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Trip Report Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

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When mom mentioned an interest in visiting Portugal I was thrilled. I had been to Portugal 25 years ago on a spring break holiday during a college study abroad program and I had very fond memories of Portugal. Having read a lot of recent articles extolling the relative travel budget friendliness of Portugal we decided to “go for it”.

We choose to book the Rick Steves 12 day Heart of Portugal Tour the details are here: http://tours.ricksteves.com/tours/spain-portugal/portugal . Could we have done Portugal on our own? Sure, but the tour included all the places we really wanted to see and having been on other Rick Steves tours, the alumni tour discount was very enticing. We got $50 off for each previous Rick Steves tour and after 6 tours for me, and 3 for mom, the savings was a bonus.

Another attraction Portugal provided was the country’s food and wine. Mom and I were already familiar with vinho verdhi and being the foodies we are, we were eager to try more of what Portugal might have to offer. Believe me, we were not disappointed in this category.

I was excited to go back to Lisbon, where the tour began, so mom and I decided to arrive in Lisbon 3 days before the tour started. We flew on AirFrance to take advantage of their premier voyager cabin. The tickets cost slightly more than regular economy, but if we can’t fly business class, this is the next best thing. Plus AirFrance offers champagne as an aperitif before meal service, always a plus!

Thursday, May 9th

We departed Savannah, Georgia on Thursday, May 9th, the flights were smooth and the connections at Atlanta and CDG were stress-free. Although we had a 4 hour (give or take a few minutes) connection time in Paris, you just never know what obstacles you might face when traveling. Fortunately there were no problems, but I have to say having Sky Team Priority status is a nice perk.

Friday, May 10th

When we de-planed in Paris, I knew we would have to go through passport control. When we got to this area, the line must have had a couple hundred people in line. However, to the side of the long line there was another line corral with a small sign saying “Sky Team Priority”. We flashed the attendant our onward boarding passes showing our gold status and were ushered in to a line with only 2 people in front of us. In less than an hour from touch-down we were through passport control and in the AirFrance lounge indulging in French croissants, coffee and juice.

We arrived in Lisbon on time and our luggage arrived with us. Getting a taxi at the airport was easy, there were plenty available and for about € 20 a taxi whisked us to the Hotel Lisboa Plaza located at Travessa do Salitre, 7 in about 30 minutes.

The Hotel Lisboa Plaza is in a terrific location just off the major Avenida de Liberdade and very close to a metro station for easy access to much of what Lisbon has to offer. Here is the hotel website: http://www.lisbonplazahotel.com/ The staff were pleasant and accommodating, prior to our arrival I emailed them a request to make several dinner reservations for me and all were done with speed and accuracy. The bathroom and room were clean and fairly spacious, there was nothing extraordinary about the room but it provided everything we needed. The breakfast, which was included in the room price was abundant and had a good variety. The bar/lounge area was great for a pre or post dinner drink. The food and beverage staff in both the breakfast room and lounge were very attentive. I would not hesitate recommending this well-priced hotel.

After taking a nap for a couple hours we refreshed ourselves and headed to the hotel bar/lounge for the first of many aperitivo drinks. We were not disappointed when we found out we could order a half bottle of Alveda vino verdhi, which was a brand recommended to me by a fellow Fodorite. With such a great start to our Portugal adventure, we were now ready to eat.

In doing my pre-trip research I was reading a lot about the chef Jose Avillez. He has a restaurant called BelCanto, which had recently received a Michelin star. I knew we didn’t want to go bust the budget on the first night, and through a little more sleuth work (thanks to foodie blogger Katie Parla and Fodorite LinCasanova) I read about Cantinho do Avillez, which is the chef’s more casual restaurant. We had an 8:30pm reservation and took a taxi there from the hotel. Taxis were plenty and reasonably priced in Lisbon, from the hotel to the restaurant the fare was about € 7. Here is Chef Jose Avillez’s website where you can read more about him and his restaurants: http://www.joseavillez.pt/

As we entered we were greeted warmly and escorted to a table. We loved the room right away, there was a rustic, yet slightly modern and casual vibe. It was the perfect first night in Lisbon place for us. Our server was terrific, friendly, but not overly so. Knowledgeable about the menu and the wine list and her English was excellent. We ordered a bottle of the house white wine and was not disappointed, it went very well with all our food choices.

We started with the tempura fried green beans with tartar sauce, because we had been told that was one of the chef’s signature dishes. It was ok, but I had wished the beans were crispier, the tempura batter was good, but the beans had no snap to them. The second starter we ordered was the nisa cheese and this was a highlight. We found ourselves scrapping the dish looking for more. For main dishes mom had a scallop dish that was excellent, the scallops were perfectly cooked. I had the cod dish, which was ok, but was not a stand-out. We did order dessert, which doesn’t always happen, but we are glad we did. The lemon basil sorbet was cool and light and flavorful, it was the perfect ending. With 2 espresso to close out the meal we were off to good food start in Lisbon all for € 87.

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    LCI: this report is very welcome! We are Portugal lovers having been there several times, but not for the last few years.

    I'm already beginning to think of another trip, just salivating at your descriptions of place, hotel, food, and looking forward to mire of your great reporting.

    Waiting for more!

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    I apologize for some of the typos in the first post, that's what I get for starting a trip report late in the evening! I want to correct my spelling of the vinho verdhi we had the first night, in case others are interested. The correct spelling is Aveleda.

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    LCI no worries. Portuguese is a tough language, especially the pronunciation. But while we're correcting, if you don't mind, it's "vinho verde" and I remember the Quinta da Aveleda so very well.

    Our first trip was in 1984, (which doesn't even begin to date me!)

    The wine is so good, esp. for people like me, is that it is very low in alcohol, and I remember, on that first trip, that DH and I killed a whole bottle of vinho verde at lunch in Tomar on our trip north! Probably couldn't walk, never mind drive, if we did that today!!

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    Taconic...you are correct, typically vinho verde is around 9% alcohol, where others wines I tend to drink are in the 12%-13% range. I find the vinho verde wines I drink to be very "quaffable" and can easily have several glasses. ;-)

    The spelling is always a mystery to me I've seen it in all different combinations with and without the "d's" and "h's".

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    Saturday, May 11th

    Our first full day in Lisbon dawned with clear blue skies and pleasant temperatures. In fact, the weather was perfect every day we were in Lisbon.

    After breakfast at the hotel, I set out for the metro station around the corner from the hotel, where I purchased two Viva Viagem cards. Lucky for me, there was an attendant at the station who was helping people use the automated ticket machine and I had the cards in less than 5 minutes. These cards are valid for 24 hours from the first time you use it and they cover Lisbon’s metro, funiculars, trolleys, and buses. The price for the re-loadable card was € 6.50. If you plan to use it another day, you can re-load the card for 50 euro cents less. We used these cards for 2 days and really got our monies worth.

    Once I had the Viva Viagem cards I popped back to the hotel to pick up mom and we walked down to the Restauradores Square to catch a bus that would take us to our first stop of the day, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). Prior to arriving in Lisbon, I studied the city’s mass transit website and found which bus would take us to where we needed to go, without having to make a transfer and I’m happy to say, this worked out perfectly, well at least for getting to the museum, the return was another story, but I’m digressing. When we boarded the bus, I asked the driver if he stopped at the museum and he said yes, he would point to the stop we should get off at. Lucky for us, another bus passenger was looking out for us too and not only told us which stop to get off at, but also which direction to walk in to get to the museum.

    I had read a bit about this museum in a few guidebooks and the museum website, which is here: http://www.museudoazulejo.pt/ but, my friend, who happens to be a tour guide and a big tile aficionado wrote an excellent guide to the tiles that are all around Lisbon including information about the museum. If you are interested in tiles I highly recommending buying his guide to Lisbon tiles at this website: http://endlessmile.com/lisbon-azulejos/

    Mom and I were both delighted with this museum, which is in a former convent. The entry fee was € 5 per person and worth every penny! Since the location is outside the tourist center of the city, there were not any big crowds on the Saturday morning we were there and it was nice to explore each floor of the museum and all the beautiful tiles. The tiles ranged from the religious to modern & geometric. We spent a couple hours marveling at the works on display.

    When we were ready to leave, I spied a bus stop right across the street from the museum entrance. When we walked up I saw the same bus number listed as the bus we arrived on and we took a seat to wait. Bus after bus came and went from this stop and none was the number bus we needed. It finally dawned on me the bus number posted at the stop was for the night route…Good Grief! So much for my detailed planning! I tried to figure out where the stop was for the bus that was a direct route back to our hotel, but after walking around and not finding anything going in the direction we needed, I managed to get an alternate route that took us on another bus to the Santa Apolonia train station and then the metro back to our hotel. I’m resourceful if nothing else!

    And now we were ready for our afternoon culinary adventure with Inside Lisbon tours on their gourmet walking tour.

