Our walking tour of Lisbon!

Composit for post audio tour.JPG

We love showing Lisbon to our friends. It is a joy to stroll through streets where so much history was written, admiring the old architecture, visiting interesting shops, stopping by beautiful cafés for coffee and pastries. So, when VoiceMap invited us to record a voice-guided walking tour of Lisbon, we didn’t hesitate.

VoiceMap is a new company that produces GPS-based walking tours. To go on a tour, all you need is a smart phone. You can download the tour in advance and use the maps offline.

Their app shows you a map with your current location and where you should go next. The audio is synchronized with the map, so you can walk at your own pace while your guide tells you about what you’re seeing. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the place you are visiting.

Our tour is about the relationship of Lisbon with the Tagus river. We start at Chiado, by the iconic Brasileira coffee shop, and stroll down to Baixa, the area of downtown Lisbon that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. On the way, we tell you about everything from myths and legends to royal gossip. We show you the architecture and the views of the Tagus river that inspired so many poets. And we end the tour with a celebratory drink in the most beautiful esplanade in Lisbon. Come join us!

Click here to download our VoiceMap tour of Lisbon.


Portuguese pousadas


It was so hard to travel in old times! There were no hotels or restaurants. Some towns had modest inns where guests could rest and eat a simple meal. But on many nights, travelers slept under the stars hoping they would find a village in the morning where they could buy some food.

The only way to travel in style was to be a member of the royal family or high nobility. You would then have access to an informal network of palaces, castles, and convents that took great pride in their hospitality. The arrival of an illustrious guest was a cause for celebration. A banquet would be prepared and the best wine brought out of the cold cellars and warmed by the fireplace.

The meals ended with elaborate desserts which William Beckford, a well-traveled English nobleman, described as “an admirable dish of miracles, well seasoned with the devil and prettily garnished with angels and moonbeams.”

This informal network of convents and palaces worked well in Portugal until the 19th century. But after the monastic orders were abolished in 1834, convents felt into disrepair. In 1910, the monarchy was abolished and many noble families could no longer maintain their palaces.

The tradition of hospitality was never lost, because it is an integral part of the Portuguese character. But the beautiful buildings and the recipes perfected for centuries in their kitchens seemed condemned to oblivion.

In the 1940s, the Portuguese government started buying old palaces, castles and monasteries to convert them into historical hotels called pousadas. Vintage furniture was restored. Old recipe books were dusted and their secrets put back into use.

With their fairy-tale locations, these hotels offer unforgettable experiences. You’ll find great food and wine, the best dessert tables in the country, and a staff that treats every guest as an opportunity to celebrate the traditions of Portugal.

Here’s a link to the pousadas’ website. You can find a large collection of photos of the pousadas at www.mariarebelophotography.com.


Royal pies


The Portuguese love eating “empadas,” small pies that are perfect for a light meal or a mid-afternoon nibble. The art of making these treats reached great heights in the court of Dom Pedro II. The court’s chef, Domingos Rodrigues, regaled the royal guests with a wide variety of empadas made with fillings that ranged from wild boar to lamprey. His recipes are collected in The Art of Cooking, published in 1680.

Three centuries later, another chef, Belmiro de Jesus, applied himself to the art of making empadas. Belmiro loved the empadas made by his grandmother and spent a lifetime perfecting her recipe.

You can try the result of his efforts at Bel’empada, a take-out place in Lisbon’s Alvalade neighborhood. Belmiro’s delicious creations would make Domingos Rodrigues proud. Paired with a great bottle of wine, these small marvels are a royal meal.

Bel’empada is located at Av. João XXI 24, right at the crossing of Av. João XXI and Av. de Roma (tel. 21 407 5172).


Eels from Murtosa


When we were young, every September our family ate fried eels that came from Murtosa, a small town in the estuary of the Vouga river. The eels were marinated in “escabeche,” a sauce made with olive oil, white wine, onions, paprika, laurel, and vinegar.  These ingredients were combined according to ancient rules of alchemy so that when the eels, the sauce and boiled potatoes were placed on the plate, they transformed into culinary gold.

