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Trip Report Trip Report: Beautiful Madeira, Charming Sintra &....Lisbon

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A big thank you to all of you who helped me plan our first trip to Portugal and for those who wrote wonderful trip reports. It certainly helped me put together a terrific itinerary. Hopefully we will return -there is so much more of Portugal I want to see including the Algarve and Northern Portugal and Evora. I also want to go back to Lisbon and hopefully experience it and love it the way many posters do. Having said that, we loved Portugal, the people, the food – nirvana for seafood. I don’t think we ever ate so well in any other country and that includes France and Italy. The simplest places we went to prepared excellent food -they know how to grill a fish.

When I first started researching Portugal I wrote a post saying I was looking for a more relaxing itinerary and I got it. It really would have been stress-free if we didn’t rent a car and if I were more careful with liquids before boarding. We do not check our bags so the liquid issue is really a big pain. I decided not to bring certain items thinking it will be easy to get when there (not when you’re staying in the old town of Funchal). I had the brilliant idea to buy the items in the airport at Newark after going through bag inspection. I had no idea that Lisbon would inspect liquids as well. The worst part is that I forgot I had bought them and stuck them in my luggage. So at the Lisbon airport when they asked me if I had any liquids in my luggage I said no. I was asked to open my luggage (I’m not good with less than 9 hours sleep!) and there they were!! Since I bought the giant sized sunblocker and some lotions, they were taken away. I don’t remember them checking for liquids in Spain before our connecting flight to Seville.

Anyway we had a 12:45 connecting flight to Madeira but there was a 9:20AM flight I thought we would be able to catch (we got in at 8:20). Maybe we could have if I listened to my husband who pointed out the “transportation desk” just before we went through passport control. I think we could have asked there if it were possible change our flight to an earlier one. I told him I didn’t think this was the place to do that and I thought for sure we had enough time. Not with all the problems with my liquids. Oh well.

Our schedule was:

4 nights Funchal, Madeira – extra time here to relax by the pool and drive to other parts of the island.
3 nights Sintra – with day trips to Obidos, Peniche and possibly Cascais.
2 nights Lisbon

Our previous trips to Europe (except for Provence) didn't allow for laying around the pool so this was a definite change, but a good one. We were very happy with this itinerary and wouldn't change anything.

We were lucky enough to fly business on Continental and these days business is a big deal with the chairs turning into beds! I am a miles junkie and use my credit cards for all purchases. I also signed up for new credit cards for big miles including British Airways Visa for 50,000 miles and no foreign transaction fees. Now BA is offering 100,000 miles! Sign up!

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    Madeira

    I read a post that said Madeira is not for everyone and I agree. This is not the place for big city touring and nightlife. It’s the place to go for natural beauty and taking it slow -we loved it. It reminded us of Hawaii (except for the beaches) with its mountains and flowers and rugged landscapes. Unfortunately I didn’t get much information regarding Madeira on the Fodors website, I don’t think many Americans go to Madeira, but there was plenty of info on the Trip Advisor forum.

    We stayed at Bela Sao Tiago Hotel, for four nights, a five minute walk to the old town – a perfect location and a great hotel. I thought of staying where all the big hotels are but I’m glad we didn’t. When I saw the area it reminded me of Miami Beach with one big hotel after another. Although you can walk to the old town, it’s a long walk. The old town is not large but we enjoyed dining and strolling in this area. Since we flew in from Newark and caught a connecting flight to Funchal, we were pretty tired and loved lying out by the pool the first day and relaxing. There were great views of the harbor and the cruise ships and surrounding hills not only from our terrace but the pool area and many common areas. Our room was nicely decorated, clean, comfortable. The bathroom was nice and clean but with a crazy tri-fold shower door. We enjoyed the breakfasts, large variety, including eggs, meats, cakes, rolls, cereals, yogurts and even champagne all served in a beautiful room with large French doors leading to an expansive terrace. Unfortunately too chilly for breakfast outside. 162 euros a night. Would definitely stay here again even with the tri-fold shower doors and crazy lighting system (by remote control).

    Since we arrived late afternoon, we spent it by the pool enjoying the beautiful view. Oh and a welcome drink of Madeira wine was perfect.

    We left the hotel about 6pm to walk around the old town and pick a place to eat. The walk was very pleasant and we only had to deal with one steep hill! The old town itself is very small, quaint, cobbled streets, old buildings, many restaurants. But what I found strange is I didn’t see any small gift or pastry shops. I certainly wouldn’t want to see souvenir shop after souvenir shop, but a pastry shop would be nice. We had dinner at O Jango in the old town. Grilled sardines for DH and grilled squid for me. House rose. Wasn’t sure if Portugese rose would be dry but it was and it was good. Our fish was great – if you love fish this is the country for you! Very reasonably priced – actually all of our restaurants were reasonably priced.