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    And now for the rest of Saturday, May 11th:

    Prior to this trip I researched food-related activities that might be fun or interesting for me and mom to do while on our own in Lisbon. I found the gourmet walking tour with Inside Lisbon and thought it sounded right up our alley. After reading the tour description I was a little concerned with how much walking might be involved knowing Lisbon is a steep/hilly city, and hills are not “great friends” for mom. I emailed the company to ask if the tour was on mostly level ground, or was there a lot of hills that would be on the tour. I was impressed with the speed with which they replied and assured me the tour was mostly level, but there would be a few streets that involved steep hills, but we would have the option to wait while the tour group went up the hill and came back down. I’m happy to say that mom and I managed the whole tour without any diversions on our part. We may have been “bringing up the rear” but we kept up with the pace.

    The tour started at 4pm at the statue in the center of Rossio Square. On a typical day the square would not be swarming with large masses of people, but this day was the final day of an Iberian festival and there were lots of tents set up in the square selling all kinds of products from Portugal and Spain and live music performances. Luckily, we spotted the tour guide without any trouble. The tour was listed as lasting about 3.5 hours, but I read reviews on the tour company website and Trip Advisor saying if Paulo is your guide the tour could go as long as 5 hours. Can you guess who our guide was? Yup, it was Paulo, boy was I glad I made our dinner reservation for 10:30pm!

    My memory is fading a bit and I didn’t take detailed notes, but I recall the group was probably about 10 people from the U.S., Canada and Australia, we were a definitely a food and wine loving bunch. Paulo the guide was excellent. He lives in Lisbon, but was originally from the Azores, and had owned a restaurant in London for some years. His knowledge of the food history of Portugal was vast and mom and I learned a lot about the origin of some culinary traditions.

    Take for instance, tempura, we thought Japanese, right? Guess, what, the Portuguese brought the tradition of tempura to Japan. This actually made sense once we realized what a sea-faring, navigational country Portugal was, think about all the explorers setting out to “conquer the world”, where did many come from? Portugal….think about Henry the Navigator. And boy do the Portuguese people love their coffee and let me tell you, it was some of the best we ever had. Why? Well, think about Brazil, that was a Portuguese colony “back in the day” and all those coffee beans they grow there! We must have stumbled over several cafes in Portugal called Café Brazil! Now I can see the light bulb going off above my head! The connectedness doesn’t stop at food, it’s in the language too. The word for thank you in Portuguese is Obrigado and what’s thank you in Japanese? Arigato. Sound similar? It sure does to me.

    As we are meandering through the streets of Lisbon learning about the food culture of not only the city, but the country too, our mouths begin to water, we are ready to taste some of what Lisbon has to offer. The first stop on the tour was a specialty food shop adjacent to a bacala stand. Inside we got our first sip of Port wine and I’ve got to say we were both impressed. Our previous Port wine experiences at home weren’t great, so this was a real pleasure and the cheese that accompanied it was delicious too! We made a stop at a bakery/café that specialized in pastel de nata, which is a custard tart of sorts and for as many bakeries as there are in the country of Portugal there are versions of this sweet treat. It was good, mom thought it was too sweet for her taste. But it would pale in comparison later in the week when we had the famous pastel de belem, which claims to be the original (and even mom thought that version was far superior!).

    I wish I had taken better notes about each stop along the tour, but we did get a taste of Ginjinha a sweet liquor made from the sour cherry-like ginja berry, sugar and grappa and another stop provided us with local beer and cod fish cakes. We ended the tour at the Casa do Alentejo, a 17th-century palace, with an intriguing interior. Here we sat down for a light variety of dishes and wine from the Alentejo region. We wrapped the tour up at 9:45pm and said good-bye to our new food & wine friends and walked over to where we would be having dinner. I know, it sounds like we should be stuffed after this gourmet walking tour, but mom and I were very mindful of our dinner reservation and tasted all the tour offered in moderation.

    Even though our dinner reservation was for 10:30pm we arrived about 20 minutes early and had no trouble being seated right away. Tonight’s dinner was at Honra by Olivier located at Praca da Figueira #16. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.restaurante-olivier.com/honra/honra-en.html

    This is the newest restaurant by Chef Olivier da Costa, which pays homage to Portuguese comfort food. Although the menu had traditional Portuguese “comfort food” written all over it, the interior was sleek and modern, we felt like we could have been walking into the latest “it” place in NYC or San Francisco. But the service was unpretentious, and friendly. And, if I had to go by what the hostesses and servers in all the restaurants we had been to in Lisbon (which at this point is only 2) were saying, my Portuguese pronunciation of please and thank you was the best they ever heard! Ha-Ha!

    Mom and I settled into our table and perused the menu. There were several items that looked good to us, and as we were trying to decide what to order the server put down the most beautiful looking loaf of bread. Why was this particular bread so stunning to us? Because it was bread stuffed with some of the most delicious sausage we had ever tasted. Seriously, we could have devoured the whole thing, but erring on the side of restraint we limited ourselves to one piece each, because, as is the norm in Portugal the little “pre-meal” nibbles didn’t stop with the bread. Beware…if they place little plates of olives, fish or cheese spread on your table, even if you didn’t ask for it, and you eat it, you will be charged for it. But mom and I knew this and we really wanted to try the cod fish spread here, which we enjoyed immensely.

    When it came time to order, we decided to order the fried green beans starter so we could compare it with the one at Cantinho do Avillez. I have to say, the fried green beans at Honra were miles above the ones the night before at Cantinho do Avillez.

    For mom’s main dish, she had the chicken piri-piri, since she prefers food with a bit of a kick more than I do. She was a little disappointed because it wasn’t spicy enough for her, which meant it probably would have been great for me, but the chicken was perfectly moist and juicy. I had the black pork with apple sauce and rice with spinach. I loved the pork, it was beautifully cooked, and melted in the mouth. We had a bottle of house white wine, which was fine, but we did prefer the wine at Cantinho do Avillez just a little bit more. We ended the meal with 2 espresso. The total cost of this meal was € 72.

    After a fun-filled day and a lot of great tasty bites, we walked back to the hotel and had an after dinner drink at the hotel bar, which helped us to drift off into peaceful slumber so we could be roaring to go in the morning for our day trip to Sintra!

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    I forgot to mention in the last trip report installment above, the cost of the gourmet walking tour with Inside Lisbon was € 28 per person. We thought this was a very good value for what we got. We have been on similar tours in NYC, Seattle, Rome and Nice and although they were all very good, they were all more expensive than this one in Lisbon, some significantly more.

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    So glad I discovered this trip report. I actually stumbled on it when I was searching for some of your Rome trip reports.....always full of good information and great food reviews. This fall while in Portugal we are flying once again to Rome for five nights......our favorite city.....and I need some "new ideas"

    Having had a home in the Algarve for many years has made me very "partial" to Portugal. Being short on time right now I will come back and eagerly read how you and your Mom enjoyed the tour. I was sure you would like trying the Vinho Verde as it is a bit like a less bubbly Proseco. If you get up to Trader Joes in Charleston they often carry it in the summer months. Not as good as drinking it in Portugal though as it suffers with shipping here. Any idea when TJ's is opening in Savannah? Where is your next trip going to be?

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    Hi LowCountryCarol!

    I thought of you a lot during our travels in Portugal. We loved it and of course the vinho verde! We followed your suggestions and enjoyed the Aveleda and Casal Garcia brands, along with others we had not tried before (and loved! it's so much better there!)

    No idea when the TJ's may be opening in Savannah. I heard a Whole Foods would be opening in SAV in a year or so, and usually (but not always), if there is a Whole Foods, TJ's isn't far behind...I can only hope!

    Next trip is a long weekend to NYC over Labor Day weekend. Then a 2 week trip to Italy in October, one week to of a cooking vacation in the Abruzzo region and one week in Rome.

    I apologize for slacking on adding to the trip report, it's been a busy weekend. I hope to have more written in the next couple days. :-)

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    Sunday, May 12th

    Today we took a day trip to Sintra with Inside Lisbon Tours. Could we have done it on our own via train? Sure, but after reading about the tour offered by Inside Lisbon and that the number of people was limited to just 8 in a minivan plus the guide, we decided to do it this way. And we also got a visit to Cabo da Roca and Cascais tossed into the mix too.

    We departed from the tour meeting point in Lisbon at Restauradores Square/Ave. de Liberdad at about 9am. Our guide was Nadia and she was pleasant and informative. This was a full day tour which cost € 55 per person.

    The first stop on the tour was the Pena Palace. Mom and I, along with another mom-daughter duo on this tour choose to take the little shuttle bus from the entry point up to the palace, the others in the group did the uphill walk. Both took about the same time, approximately 10 minutes. This palace sits high above Sintra with terrific views, but really is a mash-up of all different types of architectural styles, let’s just say it was interesting to see.

    We did have plenty of time to go inside the palace, which was mildly interesting to me. Maybe it was because it was fairly crowded and people were shuffling through the rooms in single-file, but frankly, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

    When we were done at the Pena Palace we took the shuttle bus back down to the entry point and Nadia had the minibus waiting for us. We jumped in and were off to the Old Town area of Sintra where we could wander about checking things out and stop for lunch.

