The Seteais palace

The Seteais Palace, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2014.

Seteais means seven sighs, a name inspired, according to legend, by the romance between a Portuguese noble and a Moorish princess.

The Seteais palace was built in Sintra in 1787 by the Dutch consul and later sold to the wealthy Marquis of Marialva.

In 1954, the palace was converted into a luxury hotel. Booking a room at Seteais guarantees you’ll have a memorable experience. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you can still experience its unique atmosphere by visiting the elegant bar for a glass of white port before dinner.

In 1802, the Marquis of Marialva invited the Prince Regent, John IV and his wife for a visit. To celebrate the occasion, the Marquis built an archway decorated with busts of the royals. A Latin inscription praises the prince for his wisdom and prudence. No one could guess that five years later the Portuguese royal family would flee to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s troops.

The echoes of these twists and turns of Portuguese history have long faded. What remains, is one of the most romantic places in the world.

 Click here to see the Seteais Palace website.

Becoming famous

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The Portuguese love codfish so much that the easiest way to become famous in Portugal is to create a popular codfish recipe.  Writers might see their books go out of print, painters might see their works gather dust. But no one forgets Brás, Zé do Pipo, and Gomes de Sá because their recipes are part of our daily life.

In a recent visit to Tasca da Esquina, chef Victor Sobral prepared us a surprise menu. One of the items was a very refined version of codfish Brás style, the best we have ever tried. Imagine how Brás would feel, seeing his century-old recipe come alive in the hands of a great contemporary chef!

We wish we could write a longer post but we have to go, we bought some codfish to try a few ideas.

Heavenly delights

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During the cold months of the year, banquets in heaven include slices of a white soft cheese served with pumpkin jam, toasted almonds, and a whiff of cinnamon. It has a silky texture and a smooth, milky taste, just what you’d  expect from heavenly food.

“What do you call this celestial cheese?,” newcomers ask the angels. “Requeijão” they answer. “It is made with sheep and goat milk by shepherds who live nearby, in Portugal’s Estrela mountain. Requeijão is great all year round. But it is exceptional in the Fall and Winter, when we always include it on our menus.”

One of the surprises of heaven is that some of its delights come from earth.

The octopus capital

St. Luzia (Polvo) Composit

The best octopus in Portugal comes from Santa Luzia, a small village near Tavira in the Algarve. The locals proudly call it octopus capital.

The shores of Santa Luzia are full of small shrimp that attract the octopi. Old-time fishermen lay clay pots called “alcatruz” in the water. The octopi cuddle in these pots to sleep and get caught when the pots are removed from the water.

Younger fishermen don’t like to wait for the mollusks to fall asleep, so they prefer to use a “covo,” a plastic trap with a sardine inside.

Old timers swear that the octopus caught with the alcatruz tastes much better than the one caught with the covo. But young and old agree that Casa do Polvo is a great place to eat octopus. There are many preparations to choose from, including carpaccio, stewed, fried, and roasted. Our favorite is “polvo panado,” octopus combined with egg and bread crumbs and then fried. No matter which preparation you choose, the octopus is tender and delicious.

If you’re traveling in the Algarve, it is a great idea to include Santa Luzia on your itinerary. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful meal and earn the right to brag that you’ve visited the octopus capital.

Casa do Polvo is on Avenida Eng. Duarte Pacheco, N. 8, Santa Luzia, Tavira. Tel. 281-328-527. In the Summer reservations are a must.

Winter gloves

Luvaria

The queen of England loves to wear them and with good reason. Gloves protect our hands from the elements, giving them the feeling of being on a perpetual Summer vacation.

The best place to buy gloves is a small store in downtown Lisbon called Luvaria Ulisses. It has, since 1925, offered a large selection of gloves, so we can always find a pair that is perfect for us. Every time we leave the store, wearing new, elegant gloves we find Winter more appealing.

Luvaria Ulisses is located on Rua do Carmo, 87-A, tel. 213420295, email: info@luvariaulisses.com.

The most intimate restaurant in Lisbon

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While walking in Mouraria, the neighborhood near St. Jorge’s castle, a biologist and a chef saw an empty bakery. They started dreaming about turning this place into a small restaurant where they would serve great food to a few lucky guests. Their dream is now a restaurant called Leopold. It serves wonderfully refined fare that is creative but grounded on the ingredients and traditions of Portuguese cuisine.

Our meal started with a carrot that was so delicious that it made all other carrots feel inadequate. At first sight, it looked like there was soil on the plate. The soil turned out to be grounded carob, one of the many ingredients that complemented and accentuated the taste of the carrot.

Many other preparations followed: eggs and mushrooms, tuna, codfish with cornbread, beef from Azores, banana cream with cheese from the island of St. Jorge, meringue with a cream made from beans. All the plates looked beautiful; all the dishes had many nuances to be savored.

Leopold is the perfect place to start a love affair, rekindle an old flame, or simply have a great meal.

Leopold is located in Rua de São Cristovão, 27, tel. 21-886-1697.