    The following day was spent exploring Funchal. We visited the municipal gardens (lovely), walked along Rue Arriago where there were outdoor stalls (flea market type), walked through small cobbled streets just enjoying the day. Loved Funchal with its beautiful flowers and old, cobbled streets, and promenade. We decided to take a double decker bus tour – ok – but it felt like we saw everything already, even though we’ve only been in Funchal a day.

    Lunch at Jardins do Infante near the food market. A beautiful day so we ate outside under an umbrella with huge trees surrounding us. Really pretty place and usually the type of place (touristy!! Touristy!!) that has bad food. However, started out pretty good with a timble-full of Madeira wine (hmmmm maybe we were charged for it? I don’t care, it was yummy). We found most restaurants in Madeira gave us a sampling. The time didn’t matter either- breakfast lunch - here try some wine! Love this country. This is where I ate limpets (lapas) for the first time (delicious). Some sort of clam (with a pretty shell) prepared with olive oil and garlic and DH large mussels and we shared a moist pork sandwich on garlic bread. And wine. Of course! We are on vacation. Loved that place. After lunch we walked over to the food market. Not my favorite market but that could have been because we spent so little time there. A few vendors were insisting we try their fruit –“eat, eat, delicious, try our fruit!!!!!” Once that started happening, DH disappeared and that was the end of the market. Took the cable car up to Monte although it started to rain so we didn’t visit the gardens, although we saw people heading that way. Great ride and gorgeous views. Rainy up top but clear on the bottom. Pool time! Dinner at Gaviao Novo in Rua Santa Maria in the old town again. Ate inside since it looked like rain and the place was packed. Another winner. DH had the last dorade and I had sea bream grilled. Vegetables and potatoes on the side.

    So far only British and German tourists, not an American in sight. Not that I minded.

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    Our initial plan was to spend the first two days (really 1-1/2 days) exploring Funchal and two remaining days exploring the island with a rental car. I found out the hotel can book our rental for us and have it waiting right at the hotel! Great! So I didn’t have to worry about renting a car in advance or having to cancel it since DH at the last minute decided he didn’t want to drive….I think he changed his mind after our ride from the airport to the hotel – some small, very steep streets. So for our last two days in Madeira, I book two tours with Strawberry World – a full day tour of the western island and ½ day tour to nun’s valley. Although I was disappointed, I didn’t want to drive so why should he? But if I had known this before, I would have had more time to pick the right tour for us (maybe a private one).

    We took a taxi to the lido Shopping center where we pick up the bus. The first tour was the ½ day tour of nun’s valley, a smaller tour in a large mini-van with driver/guide Bruno. We stopped at some small towns – Camara dos Lobos, pretty fishing town with some tough looking fisherman but it made for some nice photos and Curral de Freiras (Nun’s valley) small town with shops and restaurants. I thought actually seeing the town from afar was better than the town itself. To me the best part of the tour was not the actual towns but the ride to get there. Beautiful roads with scenic views, driving through typical neighborhoods – everyone seems to have terraced grapevines in their backyards, seeing how people live and all of the flowers! My husband and I have a small vineyard on Long Island plus we are avid gardeners so Madeira was like paradise to us.

    The tour ended at 12:30 and decided to walk back to the old town (about ½ hour walk) along the promenade and have lunch. Lunch at an outdoor café right under the cable car entrance. Don’t remember the name, too bad, because it was very good. Again another pretty place screaming TOURISTY but with good food. I had the Espada sandwich, delicious. And good wine. By this time it 3:00 and decided to spend the afternoon by the pool. Very nice.

    Dinner at O Porteo – recommended by someone on TripAdvisor. Very, very good – Salmon carpaccio, grilled sardines, grilled prawns with champagne sauce and some nice Portugese wine. Although it was chilly ate outside – packed inside. We don't usually have dessert but that changes once we hit Sintra.