Eels are mysterious creatures. They spend their early years in fresh river waters. After reaching maturity, they swim to the middle of the Atlantic ocean to lay their eggs in the Sargasso Sea. The baby eels swim back in search of fresh river water and the cycle of life restarts.

How do the infant eels know where to go? And why do the best tasting eels end up in Murtosa? These are inscrutable mysteries.

Before refrigeration was available, the Murtosa eels were a local delicacy. The fisherman ate them fried or in a “caldeirada” that combines the fish with potatoes, tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, lard, herbs, and spices.

In the first half of the 20th century, some local cooks started marinating fried eels in escabeche sauce. First they packed them in wooden barrels and later in tin cans. These marinated eels gained great fame and popularity in the center of Portugal.

Over time, eels became scarce, the number of fisherman declined, canning factories closed, and it became hard to find marinated eels. So imagine our surprise when, strolling in downtown Lisbon, we found a store called 1942 that specializes in marinated eels from Murtosa! The cans come from a factory that has been processing eels since 1942.

We took this precious find home and opened the can slowly, preparing to be disappointed. But, when we placed the eels, the sauce and boiled potatoes on a plate, the old magic flavors came to life and we felt young again.

The 1942 store  is located on the corner of Rua da Conceição and Rua da Prata in Lisbon (tel. 21-599-9890).

10 hours in Lisbon

If you arrive in Lisbon by ship, you might understand how Portuguese navigators felt as they entered the tranquil waters of the Tagus river to glide into the city’s warm embrace.

The Belém tower

Every week, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship treads the same waters where Vasco da Gama once sailed to bring its passengers to Lisbon. The cruise operator asked us: what is the best way for our passengers to spend 10 hours in Lisbon? This post is about our suggestions.

The most convenient way to travel in Lisbon is to take taxis. Their fares are relatively inexpensive and the drivers are experts at navigating the narrow streets of the old neighborhoods. Traffic can at times be heavy, so it is a good idea to plan on taking about 30 minutes to travel between the three locations we describe below (Belém, St. Jorge’s castle, and Chiado).


We recommend for your first stop the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (Belém’s Old Pastry Store, Rua de Belém, 84-92).


When the religious orders were abolished in 1834, the monks of the Jerónimos monastery started selling custard tarts to earn some income. These tarts, which became known as “pasteis de Belém,” gained great popularity.

Pasteis de Belém

The convent’s pastry chef sold the recipe to an entrepreneur who opened the Confeitaria in 1937. Today, this pastry store continues to thrive as one of Lisbon’s most popular destinations.

Unlike the “pasteis de nata” you find elsewhere in the city, these custards are best enjoyed while they’re still warm. The Confeitaria is always full and there’s often a long line of people waiting to  order.  We suggest that you bypass the line and go to the large room in the back where you can sit down and enjoy these pastries without waiting.


The Jeronimos Monastery

Next, we recommend a visit to the Jerónimos monastery. Financed with a tax on the gold, silver and spices brought from Africa and the Far East, its construction began in 1501 and finished only one century later.  It is a masterpiece of the Manueline, a Portuguese gothic style that uses nautical motifs, such as sirens, nets, ropes, corals, and seaweed. See if you can spot these motifs during your visit.

Inside Jerónimos, you’ll find monuments to two Portuguese heroes. The first is Luis Vaz de Camões, the author of a famous epic poem about the exploits of Portuguese navigators in “seas that had never been sailed, facing perils and wars with force that is rare in humans.” The second is Vasco da Gama, the navigator who discovered how to sail from Portugal to India. This discovery allowed Portugal to bring rare spices from the Orient, such as pepper, clover and cinnamon, and sell them for extravagant prices in Europe.

After visiting Jerónimos, walk towards the Tagus river to the monument to the discoveries. In the 15th century, the river came close to the monastery, so you are walking on land claimed from the Tagus.

The monument to the discoveries was first built in 1940 with plaster and then rebuilt in 1960 with cement and stone. It features the statues of navigators, and other important protagonists of the age of discovery.


Monument to the discoveries

Henry the Navigator, the prince who sponsored Portugal’s first naval explorations, has pride of place in front of the monument. Some say his stern demeanor comes from contemplating the perils that Portuguese explorers had to face. Others, think that he is afraid of being pushed into the river (despite his nautical fame, prince Henry did not know how to swim).

