Considering Portugal? Go!

 

We traveled to Lisbon and Porto exactly one year ago, just before I started my blog.  I wanted to do a quick recap of the highlights, because hands down, Lisbon is the place I get asked about the most.  We went for just 5 nights, but managed to pack in about 10 days of eating.  I am not exaggerating – the food, and wine is irresistible!!

There are several things you must do incase you are heading there:

First off, diet a little before hand.  Then if at all possible be sure to plan on the following:

Book a tour with Culinary Backstreets .  Our guide was Martim and he, and the tour, were outstanding.  We had a unique perspective of the city, learning its history and politics, explored neighborhoods, and ate ourselves silly.

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The morning began with a couple of shots of Ginjinha , the iconic sour cherry liqueur that Lisbon is famous for, followed by sardines….

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Lots of “snack” beers

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And hot, delicious Pastels de Nata, an addictive small custardy pastry showered in cinnamon sugar.

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The tour included so much more- wine, cheese, meat, more pastries- it was awesome.  Do not miss!!

Be sure to make a stop at Time Out Market, down by the riverfront.  It is on the site of the oldest food market in Lisbon, dating back to 1890.  It houses an amazingly curated selection of cheese, seafood, meats, Wine, pastry, and more under one roof. It is the perfect place to refuel and people watch before continuing to explore.

This was literally our first stop after checking in to the hotel.

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When people ask about the cuisine in Portugal, I like to say if Italy and Spain had a baby it would be Portugal- with lots of other influences thrown in- the food is just perfection.

One major thing to take in to consideration, many of  the streets are gorgeous cobblestone, and there are lots of hills.  It is not a place to high heeled shoes.  Sneakers or wedges are best.  There is so much walking you will want to do that you will be thankful to have comfy shoes.

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The weather is usually glorious- so pack accordingly.

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There is so much to see, and the city is very conducive to traveling on foot.  There are monuments galore, fabulous architecture,

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amazing details,

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endless street art,

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and lots of peacocks!

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For fancier food, there is an extraordinary two star Michelin restaurant called Bel Canto featuring the genius food of chef José Avillez and his staff.  He has many other restaurants in town that are also terrific, but this one is spectacular.  We were fortunate enough to be seated in the kitchen, which was a bucket list experience.  The service was perfection, the food innovative yet playful- and very abundant! We lost count at about course 18.  The matching Portuguese wines made it that much more memorable.

Here is just a very small sampling of what we enjoyed.

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We also dined at Alma, which is a bit more casual, but also delicious.  It has been awarded one Michelin star, and the presentation and service reflect their high standards. Another bonus about Alma, their tables are so perfectly lit for photographing their food! It’s an Instagrammer’s dream!

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A trip to Portugal is not complete without a journey to one of the fabulous Wineries in the area.  We paid a visit to Quinta Nova in the Douro Valley.

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Not only was the setting spectacular, but the wines were outstanding, and we were able to enjoy a fabulous lunch in their small restaurant following the tour and tasting.

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After our wonderful time at Quinta Nova, we were picked up by a private boat to take us down the river, and enjoy some more wine, and port.

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We sailed along happily admiring the beautiful scenery, and then got to our hotel The Vintage House  and promptly passed out for about three hours.  The hotel is a little quirky, clean, and well situated if you are exploring the Douro Valley.IMG_2792.jpg

We did manage to rouse ourselves (with a bit of a lingering headache) and devour an outstanding dinner in a small family run spot within walking distance from the The Vintage House. It was called Veladouro and specialized in grilled and roasted meat and fish.

The Octopus was unreal.

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We had to try a bit more wine, and this one was a winner.

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In the morning we set out for The Yeatman in Porto.  The Yeatman is a Relais & Chateaux property, and was an excellent base to explore Porto.  It is a beautiful city, with loads of hills, so the sneaker rule still applies.  For some reason, (since the blog was not yet a reality) I have almost no photos of Porto.  Even so- it is worth a day and a night- especially if you are a lover of Port!

On our way back to Lisbon for our final night we had our driver stop in Mealhada for what is supposedly the best suckling pig in the world at Rei Dos Leitoes .  It was a detour, but it was well worth it.  The restaurant is located amongst many other restaurants specializing in pork- but this one was a step above the others.  It actually has received a Michelin star as well, and along with fabulous food, had an awesome wine list.  It was packed with families and couples enjoying their Sunday meal.  It was divine!

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We made a quick stop in Sintra as well, which is very Disney-esque.  It was so crowded (and we were somewhat off season) that it was annoying.  It is very beautiful and fairytale- but too many people.

We returned back to Lisbon for one final night.  I think my favorite meal of the trip was on this last night- at Cervejaria Ramiro (generally known as Ramiro) .  It is a very casual seafood restaurant that has the freshest, most delectable seafood you have ever tasted.  It is also mobbed, and they don’t take reservations.  There is always a large crowd out front drinking beer and waiting for their tables.  Somehow we managed to snag a reserved table through my incredible travel agent- so its worth asking your guide or travel agent if they have access.  Even if they don’t, its worth the wait.

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If you are a seafood aficionado this will be heaven for you.  Aside from seafood the most popular way to end a meal is a steak sandwich!  No joke! And all of this is washed down with ENDLESS beer.  The staff is uber- professional, funny, and friendly.  It was a top ten meal for sure.

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We went to sleep with very full stomachs that night, but were anticipating one more meal in the morning before our flight. Cantinho Do Aziz is a Mozambican restaurant  in Lisbon that has gained world wide acclaim.  To say its casual is an understatement.  We ate outside on a plastic covered table in a small walkway.

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We were a little skeptical at first, but the food was outstanding!

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If you are experimental it is well worth a try.  There aren’t many places outside of Mozambique where you can taste their cuisine.

Finally it was time to head home.  I know we always eat a lot on vacation- but this was really pushing even our limits.  The food was insane!  I would go back in a minute.

Regarding where to stay,  on this trip we booked the first two nights in Lisbon at one hotel, and the last night in another.  This ended up being fortuitous.  The first two nights were spent at the Verride Palacio Santa Caterina  which had just opened and billed itself as the best most exclusive experience to arrive in Lisbon.  My travel agent recommended it, and I said why not.  The photos and PR looked fabulous.  Well, it may have been a touch too soon for paying visitors.  The stay was a total bomb, which I detailed in a Trip Advisor review (remember- pre-blog!)  You can read about it in detail here.  Its worth taking a look- It was so bad it was almost comical.

Our last night we stayed in a lovely suite at The Pousada de Lisboa which is part of the SLH group, and extremely well situated if you want to explore the city on foot.  This was the view from our room.

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There is a Four Seasons/Ritz in Lisbon, but the location wasn’t for us.

Long story short (and I could keep singing its praises)- go to Portugal!  We would very much like to return and explore the Algarve region in the South, and spend some time in the Azores.  It is very convenient to fly (and quick!) from NYC. We flew TAP  which has an adequate Business Class product, though some of the planes definitely need updating.  The flight down seemed very shabby, while the flight home was spiffy and new (and provided us with awesome Portuguese cheese as a snack).

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