo da Roca

Andre (and partner Filipa) are two enterprising locals running small group tours that showcase the country they love. Andre’s passion and knowledge was evident from the start and we had plenty of opportunities to shape the day as we wanted as well as relying on Andre’s recommendations about what we might enjoy. For me, it was a lovely way to revisit this area and enjoy a little local cameradie. I know Lil Chicky would join me in strongly recommending that you give them a try vs some of the larger operators offering similar tours in the area.

But don’t just take our word for it – you can also see what others thought here and if you fancy finding out more, here’s a link to the Portuguese for a Day Tours website.

And don’t forget to stay tuned for more from Chicky Tours Unlimited’s adventures in Lisbon – there’s more coming soon…once I sort more of my photos.

When a foodie goes to Lisbon

When you live so far away from loved ones, the opportunities to come together are precious and rare so when my sister told me she had to be in Europe for work/a conference for a couple of weeks, we decided to rendezvous in Lisbon for six days of sibling fun. This kind of jet-setting would have completely impressed me before I embarked on expat life – we found ourselves explaining our across-the-globe holiday planning a lot during the trip (our accents prompt a fair bit of inquiry) – and I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually ME in the story versus someone else.

Anyway Lisbon was fabulous. We had wonderful weather in the mid to high 20’s (Celsius), and we were never short of something to do, see, wander around or eat and drink. It’s a tough task to pick one post’s worth of highlights for you to peruse. So there’ll be a few posts in the series as I try and draw out the best of what was an amazing week.

My first post in an armchair tours series is not usually about food but quite frankly, I keep thinking about it and it’s like I can’t write about anything else until I scratch my foodie itch. So loosen your belts peeps, here goes…

Having never been to Lisbon before, one of of Lil Chicky’s most important introductions was to Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts. This is a complete departure from what Australians think of as a custard tart. A pastel de nata is a small bite (well about three bites really) of flaky pastry filled with a rich buttery eggy custard. Our first one of the trip was at Confeitaria Nacional on the corner of Praça da Figueira.

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It went down a treat – so much so that we made it our mission to try a custard tart from a different place each day and nominate ‘the best’ at the end.

Lisbon is a hilly place and this, combined with an average of six to seven kilometers of walking each day, meant we found plenty of reasons to stop and refuel wherever we were.

assorted-vittels

L to R: Delicious gelati (she had raspberry, I had passionfruit) at Gelateria Portuguesa just around the corner from the entrance to the Castel de Sao Jorge; caffeine kept us going and the Portuguese make pretty good coffee; our first Caipirinha was sipped from the rooftop bar at The Mundial on Martim Moniz with excellent views across to the castle.

Most evenings, we either wandered down to the food huts on Martim Moniz or grabbed some snack-type vittels and wine from the supermarket at the bottom of our building. We did try the Time Out Market on Sunday night with mixed results – Chicky’s meal was delicious but I was served cold, stringy and partially-cooked fries with my fish which the vendor refused to swap (that’s how we do it, I was told). Luckily the wine was good and Chicky found some freshly-made churros to ease my disappointment.

A few nights later we thought we should try some traditional cuisine. On the recommendation of a local, we snaffled an outdoor table at Cervejaria A Lota in Restauradores and to the cacophony of a strident spruiking battle between a couple of the restaurants in the street, we enjoyed a(nother) Portuguese red wine, grilled sardines and a mixed bill of mains.

a-lota

Far right: My delicious fish and rice ‘stew’ (monkfish, shrimps, clams served with rice in a tomato and herb broth) is in the foreground. Chicky got adventurous and went for the wild boar (in the background) which she said was okay – game-y and quite salty.

