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.

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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).

Morning

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

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Belém

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Lunch

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).
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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Casa de Pasto

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

Afternoon

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.

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Mercado da Ribeira to St. Jorge’s castle
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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.

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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Chiado to Ribeira das Naus

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

The Guimarães pousada

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The narrow, meandering road that leads to the Guimarães pousada is good at keeping secrets; it gave us no glimpse of what this historical hotel looks like. When we arrived late in the afternoon, we were stunned to see the imposing granite facade of the church adjacent to the monastery bathed in golden light. Did the architects position the church to benefit from the sun’s exposure or did the sun move so it can shine on the magnificent building?

The origin of this monastery is intertwined with the early days of Portugal as a nation. It was built in the 12th century in fulfillment of a promise. Dona Mafalda, the wife of the first king of Portugal, vowed to fund the construction of a monastery for the order of Saint Augustine if she gave birth without complications. The monastery was named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, Santa Marinha.

In the 16th century, the monastery was transferred to the order of Saint Jerome. The monks offered university degrees in the arts and the humanities that attracted students from the royalty and nobility.  It was during this time that the chapter room, the place where monks read chapters of the bible, and the famous Saint Jerome terrace, an outdoors meditation space, were built.

In 1834, when the state abolished the religious orders, the monastery was sold and became a private residence. In the 1950s, a fire destroyed part of the building and turned it into a ruin.

In the 1970s, the Portuguese government bought the monastery and hired architect Fernando Távora to convert it into an historical hotel. Távora did a masterful job of restoring the old and integrating it with the new.

Every morning we took a walk in the romantic woods that surround the pousada. It is a place with no traces of modern civilization, where damsels in silk dresses and knights in shining armor would not be out of place. We returned to the pousada summed by the chanting of the waters that flow from the fountain in the Saint Jerome terrace. Every minute spent in this terrace was a moment of zen.

The pousada has a proud gastronomic tradition. Its kitchen staff has accompanied the president on foreign diplomatic visits to showcase Portugal’s culinary heritage. The restaurant, decorated with elegant blue tile panels, occupies the space that was once the cellar. We tried two delicious entrées: baby goat rice and roasted black-pork shoulder. They were followed by an artisanal ice cream based on a traditional dessert from Guimarães: toucinho do céu. It is the kind of divine treat you would expect from a convent.

The Guimarães pousada is a history lesson, a gourmet destination, and the perfect place to rest and recharge.

The Guimarães Pousada is located at Largo Domingos Leite de Castro, Lugar da Costa, Guimarães tel. 351 253-5112-49. Click here for the pousadas’ website.

 

Wines of the future

Quinta da Pedra composit

Carlos Dias is a Portuguese entrepreneur who had great success making design furniture in Italy and luxury watches in Switzerland. When he decided to produce wine in Portugal, he brought with him the determination and ambition that have been key to his success. He wants to produce Portuguese Grand Crus, wines that stand head and shoulders with the famous nectars from Bordeaux and Burgundy. You might think this is a lofty goal, but the Italian magazine Spirito di Vino has already listed Principal, one of his wines, among the world’s top 10.

We drove to Monção in the north of Portugal, to visit Dias’ Quinta da Pedra. We’ve been to many wine estates and we knew what to expect. But that is not what we found. There is no emphasis on history and tradition. Instead, we saw angular buildings built in red concrete surrounded by vineyards planted with geometric precision. Everything at Quinta da Pedra is about the future.

Miguel Pinho, the firms’ Chief Commercial Officer, described the meticulous production process. The vineyards are divided into micro lots controlled by GPS to ensure that the grapes in each lot are picked only at the right moment. After picking, the fruit travels in refrigerated trucks to the winery where they are immersed in a nitrogen bath to avoid further contact with oxygen. The grapes are gently pressed over an extended period of time, a process that allows both whites and reds to age gratefully in the bottle. Pascal Chatonnet, a famous enologist, makes the wines without using enzymes or any form of chemical manipulation.

