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Our 8 day adventure in beautiful Portugal

Our 8 day adventure in beautiful Portugal

Old Oct 18th, 2010, 10:41 AM
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Our 8 day adventure in beautiful Portugal

Day 1 – We arrived in Porto via non-stop flight from EWR earlier than scheduled, around 6:30am! Took a cab to Guest House Douro, in Ribeira section. As expected, it was too early to check in. We reorganized our things so we can leave our bags with the guest house, and head out and to explore while we wait for our room. Joao greeted us with fresh squeezed OJ, and gave us a map with the highlights pointed out.

It was cloudy and on the cloudy side (mid 50s). We first took a quick look at the riverfront then followed Joao’s suggest route, and stopped for a quick breakfast at a small hole-in-the-wall café. We picked 2 pastries unsure of exactly what they were. One had a meat inside (kind of like a cold empanada, and the other was fairly plain). We asked the person at the counter if she can heat them up, which she did with a panini press. The coffee was good, and the pastry, a bit better when warmed, but nothing special.

We headed to the São Bento Estacio (train station) to see the tiled murals. From there we walked towards the Mercado do Balhao first strolling along Avenida dos Aliados. After seeing the la Boqueria last year, this market was not nearly as impressive. From there we headed toward Café Majestic but it was still closed because it was early. So we settled for an open café on Avenida dos Aliados where we rested and had another coffee. We then walked to Torre dos Clerigos and climbed the tower. After basically having pulled an all-nighter, we pushed ourselves up the stairs, but it wasn’t easy. It’s worth the climb, great views, great photo ops!

It was still cloudy and there was on and off drizzle, but not too bad. After climbing the tower we walked over to the Livraria Lello book store, which is quite beautiful. Our last stop before returning to the guest house was Igreja de São Francisco. At this point it started to rain.

We returned to the Guest House and our room (302) was ready. Carmen brought us up to the room. The room, like the rest of the guest house, was meticulously clean, and nicely decorated, but small, even by European standards, with little storage space. We freshened up and went next door to Ora Viva (a Rick Steve’s rec) for a quick lunch. This was the first of many “hearty” meals. The food was perfectly fine but nothing exceptional. We returned to the guest house. We asked if they could set us up with a dinner reservation, and we headed to our room to rest.

We had to pick up our car rental before 7pm at the local Hertz office (about a mile and a half from the guest house). We woke up from our rest, took showers, and planned to take a cab to the Hertz office. At this point there were torrential downpours. Carmen kept calling for a taxi, without success (calls weren’t even being picked up). While we waited, she offered us a glass of port. Finally she reached a dispatcher, and a cab came. There was some heavy traffic due to a big soccer match in town, so it took a while to get to the car rental, but luckily we arrived before closing. The guest house has a deal with the indoor garage on Largo do Infante, a few blocks away (15E per day, with in and out access). It was a much easier trip to the garage, and the rain let up.

Carmen set us up for dinner at her favorite local spot, A Grade. The meal here was very good and reasonable. It’s a small family run spot, frequented by locals. After dinner we took in the river views of Vila Nova de Gaia at night.

Day 2 - We set a breakfast time of 8am (the earliest offered) because we planned on heading out to the Douro Valley, weather permitting. Breakfast was a delightful surprise. Joao beautifully arranges a plate of assorted fruit for the table, like a work of art. Also included was a basket of assorted breads, jams, ham, cheese, fresh squeezed OJ and espresso or cappuccino. Everything was delicious.

We probably got going by around 9am and headed toward Pinhao. We decided to trust our GPS to guide but also had a map and directions. The route was on A4, then through Mesao Frio and Regua. We had a heads up on construction near Amarante (thanks to dmelo1). There was construction, but the traffic was light. We were confused at that point, and somehow missed our exit. We stayed on A4 because from what I could tell on the map, there were alternate routes. We were at the mercy of our GPS which proved to be a bit of an adventure.

