Memorable fish

Os Arcos Composit- ©mariarebelophotography.com

The Portuguese like to eat their fish by the sea. Since Lisbon is located on the Tagus river, its residents have to drive to a nearby beach whenever they want to enjoy a serious fish meal. The Bugio lighthouse conveniently marks the place where the Tagus meets the sea. It is not a coincidence that Paço d’Arcos, the beach town that overlooks the Bugio, has several fish restaurants.

Os Arcos (which means “the arches”) serves some of the best fish we have ever had. The restaurant occupies an ancient building constructed shortly after the 1755 earthquake. The dining room features old wood beams and the brick and mortar arches that inspired the restaurant’s name.

The  specialty of Os Arcos is “robalo no capote” (fish baked in bread). The fish is covered with a thin layer of bread and baked in the oven for about 30 minutes. That is just the right amount of time to enjoy some clams from Algarve and shrimp from Cascais.

When the fish-shaped bread arrives at the table, the experienced waiter gives the guests a couple of minutes to say their oohs and ahs. He then divides the fish, removing all the bones. Everybody eats in silence, for there are no words to describe the taste of the succulent robalo and the delicious bread that envelops it.

Any serious fish lover who visits Lisbon should drive, hike, bike, swim or run to Paço d’Arcos because eating “robalo” baked in bread at Os Arcos is simply unforgettable.

Os Arcos is located on Rua Costa Pinto, 47 in Paço de Arcos, tel. 214-433-374. Click here for their website.

The coolest bar in Lisbon

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“By the wine,” the coolest bar in Lisbon, has a ceiling decorated with 3267 bottles of Periquita, one of the oldest table wines in Portugal. The bar belongs to Periquita’s producer, José Maria da Fonseca. This company has produced wine since 1834, including the famous Setúbal Moscatel.

“By the wine,” is the perfect place to have a few bites: slices of memorable sausages and prosciutto, cheese, and seafood.

José Maria da Fonseca stocks the bar with a great selection of wines, including some that are hard to find because they are produced in small quantities. It is a delight to try these unique wines surrounded by the beautiful people that give this bar a wonderful vibe!

By the Wine is on Rua das Flores, 41/43, near Chiado, tel. 213420319. Click here for their Facebook page.

Monserrate: a must-see palace in Sintra

Monserrate - ©mariarebelophotography.comSintra has many romantic palaces but each has something unique to offer. One of our favorites is Monserrate, a palace surrounded by luscious gardens built in 1856 by Francis Cook, a famous British art collector.

When the Portuguese government bought the estate in 1949, the palace was in disrepair. The costly restoration work started in 1999 and only finished recently. It was worth the wait. We now have the privilege of seeing how the palace looked when the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen visited it in 1866. Here’s what he wrote:

“Large white bell-flowers hang from one tree; pearl-shaped, rose-colored berries from another, juicy fruits and sun-filled colored flowers grew here. Down over the smooth velvet lawn rippled the clear spring water. Above this fresh green, the castle rose in Moorish style, a fit subject for the Arabian Nights or a romantic fairy picture. The sun sank into the sea, which became rose-colored; the brightness of the sea and sky was reflected magically upon the marble white walls and decorations, filling with light the large mirror-clear window panes. The air was so warm, so still, so penetrated with the perfume of flowers, that one felt carried away from reality.”

A treasure hunt in Lisbon

Cpmposot Embaixada“Where did you get that?” people used to ask when they saw someone wearing an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry. This question is now rarely asked. Shopping centers all over the world carry the same goods made by the same brands. In a world of abundance, the thrill of the new has become hard to find.

But you can find it at Embaixada, a new shopping center in Lisbon’s Príncipe Real neighborhood.  Housed in a sumptuous palace built in 1857, it features a collection of unique stores that sell original clothing and decorative pieces. Visiting Embaixada is like going on a treasure hunt. Take home a few prized possessions and people will ask: “where did you get that?”

Embaixada is located on Praça do Príncipe Real, n. 26. Click here for their website.