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    The following day, our last day in Madeira,was a full day trip to the Western side of the island (9-5:30). The island is very small but the terrain so different – lush and forested areas with cala lilies and birds of paradise everywhere and then desolate, rocky areas. And don’t forget the beautiful coast. But the best part of the tour was our guide, Anna. Soft-spoken with a sing-song voice that should be narrating some episodes of National Geographic or maybe children’s books! She spoke about the natural beauty of Madeira and described the towns and villages, but also spoke about the economy, schools, housing, jobs, maternity leave etc etc. Very informative. Anna is genuinely in love with Madeira and it came across when she spoke to us. The tour took us to many towns and villages with stops from 10 minutes for photos ops to 30 minutes to explore the towns and do some shopping. What I really was looking forward to was the ride to Porto Moniz on the old road. Unfortunately the bus was not going to do this for safety reasons although we were able to see parts of the old road. Still the views of the coast, the waterfalls, flowers and terraced hillsides were amazing. We had an hour and a half hour stop at Porto Moniz for lunch and exploring on our own. Beautiful day so we ate outside overlooking the water and had a few glasses of wine – a plus for not driving! This was the only restaurant where the food was not great. Every other meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner were very good to excellent. Porto Moniz is an incredible town. Beautiful natural lava pools must be heaven to swim in – a bit too chilly now. In the end, I was happy we took the bus. Although there are many pluses to renting a car, not having to worry about missed turns and reading maps - just enjoying the scenery was nice and relaxing. And this time DH was able to enjoy the views.

    We were dropped off at the Ritz Hotel which is halfway between their Lido office and our hotel and decided to walk home. Very sunny day and stayed light until 8:30 – 9 pm. Back to town and passed some restaurant where a waiter bothers us to have dinner here, look at menu etc.
    Back to hotel to change and rest a while and back out. Same waiter – “You came back!!!” he says so we decide to have dinner there…. And it was good….again sat outside, beautiful evening and great setting. Tomorrow on to Sintra

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    Hi, Sashiez,
    I am enjoying this report. I have driven a car in Madeira and did not enjoy it, but as you note, it does give you much greater access. Sounds like you were able to find an acceptable alternative.

    I am always hoping to find someone who can tell me what the fish I love in Portugal would be in the US. My own favorite is robalo, which I think is sea bass. What was the sea bream? Is it parga or something like that? I also like dorada, but have no idea what it is in English, nor do I know what Emperador is, though I think some have said it's swordfish. Anyway, any clarification you can bring to this would be helpful. A Brazilian friend tells me that things are further complicated by the fact that the same fish has different names in Portugal and Brazil!

    I think we share the same view of eating in Portugal -- why would you ask for anything else when you can order fresh from the water grilled-to-perfection fish? And, is it my imagination, or are the potatoes in Portugal really exceptionally delicious?

    Looking forward to reading more, thanks!

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    I'm glad you're enjoying the report.Thank you.

    Dorada is Dorade in the US. Sea bream is very similar to Branzini (Orata in Italy) - have you had that? All are very similar in taste although I think Branzini has a sweeter taste and is meatier. Never heard of Emperador or robalo although my husband thinks Robalo is a Fish from Florida. We went to one restaurant in Madeira where my husband ordered a sea bass and he got a filet cut from what he said was a huge fish - different from what we usually get when we order sea bass - a whole fish.

    Yes, the potatoes are better tasting!! I still think about my pork and clams and potatoes dish, with a Portugese red sauce that I had in Sintra. I thought it sounded strange so I had to get it. I should have asked the waiter what was in the red sauce...so good.

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    Great report. I'm a HUGE enthusiast for Madeira and have been there many times over the years. Sorry I missed your earlier trip planning threads (I think I was actually away in Madeira at the time!) You're right that few Americans visit the island, I suppose it's a bit fiddly to get the flight connections there. But it is worth it, the scenery is some of the most dramatic anywhere in Europe and the climate is wonderful, especially in the winter when its freezing cold and miserable in northern Europe. Madeira also avoids the crowds that clog up so may popular destinations in continental Europe.

    Driving in Madeira is a bit challenging for the uninitiated, but once you get used to it it's fine. I personaly find it less stressful than the congested urban roads where I live in the UK.

    I've eaten at most of the restaurants you mention - the fresh seafood and fish are usually very good, although there are inevitably a few tourist traps (Porto Moniz suffers in this respect as its a popular tour bus destination). The restaurants in the old town in Funchal are mostly excellent, especially Le Jardin, Forte, Riso and Tappasol.

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    Checking my aged copy of Jean Anderson's "Food of Portugal", your Sintra dish was almost certainly Porco a Alentejana. There are several recipes on-line, but they all seem a lot simpler than Anderson's which calls for marinating the pork for 24 hours in a dry paste made from red peppers, garlic and salt. I can post the recipe if you want it.

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    Gordon, Madeira is a very special place and "dramatic" scenery describes it perfectly. We hope to return one day. In the meantime we tell all our friends it makes for a great vacation.

    thursday - Red peppers - that could be it. The pork was so tender and the potatoes just perfectly cooked. We had it at a restaurant called Cafe Paris in Sintra. If you don't mind please post the recipe for everyone here. Will definitely try making it....have you tried Branzini?