It took as through the windiest of mountain roads and through small hillside villages with the tiniest cobblestone streets. None of this is represented I think on any map! We held our breath and followed the GPS instructions. Finally we arrived at Pinhao, with a ½ hour to spare before the train to Pocinho. We were glad to be out of the car at this point.

The train ride was very pleasant. The scenery was spectacular. At the Pocinho station, we had about a 3/4 hour before the return train. We grabbed a sandwich at the station for lunch. The weather cooperated with our plans. It was clear and sunny. Out return drive went without a hitch. This time we went on the original route, and managed to not get lost with the construction detour (although were a bit confused at times). I think we’d still be driving along the mountainside if we hadn’t had our GPS. It was a lifesaver.

When we returned to the Guest House, we again, asked for a restaurant rec. I had also done a little research. And as it turned out, Joao came up with the same restaurant I did. A place in the Foz district, right on the beach next to the fort, called Shis. This is a new age type Asian fusion place, and it was excellent. Joao, had called for a reservation. When we arrived they greeted us with a complementary glass of champagne. That evening, after dinner we walked around the river front because the weather had cleared. We also walked across the Ponte Dom Luis I bridge and back.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 11:05 AM
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Nice start; will enjoy reading the remainder when you get a chance.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 11:34 AM
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Great start...looking forward to more!
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 12:19 PM
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Day 3 – This morning, our last in Porto, was a beautiful sunny day. We decided to take the Funicular dos Guindais up to the Se Cathedral before we headed out. We enjoyed the views on a sunny day, and walked back down, to the Guest House. Carmen and Joao hugged us goodbye at check out, like we were truly their house guests. They are a one of a kind couple, and their guest house reflects this.

We headed to Coimbra. Once we got here, we were a bit confused with the streets up to the university. It was a Sunday, and all was pretty quiet. We found a place to park, had a quick lunch at a cafeteria type place (the only place we could find in the area that was open), and walked around the university.

We then drove to Pousada de Santa Cristina, Condeixa-a-Nova. This pousada is an elegant old estate. Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we drove to Conimbriga and toured the Roman ruins which was quite interesting and very close to the Pousada. We had a “superior” room (minimally more than a “standard”) which was a nice size, and had 1 patio facing the yard, and another patio on the side, off the bathroom (we had a corner room). For dinner, we went next door to O Cabritino. The food was very good, and portions huge. It was recommended on tripadvisor and was about half the price as the restaurant at the Pousada. I had emailed in advance for a reservation (they have a website), but it wasn’t necessary. In fact, everywhere we went was rather quiet.

Day 4 – We had a nice breakfast at the Pousada, which was your typical European buffet breakfast (bread, meats, cheese, yogurt, juice, cereal). After breakfast we left and headed towards Alcobaça. In Alcobaça we toured the Monastery of Santa Maria d'Alcobaça which was quite impressive. After the tour, we stopped in a great pottery shop around the corner, Olaria Vale Coelho and bought a few hand painted terracotta serving pieces. They threw in a small bowl as well. This was the place to buy this kind of thing. The prices cheap, the selection great. We didn’t see anything any where near this once we left. I could kick myself for not buying more.

From here we headed to Nazaré, a beautiful fishing village. It took a little while to find a place to park, but we did finally squeeze into a street spot. The town is small, so easily walkable. I loved this place. Winding little streets with small white buildings and homes, all with terracotta roofs. The beach itself has a nice sandy shore. There’s a cliff on one end, with more of these buildings appearing almost on the edge. I was looking for the restaurant, A Tasquinha, which had some great recs on line. It was closed (I think just for the day, it was a Monday), so we went to an adjacent place called Ala Riba. This was one of the best meals of the trip. Typical Portuguese cuisine, about as fresh as could be, the portions enormous and the price cheap. We took the Ascensor de Nazaré to the top of the cliff to take in the lovely views.

