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Trip Report Portugal Trip Report - 17 days in September

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Just back from two weeks in Portugal. Thanks to everyone here for all the help with planning this trip. Everything turned out very well. I used Rick Steves, Fodors, and Eye Witness guides, Trip Advisor, and this site which was most helpful. I haven't commented too much on the well known sights in Portugal but concentrated more on accomodation, meals, etc., and on info that I thought would be helpful.

Day One, early September arrival - We arrived in Lisbon at about 11:00am after an overnight flight from Ottawa. We first called our apartment to advise them of our arrival – the telephone would not take our coins (coins leftover from our last trip) and we had not yet bought a phone card so a kind Portuguese man let us make the call with his phone card. We then took some Euros out of the bank machine at the airport – note that you can only take 200 Euros at one time at the bank machines in Portugal. With cash in hand, we then went outside to get a taxi. I had the address written down so that it would be easier for the taxi driver. Taxis in Portugal are on meters so there seems little chance of paying more than necessary unless your driver takes you on an extended trip. Still, we did ask the driver how much he thought it would be and his estimate was right on – 17 Euros. We did not buy a Lisbon Card which covers the Metros and free entry to many museums and monuments as we were not sure how much we would use it. Others on this site however have found it very useful.

Our apartment was in the Chiado district right on Rua Garrett. This apartment has been recommended on this site several times and I learned about it from Sher (thanks Sher!) and I also would not hesitate to recommend it. The location was excellent as we could walk throughout the areas of the Barrio Alto and Alfama from here. One block from us was the famous Cafe A Brasileira and one block the other way was the Armazens do Chiado, a six floor shopping centre with a food court - we didn't do any shopping here but it was handy for picking up our phone card. The apartment itself was modern and comfortable with two bedrooms. It is rented through Paulo at VRBO #136986. See the website for pictures and comments from others who have rented it. We paid less than the usual rate as we had originally asked for the one bedroom apartment and when it was booked by Paulo’s wife by mistake to someone else, he offered us this two bedroom at the same rate of 345 Euros for three nights. Raul, Paulo’s representative, met us at the apartment and gave us a tour and orientation. Cash payment for the balance minus the deposit is required at that time. We stayed for 3 nights and really enjoyed it. The noise can be difficult at night but you can easily close the windows and put the air conditioning on. We particularly liked the view from the living room window of the Sao Jorges Castle.

After getting settled in the apartment, we napped for about 2 hours. Refreshed, we then ventured out to get a few groceries and walked about 10 minutes to one block south of the Rossio Station to the Pingo grocery store. After stashing our groceries in our new home, we went back in the direction of the Pingo grocery to the Rossio Square, about a 10 minute walk, and off of the northeast corner to Travessa de Santo Antao to Bonjardim for piri piri chicken and chips – total cost with wine 22 Euros. It was delicious. We ate outside as the weather was fine and the restaurant is on a small quiet street.

After dinner, we wandered through Lisbon's Eating Lane, Rua das Portas de Santo Antao, and ended up at the Eduardino Ginjinha bar at #59 which is really just a small room with a counter. Here you can get a shot of Ginjinha which is Portuguese sweet liquor made from sour cherries for 1 Euro. There are many different counters and bars in Lisbon where you can get Ginjinha but this is the oldest. It was very good. We met a number of people outside the counter enjoying the fine evening weather and their Ginjinha. When I took a picture of several Angolan men who were laughing and drinking up, they invited us along to a disco but we politely declined although it sounded like fun.

From here we walked over to the Elevador da Gloria and took it up to the Barrio Alto. There was a short line but I understand that the line is much longer in the daytime. Also the view is better in the evening with all the lights. This funicular costs 1.40 Euros. At the top there is a lookout over the city which is quite lovely. From here we stopped for a glass of port at the Port Wine Institute then continued walking and ended up at the Cerejaria da Trindade, the oldest beer hall in Europe. It had a long line for tables so we had a beer at the bar. It was crowded and noisy but we enjoyed watching the people and snacking on deep fried cod balls.

Day Two – up early and off on Tram 28 to the Alfama's Campo de Santa Clara - a big flea and food market held on Saturday mornings. We caught the tram at the corner of Rua Garrett. Since we didn’t know where to get off, I asked the woman next to me if she was going to the market and she agreed to tell me where the stop was. This was all done in sign language and the minimal Portuguese I learned from Pimsleurs CDs driving back and forth to work before the trip.