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    Sintra

    Flight from Funchal to Lisbon. No problems with liquids this time but then again that was because I didn’t go ahead with my plan to get another plastic baggy and fill it with small Madeira wine samples. Such a selection in the liquor stores but decided I would pick up some samples in the Lisbon airport on my way home and then check my bag. Unfortunately, only port samples at the airport.

    Arrived at the Lisbon airport, and picked up our rental car. So far, so good. A larger car so DH was not happy since we had asked for a VW Golf or Ford Focus sized car and got an Opal Astra. I had my map and my direction to Sintra Tivoli hotel. Asked AutoEurope representative about the tolls and he said “you take the ticket from the machine and further on pay at the manned toll further on”. With a look that said “stupid American”. We drove to Obidos and Peniche and did not have a problem – can’t say outside of that area. So off we go.

    DH drives and I point the way. Lots of signs for Sintra but I was tense and then finally relaxed when I thought we were ok. The problem was I took my eyes off the road to adjust the air conditioner (mistake). We came upon a roundabout, DH didn’t see a sign for Sintra so I looked up for a second just as DH says “there’s Sintra” and I go back to adjusting the air conditioner.

    It’s amazing how “Centro” can sound like “Sintra” with the right pronunciation.

    He heads towards Centro (of Lisbon) not Sintra. (he never heard of Sintra until a few hours ago ). We drive for 10 miles, turn around, head the wrong way on the roundabout and start looking for a gas station to ask for directions. “Por Favor, do you speak English?” “A Little” and then I say “Sintra” and he says “Centro” and I say yes, Sintra and my husband in the car is yelling at me not Centro, Sintra!!!! Some nerve, him yelling at me, he should have paid attention when I was explaining our itinerary and would it have killed him to look at a map where Sintra is spelled Sintra and not Centro???? So I show the nice man Sintra on my map. Then he holds out his palm and makes a circular motion with his finger on it….ROUNDABOUT! I understand that, but then he starts speaking to me in Portugese….uh oh…. Still making circular motion and then an abrupt move with his finger – 9o’clock??? He was trying so hard to help. Ok roundabout and exit at 9o’clock. I’m tense again and DH is tense. We thank him and off we go. Perfect directions – I just wished I could have thanked him again! Once we got closer to Sintra we just followed signs to historic district. We were unable to follow the directions from the hotel – couldn’t find street signs – why didn’t they just say “follow the “Historic District” signs. ?????

    Hotel Tivoli Sintra – this is definitely the ugliest building around – how were they allowed to build it? But the location was perfect, the service good and the inside of the hotel was nice. The common areas were modern, the breakfast room had beautiful views and the breakfast, a huge, varied menu – including crepes! And eat the eggs rancheros! Yum. And the best coffee. Our room, although a bit dated, was comfortable, clean but the best part was our HUGE, HUGE terrace with incredible views of the city and castle. We had two padded loungers outside and with the beautiful weather, took advantage of it (room 706). We were happy!

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    OK, here's the recipe - caveat, I haven't made it myself. No potatoes.

    From Jean Anderson's "The Food of Portugal"

    Porco a Alentejana

    2 1/2 lbs boneless pork loin cut into 1 inch cubes
    2 tbsp Masa de Pimentao (see below) or a paste of 1 peeled & crushed clove of garlic, 1 tsp kosher salt, I tbsp sweet paprika (pref. Hungarian sweet rose) and 1 tbsp olive oil
    1 cup dry white wine
    2 large bay leaves, crumbled
    2 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp lard (hog lard, not veg shortening)
    1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
    1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
    2 tbsp tomato paste
    18 small little neck clams in the shell, scrubbed well and purged of grit. (To do that, cover with cold water, add 1 tbsp cornmeal, let stand at room temp 20-30 min, then drain well.)
    1/4 tsp salt
    1.4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

    Rub the pieces of pork well all over the Masa de Pimentao, place in large, shallow nonmetallic bowl, add wine and bay leaves, cover and marinate about 24 hours, turning ocasionaly.