Our stop for the night was Pousada do Castelo in Obidos. I had read that it’s hard to find the entrance…well that was certainly the truth. You can see the castle from the distance, and work your way up the hill, but directions to the entrance aren’t clearly marked, and the roads (once again cobblestone) , so narrow that you’re never quite sure if it’s actually a road, and if the car will fit through some of the passageways. We put the car in a parking lot, behind the castle, and I walked up to find the entrance. A steep walk none-the-less. The front desk sent someone down to meet my husband at the car and direct him. You can actually park the car right in front, but there is still some stairs and cobblestones to deal with, and when carrying a suitcase (forget wheeling it), it could be tricky. That being said, it was all worth it. Never have I stayed in a medieval castle before. Again a nice size room, with old world elegance.

Obidos is a cute little town, we walking around, and took the stairs up to the fortress wall, where there was once again, great views

For dinner, I had found a few recs on line, and we decided to make a reservation at one, O Lidador, when we walked by it. It proved to be another hearty, plentiful meal and also good value. Again, a fraction of the price of dinner at the Pousada.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 12:21 PM
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I meant to also put in there, at both Pousadas, a complimentary large Nestles chocolate bar was left for guest. This came in handy, as a bit of an energy boost when we were exhausted from lots of walking, most of which felt uphill.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 01:05 PM
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I'm so glad you found Olaria Vale Coelho. I could have bought so much more but he didn't provide shipping services when we were there.He does export to stores in the US.
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 07:30 PM
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MFNYC: Thank you for the most welcome nostalgia..visited the country in '08, last remaining country in continental Europe I had yet to visit. Loved it, as it appears you have. The sweeping shore views at Nazare' (from the top, in Sitio) are nothing short of magnificent. Also had a rec for O Lidador but opted for another one. Hope you took many pix..please share when you can.

Again, thanks for the excellent, detailed report. Our '08 trip took us to Lisbon/Belem, then on to the Alentejo (Pousada at Arraiolos) Evora, up to Pousada at Marvao and Castelo de Vide, Pousada at Belmonte in the Sierras, Tomar, Obidos/Nazare' and back down to Sintra and Cascais. Oporto, maybe someday. Seems that many are now discovering the beauties of Portugal.

stu
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Old Oct 18th, 2010, 08:09 PM
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Enjoying your report. Thanks
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 07:33 AM
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Day 5 – Breakfast at this Pousada was similar to the other. From here we were off to Lisbon. Our first stop was Cabo da Roca. Our GPS did a fairly good job leading us there, and once in the vicinity, there are signs, and you could see the light house. This is the western most point in Europe. It’s up on a cliff, with the ocean below. Again more photo op moments.

From here we headed towards Praia da Adraga, a small alcove beach surrounding by large rock formations and cliffs. It was very quiet there. 2 fisherman were fishing, and there was someone in the water with a boogie board. The water seemed quite rough to me, with some large rocks, not the kind of water I’d want to swim in. There was also a small café overlooking the beach.

Since these 2 stops were rather quick, we had time to stop in Sintra as well. We had some trouble finding our way to the historic center and also finding a parking place, but after asking a few people, we managed to find parking a few blocks from the National Palace. Our first order of business was finding a lunch spot. We went to one of the first places we saw, an Italian spot. My husband had a lobster roll type sandwich which he really enjoyed. I had pizza, which was OK, and left me very thirsty (salty cheese). The restaurant was just a few steps from the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. We toured the palace, then walked over (which seemed once again, all uphill) to the Quinta da Regaleira which is a sprawling estate. The exhaustion began to set in so we didn’t tour the entire property, but did see some of it, and get a good taste of surroundings.

From here we drove to our final destination, Lisbon, where we returned the car and headed to our hotel, Marques de Pombal. This is a very nice, modern hotel located on Avenida Liberdade, and priced very reasonable as well. The front desk was quick and efficient. Our room was a good size, nicely decorated, and very comfortable and quiet (double windows). We settled in, freshened up, then went out for a walk and looking for a place for dinner. We ended up eating at a place on Rua dos Correeiros. This street is loaded with restaurants. It reminds me of Mulberry St in Little Italy during the summer. Waiters are standing in front of restaurants, trying to show every passer-by their menu. I know this is touristy territory, but we were hungry, and the restaurants, all were very inexpensive, so we picked one out (with the least aggressive wait-staff), and had dinner. Food was ok, certainly good enough for a quick, inexpensive meal for lunch or dinner. As always, wine was good and cheap.