The market is large and has many trinkets, knick knacks, linens, clothes, etc. I bought a table cloth. It’s fun to see all the stuff for sale.

From the market, we caught a cab for 6 Euros to the Sao Jorges Castle. The castle is only ruins but still seems quite charming especially the small garden areas. The view is also quite something. There is a man there who dresses up like a jester and plays music which adds to the atmosphere. We bought a Portuguese dime that had been drilled and sawed into a medallion by a jeweler selling outdoors at the castle.

We then took a walking tour with the Rick Steves book of the Alfama which was quite enjoyable. It is quite a warren of winding streets, unique houses and cafes. We found the A Baiuca restaurant at Rua de Sao Miguel 20 that we had a reservation for later that evening so at least we knew where it was.

After roaming thought the Alfama for awhile, we grabbed another taxi out to Belem to see the Monastery and eat some pastries. The taxi was about 9 Euros. We were feeling hungry so we stopped into one of the outdoor restaurants along the park behind McDonalds. We picked the most crowded one thinking that this meant the food was good and we were right. We shared a plate of grilled sardines and a tomato salad. Watch out for the appetizers that the waiter puts on your table like cheese, ham, bread, olives. Whatever you don’t want, push away or tell the waiter to take it away because these items cost extra, usually 1 Euro for bread but up to 7 Euros for ham, and are never included free. At the end of the meal we had a Galong which is a coffee with lots of hot milk served in a glass – delicious!

Off on the tour of the Monastery of Jeronimos and the cloisters which are lovely. Following our tour, we were very tired so we grabbed a couple of tarts from the famous patisserie, Casa Pasteis de Belem and caught a taxi home. Late in our trip we met a couple who got quite rattled in the crowd at the patisserie and ended up with a dozen tarts when they only wanted two!

After freshening up, we set out on foot to the Alfama restaurant, A Baiuca, recommended by Rick Steves for dinner and Fado music. When we arrived it was empty so we sat outside to see if others were coming. The restaurant is very small and rustic looking. Soon an American couple arrived also with the Rick Steves book and together we went in and took a table. Within five minutes the place was full and anyone without a reservation was turned away. I had emailed our reservation before we left but you could also phone the day before - [email protected] or 218-867-284. Along with the two Americans, we were joined by a man from Brazil in town on business. He became our official translator of what the Fado songs were about but you really don't need a translator as the songs are universal. There is no cover charge at A Baiuca but you must spend a minimum of 25 Euros each on your meals and wine. The food is not memorable but the ambience and the Fado singing absolutely are. Lydia is the owner and she is charming. The singers are all amateurs and are not paid. They line up outside the doorway and each gets to sing 3 songs. Lydia herself sings 3 songs too and sometimes those standing in line join in. For one of Lydia's songs the cook joined her from the small kitchen. We truly had a wonderful time and I would recomend this restaurant and Fado singing venue to all.

Day Three – off to Sintra by train from Rossio Station. Taking the train to Sintra was easy and we simply showed up at the Rossio Station, bought our tickets and waited for the next train. Trains run every half hour on Sunday mornings and take about a half hour to get there. At the Sintra train station, we took bus # 434 for 4 Euros up to the Pena Palace. This bus loops around the Palace and the other sites. The Pena Palace is quite lovely. Then we followed the walking paths in the Palace gardens which were very tranquil yet interesting as there are several artifacts placed throughout the gardens by the palace royals - you pay an additional small amout to walk in the gardens but it's well worth it. We then walked up the hill to the Moorish Castle and had a tour – there isn’t much left of the castle but it’s still an interesting sight. We caught the bus to the train station after a half hour wait on to a very crowded bus. For dinner we wanted to eat in Sintra but most restaurants were closed until 7:00 so we took the train back to look for a restaurant in Lisbon. Two of the recommended ones in our book were closed so we ended up being talked into a restaurant by a man standing outside hawking the restaurant. He was very charming and we fell for it especailly as by this time we were pretty hungry. And the food was awful – my husband vows never to eat again in a restaurant that has pictures of it’s food posted outside!