The first wine we tried was a Quinta da Pedra made with Alvarinho grapes. This varietal is often used to make young vinho verdes (green wines) that are easy to drink and even easier to forget.  We were surprised to hear that this wine, produced in 2012, aged first in wood barrels and then in the bottle. And even more surprised by its complex aroma and the way it left our mouth refreshed and enchanted.

This stunning first act was followed by a procession of amazing wines. Eminência and Royal Palmeira, two wonders made of Loureiro, another green wine varietal. Colinas, a joyous sparkling wine made in the salty limestone soils of Bairrada. A Principal rosé that staged in the bottle for five years to get ready to astonish us with its elegance and poise. Dom Bella, an impressive  Touriga Nacional wine made in the granite plateaus of the Dão region.

The atmosphere inside the beautiful building, the taste of these unique wines, and the passion and eloquence with which Miguel talked about the project made our experience feel like an initiation rite. We are part of a small sect of people who have tasted the wines of the future.

Click here for the website of Carlos Dias’ company, idealdrinks.

 

Sweet moments in Lisbon

Composit Manteigaria

What is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon?  The answer depends on our mood. Some days, we like them perfumed with lemon. Other days, we prefer them scented with vanilla.

Our current favorites are the lemony kind. They are made by Manteigaria in Praça Camões near Chiado at a location that was once occupied by a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter). Perhaps as an homage to the past, Manteigaria’s pasteis have a buttery taste. The crispy crust and the rich filling are so satisfying that they make us feel, for a moment, that we discovered the meaning of life.

Whenever a new batch of pasteis comes hot out of the oven, Mantegaria’s cashier rings a bell. You’ll see people dropping what they’re doing and rushing to Manteigaria in search of a moment of sweetness.

Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto, 2 near Chiado in Lisbon, tel. 21-347-1492.

Avillez’s neighborhood

Bairro do Avillez

It is common for writers to imagine new worlds and share them with us. But it is uncommon for chefs to pursue this creative strategy. José Avillez, the Michelin-starred chef of Belcanto, dreamed of an old Lisbon neighborhood where friends gathered to share great food. He imagined timeworn buildings guarded by carved wooden doors with windows adorned by crocheted curtains.

When the space once occupied by the 13th-century Convent of Trindade became available, Avillez seized the opportunity to make his dreams come true. He invited architect Joana Astolfi to design an installation inspired by old building facades, artist Cátia Pessoa to create ceramic sculptures representing fish and vegetables, and painter Henriette Arcelin to produce a large tile panel at the famous Viúva Lamego factory.

The result is a fun atmosphere perfect to enjoy the classics of Portuguese cuisine, refined and, in some cases, reinvented. Bairro do Avillez (Avillez’s neighborhood) has a grocery store (Mercearia) with some of the chef’s favorite products, a tapas bar (Taberna), and a restaurant (Páteo).

In the Taberna, you can eat a wide variety of “petiscos” (the Portuguese word for tapas), from Portuguese prosciutto and sausages, to codfish with cornbread, and roasted piglet.

The Páteo offers pristine fish from the Portuguese coast, grilled, cooked with rice, or combined with bread, olive oil and garlic in a fragrant “açorda.” The menu also includes great seafood (lobster, shrimp, clams, crab, and razor clams), delicious steaks, and grilled black pork from Alentejo.

There’s a wonderful house wine made in collaboration with Quinta do Monte d’Oiro. And there is also a great new line of artisanal beers called Selection 1927.

We told José Avillez that we were impressed to see him take time to welcome the people who walked in to see the new space. He told us that these gestures are important to him: “What makes Portugal unique is the combination of great ingredients and a rich culinary tradition with our warm hospitality.”

Chef José Avillez is a dreamer who makes Lisbon more fun with his gracious demeanor and delicious food. It is a privilege to be in his neighborhood.

Bairro do Avillez is located at Rua Nova da Trindade, 18, Lisbon, tel. 215 830 290.