Day 6 – We decided to follow the walking tour lreynold1 posted here on Fodors (see tour here: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-of-lisbon.cfm). The tour takes you through most of Lisbon’s neighborhoods, and points out some highlights, and good photo ops. We followed her tour through Praça do Comércio, where once again we found ourselves, tired, hungry and in need of a restroom (the worst possible condition to be when looking for a place to eat). We ate at the only restaurant in the Praça, when in fact, we could have walked just a couple of blocks back to Rua dos Correeiros, and have similar food for much less. After lunch we went back to explore some of the areas we had seen earlier in the tour. We felt like a more “finer” dining experience, and were tiring of the very hearty, comfort food of Portugal, so made a reservation at Ad Lib restaurant at the Sofitel. It seemed to get good reviews (from what I read on tripadvisor), and when we walked by, it looked nice, and we liked the menu. This is a very comfortable place, along the lines of many hotel restaurants, and the food was interesting and tasty.
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 09:35 AM
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Day 7 – We continued our walking tour from where we left off on day 6. This time we bought an unlimited daily metro card (a great deal). One thing we learned, if you buy a metro card, save the receipt. You can return the used card for a 1€ refund. Naturally we discovered this after we threw out our receipts. We headed in to the Alfama district. As we were walking we were passed by a university group parading down the street apparently partaking in some freshman initiation ritual. Having 2 kids in college, we got a kick out of the rowdy little procession. We stopped in the Sé de Lisboa (cathedral of Lisbon). From there, there was a steep hill up to Castelo de São Jorge, so we decided to take the trolley (#28) up the hill. We toured the castle grounds, and once again, great views from above.

Lreynolds had suggested in her walking tour to take the same trolley, to the opposite end of the line (Campo de Ourique), so we decided to take a rest, and go for a ride. The Campo de Ourique area is a very nice residential area, away from the tourist scene. Lreynold1 had some restaurant recs listed, we didn’t see those but stopped in a small place, on a side street off the main drag, called Restaurante O Tochinho. The menu of the day (which in this case had no English translation, unlike most other restaurants we ate at), was an 8.50€ special. The waiter didn’t speak much English, but did speak French, so through that, my husband (who can speak French) more or less figured the menu and choices out. This special included ½ liter wine, small salad, main dish, dessert and espresso. What a deal!

For dinner, we had made a reservation at Tagide in the Baixi – Chiado area, which was recommended by a contact we knew who is Portuguese and lives in Lisbon. We gave ourselves extra time to get there, because we seem to always get lost in that area of town, and sure enough, we could not find the place. The map provided by the hotel does not have every street and largo noted. After asking several people we found it. It’s a very elegant space, with lovely views of the city. We were seated by opened French doors so we can take in the views as we dined. The manager of the place was very gracious, and you can tell that he really was making the effort to turn this place into something special (back in the ‘70s it had a Michelin *, and then went downhill for several years after that). The meal was good (despite the fact that I was still stuffed from lunch). I’d say the weakest link was dessert. My favorite was the crabmeat appetizer with sun dried tomatoes and avocado sorbet (this was to die for).

Day 8 – This was our slow paced day. We decided to take the metro to the Museu Gulbenkian. This is a nicely laid out classic art museum in a park setting. It’s rather easy to take in (not over-whelming like the Met, Louvre, etc). The collection isn’t huge, but it’s varied. A modern art museum is also located in the park. From there we stopped in the Il Corte Ingles store just to take a peak. As with all Il Corte Ingles’ we’ve been in before, it had a very nice supermarket in the lower level. We sampled some ham and cheese that were excellent.

We then took the metro to the Baixi-Chiado area to wander around and look for a lunch spot. We ended up having lunch at a tiny “local” ma and pa type spot. We chatted with the gentleman sitting next to us, who works in the area. He helped us with the menu. The food was good, but the check was clearly out of line (particularly the ‘covers’). From a friendly little local spot, it turns out to be a tad contentious…not the way we wanted to end our trip!