    Next day, heat the olive oil and lard in a large heavy kettle over high heat until ripples appear - the fat should almost smoke. Lift the pork from the marinade (save the marinade) and brown in three batches, transferring to a heat-proof bowl as they brown. When all the pork is brown, dump the onion and garlic into the kettle, lower the heat to moderate, and stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes until limp and golden. Turn the heat to low, cover the kettle, and steam the onion and garlic 20 minutes. Blend in the tomato paste and reserved wine marinade, return the pork to the kettle, adjust the heat so that the wine mixture barely bubbles, then cover and cook 1 1/2 hours until the pork is fork-tender. Bring the kettle liquid to a gentle boil, lay the clams on top of the pork, distributing as evenly as possible, re-cover, and cook about 30 minutes - just until the clams open, spilling their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Masa de Pimentao - this recipe is very close to Anderson's: http://www.recipegoldmine.com/worldspanish/red-pepper-paste.html

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    Usually I am very good about starting and completing my trip reports in a timely manner. I am determined to finish, especially since I enjoyed the trip so much.

    SINTRA - continued

    We love small towns, especially small towns with lots to do. Many posters felt three days in Sintra was too much and others felt Sintra was “Disney-like”. I didn’t get that feeling. For me three days in pretty Sintra was perfect, a perfect combination of hikes, day-trips, relaxing and dining (we ate very well). And as far as a Disney-like feel goes – didn’t understand that. Maybe they were referring to Pena Palace with its colorful façade.

    After arriving and checking in we walked over to Paris Café for lunch, very close to our hotel. Although it was chilly, we ate on the terrace and ordered some salads. But what salads! Well, actually it was my husband’s salad that was extraordinary – mixed greens with duck and cherries in this incredible dressing. Of course we ordered a glass of wine but the waiter came with a bottle…oh that’s okay, we’re on vacation.

    Walked around town, very quaint, very small and did some window shopping and looked at some restaurant menus. Decided to walk over to Regelaria Palace. Passed Lawrence Hotel, a very charming looking place but had no regrets about our hotel choice. The palace is an incredible place and wasn’t even on my list until I read about it in Lonely Planet Guide, pretty much saying it is a must do. My three young nieces would love this place, climbing turrets, running in the tunnels and caves -although their parent would be a bit crazed running after them. The owner must have had a lot of money, a lot of leisure time and a vivid imagination. Loved it.

    Dinner at Alcobaca. Good food, pork with bread for me. DH got pizza – what was he thinking? He did like it – said tasted like frozen pizza – yes, he likes frozen pizza. Stopped for pastry and then back to hotel.

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    Obidos and Peniche

    The plan for today was to drive to Obidos and then head west to Peniche and have lunch. If we had enough time, and if we had a good driving day, maybe head to Cascais. Spoke to the receptionist at front desk and he gave us a map with directions. It was easy getting out of town and finding the road north to Obidos, but ended up taking N9 instead of A8. It’s like taking Northern Blvd instead of the Long Island Expressway for those of you who live in New York. The scenery was nice especially driving through some small villages and farms and pretty vineyards. But it added over 30 minutes to the trip. Finally found A8 and arrived in Obidos fairly quickly after that. Obidos was picturesque although touristy (so many souvenir shops!) and certainly a photo op place with small, hidden alleyways, flowers everywhere, pretty shops but having been to walled towns before and after driving almost 2 hours, we felt it wasn’t worth the drive. If we were on our way to Porto, or if we were staying closer it would have been worth it. So we walked around for 1 hour and decided to drive to Peniche.

    A poster wrote you should go to the harbor at Peniche and have lunch and since I did read that Peniche has a number of good seafood restaurants, decided to make that our next stop. Peniche was very easy to find but the harbor not so easy. We drove to the beach, beautiful, drove through the town a few times but never did find the harbor. Drove through the town but it seemed quite big and not really sure where to go so.... Back to Sintra. DH enjoyed driving in Spain and France but did not enjoy driving here. Part of the problem was the size of the car but the biggest problem is just bad luck with directions – missing signs and turnoffs. In hindsight, we should have taken a bus/train to Cascais (and surrounding towns) or taken a full day tour. I think our driving days in Europe are over.

    We arrived back in town about 2PM, had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon on our terrace relaxing.
    Dinner at Regional restaurant (?) it is located near town hall and the food was excellent! We were the only diners there but we didn’t care. The owner was friendly and the wine and food delicious. We talked about wine and sardines and he told us the perfect way to cook them. They really love their sardines! DH had sea bream and I had monkfish with almonds in a lemon, butter sauce. The best. A nice stroll home, the streets were quiet – all the day trippers gone.

