Portugal’s wonderful canned sardines have, according to legend, a French origin. Britanny had a thriving canned sardine industry in the late 19th century. But fish stocks started to dwindle, forcing Breton fishermen to venture farther from the coast. A fishing boat that sailed west to avoid a raging storm, ended up on the Portuguese shore. There, the French fishermen hauled the biggest sardine catch they had ever seen. They all promised to keep their discovery secret but, eventually, word got out.
Brittany canners came to Portugal and set up operations in Lagos, Setúbal, and Olhão. Soon, Portuguese brands started to compete with the French and an industry was born.
A can of Portuguese sardines contains much more than delicious fish. It has the story of an old sea storm and of a crew of fishermen who couldn’t keep a secret.
Many guidebooks describe the tower of Belém as a chess piece forgotten on the Tagus river. The poet Fernando Pessoa thought that there is much more to the tower than this first impression. In 1925, he wrote an English-language guide to Lisbon, titled “What the Tourist Should See.” This book, discovered only in 1988, was meant to restore Lisbon to its rightful place as one of the great European cities. Here’s what Pessoa writes about the tower of Belém:
“This marvel of oriental architecture was erected in the Restelo beach, famous as the point from which the ships sailed forth for the Great Discoveries, and was meant for the defense of the river and of the Portuguese capital. It was King Manuel I who ordered its erection; its was built within the river, and the project is due to the great master of “laced” architecture, Francisco de Arruda. It was begun in 1515 and completed six years afterwards. Later the river sank away, from that point, leaving the Tower definitely connected with the shore. […]
The Tower of Belem, seen from the outside, is a magnificent stone-jewel, and it is with astonishment and a growing appreciation that the stranger beholds its peculiar beauty. It is lace, and fine lace at that, in its delicate stonework which glimmers white afar, striking at once the sight of those on board ships entering the river. It is no less beautiful inside; and from its balconies and terraces there is a view of the river and of the sea beyond, which is not easily forgotten.”
Berrio is the name of a spectacular esplanade in the beach of Parede, 20 km from Lisbon. It is the perfect place to go for coffee on a sunny afternoon. Even though it is located by the “marginal,” the coastal road that connects Lisbon to Cascais, when you are there, you feel like you are on a sea voyage.
If you take a date to Berrio, choose your date very carefully. Swept by the beauty of the sea and sky, you might find yourself speaking words chosen by the waves and whispered by the wind; words like: “You know, Berrio was the first ship from Vasco da Gama’s fleet to come back with news that they had found the seaway to India. It arrived in Cascais, not far from here. I could say that I, too, have been on a journey, and that I found my way in you. But I would never liken a search for cardamom and pepper to my quest for you. How could I compare earthly dust with your ethereal beauty?”
Berrio, Avenida Marginal, Praia da Parede, Tel. 21-457-7356, email: geral@berrio,net. Click here for website.
No one recorded the moment of sublime inspiration when an unsung genius thought of taking a delicious “chouriço” (a smoked sausage made of pork marinated in red wine), place it inside bread dough, and cook it in a wood oven. The result is incredible. You can buy chouriço bread at bakeries and fairs. But think twice before you try it: it is wildly addictive.
Many visitors keep returning to Portugal on their vacations. They say they are attracted by the majesty of the cities, the beauty of the countryside, the stunning beaches, the perfect weather, the wine, the food, the hospitality, the culture. But we know they come for one thing only: the chouriço bread.
When we have something great to celebrate, we do not drink French Champagne or Italian Prosecco. We much prefer to get our sparkles sipping Espumante from Bairrada, a region that has produced wine since the 10th century. Our favorite Espumante is made by Luís Pato with a white varietal known in Bairrada as Maria Gomes and elsewhere as Fernão Pires.
We just heard from Luís Pato that his newest creation is a red wine made with this white grape. The wine marks the birth in 2011 of his new grandson, Fernão. And it celebrates the future of Bairrada as one of the world’s premier wine regions. Cheers!
To stay in this 15th century palace in Alfama, the ancient neighborhood around St. Jorge’s Castle, you first have to find it. Despite its bright red doors, this small luxury hotel is so discrete that no one knows where it is.
The palace, one of the few to survive the 1755 earthquake, incorporates castle walls that go back to Roman and Moorish times. It was at one point the residence of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the navigator who discovered Brazil. Five centuries later, the German director Wim Wenders used it in his movie The Lisbon Story. Sostiene Pereira, a movie with Marcello Mastroianni, was also shot here.
In 1994 the French entrepreneur Frédérique Coustols saw the palace in disrepair during a stroll in Alfama. He bought it and restored it with impeccable sensitivity and taste.
When you stay at Palácio Belmonte, you feel like royalty. Siting in the terrace in the late afternoon, drinking chilled white port and enjoying the stunning views of Lisbon, you quickly realize that it is good to be king.
Palácio Belmonte, Páteo Dom Fradique, 14, Lisboa, Tel: 21 881 66 00, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for the palace’s website.
Clouds also deserve a break and, on their day off, they occasionally travel to Lisbon. Mostly, it’s the cirrus and stratus, the pretty, socialite clouds that come looking for a good time. But, sometimes, they let the nimbus clouds tag along and then it rains.
These rainy days are a blessing to the ancient trees scattered throughout the city, fruits of the seeds that Portuguese sailors brought from all over the world. For the tourist, a rainy day is an opportunity to try some of the best tea and scones in Lisbon. These have been served for more than 30 years at the Vicentinas, a tea shop in Rua de São Bento. The proceeds go to charity, which makes these wonderful scones taste even better.
As Vicentinas, Rua de São Bento, 700 , Lisboa , Tel: 213 887040.