We headed back to the hotel to pack. For dinner we had made a reservation at Bocca, based on good internet reviews, and it sounded a bit different. This is a very hip, trendy kind of new age place. We found it lacking the warmth of some of the other trendier restaurants we ate at in Portugal and elsewhere. The food was interesting and the staff accommodating, but it was almost as if they were trying to hard. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I just felt there was something a bit off the mark. Don’t get me wrong, it was decent food (not great, but good), but for whatever reason, I don’t think it lived up to the reviews I had read.

Day 9 – It was breakfast and off to the airport.

Some general observations:
I never saw so many bridal stores in my life. Particularly in Porto on Rua de Santa Caterina (the main shopping street). Also, for whatever reason, many of the more expensive restaurants didn’t offer salads as a starter. Most of the starters were almost as heavy as the main dishes. Lastly, all the wine we drank was very good and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, here at my local liquor store, the selection of Portuguese wine is very limited. Portugal needs to beef up its wine exports.

Lesson learned (besides not throwing out metro card receipts):
- wear comfortable shoes, preferably flat and cushion-y with good support. Between the hills and the cobblestones, which seemed to be in every part of the country we visited, it’s tough on the feet….and this is from someone who lives in NYC and walks daily almost everywhere.
- Don’t pick the first place you see to eat when your hungry, tired and in need of a restroom. 9 times out of 10, it will be a dud, and a short walk further usually takes you to a better option.
- If something seems like a really good deal, it probably is, so take advantage (i.e. pottery shop in Alcobaça)
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 01:06 PM
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Thanks so much for the report! Hubby and I are spending two weeks in portugal over new years and this is very helpful!
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 01:57 PM
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"- Don’t pick the first place you see to eat when your hungry, tired and in need of a restroom. 9 times out of 10, it will be a dud, and a short walk further usually takes you to a better option."

Absolutely! I try to remember this and am trying to get SO to be a little more patient when it comes to picking a restaurant.

We also learned early on about the 'covers' and started saying no thanks.

Nice trip report, MF. We were in Lisbon last month and also did lreynold's walking tour. Your report brought back some wonderful memories.
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Old Oct 19th, 2010, 02:02 PM
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If anyone is interested, here's a link to my photos on snapfish (you need a snapfish account to log in) http://www2.snapfish.com/snapfish/sh...=SYE/otsi=SAER
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Old Oct 20th, 2010, 05:07 PM
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Hi, MFNYC,
Thanks for the great report. And I really enjoyed your pictures. What a fruit plate -- looked like something you'd get in Brazil! I saw a lot of pictures of stylish food, I assume some was from Tagide, but what about the rest? I'm always up for good restaurant recommendations.

Too bad you had a salty pizza in Sintra rather than a fresh fish at the restaurant on Adraga, but I know you had a lot you wanted to see. Lucky you to find parking in Sintra!

Welcome home! Laurie
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Old Oct 20th, 2010, 05:20 PM
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Joao at Guest House Douro is the fruit arranger, I believe he's Portuguese Canadian but maybe he has a little Brazilian in him too. I asked him and Carmen if either had art or design background, because everything at the Guest House was so perfect. Neither did, but they clearly each have a good eye and attention to detail.

If you look at the thumbnails, it says where the other dishes were.
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 08:51 AM
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Marj:

Your photos, in two words from Hollywoodland vocabulary...stupendous and colossal!!
Thank you for sharing...

stu
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 08:57 AM
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Thanks tower!
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 02:43 PM
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Since we did not see Porto on our trip in '08, especially appreciated how beautifully you captured the essence...brought the town and your day trips to Pinhao and Puncinho to life. Thanks again...
stu
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Old Oct 21st, 2010, 05:10 PM
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Your pictures are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Oct 29th, 2016, 06:33 AM
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Thanks for the great report! Bookmarking.
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