Portugal’s second largest city and the unofficial capital of the North is called Oporto. The city has an older feel than Lisbon. While much of Lisbon was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, Oporto preserved its meandering medieval streets and ancient buildings.
Oporto is a place full of surprises. The city looks austere, but its granite architecture is just a ruse to make the gorgeous Douro river look even more seductive. Life in Oporto is hectic, but residents always take the time to give visitors a warm reception. There are plenty of restaurants that look ordinary but serve great food. And there are many hidden treasures in the port-wine caves that store, sometimes for centuries, the precious nectars from the Douro valley.
The Portuguese call the city Porto, while the English call it Oporto. There are two theories about this discrepancy. The most plausible is that the English, hearing the Portuguese say “o Porto” (which means “the city of Porto”), combined the article and the noun into Oporto. The most romantic is that the name came from visitors falling in love with the city and sighing “Oh Porto!” We side with the romantic theory.
Click here for a guide of where to stay and what to do in Oporto.
One of the most captivating beaches in Portugal is the Pessegueiro (peach tree) beach near Porto Covo in Alentejo. It is wonderful to seat on the sand feeling the sea breeze and enjoying the view of the Pessegueiro island. The island looks so mysterious that it is impossible to resist the temptation to plunge in the emerald waters and swim a shore. It is great fun to explore the 15th century fort and the ruins that date from Roman times.
In the afternoon, it is fantastic to go horseback ridding along the coast. Claudia Castanheira and Paulo Rosa of Herdade do Pessegueiro provide all you need: well-trained, intelligent horses, horse-riding instruction, and a picnic. Riding a horse through trails and sand dunes, feeling one with nature is an unforgettable adventure.
Click here for the Herdade do Pessegueiro web site.
The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo. The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.
Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!
Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.
Isabel Landeau is a designer who, as a hobby, baked chocolate cakes to share with her friends. She loved so much the oohs and aahs that her cakes inspired, that she became obsessed with perfecting her recipe. For nine months, she experimented with different chocolates and cocoas. The result is a master piece, a cake that is deliciously light but layered with exquisite chocolate flavors.
When Landeau opened a store to share her creation with the world, she was surprised at the praise lavished by the international press (the New York Times called her cake “devilishly good”). Her store has become an obligatory place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers.
Landeau makes chocolate taste as exciting as when it was brought to Europe in the 16th century, as exotic as when it was used by Aztecs in religious cerimonies. Try a slice of Landeau cake and you’ll see.
Landeau is located on Rua das Flores, N. 70, 911-810-801. Click here for their website.
It takes a long time to build a beautiful palace. An Algarve aristocrat started in 1840 to build the Estoi palace in an estate near Faro. When he died, his son took over. But by 1893, the building was still unfinished and seemed destined to become a decorative ruin. It was then that a wealthy landowner bought the palace and spent a fortune on its completion. The sumptuous inauguration took place in May 1909. Decades later, the palace was abandoned.
In 2009, a century after its inauguration, Estoi opened once again, this time as a luxury historical hotel. It is a place out of a fairytale, its opulent salons and elegant gardens restored to their original glory.
Our stay at Estoi was an extraordinary experience. Some days, we relaxed by the pool and spent time admiring the statues, fountains and myriad of architectural details. Other days, we went to the beach and enjoyed the pleasures of the sea even more than usual. For we knew that when the day was done, we would have our pink palace to return to.
The Estoi palace is part of a network of historical hotels called Pousadas. Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here to see a large collection of photos of the palace.
President Charles de Gaulle asked how could people expect him to run a country with 246 kinds of cheese. Judged by this metric, Portugal is easier to govern than France. We have fewer cheese varieties. But there are still many regions, types of milk, producers, and styles.
Many interesting Portuguese cheeses are hard to find. They are made in small quantities by artisanal producers and sold in local markets. Queijaria, a new store in Lisbon, makes it easy to sample these local specialties.
The store is run by people who are passionate about cheese and wine, so they are uniquely qualified to serve as your guide. They prepare a degustacion of different cheeses, perfectly sequenced and paired with great wines. In one sitting, your palate can travel from North to South, to the island of Azores and back to continental Portugal. It’s a gastronomical journey you will not forget!
Queijaria is at Rua das Flores, 64, Lisbon. Click here for their web site.
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.