    We spent most of our time in the Old Town wandering about popping into little touristy shops and stopping for a lunch break. Mom and I weren’t ravenously hungry, but we did want something cool and frosty to drink. We found a nice little café in the center of town and ordered two mocha frappes. They hit the spot perfectly for us. It was a great place to spend an hour relaxing in the sun, watching the world of Sintra go by.

    In fact, we had a treat while we were there, a big group of locals went into the restaurant part of the café (we were on the outside terrace), and they were all dressed up. A few minutes later we figured out why. Around the corner came a young couple carrying the most adorable baby dressed in all white, we figured there must have just been a christening and this establishment we were at was chosen as the family’s place for lunch after the church service. Well, at least that’s was it looked like to us.

    Our little tour group for the day gather again at the designated meeting point and Nadia pulled up in the minivan to whisk us away to Cabo da Roca. It was about a 20 minute scenic drive from Sintra to the westernmost point in continental Europe. There isn’t a lot to see here, but the view is stunning, and just a tad-bit windy, to say the least.

    After a brief stop at Cabo da Roca, we were back in the minivan and heading in the direction of Cascais, which is a beach-side town not far from Lisbon. We had time here to stroll on the beachfront promenade and mingle with lots of locals enjoying the beach and shops. Before we knew it, it was time to drive back to Lisbon. We were dropped off at our morning meeting point just around 5pm. It was a fun day full of some interesting sites.

    Tonight we had a 9pm dinner reservation at As Salgadeiras, a restaurant in the Bairro Alto neighborhood which I found on a trip report by Fodorites Mr_Go and Ms_Go. However, before dinner, there is always (for us anyway) aperitivo. And for aperitivo this night we took Fodorite LinCasanova’s advice to venture up to the terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel and we could not have made a better decision!

    We loved, with a capital L, this terrace/lounge/bar. The terrace is open to the public, so you don’t have to be a hotel guest to go there and it is really worth it to go there. Here is the hotel website, with information on the terrace: http://www.bairroaltohotel.com/en/ the view from the terrace is fantastic!

    We arrived probably around 6:30pm and had to wait for a table (there are maybe 15 tables). There is a bench along the back wall where people wait to be seated, but the servers will set up a small folding table there so you can still order drinks and wait for a table that has a “front and center” view. While we waited we ordered a bottle of vinho verde, and even before the bottle was served to us, a table in the “center of the action” that easily seated 4 opened up. I never expected to be seated there since we were just 2 people, but it was our turn to be seated and that was the first table to open and we got it. Wow! Great wine, great service and a stunning view. We were 2 happy ladies.

    At about 8:30pm we started to wrap up our aperitivo hour(s) and asked for the bill and then walked to As Salgadeiras for our 9pm dinner reservation. It wasn’t a far walk, a few blocks, and we took our time with a couple little hilly streets. We arrived right on time to be greeted warmly by 3 very capable, funny servers who worked all the tables in the restaurant. We had a feeling we were going to like this place. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.as-salgadeiras.com/

    For a Sunday night, this restaurant was packed, maybe because other restaurants choose to close on Sundays? But we really enjoyed all this place had to offer, good service, attentive, but not overly so, the 3 servers working the room had excellent English skills, and could joke in English with comprehension. And the food was delicious and abundant, portion sizes were very generous.

    We started with more of the same type of cheese from previous nights and codfish “spread” which we loved. We ordered a shrimp and garlic starter to share which was served in a small cauldron and it was still bubbling hot when it was put in front of us. It was absolutely delicious. Mom and I both ordered the same dish, which we don’t usually do, so that we can try different things on the menu. But when we asked the server which of the many cod fish main dishes was the best, he responded with the Codfish As Salgadeiras and we both got that and were not disappointed at all.

    After deciding on which dishes we wanted I asked the server if he would recommend a white wine that would pair well with our dishes and he recommended a great wine from the Douro Valley. We choose to pass on dessert, but we did have our usual 2 espresso and ended the meal with smiles on our faces. The total cost of the meal was € 84.

    As we were leaving we asked one of the servers if he would call a taxi for us and he did. The taxi arrived very quickly and boy what a character the driver was! As we got in the taxi he handed us hats to put on and a soccer team scarf with Portugal written across in big bold letters. Then we handed the server my camera to take pictures of us in the taxi with the driver. The guy was hilarious, and he whisked us back to the hotel for about € 7.

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    Hi Denise! Great to "see" you here. Mexico sounds great and of course, I know Paris is a huge favorite for you. :-D

    If you're around "my neck of the woods" soon, let me know I'd love to see you again.

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    Monday, May 13th

    There was no big plans for today except beginning the group tour and meeting our guide and fellow travelers at 5pm.

    Mom and I had a leisurely morning and decided a great way to see a little more of Lisbon would be from the window of a trolley. We decided to start with the #28E trolley line. We walked to the Martim Moniz stop, which is the beginning (or end, depending which direction you are going in) of this trolley line and got on the increasingly long line to wait for the next trolley.

    When we got on the trolley car we were able to get one of the last seats at the back of the car. We settled in for the ride. We wound our way through the Alfama, Baixa, and Chiado neighborhoods all the way to the last stop called Prazeres. The car was full, very, very, full and when we disembarked there was another trolley car in front of the one we had just exited. As you can imagine, most everyone jumped on that car to ride back to wherever they were going. Instead of fighting this crowd, mom and I walked across the street to the big Prazeres cemetery and sat down on a bench under a shady tree for a little while. When we decided to head back we walked over to the trolley stop and I then realized there was a second trolley line, the #25E that we could take and see a different area and still get us near where we wanted to be, and it was a lot less crowded, in fact, we were the only ones on for a while.

    When 5pm rolled around we gathered in a meeting room at the hotel to meet our guide, Maria and the other 22 people on the tour. We all introduced ourselves, and Maria gave us an overview of what the next 12 days would hold in store for us.

    Before long, we were ready to explore the neighborhood with Maria’s guidance and walk to our first of several group meals. I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant we went to, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. We started with salad and then there were mixed grilled meat platters with a nice selection of chicken, sausage, and pork. There was both white and red wines to choose from and empty bottles were replaced quickly. The conversation at our table was good, there was definitely a common thread with many on this tour and that was wine. Mom and I would feel right at home!

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    Tuesday, May 14th

    After a fortifying breakfast we met the group for a morning walking tour through several neighborhoods of Lisbon. We walked, used the elevador de Santa Justa, metro, buses and trolleys to make our way across town. Maria shared much of the history of Lisbon through the Bairro Alto, Alfama, and Baixa neighborhoods. We even experienced the stunning view of Lisbon from the Sao Jorge Castle. We ended the tour in front of Lisbon’s cathedral.

    When Maria finished orientating people to the directions they needed, mom and I stepped into the cathedral for a look around. And, to take a little break, because walking down through the Alfama neighborhood is not for the faint of heart. There were lots and lots of steps to maneuver in this area, but we made it no worse for the wear!

    Mom and I took the afternoon at an easy pace since we had the luxury of having already been in Lisbon for several days, we didn’t feel like we had to pack every minute with activities. After leaving the cathedral we waited for a trolley to take us down the rest of the hill and got off near Rossio Square, where we promptly found a café with outside seating to sit and have an iced cappuccino. Well, at least it was the Lisbon version of iced cappuccino. We weren’t expecting it to be served warm in a coffee cup, but it did come with whipped cream, so that was a plus!

    Tonight we had dinner on our own. So, at our own self-designated aperitivo time, we headed back over to the terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel for pre-dinner wine and since we hadn’t had anything but breakfast and then coffee at lunchtime, we opted to try the Portuguese sausage and cheese plate and we are sure glad we did, it was delicious, some of the best sausage and cheese we’ve had on a lounge/bar plate.

    We chose to go to the Bairro Alto Hotel again because, well, we really liked it and we were doing a repeat for dinner also. We went back to As Salgadeiras for dinner, and the second time was as good as the first.

    For the starter we shared the mussel dish, it was ok, but the shrimp dish the first time we went was better. Mom had the shrimp stroganoff main dish, which may sound odd, but it tasted great and I had the Dover sole in puff pastry, which was also very good. But the portions here are very generous, and we were getting very full and couldn’t finish either main dish. We also repeated the white wine from the Douro Valley, because we really enjoyed it. With 2 espresso to end the meal the total cost was € 83.

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    Wednesday, May 15th

    This morning we boarded a private tour bus which took us on a tour of the city, with several interesting stops. The first stop was to take in the view from the Edward VII Park. This park sits above the Avenida da Liberdade and you can get a “straight shot” view from the top of the park down the avenue to the Tagus River.

    Next we drove to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which is located outside the center of the city, in the Parque Santa Gertrudes. Here is the museum website: http://www.museu.gulbenkian.pt/main.asp?lang=en .

    The best way I can sum up this collection is WOW! The museum houses the collection of Calouste Gulbenkian who was an Armenian oil tycoon who left his art collection to Portugal as a gift of gratitude for granting him asylum during World War II. The collection spans 5,000 years and includes classical, Oriental, and European art. I particularly liked the decorative arts collection, give me furnishings to look at and I’m happy. The building the museum is housed in is also terrific, it was built specifically to for Mr. Gulbenkian’s collection and flows very well. We had a local guide give us a 90 minute tour, highlighting the major pieces of the collection.

