Lisbon 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.
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.
Ovos Moles is the name of a store in Lisbon that sells traditional sweets made from recipes created in Portuguese convents. These wonderful desserts are procured from small producers who often kept the original recipes in their family for several generations. They are indescribable delights made of eggs, sugar, flour, fruits, and nuts.
It is a privilege to be able try and compare so many of these exceptional desserts. After all, in times gone by, we would have had to commit to a monastic life to enjoy the heavenly concoctions that Ovos Moles offers.
Ovos Moles is located at Calçada da Estrela, 140-142, tel. 919303788. Click here for their website.
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.
People in the Douro valley say that babies and port wines are often born at night. Port producers let the grape juice ferment for about three days. They choose the perfect moment to add a neutral grape spirit (aguardente) that stops the fermentation before the yeast eats all the grape sugar. This moment often comes in the middle of the third night.
Most of the Douro grapes are used to produce ruby ports. These inexpensive ports are first stored in cement or stainless steel vats to prevent oxidation and then bottled. The result is a wine that retains a dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.
When the quality of the grapes is exceptional, port-wine producers declare a vintage year. These ports are stored in wood casks for one or two years and then bottled. With little exposure to air, the wine is dark red. Aging brings out complex flavors, such as notes of vanilla, chocolate, and blackberry.
The best grapes are also used to produce tawnies. These ports are aged for many years in casks made of Portuguese chestnut and oak. This aging process creates complex flavors and gives the wine a silky mouthfeel. The small amount of air that circulates through the tiny pores of the wood oxidizes the wine slightly, changing its color from red to amber.
It is wonderful to share a glass of ruby port with new friends. But there’s nothing like drinking old vintages and tawnies with old friends.
We spent a wonderful afternoon with Maria Azevedo Coutinho Vasconcelos e Souza, an aristocratic octogenarian who was a close friend of the great poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen.
Sophia liked to eat well and was a great cook. One day, she gave Maria a handwritten cookbook with her favorite recipes. This little book shows Sophia’s attention to detail and joie de vivre.
In the first page, Sophia lays out some general advice:
1 – smell everything before cooking;
2 – use small amounts of salt and pepper; they mask the natural taste of the ingredients;
3 – Salt the fish just before cooking;
4 – Be faithful to the nature and the truth of every flavor.
“This book is a proof of her friendship,” Maria told us, “and friendships like ours are becoming rare because they require an element that is increasingly scarce: time.”
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.