Ebora cerealis

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If you’re traveling in Alentejo, follow the advice of ancient travelers and spend some time in Évora. The city is included in the Antonine itinerary and is mentioned in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History as Ebora Cerealis in reference to the surrounding fields of cereals.

Évora was occupied by Celts, Gauls, Phoenicians, and Persians. But it was Quintus Sertorius, the general who conquered the city in 80 B.C., that gave Évora its architectural jewel: a Roman temple with elegant corinthian columns. Known as the temple of Diana, it is more likely to have been dedicated to Jupiter.

There’s much to see in Evora: a beautiful basilica, elegant university buildings, and peaceful convents. And the food and wine are great everywhere.  You can choose a restaurant blindfolded and have a wonderful meal. If Pliny was writing today, he might call the city Ebora Delicia.

The Lisbon Pousada

PousadaLisboaLisbon has a wonderful new historical hotel: the Lisbon Pousada, located in the old royal-palace courtyard known as Terreiro do Paço.

Until the middle of the 18th century, ministers, nobles and other power brokers constantly stamped the soil of this courtyard with their footprints. But, after the 1755 earthquake destroyed the royal palace, the king moved to Ajuda and the courtyard lost its illustrious traffic.

In the 20th century, Terreiro do Paço regained its status as the walkway of power. The new hotel occupies the Ministry of Internal Affairs building. It was here that Salazar, the man who ruled Portugal from 1926 to 1970, had his office.

The pousada is decorated with numerous historical artifacts, including models for many of the statues that adorn the city. The rooms are elegant and comfortable with windows that frame beautiful views of downtown Lisbon: stucco buildings, ancient tiles, pink roofs, the walls of St. Jorge’s castle, and the northern margin of the Tagus river. Salazar’s old office is now a spacious bedroom suite.

It is said that in stressful times, Salazar avoided the main entrance of the building, using instead a discreet back door. This back door is now closed. Surrounded by elegance and comfort, pampered by the hotel’s well-trained staff, stress is the last thing on the mind of the guests of the Lisbon Pousada.

The Lisbon Pousada is located at 31, Praça do Comércio, tel. 351 21 040 7640. Click here for the pousadas’ website and here for a large collection of photos of the hotel.

The Estrela Basilica

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One of the buildings often found next to a Roman forum is the basilica. It served as a place where people could meet. Basilicas had no statues of Roman gods and had beautiful light that came in through windows near the roof, so they were a favorite gathering place for early Christians.

The plan of the basilica was later adopted for the construction of important churches. Lisbon has an elegant basilica at Estrela, built in 1790 by Queen  Maria I.

Few people seem to know that one can climb the stairs to the roof of the Estrela basilica and enjoy in peaceful silence breathtaking views of the city. It is a perfect place to meet Lisbon.

Our favorite restaurant in Sintra

Azenhas do Mar Composit

Our favorite restaurant in the Sintra region is not in Sintra. It is in a nearby beach called Azenhas do Mar. If you’re visiting Sintra it is worth traveling the 12 km to restaurant Adega das Azenhas.

Located in an old wine cellar, Adega serves Portuguese fare without a trace of foreign influence. Everything on the menu is simply great: fried codfish, hake fillets, codfish cakes, black pork chops, fried cuttlefish, grilled fish eggs. Some of the most delicious dishes have untranslatable Portuguese names: pasteis de massa tenra, rissois de leitão, cozido à Portuguesa.

If you go to Azenhas do Mar at night you’ll enjoy a great dinner. If you go during the day, you’ll have the added bonus of seeing the gorgeous landscape of the Colares region.

Colares is the plural of colar, a word that means necklace. It is a fitting word to describe this region that surrounds Sintra with beautiful views and delicious food.

Adega das Azenhas is located on the main road that crosses Azenhas do Mar (Avenida Comissão de Melhoramentos, 5), tel 21-928-1357.

The rebirth of Lisbon

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One of the most beautiful monuments in Lisbon is a ruin. The Carmo convent, founded in 1389, was destroyed by the earthquake that stroke Lisbon on November 1, 1755. The convent’s gothic arches were left reaching towards the sky, asking questions for which we have no answers.

Today, Carmo is a place of peace and tranquility. For we know that from the ashes of the old city, a new Lisbon was reborn.

The Carmo convent is located in the homonymous Largo do Carmo in Lisbon.

A monarchic cake

Dona AméliaIn 1901, the Portuguese royal family embarked on a visit to the island of Madeira and Azores. The event was a great honor for the local populations but presented them with a difficult problem: how do you choose a gift for monarchs who have everything?

The Azores Terceira island offered queen Dona Amélia a new cake made with local ingredients: corn flower, raisins, sugar cane molasses, and cinnamon. The queen enjoyed it so much that the new creation became known as the Dona Amélia cake.

More than a century later, the cake continues to be popular in the Terceira island and for a good reason. We loved the Donas Amélias we tried at O Forno, a great pastry store in downtown Angra do Heroism.

The ability of royalty to inspire the delicious Donas Amélias makes us wonder whether we should restore the monarchy.

O Forno is located on Rua São João in Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores, tel. 295 213 729.

The Alcobaça game

Alcobaça Composite

It can be hard to visit monuments with little kids, so it is always a good idea to engage them in a game. If you visit Alcobaça, a beautiful abbey in the middle of Portugal, you can ask your kids to go on a treasure hunt. They can look for stones with carved initials and photograph them. This game can turn an otherwise boring visit into a memorable one.

Masons often carved their personal marks on stones placed in the parts of the cathedral where they worked. They did it to show pride in their work but also to claim the work as theirs so they could get paid.

Centuries later, these signatures remind us of the humble people whose hard work created a legacy of enduring beauty.