There are a few additional activities available in Belém. You can take the elevator to the top of the monument to the discoveries for a breathtaking view of the river and the city. You can also walk to the beautiful Tower of Belém, a defensive structure built in the 16th century to guard the city from pirates and other foes. If you’re traveling with kids, you might want to visit the nearby Coach Museum (Avenida da Índia, 136). It has a beautiful collection of ancient coaches.


We have three lunch suggestions. Wherever you choose to go, if you find clams Bulhão Pato on the menu, order them. They are culinary poetry.
For a quick lunch, visit Mercado da Ribeira (Avenida 24 de Julho, 49).
From Belém to Mercado da Ribeira
You can tour the beautiful food market to admire the freshness of the fish and produce. Then, walk over to a large food court set up by Time Out magazine where many of the top chefs in Lisbon have stalls.


Time Out food court at Mercado da Ribeira
It is always crowded, but it offers a wide selection so you can sample well-prepared versions of many popular Portuguese dishes. Seafood rice, codfish cakes, and roasted piglet (leitão assado) are obvious choices. Paired with a glass of Portuguese wine, they make a great meal.


If you prefer a more leisurely lunch in a less crowded atmosphere, we recommend two restaurants.

Moma Grill

The first is Moma Grill in the heart of downtown Lisbon (Rua dos Correeiros, 22-26, tel. 911 762 349). You can sit in the esplanade and have a relaxed meal. Try the codfish cakes, green eggs, grilled fish, “pasteis de massa tenra”  (meat turnovers), marinated partridge, and grilled black pork. We love one of the reds they carry on their wine list: Quinta dos Aciprestes from the Douro valley.

The second is Casa de Pasto (Rua de S. Paulo 20, tel. 963 739 979). It is a place with exuberant decoration and delicious food.

Casa de Pasto

Fried codfish, shrimp rice, grilled octopus, and fried lamb chops are all great choices.


If you have lots of energy left, we suggest you take a taxi or a tuk tuk to St. Jorge’s castle.

Otherwise, take a taxi to Chiado.

St. Jorge’s castle was occupied by the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors. Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, conquered the castle in 1147 and built there the first royal palace. The castle has beautiful views of the city. It is great fun to wander around in Alfama, the neighborhood between the castle and the Tagus river.

Mercado da Ribeira to St. Jorge’s castle
Lisbon’s tuk tuks.


It is Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, the only one to survive the devastating 1755 earthquake.


Next, we recommend you go to Chiado. One fun way to get there is to board the famous tram 28 (but please watch out for pick pockets on the tram). Alternatively, you can take a taxi.


St. Jorge castle to Chiado


Once you reach Chiado, you can participate in an important debate. On the corner of the Camões plaza you’ll find Manteigaria (Rua do Loreto, 2), a new “pastel de nata” store. Try their custard tarts and compare them to the ones you tried in Belém. Which ones do you like the best? We eagerly await your views in the comments to this post!

You can now walk towards Lisbon’s most famous café, A Brasileira (Rua Garrett, 120).

A Brasileira

Inaugurated in 1905 to sell coffee from Brazil, it quickly became a popular meeting point for painters and writers. Go in to see the interior. In the esplanade, you’ll find the bronze statue of Fernando Pessoa, a great Portuguese poet who often came to A Brasileira to write.



If you’d like to buy a gift for a friend, check out the Vista Alegre porcelain store (Largo do Chiado 20-23). They have beautiful plates and the world’s most perfect tea and espresso cups.

Espresso cups from Vista Alegre


Now you have two options. The first is to take a walking tour (all downhill) with us as your guide. Click here to log on to VoiceMap to download the audio tour and we will guide you through the streets of Lisbon.


Chiado to Ribeira das Naus

The second option is to take a self-guided walking tour.

Santini ice cream store

We recommend that you go down on Rua Garrett and turn left on Rua do Carmo. You can stop at Santini (Rua do Carmo, 9) to try one of their famous ice creams. Continue on Rua do Carmo until you reach Rossio, one of Lisbon’s main plazas.