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    On our last full day in Sintra, we decided to hike up to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle and back. We started about 9:30 and it was a very pleasant walk. Quiet, no sounds but the birds chirping and the occasional bus passing by. It wasn’t as steep as I expected and it was shady and cool and since we love to walk it was a nice morning. But it was a long walk. Toured the palace on our own, visiting the private rooms – queens office and dressing room, baths and even the kitchen – loved that. I’m always interested in seeing kitchens when touring palaces and homes open to the public, but rarely get to see them. The tour probably took ½ hour so husband was happy. Then made our way to the Moorish castle. No more shade! And it’s unseasonably hot. DH asked, do you want to go to the top? I don’t remember saying yes, but up he went with me behind. By the time we got to the top of the turret I was huffing and puffing and I’m in good shape…but the view was wonderful. Walked back down following a different route from this morning and arrived back in town around 1:30 – tired and hot. Wanted to go back to the hotel to freshen up but there was Tacho Real and decided to stop for lunch. Now when I say freshen up I don’t mean powder my nose and put on some gloss….I mean take a shower and put on some more deodorant. I was sweaty and hot. But anyway here we are. The restaurant is in a nice setting – even a man playing the guitar. Great lunch – Gazpacho – delicious and boy did that cool me down 10 degrees! Grilled squid and bacalou (sp) and a bottle of wine…I see a habit forming. Shopped for pastry, did some window shopping and headed to hotel to rest.

    Dinner at Paris Café where we had lunch previously. Another great dinner with another very friendly waiter. We sat on the very tiny, not-too-sturdy-looking terrace, but hey have a glass of wine and you’ll forget all about it! I recommend this restaurant highly for lunch or dinner. Tender pork with potatoes and tiny clams in a red sauce and Bacalou with spinach – shaped into a patty – both very, very good dishes. Never had anything like that. And nice local wine.

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    Drive to Lisbon Airport

    When I use to think of driving in Europe, I would think of leisurely, relaxed drives through (or to) hilltop villages, viewing miles and miles of vineyards or stopping for the sheep to cross the road. I think that might have been a tv commercial. The last couple of times we drove in Europe, I sat at attention with my map in one hand (with a magnifying glass in my other hand) with my stomach in knots. I am not relaxed and I usually need a drink when we finally make it to our destination.

    Now we have to drop off the car at the Lisbon airport. Sintra is very close to the Lisbon airport. It doesn’t look like a difficult drive. It wasn’t at first, not until the sign that said Lisbon Norte or Lisbon South. I hoped DH would just happen to know (again, WOULD IT KILL HIM TO LOOK AT THE MAP?????)….but no, so DH says “north or south”….. so I said North - ----wrong-------. A sign with Airport on it would have been nice. We did find the airport finally but then couldn’t find a gas station. Actually, there were plenty of gas stations on the other side of the road and drove and drove until we finally see the roundabout but unfortunately do not see the red light but do see the three lanes of cars coming our way. I thought we were going to die and screamed and my husband said, the cars were a million miles away! Then we find a gas station and we are one step closer to getting rid of this car. OK, how do you unlock the gas cap? Looked and looked. OK where is the car manual? No car manual. Back to airport with no gas. How do you unlock gas cap? Rent a car man looks at us with the look that says Stupid Americans. He taps the cap and there you are! Viola. No lock. This so reminds me of the time we were in Ronda and we couldn’t find the car keyhole (see trip report Spain “Barcelona & Andalucia Trip Report – GREAT (but some bad luck)”.

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    I agree with you about the ugly building that the Tivoli hotel is. Location however is perfect indeed. We stayed (only 2 weeks ago) at a B&B a bit further from the center. It was a steep walk into the centre! We didn't really like Sintra during the day because of the busloads of tourists that were dropped all day long. Well, I do understand because there is a lot to see in Sintra but I really preferred the place at night after the crowds had gone. We stayed for 5 nights and other than to Cascais and Lisbon we haven't left town. We would have liked to drive to Obidos, too but there was no time left. But then, we are slow travelers and don't like to hurry.

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    Lisbon

    After dropping rental at airport, took taxi to hotel. Fast ride so when the driver said 24 euros I was surprised. Didn’t I just see 8 euros on the meter? He then pointed up the street and said hotel which mean’t we had to walk. I looked at the meter which at this point was off and he turned it back on and it said 20 euros – where did 24 come from? And why didn’t he drive us up to the hotel? I thought well maybe the street is closed for some reason and maybe the drive was longer than I thought… and I just let it go. Which is wrong, because if he is cheating me, he will cheat someone else. A couple of euros is not a big deal to me, but it can be for someone else, that is why I should have opened my mouth (in hindsight). Anyway, we walked up to the hotel and was discouraged by what we saw -run down, sad looking buildings plus construction going on across the street. And that is what we saw a lot of when walking around Lisbon.