    After the museum we got on the bus for the drive to the Belem district where we visited the Belem Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries. Our guide, Maria did a terrific job educating us on the history of Portugal during the hey-day of exploration and it really brought into my perspective the ocean-going “might” of Portugal in those days.

    We stopped for a brief lunch on our own and then met up with the rest of the group for an afternoon tour of the Monastery of Jeronimos, which you can read more about here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jer%C3%B3nimos_Monastery

    Before going into the monastery Maria had a treat for us, she purchased the famous Pastel de Belem for the whole group to try. These custard treats were from the Casa Pasteis de Belem and they were the best we had during the whole trip.

    Once we were satisfied with our sweet indulgence, it was time to tour the monastery, and this was another Wow! It’s a huge white limestone church and monastery that stretches along the Lisbon waterfront. The interior is really something to behold, it was just stunning with its beautiful columns and sea-faring motifs. The adjacent cloisters are as beautiful as the interior of the church.

    When we were done with touring this religious complex we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. Mom and I decided to walk down the street to the National Coach Museum. The building is the former palace’s riding school and although the building is not massive, the collection is impressive, with lots of ornate horse drawn carriages on display. It was a nice place to wander about for an hour or so.

    There was a group dinner planned for this night, so mom and I had our usual pre-dinner glass of wine at the hotel lounge and then met the group to walk to dinner. My expectations were not high since this was going to be a Fado performance and dinner “event”, but I’m happy to say, my expectations were exceeded.

    The restaurant was Faia in the Bairro Alto neighborhood and I really liked the atmosphere when we walked in. The food was very good, especially the pea soup starter. The hake main dish was good and the wine served with the meal was also very nice. But the highlight were the 3 Fado performances. We heard 2 men and one woman sign and mom and I loved it. We may have to run out and buy some Fado albums now.

    At the end of the evening mom and I “peeled off” from the group and took a taxi back to the hotel and enjoyed an after dinner drink at the hotel lounge. It was the perfect way to end our night and prepare for leaving Lisbon to go to Evora the next day.

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    Thursday, May 16th

    Today we said good-bye (for now) to Lisbon and climbed on our private bus and took off for the Alentejo region, specifically the town of Evora.

    This town was not new to me, I had been there 25 years ago when I was a student in a study abroad program in Switzerland. Back then I also did my travel research and which guidebook did I have? A very early edition of Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door (I wish I still had that copy, but sadly I don’t). Back then I read about Evora with interest because according to good ol’ “Uncle Rick”, there was a chapel there made entirely of human bones, I don’t know why that held such interest for me, but it did, and I felt I needed to go see this town, so that’s what brought me there 25 years ago. Oh, and it helped that as a student I had a 2 week spring break and my goal was to see as much of Spain and Portugal as I could.

    So, now I was heading back to Evora, but it was definitely in a lot more comfort! 25 years ago, my friend and I rented a spare room in a local’s home, this time we stayed at the M’AR de AR Aqueduto Hotel, which is a luxury boutique hotel right inside the historic center of town. Here is the hotel website: http://www.mardearhotels.com/en/hotels/mar-de-ar-aqueduto/the-hotel/ . This was my favorite hotel of the trip, in fact, I’d rate it as one of the top 5 hotels I’ve ever stayed in. The room and bathroom were immaculately clean, there were wood floors in the room and the furnishings were sleek and modern. This was not the typical type of Rick Steves hotel I was accustomed to on other tours, but I loved it. The only down-side was that we were only staying one night.

    Before checking into the hotel we met our local guide, also named Maria and she was a hoot, a very funny lady. She spent several hours with us pointing out the sites in the historic center of Evora. This is a fairly compact town and easily walkable.

    The cathedral of Santa Maria de Evora was an interesting church which houses a statue of a visibly pregnant Mary. It’s said the statue was used by the first priests in hopes of converting Celtic pagans who worshipped mother goddesses.

    After touring the town for a couple hours, and yes, I got back to the chapel made entirely of human bones, but now it just freaked me out to be inside of it, we checked into our hotel. We freshened up a bit and then hit the shopping streets in search of a cork purse. Our guide Maria told us, if we were interested in buying cork products, Evora was a good place to do it, because prices were slightly less expensive than elsewhere in the country. I did find a beautiful blue cork purse that I couldn’t resist buying. I’m now loving using it here at home!

    On our way back to the hotel to drop off my purchase we found a non-description cafeteria and stopped in for the Evora version of pastel de nata and a couple cups of coffee for a mid-day break. The pastries were good, but the ones in Belem were still the best.

    As we made our way back to the hotel a light rain started to fall and we were passing a restaurant that I had flagged in my pre-trip research as being noteworthy. We stopped to take a look at the menu and liked what we saw. They were open for lunch so, we poked our heads in to inquire about a dinner reservation that night. What a cute, but tiny place, only 6 tables. At first the owner wasn’t happy with my request for an 8:30pm dinner reservation, but he accommodated me and we were on our way out the door.

    We got back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit, if the weather had been better the pool on the hotel grounds looked very inviting, but with big grey clouds looming overhead, a swim was the last thing I wanted to do.

    At 6:30pm our guide, Maria had arranged for a group cocktail/wine party in the hotel’s bar and it was a nice way to get to know our fellow tour members a little better.

    Just before 8:30 we left the hotel and walked 5 minutes to Tasquinha do Oliveira located at Rua Candido dos Reis, 45. The husband, Manuel runs the front of the house, while his wife, Carolina does the cooking and oh boy! What cooking she does!

    Immediately upon sitting down small plates of appetizers are placed on the table, if there is one you don’t want, just tell him, “no thanks”. We told him no to the crab dish because we had “heads-up” that it was fairly expensive but we happily indulged in the chickpeas & cod dish, pickled quail eggs, and asparagus frittata. For our main dishes mom and I selected the same item, local pork which was tender and exploded with flavor. A small salad was served on the side. We ordered rice pudding with cinnamon to share for dessert and it was a rare event that mom licked her dessert spoon clean. We had Manuel suggest a local red wine to go with our meal and it was an excellent accompaniment. We ended the meal with a delightful local digestive that had a minty/herby flavor. The total cost of the meal was € 83.

    This was one of our favorite meals of the trip, the interior of the restaurant was very homey and comfortable, the food and service was excellent.

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    Not managing a territory of my own now but should get to the low country at some point with my rep who now covers it. Gotta give you credit or branching out to more places...it will have been over two years since the last Paris trip when we ge back there. Couldn't stand it!

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    taconictraveler...thanks for continuing to follow along!

    denisea...WOW! I hardly believe your last visit to Paris was 2 years ago, it seems like yesterday (to me, probably not to you!). But you branched out too last year and went to Rome! :-)

    Don't be fooled by my adventure to Portgual, although I really loved it, I'll be back in Italy in October for 2 weeks, one of which will be in Rome (no big surprise there!) ;-)

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    For those who are not familiar with pastel de nata......it is a custard of such light, rich creaminess when prepared correctly, nestled in a small shell of multiple layers of filo dough (think baklava).). They are slightly "burned" no the top which may put off one at first.

    My first experience with pastel de nata many years ago in Portugal occurred in a small bakery outside the town we live near. Two British ladies were ordering them and as I had seen them before with their
    "burned" tops, I never thought they looked appealing. As these ladies and I shared a common language, I asked them how they tasted Well these women went on in raptures which led to my purchasing some. They were indeed creamy, sweet and delicious but it was not until I experienced those made in Lisbon at
    the pasteleria de Belem that I found out how incredible they could be.

    When made properly they are not thickened with cornstarch and gelatinous but creamy with the richest heavy cream and thickened by the large amounts of egg yolks used and the crust is so flaky that it starts to break apart as you bite into it. They do not hold well and should be eaten within the day they are made.....worth a trip to Portugal for the experience.....wine and prices in Portugal not bad either.

    Sorry LCI if I got carried away with this. Must be missing my second home.

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    And interestingly I recently read about a young man in London who is doing his version of a food truck, more of a food cart, and what is his speciality......?.......Pasteis (plural form) de Nata.

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    LowCountryCarol...I am happy to have you chime in here. You did much better justice to the pastel de nata description than I did! Also, not sure which part of the LowCountry you are in, but it might be fun for us to get together. Let me know if you are interested and I'll post an email address where we can connect.

    Denisea...you may want to consider Portugal, we had a great time and it's a beautiful country and as Carol mentioned prices are much "friendlier" than in Paris. Oh...speaking of Paris, I read on David Lebovitz's blog a while back (maybe a year or so ago) there is a shop in Paris that sells Portuguese food items and the shop owner makes his own pasteis de nata. You may want to check it out when in Paris. ;-)

    And now for....

    Friday, May 17th

    This was one of the best days of the entire trip, in spite of the rainy weather. We left the M’AR De AR Aqueduto Hotel in Evora with a heavy heart, but with hopes of one day returning to this terrific hotel.