Our final day was one abridged by departures (Chicky to her conference hotel and me back to London) so we booked a foodie walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We spent several hours with Celia (our guide) and a Brazilian couple (just off the plane from Sao Paulo) learning about and tasting Portuguese food. It started with a wander around the Time Out Market (it’s also called the Mercado da Ribeiro) with Celia explaining the elements of traditional Portuguese cooking and introducing us to a few familiar and unfamiliar ingredients…

mercado-di-ribeiro

…before settling us at a table for our first eating and drinking of the tour – some ‘toasties’ filled with local ingredients, a platter of fresh figs and amazing sheep’s milk cheese and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Next we moved to a little store next to the market selling Ginja, a Portuguese digestif made from sour cherries. Celia explained that one way of serving it was to sip it from a dark chocolate cup followed by eating said chocolate cup. Oh well, when in Rome Lisbon and all that…

ginja

Next it was a short walk to visit to a traditional grocery store where we were introduced to a number of ingredients essential to Portuguese cuisine. We also tried muxuma, a dried and cured tuna that tasted a lot like bacon to me. Quite delicious!

grocery-shopping

Clockwise from top left: Tinned fish is everywhere and there are so many brands; dried and salted cod or bacalhau which is soaked for at least a day before using it in any of a variety of dishes; pulses and grains are a big part of the Portuguese diet; carob pods.

Our next stop was the Cantina das Freiras which is linked to a charity dedicated to helping women in trouble. We entered a nondescript building in Chiado, took the elevator up and walked through the dining hall to be greeted by an amazing view of the Christo Rei across the River Tagus. We had a brief stop here to enjoy a cold glass of gazpacho and a home-made cod fritter in the sunshine.

charity-begins-with-a-view

Our next stop was for lunch at Restaurante Vicente at the bottom end of Rua das Flores. We had an array of Portuguese dishes to try along with a(nother) bottle of red wine. I loved the delicate flavours in the octopus salad and I think everyone nominated the tempura green beans as a favourite.

We were pretty full by this time but Celia promised us that the walk up the hill to our final stop – for pasteis de nata – would be worth it. So off we waddled.

We made an unscheduled stop on the way at By The Wine – about halfway up Rua das Flores – for a cheeky glass of Portuguese muscat. Celia explained that this was not normally on the tour but as Chicky and I had originally booked for the tour on the Sunday evening prior and the guide had cancelled due to illness, this was by way of an apology from Culinary Backstreets. Apologise away I say!

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Top: The arched ceiling is lined with over 3,000 bottles Bottom: Gloriously golden muscat – when in Rome Lisbon…oh wait, I already said that…

Then we arrived. A tiny door led us off the bustling Largo de Camões into a narrow shop with a very special window into heaven…

manteigaria

Manteigaria fabrica de pasteis de nata make only Portuguese custard tarts and we stood at the window watching the staff cut the dough, form the bases, make and pour the custard and pop those little cups of delicious-ness in the oven….whilst sipping espresso and munching on the best pasteis de nata of our trip – by far! Celia said something about them using butter whilst most use margarine…but I barely heard and have already recommended this place to a number of people since I’ve been back in London including a colleague who is married to a Portuguese fella. She gave me a few recommendations before the trip and it gave me great joy to return the favour – she’s keen to check out this paragon to pasteis for herself when she’s there for Christmas with the family.

And with that (and before I exploded), the tour ended so we got some final recommendations from Celia (anyone been to Taberna do Mercado in London?), hugged good-bye and poured ourselves into a cab for the dash back to the hotel/airport.

So in summary, Lisbon is a foodie paradise. No matter whether you stick to a budget, embark on a culinary discovery tour or lash out at the top end (the latter I didn’t not experience directly but I overheard some people enthusing about this on the flight back), you could do a lot worse (and I have) travelling throughout Europe. And don’t worry about all of those pastries for breakfast/lunch/with coffee, you’ll definitely burn some calories walking around…and up…and down.

I’ve included some links below to help you with your foodie planning (don’t say I didn’t warn you) and I’ll be back with more of our Lisbon adventures soon.

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Our rooftop Caipirinha was at The Mundial, Praca de Martim Moniz

Our pasteis de nata trail: (from least to most favourite):

You’ll find information on our Lisbon Eats walking tour at https://culinarybackstreets.com/