The Óbidos Pousada

Obidos Composit The first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, laid siege to the Óbidos castle for two months, but the moorish population resisted his attack. One moonless night, a beautiful lady came down from the castle to speak to the king. She told him that, even though she lived in the castle, she was not moorish. And that she had a recurrent dream she had to fulfill. The king was to attack the castle’s main door. At the same time, he would send a small group of soldiers to the back. There, the lady would leave an open door to let them in. Their surprise attach would secure the victory of the Portuguese troops.

The king of Portugal feared falling into a trap. But something about the lady’s demeanor convinced him to adopt her plan. The next day, the castle back door was indeed open and the Portuguese conquered Óbidos. The king looked everywhere for the beautiful lady, but she had vanished.

The castle of Óbidos was converted into a beautiful historical hotel. After entering though the front door, the one the king attacked, you find a romantic place with wonderful views of the countryside. One of the best views is just outside a door painted red. It is the door the lady left open.

In the dining room two beautiful windows, the sun and moon windows, give us a choice between seeing the sunset and the moonrise. This choice between astral spectacles is one of the many enchanting details that makes a stay at the pousada so memorable.

The pousada is the perfect place to stay at Óbidos. After all, who wouldn’t want to be treated like royalty in a medieval town?

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of the Óbidos Pousada.

The extraordinary salt of Castro Marim

Castro Marin Composit

The Romans loved salt. They used it to cook, to preserve food, and as a form of currency (the practice of paying soldiers in salt is the origin of the word salary). So, it is not surprising that the Romans settled in Castro Marim. This small town on the marshes of the Guadiana river produced great salt.

During the 20th century, this production became industrialized. The salt was harvested with heavy machinery that leaves plenty of chemical residues. It was then washed and processed to turn its grey color into white, striping the salt of magnesium, potassium, and other important minerals.

Artisanal producers abandoned their salt ponds and so did the fish and birds that used them as habitats. Centuries of knowledge about producing great salt was on the verge of being lost.

But then, the tide turned. In the late 1990s, a cooperative called Terras de Sal revived the artisanal salt trade. It invited a French certification body to establish the strictest certification norms to ensure the highest standard of quality. It created the conditions to attract a new generation of producers who left their city jobs and came to Castro Marim to produce the best salt in the world.

These producers harvest the salt manually with wooden tools, a slow process that is essential to avoid chemical contamination. They do not wash the salt, to ensure that it retains all its important minerals. Since rain muddies the water, they only harvest when the weather is dry, between May and September.

One of the cooperative’s producers is called Água Mãe. Their salt is amazingly white and flavorful. Their “fleur de sel,” made of fine crystals created by temperature differentials between water and air, is exquisite. Água Mãe also bottles liquid salt, which is low in sodium and high in magnesium. When we spray it on our salads it gives them layers of delicate flavor.

The Romans were prescient in their love of salt. An amazing fact about our bodies is that, because life began in the sea, the composition of our tissue fluid resembles that of natural sea salt.

The ordinary act of seasoning our food becomes extraordinary when we use salt from Castro Marim. It is a privilege to nourish our body with the same pristine salt prized by the Romans 2000 years ago.

You can find the Água Mãe salt store on Travessa dos 3 Marcos, n.º 11, Castro Marim, Algarve, tel. 961380503, email  aguamae@aguamae.pt . Click here for the Terras de Sal web site. To buy the wondrous salt of Castro Marim in the U.S., click here.

Old and new

Terras D'Alter composit @

We happened to be the first to arrive at a friend’s dinner party. He suggested it would be fun to decant the bottle of wine we had brought to do a blind tasting.

When the other guests arrived, our host asked everybody to guess the provenance of this very special wine. Glasses were filled and moments of silence ensued while everybody focused on taste and smell. Many highly appreciative comments followed. Some guests thought that the wine was from the old world, probably from France, perhaps from Côtes du Rhône. Others thought it was a wine from the new world, possibly from Australia. The wine was Terras d’Alter, Outeiro, 2008.

Terras d’Alter has impeccable old-world credentials. The grapes come from old quintas in Alentejo.  But the wine is made by an Australian enologist, Peter Bright, who eschews traditional wine-making methods in favor of new-world technology. The result is the best of the old and new worlds.

When we drink Terras d’Alter, we feel transported to a sun-drenched day in Alentejo, our body soaking in the warmth, our mind relaxed by the endless vistas. How can other wines compete with this feeling?

Click here to see the web site of Terras d’Alter.