    We rode through the countryside en route to a working farm and estate. Today we met a family that owned and worked a cork farm/olive grove and vineyard and get to spend time with them touring the cork forest and tasting their olive oil and wine over lunch.

    Our bus pulled up on a one lane country road and we all filed off the bus and were greeted by the grandson and granddaughter of the matriarch of the family (they were very warm & welcoming!). Then we climbed into a covered, open-sided “cart” large enough to seat about 30 people that was pulled by a farm tractor. Yes, we were about to “rough-it” being pulled through a cork forest. This sounds great in theory, but when it’s pouring rain, it’s not much fun. Yes, we got soaking wet, but looking back, it was worth it to see up close the cork trees and the process of pealing the bark from the trees.

    Cork trees can live for hundreds of years, and from when they are first planted can take about 20 years before the first cork can be peeled off. Once the bark is peeled the tree cannot be peeled again for 9 years. It was really interesting to hear how this all works. And, don’t think cork is only used for wine bottles, in Portugal you can buy just about anything made from cork. Beside a purse, I also bought a pair of cork shoes! But back to the farm.

    Once the ride through the farm was finished, it took just over one hour, it was time for lunch. Our group climbed down from the tractor/cart contraption and we were ushered into an outbuilding on the estate. Don’t think this was a dilapidated old structure, it was more like a lodge with a large room for dining. There were 3 large tables set up for us to sit at and with our very good luck, mom and I were seated at the table with the family matriarch and her grandson and granddaughter. What a great lady the grandmother/matriarch is! She is in her early 90’s and speaks excellent English (she had a British nanny as a child) and she loves to travel. We got to hear about her recent adventure in Chile with her 87 year old friend, her husband doesn’t like to travel, so she travels with girlfriends, I loved her for that alone!

    We started the meal off by tasting the two different types of olive oils the farm produces and they were great. Then it was time to taste their wines. There are three types they produce, red, white and rose. All were good, but mom and I loved the rose.

    Then the food started arriving. We started with a luscious tomato soup. For the main dish we had the most delicious chicken pie I have ever had, it was comfort on a plate, and was creamy, tender and the crust was perfectly flaky. There was a side dish of rice and octopus, which was excellent, a green salad and for dessert there was fresh homemade strawberry ice cream.

    As delicious as lunch was, our table companions were even more delightful. It was wonderful to sit with the family members and talk to them about their farm/estate, the cork, wine and olive oil they produce, and just their life in general. If you’d like to read more about them, here is the estate’s website: http://www.rgroviscogarcia.pt/

    The time at the farm/estate went by much too quickly and before we knew it, it was time to leave, but not without buying some of their wonderful rose wine, and at € 5 per bottle, I wish we had purchased more than just 2 bottles. But we were trying to be conservative and we knew we’d be visiting another winery in the Douro Valley in a few days and wanted to say space I our suitcases!

    We made our way from the Alentejo region to the beach-side town of Nazare this afternoon and checked into the Albergeria Mar Bravo Hotel, located at Praca Sousa Oliveira, 71. The staff at the hotel were extremely nice, the location could not have been better, right across from the beach and on the town’s main square.

    Mom and I got really lucky with our room assignment and had a corner room with 2 balconies, one facing the beach and the other facing the main square. The room was clean, but there was just something about this hotel that I can’t give it a super recommendation. Maybe it was because, this town, even in mid-May felt like a ghost town to me. It is definitely a summer beach holiday place and you could tell that immediately. Maybe it was because the bad weather was following us and it was rainy for both nights we stayed at this hotel. Or maybe it was because we had just been a fantastic boutique hotel in Evora, I just wasn’t thrilled with the place.

    Once we got situated in our room, we took a little wander around town checking out possible places for a glass of wine or dinner. We found a little café not far from the hotel and sat down for a glass of vinho verde. At € 1.50 per glass, we couldn’t complain, but we were the only people there. Not just at that café, but at any of the cafes on the square.

    During our pre-glass of wine wander about, we saw a tapas restaurant that looked interesting and with the big “family” lunch we had earlier in the day, both mom and I were not looking for a lot to eat. So, after our pre-dinner drink, we walked about 100 yards to Tosca, a gastro-bar located at Rua Mouzinho de Albuquerque, #4.

    We are very glad we found this place, the food and service were just great. There was no English translation menu, but the waitress spoke excellent English and since the restaurant was not very full yet, she translated the menu for us. Since we knew we only wanted tapas, we told her she didn’t have to translate the entrée portion of the menu, I think she was grateful to us for that! She did recommend an excellent vinho verde, which we enjoyed with the 4 tapas dishes we ordered.

    The first tapa we had was goat cheese coated with pistachios on toast with pumpkin jam, it may sound strange to some, but the flavors worked incredibly well together. Then we had a local sausage with chimichuri sauce, which was great, and a blood sausage & local apple filled savory pastry that was out of this world good. The last tapa we had was the best of all, (but really each was absolutely delicious) and it was scallops with green strawberries on a bed of pureed celery root. This may sound like a lot of food, but the portions were perfectly sized for sharing and it was all just the right amount. We had 2 espresso and 2 glasses of port wine to end the meal, which cost a total of € 41.

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    By your screen name I wonder if you live on HH Island? .I am out in Bluffton just off 278. Yes it would be great to get together but I am in the NC mountains for the summer. How about mid October when I will be in town before leaving for Portugal?

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    I really am enjoying revisiting these wonderful locations in Portugal. Nazare was bustling, not crowded, when we visited a few years ago in early June. We loved Portugal, especially the warm and friendly and friendly people.

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    lowcountrycarol...I'm in Bluffton too. Years ago when I first registered on Fodors I was living on the island (still work there). Mid-October I'll be going to Italy for 2 weeks. But lets to try and connect when our schedules allow. My email address is fitms (at) hargray (dot) com

    HappyTrvlr...thanks for continuing to read.

    I spent much of the day cooking in my kitchen, so no trip report writing today. I should have more for tomorrow.

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    Saturday, May 18th

    The rainy weather persisted today as we made our way to the town of Alcobaca to tour the Baroque-Gothic Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria. Both mom and I thought this church was lovely inside and out. It is the country’s largest church and the interior is very bright. This church is also were Portugal’s most romantic couple, King Pedro and Ines are buried. The carvings on their tombs are incredibly intricate and absolutely beautiful.

    From the church we walked to the Mercado Municipal, which is the town’s covered market. Frankly, it did not contain anything we had not seen before in other European towns or cities, and what was on offered, didn’t look great. But it was a place to stop to get a small flavor of the town.

    The next stop for the day was the town of Obidos, an adorable walled town with lots of narrow lanes and whitewashed houses. Before we had time to wander about and have lunch, Maria, our guide, had us stop at a small stand on the street going into town. Here we tasted the ginjinha of Obidos, served in a tiny, edible chocolate cup. By this time of day, it was warming up and the sun was shining and the last thing mom or I wanted was a melting chocolate cup, but, the ginjinha was actually much better than the version we tasted in Lisbon and the chocolate cup was so small we could pop it into our mouths without much melting onto our fingers.

    There really isn’t any way one could get lost in Obidos, with just two main arterial streets running parallel to each other. After walking through the main gate of the town, mom and I walked up the “high” street towards the castle, checking out the shops and restaurants along the way. At the castle we turned around and walked back the way we came, bought a few things (yes, another cork purchase, this time a wallet for me and necklace for mom) and at the main gate to the town, we turned onto the “lower” street and sat down at the first café/restaurant we saw. I’m happy to say, the place made a pretty good omelet and we had a couple nice glasses of wine.

    We met back up with the group and took the bus back to Nazare to relax a bit in the late afternoon. The weather was getting worse the closer we got to Nazare, so mom and I spent time in the hotel room, caching up with emails (me) and reading. That is one thing good about this hotel, the wifi in the room was excellent.

    This evening we had a group meal at a restaurant in the Sitio neighborhood of Nazare. We took the funicular from the beach-side area up the mountain to this neighborhood for a beautiful view of the crescent shaped beach, at which time the skies opened and it began to pour rain. So, we all walked as quickly as possible with umbrellas, navigating the wet/slick/slippery streets several blocks to the restaurant called O Luis located at Rua Dos Tanques, #7.

    Again, maybe it was the weather, or that our group was crammed into one very long table in the middle of restaurant ( I really don’t like to eat that way, not comfortable for me all, I prefer tables of 4-6), but this restaurant just did not “blow my socks off”, even though it’s supposed to have excellent seafood.

    Mom and I both had the fish stew and found it to have very little flavor, my one word description of the dish would be “meh”. They did provide plates of barnacles for us to eat, but after Maria, our guide, showed us the proper way to eat them, I felt like I’d have to work too hard for my food, if you know what I mean. Others in the group who did try them told us they thought the barnacles didn’t taste like anything to them. Maybe it was a good call on our part not to try them. This was one of our least favorite meals during the whole 2.5 week trip.