    We really wanted to love Lisbon. I think two things that might have shaped this – the location of the hotel and the weather – unusually hot. I’m very particular about the location of the hotels we stay in – I’m always looking for city center – CENTRAL, CENTRAL!! Or an easy, nice walk to city center. I picked Olissippo Castelo which is a great hotel in every way except for the location (IMO). It was near the Castle and a hike anywhere (except the Castle of course) unless you take a taxi or tram. Since our room wasn’t ready the receptionist gave us a map and told us how to get to the Baxia area. “Take the second staircase down” and then he drew a straight line on the map and Viola! there is the Baxia area! Easy. Well, after going down the staircase, we saw three more staircases in front of us. Which one to choose? Wrong one! After going down probably eight sets of grafitti staircases we were now in an area that we hoped was not Baxia since it was gritty looking and not an area I would want to spend much time in. We were lost and we only arrived 10 minutes ago. We both had maps and stood on the corner trying to figure out where we were…. We figured out we were northeast of our hotel and the area was not nice. After asking a number of very helpful people we found our way to Baxia and Rue Augusta the main pedestrian thoroughfare. Lots of shops and restaurants here. The streets parallel to Augusta were worn looking and we didn’t spend much time here. Decided to head to the Alfama district and wander. As I’ve read, this is a residential area, no shops, a few grocery stores and again just tired looking so we didn’t spend much time here.

    But after all that climbing and walking it was nice to get back to our very comfortable hotel. The room was quiet, even with construction going on, clean and modern. Our room even had a terrace with views of the city.

    Dinner at a small outdoor café with incredible cod with roasted potatoes and coriander. The café was near our hotel, it was packed and the food, once again was terrific.

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    Hi ShshieZ. I have been waiting for the rest of your trip report because I could tell from the title that you really were not fond of Lisbon which is a shame.

    I think when you visit this city as a tourist it is important to carefully pick where you stay. Up on the hill by the castelo you can come across some fantastic views but you ran into the major problem staying there. It is uphill and presents problems with luggage and just going out for a stroll. I am glad the hotel is nice as I have heard good things about it. A friend of mine stayed away from the main area and wasn't happy with her location either as she felt isolated.

    It can be very hot in Lisbon and going up and down just to get to your rooms besides up and down touring can wear you down.

    Maybe Lisbon is a place you either love or not. We have been three times and would return in a hearbeat. But it isn't for everyone.

    I would say to give it another chance in the future. But I am glad you enjoyed the rest of your trip.

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    Hi Sher - I'm very particular when I book hotels and do a lot of research before I make a reservation. I did realize about two weeks before we left that the location wasn't a good one but I don't like to cancel a reservation on such short notice. Although I don't think I will be returning to Lisbon, I would like to return to Portugal and see Evora (and surrounding area) Porto and the Algarve. And to return to Madeira would be wonderful.

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    I'm sorry you didn't care for Lisbon - it's one of my favorite cities. But then many people love Prague, and I don't, so no accounting for taste. I did look up your hotel, and I certainly wouldn't choose to stay there - I usually stay just off the Praca dos Restauradores which is an easy walk to train, bus, metro and funicular as well as the center. I also take the airport bus into town, but that wouldn't work if you're up by the castle.

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    Hi Sashie. In the three trips we have never made it to the Algarve and it still isn't on my list. There are such beautiful beach areas North of Lisbon.
    I would concentrate on Northern Portugal because we haven't spent enough time there.
    Different people like different things. I looked into the castelo area for my first trip and someone here asked me to reconsider. The hotels and apartments looked nice in the area but when I realized the logistics of getting up there and down I changed my mind.
    I am glad to hear you are not writing off all of Portugal.

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    oops how did that happen?

    Thursdaysd - I love big cities, crowds, noise and walking and discovering hidden areas and shops and museums (when my husband isn't with me) and thought that I would fall in love with Lisbon or at least like it enough to want to return. However, I did fall in love with the food and wine. I've been to a lot of places and the food in Lisbon (and throughout Portugal) was consistently good. More like very good to great. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, pastries, gelato. The best. And the people were some of the friendliest.

    I think I have to re-read your post on Lisbon.

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    Sorry Sher and Thursdaysd, but I agree with SashieZ in this particular subject. If I was given the option of spending my holidays in Lisbon or any other capital city, I'd chose any other capital city in a heartbeat.
    "Viola" to both of you ;-)

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    Hi lobo - but you LIVE in Lisbon! If I lived there I'd want to spend my holidays somewhere else too. I once lived in London, and I certainly didn't spend my holidays there.

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    This was our last full day in Portugal so we started the day early – it’s also cooler. Breakfast at the hotel was delicious, although served in the lobby. Nice selection, good coffee and those pastries!!