Cross the plaza and find Rua Augusta. Keep walking towards the river until you reach the Rua Augusta arch. On your left, you can buy tickets to take an elevator to the top of the arch which offers spectacular views of downtown Lisbon.

View from the top of the Rua Augusta arch

Once you cross the arch, you are in Terreiro do Paço, also called Praça do Comércio (commerce plaza). This is the place where the second royal palace was located before it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. It was here that king Dom Carlos and his son were assassinated in 1908 by revolutionaries. Two years later, in 1910, Portugal became a republic.

We recommend that you walk past the statue of king Dom José towards the two columns on the river. This is the “cais das colunas” (the pier of the columns).

Cais das colunas

In the days when most visitors arrived in Lisbon by sea, this pier was the port of entry for VIPs. Now walk towards Ribeira das Naus, the place where the caravels used to be built and repaired.


There you’ll find the most beautiful esplanade in Lisbon. We recommend that you order an aperitif from the kiosk. Our favorite is Favaios, made in the Douro from moscatel grapes. Sit on a chair and enjoy the magnificent view.

Ribeira das Naus esplanade.
We hope you have enjoyed your 10 hours in Lisbon. You have seen a lot, but Lisbon does not reveal all its charms on a first date. We look forward to seeing you back; our blog will be here to guide you.

Ambrosia from Azores


The ancient gods of Greece and Rome satiated their hunger with ambrosia, a food with exuberant colors, an elegant aroma and a taste that has the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity.

No one knows what this divine food looks like except the people from the island of São Miguel in Azores.  It is an open secret that ambrosia grows in the island in the form of a small pineapple.

While other places produce ordinary pineapples meant for human consumption, São Miguel produces extraordinary pineapples meant for the gods.

If you visit the island, don’t miss the chance to try this transcendent food. Just make sure the gods are not looking.



Elegant food at L’and


We arrived at L’and blinded by the midday Alentejo sun. It felt great stepping into the cool shade offered by this elegant hotel surrounded by vineyards.

Chef Miguel Laffan came to meet us. We asked him how he felt relocating from Cascais, a cosmopolitan beach near Lisbon, to this secluded place in the interior of Alentejo. “I came to focus on food,” he told us. “Here there are no distractions. But it took two or three years for the people of Alentejo to trust and accept me. Now, they say that I am a chef from Alentejo!”

The meal began with a small round cheese made from sheep milk in nearby Arraiolos. It was Laffan’s way of saying that this simple cheese is as good as the high cuisine on the menu. No wonder the locals adopted him as one of their own.

A beautiful bread box offered us the choice between old and new traditions: Alentejo bread was paired with new breads made from local products—carob, seeds, and olives.

Next, came a set of delightful appetizers: a glass of tomato, pepper and strawberry gazpacho, a codfish “rissol” covered with bread crumbs soaked in cuttle fish ink, ceviche with oyster and turbot accompanied by a banana cream, and a croquette made with alheira and bergamot orange.

Laffan came back to our table and we talked about his approach to cooking. “I like to use local ingredients, but I am not a fundamentalist. What is important to me is to cook food that I enjoy eating. I admire the lightness of Asian cooking but I do not do fusion. Instead, I let that lightness inspire me to create something different here in Alentejo.”

We had scallops “Brás” style, an adaptation of the traditional codfish Brás-style recipe and Alentejo pork loin cooked slowly and served over a bed of cauliflower, peas and asparagus. Both were masterpieces of taste, aroma, texture, and presentation.

The desserts were a manga panna cotta beautifully decorated with beet flowers and fresh raspberries combined with raspberry mousse, merengue, and foam. Coffee came with wine gelatins and irresistible chocolates.

The following day, we saw in the Vila Viçosa ducal palace the menus of the banquets offered by king Dom Carlos and queen Dona Amélia. They are handwritten in French by the queen and illustrated with watercolors by the king. Portuguese recipes share the table with many preparations from France and elsewhere. These foreign recipes were probably viewed as more elegant than the rustic food of Portugal.

Today the royal couple would not need to look across borders for culinary elegance and refinement. They could find it at L’and in the cuisine of Miguel Laffan.

L’and and Vineyards is located in Montemor-o-Novo in Alentejo, tel. 266-242-400. Click here for their website.