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    Sunday, May 19th

    Today was a jam-packed day and in the morning we said good-bye to Nazare and headed to Batalha, where we visited the Monastery of Santa Maria, which is a symbol of Portugal’s pride. After winning the Battle of Aljubarrota against the Spanish Castilian king the Portuguese King John I claimed the crown of Portugal and built the Monastery of Santa Maria in thanks.

    The exterior of the church is a late Gothic design, with stained glass windows, and gargoyles. Inside there is even more elaborate Manueline-style ornamentation. The cloister is a combination of the two styles and is beautiful. The chapter room has a soaring ceiling and is where Portugal’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. We were fortunate enough to be there when there was a changing of the guard, which was nice to see.

    We also visited the unfinished chapels, which have no roof. The chapels are behind the main alter and were intended to be for tombs topped with a rotunda ceiling. But only the walls, support pillars for the ceiling and double tomb were ever completed.

    The second stop on today’s agenda was the pilgrimage site of Fatima. I know these types of religious sites aren’t everyone’s “cup of tea”, but for me and mom, this place was high on our visit list. Mostly because my grandmother, my mom’s mother, always talked about Our Lady of Fatima.

    First I have to say, that going on a Sunday, probably wasn’t the best day of week to be there, in regards to the crowds, because it was very crowded. We were also there when an outdoor mass was in progress, so you imagine the crowds we were dealing with.

    We arrived at the bus drop-off point not far from where all the stands/stalls are set-up selling religious “tat”, and it really was “tat”, or “slock” as mom and I refer to it as. Once off the bus, Maria gave us a brief orientation and then let us off on our own. Mom and I were very interested in seeing the Chapel of the Apparitions, which marks the spot where Mary appeared to the 3 children. The chapel is enclosed in a glass building. As mom and I walked toward the building, I thought the chances of us even getting near enough to see the chapel were pretty slim and it had started to rain again.

    We got as close as 3 rows of people from the glass enclosure and we had had enough, the amount of people was just enormous. So, mom and I turned around, “wormed” our way out of the congestion and started walking towards the modern (built in 2005-2007) Church of the Holy Trinity. As we are walking the rain seems to be getting harder and harder. I’m looking down at the ground and then at the sleeve of my fleece jacket and can’t believe my eyes, it was hailing! Yes, in mid-May in Portugal, while at Fatima we experience hail. Could be normal weather circumstances, or maybe it was a sign from my grandmother telling us, “Thanks for the effort girls”…that’s what I like to think it was.

    We walked as fast as we could, which wasn’t fast, since hail and cobble stones don’t mix well and finally made it into the Church of the Holy Trinity, where we run into 2 of our tour group members. When we asked if they had experienced the hail, they looked at us like we were crazy and said no. Guess, it was just my and mom’s little secret hail shower.

    After about a 2 hours visit to Fatima, we were back on the bus heading for Coimbra, but we had 2 more stops. The first was for a lunch break at a highway rest stop and let me tell you, the lunch here was better than the dinner at O Luis in Nazare. We had a green cabbage soup and a roast suckling pig sandwich. Both were delicious, although the rest stop atmosphere wasn’t the most desirable, but the bathrooms were clean!

    The last stop for sightseeing today was the Conimbriga Roman Ruins and this was a complete WOW (!) site. I was not expecting to see such well-preserved remains. Here is the site’s website: www.conimbriga.pt

    We first took a short spin through the museum on site. Then Maria guided us through the archeological site with incredibly well-preserved tile floors, and walls. The House of the Fountains is an entire dwelling with many of its rooms and mosaics still intact.

    By now it was getting to be late afternoon and we were ready to get to Coimbra and our hotel. We drove into Coimbra with a stop at the Church of Santa Clara on the opposite side of the Mondego River, which gave us a lovely view of the city.

    We checked into the very centrally located Hotel Astoria, and that is the best thing I can say about this hotel. When we walked into the lobby we thought we had been transported back to the Art Deco era, and not in a good way. In my opinion, the hotel really needed some “Tender Loving Care”. The public areas seemed very old and very creaky, and the guest room, although spacious felt like I was walking into my grandmother’s house circa 1950. I know some people enjoy that style, I’m just not one of them, and mom didn’t care for the place either. As I said the best thing was the location, we could walk out the door and be in the center of everything, so that was the trade-off.

    We had another group dinner tonight at A Portuguesa on the river. I really liked the dining room at this restaurant, and although we were again seated at one long table with all the tour group members, this time the section of the restaurant we were in had no other diners, so I felt less like we were in the middle of everyone else’s meal.

    The staff here was very good, well, as good as it can be for a table of 24! The food was pretty good too, I just think I picked the wrong dish which was fish w/pasta. This was supposedly a local specialty, but when I saw the pasta was elbow macaroni, I was a little deflated, but the flavor was good. The others in the group who ordered the veal steak, totally “won” in the food category, it was perfectly cooked and looked out of this world good, yes, and I had “food envy”. There were also lots of fried starters served which included veal “cakes”, cod cakes and other tasty little fried bits and they were all excellent. And, the wine served with dinner was very good. Mom and I stuck with the white variety, but those having red said it was good too.

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    I'm continuing to follow along and enjoy your tasty report. It's bringing back great memories of my trip a few years back with mom and sis. I still love a nice vinho verde on a hot summer night... hits the spot, and I'd never heard of it before that trip.

    Looking forward to more!

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    Monday, May 20th

    Although we weren’t “crazy about” the hotel, we were really starting to like Coimbra. This morning started with a bus tour around the city and then a tour of Coimbra’s Old University. This was another great experience, as we walked into the university courtyard it felt like stepping into a Harry Potter book, because part of the student uniform is a black cape and dotted throughout the courtyard were students wearing them.

    The Old University Courtyard sits above the city and has stunning views of the city and river below. The King John Library is a site to see. There are 30,000 books on display and the door is kept locked to keep out humidity. As you walk inside there are book shelves from floor to ceiling and huge wooden tables inlaid with South American woods. We also saw St. Michael’s Chapel with its Manueline architecture, the Grand Hall where major academic ceremonies take place and we walked along the View Catwalk to the narrow observation deck from more great views of Coimbra.

    After the university tour, we said good-bye to our local guide and Maria took over, walking us down the hill through the city pointing out the cathedral and other sites. We made a stop at a local shop where as a treat Maria had arranged for us to paint our own ceramic tiles. It was a fun diversion, but let me just say, an artist, I am not. Mom is much better in the artistic category than I am!

    We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, so mom and I strolled down the main shopping street to Café Santa Cruz, next to the Church of Santa Cruz. This is an “old-timey” elegant café with simple sandwiches and most importantly wine. We sat down at a table outside under an umbrella and spent the next hour or so eating pork sandwiches, drinking wine and watching the world go by. Oh, and they had great wi-fi too!

    After lunch we meandered next door to the church and then did a bit of window shopping before going back to the hotel. A little while later we decided it was “wine-time” and went to an outdoor café near our hotel for a couple glasses of wine, and at &euor; 1.40 per glass it was a steal. At about 6:30pm we met our fellow group members for a fado performance at Fado oa Centro. Here is the website: http://www.fadoaocentro.com/en

    The fado in Coimbra was much different than what we saw in Lisbon, and both mom and I enjoyed it much more. In Coimbra fado is sung only by men. This performance was private, only for our tour group members. There were 3 men, one sang, one planed the Portuguese guitar and the other played the regular guitar. Although these 3 men had “regular-day jobs” they sang and played so well, they could have been full-time pros. It was an extremely enjoyable performance.

    When the performance was over it was about 8pm and we had dinner on our own, but I hadn’t done any in-depth restaurant research for Coimbra, so turned to our guidebook to find a place. Mom and I and a couple we had become friendly with decided it was time for a change from Portuguese food and went to Restaurante Italia on the river and a short walk from our hotel. We asked Maria, our guide to join us and were thrilled when she said yes.

    We had several simple pizzas that were pretty good, a bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde (love the blue label!) and great conversation. We were all surprised to look around the restaurant when we were ready to leave to find every table in the place full. Seems like the guidebook listing worked in our favor this time.

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    Tuesday, May 21st

    Today was a beautifully sunny day, the perfect day to go to the Douro Valley! We left Coimbra and drove to the Quinta Santa Eufemia family estate and winery. Here is the estate’s website: http://www.qtastaeufemia.com/

    What a beautiful landscape with spectacular views. This place really was stunning. If I am fortunate enough to ever go back to Portugal, I would definitely dedicate more (much more!) time in the Douro Valley.

    We were greeted warmly by one of the sisters of this family-run winery, and our tour of the vineyards began immediately upon our disembarking from the bus. We walked through the vineyards for probably about one hour and then made our way to the winery facility were we got to see how the wine is produced and bottled. This is a very small operation so we really got to see how things worked up-close.

    When the tour was over it was time to taste their wine, just what we had been waiting for! This was not a simple sip here or sip there, we sat down for a full-blown home-made Portuguese lunch extravaganza. And as luck would have it for a second time, mom and I were seated at the same table as not only a family member, but the woman (the youngest daughter of the family) who is the wine maker. We loved her. She not only could make excellent wines, but she liked to cook and mom and I walked away with a great new recipe for our Thanksgiving turkey!