    Today, the plan was to walk over to Rue dos Portos do Antao , to Rue Libertine and then towards Rossio train station and on to Praca de Commercio to catch the tram to Belem. Better view of city today (not as hot maybe?) but far from what I expected. Just heading from our hotel down to Baxia area was depressing. Garbage on the streets (some in bags, some not), graffiti everywhere, unkept, messy. Rue Libertine I’m sure was gorgeous at one time. The esplanade with trees and a few fountains had some construction going on but I’m sure once that is finished it will be beautiful. Rue Libertine is where you will find high end shopping so I was surprised. One beautiful building followed by 2 buildings in need of repair and so much litter. Some of the tiled buildings were gorgeous, there are so many of them in Portugal but to see so many in disrepair in Lisbon was disheartening.

    Headed towards Praca de Commercio to catch the tram to Belem to visit the monastery. We enjoyed this area – the monastery, the tower and statues were all beautiful along with the gardens. We spent most of our time in the monastery and just walked by the tower. It was another hot day and there were loads of people at the tower so we decided to skip it and have lunch at a pizzeria called “nosolo Italian”. It was located right on the water with views of the great statue of the explorers. Great pizza and salads. Didn’t eat the packaged breadsticks so when I was charged 5 euros I asked for it to be removed from bill. He was annoyed but I insisted nicely. Am I wrong? Usually my husband pays the check, barely looking at it. I can’t believe the waiter was annoyed! I didn’t open the package and placed it on the table next to us – maybe I should have given it back to the waiter. But the restaurant was very good and I still recommend it.

    Tram back to city center – don’t remember exactly where we got off but got lost and wandered around a while. It’s hot now - it was 24C, with a blazing sun so not the best time to not know where you’re going. Finally found our way and up, up, up to the very comfortable hotel.

    Read about a restaurant called Churrasco de Graca on Largo Do Graca #43 on Chowhound. It is known for its excellent grilled fish and the location was close to our hotel. Found largo do Graca very easily but never did find the restaurant. After a while, DH just stood there while I went round and round with no luck. (is this restaurant still there?) So back to the area we had dinner last night and found another outdoor restaurant but no one was there. We were tired so decided to try it. Perfectly grilled whole Dorado. Delicious. After one hour the place was packed. Seems to me you can eat anywhere and get good fish. The two restaurants in Lisbon were simple, inexpensive restaurants with very, very good food. Walked around a bit after dinner, got gelato and some pastries and sat near the castle. Funny, we were so close to the Castle but never made it inside!

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    I have been to Lisbon twice-I thought I'd give it another try but left feeling sadder than after my first visit.
    I just feel sad at the poor overall state of what obviously was originally a beautiful capital city.
    I don't understand why it didn't benefit more from being part of the European Union.I know that Portugal has lots of financial problems now but so did/does Spain.
    Spain, especially Madrid made so many improvements over the years.
    It may sound trivial but I always notice the well- maintained flower beds in Madrid and then how neglected they are in Lisbon.Once again I see no charm in broken sidewalks and fountains.I was happy to see that some improvemnets are underway in Constitution square.

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    You know, I was just in Lisbon in early March. Perhaps my vision was a little skewed, since I had recently spent six weeks in India, but I was not struck by the presence of graffiti, or the state of the sidewalks, or litter. Perhaps they were present, but if so I certainly didn't notice enough to be concerned. Instead I once again admired the swirling mosaics in Rossio Square, the remarkable renovation of Rossio station, the fabulous views from the Miradoros. I noticed for the first time the interesting architecture around the Gulbenkian (and paid a second visit inside) and admired the Parque Eduardo VII. For the second time I spent a long time wandering happily around the Monasterio at Belem. I spent a day out at the Parque das Nacoes area, with its big new mall. I ate very well - for very little at Bom Jardin, and not much more at other places.

    I don't know. As I said, maybe my standards are lower, but I wasn't struck by any general sense of dirt and decay.

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    As thursdaysd said, I didn't notice much decay in Lisbon either (was there 3 weeks ago). Some parts of Bairro Alto and Alfama (which I loved, by the way) were a bit run down but Baixa and Belém were, in general, very clean and well kept.
    Anyway, the situation in Porto is much, much, worse IMO. Such a shame that this beautiful town is in such bad condition.

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    The End! Can't believe it took me so long to finish.

    Although I'm glad I visited Lisbon, I am also glad we only spent two nights there. I wish I could see Lisbon through your eyes Thursdaysd- maybe if I were travelling with you I would have a different perspective, but overall I have wonderful memories of Portugal.

    Thanks again for all your help!!

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