    Now, this is where not taking notes during the trip has really failed me, because I do not have any information on anything we ate at lunch. But I do remember it was served family style and it was hearty and delicious and as you can probably expect it went very well with the wines. We tasted a white port, and then 2 other wines, a white and a red made by the very woman I was sitting next too! For dessert our whole group moved to another building on the property where coffee, and orange cake were served (leave it to me to remember the dessert part of the meal!).

    Before leaving mom purchased a bottle of olive oil made at the winery, a bottle of white port and a bottle of white table wine, which we would have with the dinner we would be having with the group tonight. We did this at the recommendation of Maria, our guide, because we would be having dinner at our hotel’s dining room and wine prices there could be “steep”.

    We said our good-byes to the winery family and boarded the bus for the very scenic drive to the town of Pinhao in the Douro Valley. Our next stop would be the Vintage House Hotel and to put it mildly this hotel was sumptuous. Here is the hotel website: http://hotelvintagehouse-douro.com/

    Pinhao is a little tiny town in the Douro Valley and once we arrived I understood why we would be having a group meal at the hotel dining room. It was because there wasn’t much else in town. But that was ok with us. I loved this hotel and I never left the property once we arrived. There is a lovely swimming pool and since it was sunny and warming up nicely, I decided the swimsuit I packed was going to get some use. While I lounged by the pool for a little while, mom relaxed in the very comfortable room which had a balcony with an unforgettable view of the Douro River.

    Instead of venturing out into town, about an hour before dinner we made our way down to the very atmospheric lounge and had a couple glasses of excellent vinho verde. And now we knew why Maria suggested we buy wine from the winery we visited to have at dinner. Our glasses of vinho verde here, were € 7 each. Not outrageous but since we had been paying € 1.50 in other places, we knew if we ordered a bottle at dinner it would be more than what we had been experiencing elsewhere. Honestly, I don’t think mom and I would have minded buying our wine at the hotel dining room, but Maria highly suggested doing it the way we did, maybe because others would prefer to pay less. And, interesting to note, at all the other group meals, wine was included (this had not been our experience on other Rick Steves tours where wine was not included with meals), maybe because the cost at the other places were in a more “manageable range”, who knows.

    I was actually looking forward to this meal because in my pre-trip research I read some very good things about this hotel dining room. Basically that it had a very good reputation in the area. I know, group meals can be a pain for the kitchen, but I found this meal to be just mediocre. My salmon main dish was good, but the side dish of mashed potatoes encrusted with macadamia nuts was not worth more than one taste and the starter of melon and prosciutto was really lack-luster. However, I would not let this stop me from returning because I think if not dining in a group, I would have had a completely different perspective. And our table-mates for this meal, certainly made up for the run-of-the-mill food. We had a great conversation.

    Coffee was not included with this dinner (the only time that happened too), so mom and I toddled back to the lounge for a couple espressos before turning in for a blissful night of slumber in extremely comfortable beds.

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    Wednesday, May 22nd

    The weather was really back in our favor and it was another beautifully sunny day. We left Pinhao and drove through the terraced wine country of the Douro Valley. The views were truly spectacular, we just about ohhh-ed and ahhh-ed all the way to Porto.

    When we arrived in Porto we did a brief bus tour of the city center and then disembarked the bus for a short walking tour of the Ribeira area by the river. We had a short break for lunch and mom and I sat down at an outdoor café on the river for a cup of coffee. Before we knew it, the time had come to board the boat for a cruise up and down the Douro River.

    The cruise lasted a little more than an hour and it was a good introduction to Porto. When the cruise ended we were back on the bus for the drive to the Serralves Foundation Contemporary Art Museum and Park, which is located away from the center of town.

    On our way to the museum, as we drove through the Foz neighborhood, Maria, our guide mentioned to me and mom that this is the area where the restaurant I had asked her about was located. During my pre-trip research I found the restaurant Cafeina in Porto and after reading about it, mom and I were very keen on having our one and only non-group dinner in Porto here. When we were in Pinhao, I asked Maria if she would be kind enough to make a reservation there for us and she did.

    However, a few others in the group heard the discussion between me and Maria and while we were at the museum, asked me if I would share the restaurant information with them, because they hadn’t been thrilled with the food they had in Portugal so far. I was reluctantly, not because mom and I wanted to have an evening away from tour group members, but because food (and dining in general) is really subjective. If someone told me about the best restaurant they ever went to and that I should go there, only to find out it was a sushi place, I wouldn’t have the same feeling about it, because I don’t care for sushi. And, not knowing these people very well (in spite of traveling with them for 10 days) I was reluctant to recommend a place I had not yet been too. When I wasn’t immediately forthcoming with the restaurant information at the museum, they approached Maria and asked her to make the reservation for them and she did.

    We re-grouped at the museum and began the tour. If you are really into modern art, you may love this place. Mom and I are not modern art fans, and to see 7 olive trees hanging upside down from the ceiling in a room with the olive tree leaves scattered below them on the floor, is not, in my mind art. However, the museum guide clearly loved her job and was very enthusiastic, so much so, that when it came time to tour the gardens we did not have much time left and practically sprinted through what looked to be very lovely grounds.

    By now it was late afternoon and we were ready to get to the hotel to relax. We were staying the next 2 nights at the Grande Hotel do Porto at Rua de Santa Catarina, # 197. Here is the hotel website: http://www.grandehotelporto.com/en/ This was another case of a great location and a mediocre hotel. The street the hotel is located on is a main shopping street, so as soon as you walk out the door you are in the middle of action. The staff was pleasant enough, and the lobby and lounge areas looked promising. Then we got up to the floors where the guest rooms are located and we felt like we walked into a college dormitory. The rooms, although spacious, were very sparse and the beds were not very comfortable. But we made the best of it and we were only staying 2 nights.

    At around 7pm mom and I went down to the hotel lounge and had a couple glasses of vinho verde (at € 2 per glass) and at about 8pm we caught a taxi to take us to the restaurant Cafeina in the Foz neighborhood. The taxi fare was about € 9 and it took about 20 minutes to drive there. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.cafeina.pt/en/cafeina

    From the moment we were greeted at the door we knew we were going to like this place. The service was excellent and the food was delicious. For starters mom had the foie gras and I had the goat cheese in puff pastry, I’ve got to admit, I had the “winning” starter. For our main dishes we both had the black pork with farro and a sausage stuffed cannelloni, the pork was tender and the cannelloni melted in our mouths. We asked the server to recommend a bottle of red wine for us (their wine list is on an iPad) and he selected a perfect red wine from the Alentejo region, which was an excellent match with the pork. We don’t always order dessert, but mom (and me too) love cheese and there happen to be 2 different cheese plates on the dessert menu. We couldn’t decide which to eliminate so got both! One was gorgonzola the other tallegio and both were absolutely delicious. We each had a glass of 10 year Taylor’s Port, since we were, after all, in Porto and we finished the meal with 2 espressos. Everything here was spot-on and we really enjoyed ourselves. What made it even more enjoyable was when the other tour group members who were also dining here stopped by on their way out and said how grateful they were to me for finding this place, they loved it. Boy did I breathe a sigh of relief that they liked it.

    When we asked for the check our server told us that our friends had paid for our cheese plates as a thank-you. Mom and I were blown away by this generosity. The total bill (without the 2 cheese plates) was € 91. The taxi fare, both ways, was so worth this place, in our opinion.

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    Thursday, May 23rd

    This was our last day of the Rick Steves tour and we were blessed with more great weather. In the morning we did a walking tour of Porto which started at the Bolhao market. Mom and I enjoyed walking through this market and wished we had more time there, but we did manage to buy a bollo arroz, which is basically the Porto version of a rice muffin, it was deliciously moist and tasty.

    We made our way across the city stopping at the Avenue of the Allies to take in the elaborate architecture. There was a visit to the cathedral with terrific views of the Douro River, and we made our way to the Sao Bento train station to see the beautiful tiles inside the station. Our final stop was the Stock Exchange Palace to see the lavishly decorated rooms, it was another show-stopping building.

    The walking tour ended in the Ribeira district adjacent to the river. We had decided the day before we wanted to have lunch at the restaurant at Taylor port wine lodge across the river from the Ribeira district in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. I had read this restaurant, Barao de Fladgate, has stunning views of Porto. I mentioned to Maria, our guide, we were planning to do this and could she tell me the closest metro stop to the wine lodge, she confirmed we needed to go one stop further on the metro line than what I had thought and it would then be a fairly easy walk.

    Before leaving the Ribeira district for lunch, though mom and I decided to quench our thirst at an outdoor café with a couple beers. Actually we had a beer with lemon soda in it (mom) and a beer with berry soda in it (me). They were interesting to taste, but I’m not sure either one of us will be running out to try them again, at least they were cold!

    After satisfying our thirst, we took the metro across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and got off at the stop Maria told us to. We followed her directions with one minor miss-step from me, I turned a bit too early but only went about 5 minutes out of our way. After about a 30 minute walk we made it half way down the hill and saw the sign for Taylors.

    It was about 1:30pm and I was starting to worry that they may have stopped serving lunch, but we got very lucky and the lunch service went on until 2pm, we got in just under the wire. We were seated on the terrace with fantastic views of Porto and one of the bridges spanning the Douro River. The service here was excellent and so was the food. Mom and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch that started with a complimentary glass of Taylor’s white port. We ordered a half bottle of vinho verde, one of the best we had during our time in Portugal. For lunch mom had the lentil curry and proclaimed it delicious. I had the granny smith apple & lime risotto with crispy duck, it was some of the best risotto I have ever had. We ended the meal with two espresso. The cost for lunch was € 55. The food, service and most of all the views were all worth the trek to get here.

    The walk back to the metro stop seemed so much faster, but I find that happens to me a lot, when I don’t know the area where I’m heading it seems to take forever. Then once I know the route, it seems so fast.

    We made our way back to the hotel to pack up our bags before gathering with the other tour group members for our farewell meal. We all met in the hotel lobby for a celebratory glass of sparkling wine, provided by Maria, and to get the tiles we had painted in Coimbra. Because the tiles had to be fired, Maria had made arrangements for the shop in Coimbra to send them to her in Porto to give to us.

    After saying our thank-yous to Maria we all walked around the corner for our final meal together. I really wish I could say this was the best meal of the trip, and in some ways it was, the conversations at our table was terrific, but the food really was not very good. In fact, I never even made a note of the name of the restaurant. Let’s just say, mom and I were really glad we had such a fantastic dinner at Cafeina and a spectacular lunch at Barao de Fladgate.

    After dinner it was a quick walk back to the hotel, where we turned in for the night. Mom and I really enjoyed Porto, I hate to admit this, but we may have even liked it a smidge more than Lisbon.

    Friday, May 24th

    We had a fairly leisurely morning and took our time at breakfast, then made our way via taxi to the train station to catch the 11:45am Alfa Pendular (fast) train to Lisbon. I had purchased our tickets on-line before leaving home. We bought first class seats for €42.40 each, but the train was not crowded and we probably could have easily purchased the tickets that morning.

    The 2.5 hour ride was smooth and there was free wi-fi on the train, so I was able to catch up with emails and such. We arrived back in Lisbon at about 2:30pm and took a taxi to the Hotel Lisboa Plaza for our last night in Portugal.

    After checking in we got our bags organized for the flight home and at around 5pm we took a taxi to the Bairo Alto Hotel roof top terrace for our last aperitivo of the trip. We loved the views here so much we thought it would be a great way to say good-bye to Lisbon. At first we thought we would just have some wine here and a sausage and cheese plate, then go back to the hotel and turn in early since we had a very early morning flight the next day. But after a couple hours at the terrace, we realized we were hungrier than we thought we would be, but we didn’t want a big meal, and we needed a restaurant that was open and wouldn’t be a long lingering meal. That’s when I remembered my friend Robert’s recommendation of the piri-pirr chicken at Bom Jardin.

    We left the Bairo Alto Hotel terrace, and walked to Bom Jardin and they were open and service was speedy. We knew exactly what we wanted which made ordering a snap and it is the specialty of the house. The chicken here was great and the piri-piri sauce just about “set my hair on fire”. With a final bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde, mom and I were 2 happy ladies. We were finished with the meal in less than one hour and were back at the hotel, ready to climb into bed by 8pm. Good thing to, because we had a 6am flight the next day.

    Saturday, May 25th

    It was a very early start this morning and by 4:30am we were in a taxi riding to the Lisbon airport. Good thing we got there early because the ticket agent had to do a little “magic” with our tickets to be able to issue all our boarding passes, she was a star and got everything squared away.

    We had a tight connection in Paris, it was just 1 hour and 15 minutes from touch-down on the Lisbon flight to connect with the flight to Atlanta. I don’t think I have ever seen mom move so fast through an airport, she was a trooper. We arrived right at 9:30am and by the time we changed terminals (had to take a shuttle bus), we arrived at the Atlanta flight gate just as they began boarding. This was the first time ever that we never sat down at CDG. We just walked off one plane and onto the next, albeit a very long walk with a shuttle bus ride tossed in there too. I don’t usually like a connection that close, but fortunately this time it worked for us.

    The flight to Atlanta was smooth, passport control, and customs & immigration were a breeze and we had plenty of time to catch our connecting flight to Savannah. We arrived home 20+ hours after we left Lisbon, but we were happy to have spent time in a beautiful country, with a rich history, delicious food & wine and warm & friendly people.

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    LCI - I've very much enjoyed reading your latest trip report! It sounds as if you and your mother had some great meals, and a good time with the Rick Steves tour. Brings back good memories of my 2012 trip to Portugal. I now realize that I should have researched better the restaurants in Lisbon and Porto. My focus, after booking pousadas most nights, was driving routes. My trip started in Lisbon (day trip to Sintra, of course, and a very memorable lunch at the Hotel Palacio de Seteais), then bus to Porto, and a car rental to drive south and return to Lisbon via Coimbra, Obidos, Evora, and Estremoz. And as luck would have it, the best meal (and next to last night) was on the square in Estremoz by the pousada. That's when I realized my big mistake in not researching restos - I had just thought the Portugal tastes weren't mine! Loved, loved, loved Porto! Hope you had a coffee or champagne in the 'belle epoque' Majestic Café - I think near your hotel in Porto? Charming place ... frequented by JK Rowling when writing the beginning of her Potter books. Looking forward to your report on your trip to Italy later this year.

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    Fabulous report, LCI!!! Interesting your reaction to the chapel of bones some years later, what a curiosity! And thanks for the hunger pangs, lol. Goat cheese in puff pastry... sounds to me like the stuff dreams are made of :-)

    So looking forward to reading about your next adventure! Especially Italy!!

    Cheers my friend!

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    Janetd5...thanks for reading. Yes, mom and I had a lot fun. We really enjoyed Porto, a lot! We did manage to have a pre-dinner glass of wine at one of the outdoor tables at the Majestic Café, it was just a few steps down the street from our hotel. Our guide, Maria, did tell us JK Rowling spent time there writing. Makes me think, if Rowling spent time in Portugal, that is why the Harry Porter characters wear capes at school!

    AnnMarie_C...thanks for continuing to follow along. I guess in my old age, seeing skeleton bones makes me more aware that I am not as young as I used to be...LOL! :-D

    ekscrunchy...if you haven't been to Portugal, I highly recommend it for you. Although not all our meals were "home-runs" we really savored the ones I did pre-trip research on. And I can't give high enough praise to Portuguese wines! ((D))

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    Hi LCI,

    Really enjoyed your TR of Portugal, a place on "our list". We're normally not tour people, as it seems you're not either. But your report suggests to us that a trip similar to yours might be a great way to explore Portugal.

    Our travels this year have been to places such as Puerto Rico, the CA coast, and New England. We tend not to write reports for US travel. Your report reminds us that it's been too long since we've been to Europe. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

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    LCI: Just saw your query.

    This is a first time for us.

    Look forward to discussing Portugal with you and your mother, when we get to Sav. on Dec 9.

    Our first Sav. Christmas! We return north on March 10, then leave for Lisbon on April 8.

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    Ted...

    I'm sure you will enjoy SAV in December, much, much milder climate then Canada! ;-) We'll be leaving for Sicily at the end of Feb. and returning on March 10th, but that gives us lots of time to coordinate a GTG to chat about Portugal!

    yestravel...

    Thanks, glad the TR is providing you with some helpful hints.

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    The Vintage House was very special when we were there. Is it still owned by Fonseca?? While there we experienced a very bad thunder storm and the power failed..Vintage House by candle light WOW!!! One of the memorable moments (among many) of Portugal!!!

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    Thank you for this in depth report. My wife and I are planning our first trip to Portugal next March. Although our itinerary will include only a small part of yours, I've enjoyed getting a taste of Portugal through your writings.

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    amer_can...I'm not sure about The Vintage House being owned by Fonseca, but it wouldn't surprise me. We were only there one night (wish it could have been 2!) and we arrived in the late afternoon and left mid-morning the next day and since it was booked on a tour, I didn't do much pre-trip research on the place except for reading a few trip advisor reviews.

    springstein...thanks for reading, I hope you have a great time in Portugal!

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    Denise...

    I loved Lisbon. I thought the tile musuem was an absolute gem! And you must go to the rooftop lounge at the Hotel Bario Alto for the great views! Highly recommend a meal at Cantinho do Avillez (a Katie Parla recommended spot!) ;-)

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    Thanks....we had a choice of a few things and we asked for the food tour....hope it is a good one.

    I hope to know more soon about the schedule and any free time. Sadly, I will have a very short time there, so will not get the "full effect", i know.

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    If the food tour is with Inside Lisbon, I can say our experience with them was really good and covered a good bit of the central area and a lot of interesting Portuguese food history.

    Even if you don't get to the tile museum, the city itself is full of beautiful tile work.

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