Day Four – off to Obidas, Alcobaca and Nazare. I would really have liked to have stayed in Lisbon for another day or two as there was so much we didn’t get to see but I suppose that only means we’ll have to return someday. We grabbed a cab from our apartment to pick up our rental car from Economy Car Rentals – a 4 door Peugot which was quite comfortable although it had no guts at all. It cost about 300 Euros for the 2 weeks we rented it. Gas was expensive, usually 1.25. My husband had the Western Europe maps for his GPS so we were all set and took off for Obidos.

Obidos is a pretty walled town with lots of tourists shops and we spent about 2 hours walking around. We also walked on the wall around the town which is really scary if you are afraid of heights like me as there is no barrier on one side and the drop is about 12 feet in some parts. I stuck to the inside and crept around corners holding on the wall. From Obidos we drove on to Albococa to see the church which was wonderful. Then on to Nazare where we had reserved in Quintas das Rosas.

Quinta das Rosas was quite a treat and my favourite accommodation of the trip. I booked it after reading glowing reviews on Tripadvisor and a recommendation on this site. It is located above the town and is a lovely house on several acres of land planted with fruit trees. There are two donkeys on the grounds that the family rescued and they just love to be petted. Our room was charming with a private bath and a balcony with a view below of the town. The service was wonderful. When I mentioned that I loved fresh figs, a basket of fresh picked figs turned up in my room while we were at dinner. This quinta is a family business with Anne Marie taking reservations and her daughter Anna doing much of the hosting. Anne Marie and her husband own the house and decided some years ago to renovate and turn it into a quinta, luckily for us. It was absolutely lovely and I would recommend it to anyone as a wonderful retreat following days in Lisbon.

The first evening for dinner in Nazare,we went to Sitio, the town above Nazare, on the funicular We met a small boy and his family on the funicular and when he heard us speaking English he laughed. When I tried to speak Portuguese to him, he laughed even more. We had a great time saying things in English and Portuguese on the way up the funicular to his, and our, great amusement.

Sitio is a small town without much tourist feel to it. We ate at Restaurant O Luis and had wonderful grilled fish. I ate fish almost exclusively on this trip as it was so fresh and delicious everywhere. The food at this restaurant was wonderful as was the service although the waiter was pushing the lobster on us a bit which now I wish we had as there were few opportunites in other areas of Portugal to have lobster. My husband didn’t especially like the ambience of the restaurant however as the room was too brightly lit.

Day Five – to the Our Lady of Nazare Festival. We got up and had a lovely breakfast of cheese, ham, fresh fruit and pastries served at our table at Quinta das Rosas. Then we went off to Sitio again to see the festival which celebrates the story of a local noble who had a vision of the Virgin Mary which saved him from falling from a cliff.. The festival began around 11:00am with an hour long mass outside of the church. Then a procession around the town square is made with the statue of the Virgin. It was very solomn during the mass and procession but as soon as it was over the celebrations began. Many of women were dressed in the seven petticoats that Nazare and Sitio are known for. This custom apparently originated as a way for the women to keep warm while waiting for their fisherman husbands. Soon after the festivities started, it was so hot (35 celcius plus) that we left for the beach in Nazare.

For dinner this night, we went to A Tashquina in Nazare recommended by our hosts. This was my favourite restaurant of our trip although there was another restaurtat in Porto that came close. The food and service here were fabulous with the owner pouring us white port on the house to start then leaving us with a bottle of wine he had opened to toast us with. A wonderful restaurant not to be missed.

Day Six – on to Fatima and Porto. Although we could have easily stayed at week in Nazare, it was time to go. After another wonderful breakfast, we drove off to Fatima. My husband had always wanted to go to Fatima after hearing of the story from his Catholic family as a child. But Fatima itself turned out to be somewhat disappointing. It is a large modern compound with a small outdoor chapel and fire pits for candle lighting. You can buy wax body parts to place in the fire as you pray. The problem for us was probably the heat as it neared 37 degrees celcius when we were there. I did buy a rosary and statue of the Madonna for a family friend who has always wanted to make the pilgrimage to Fatima but is too ill to do so.

We left Fatima and drove on to Porto. Our apartment in Porto was right in the Ribeira on the waterfront with a fabulous view of the bridge and the wineries in Vila Nova de Gaia. There is no parking in the Ribeira so we parked in an underground lot a couple of streets over. The apartment was lovely – clean and comfortable with two bedrooms, full bath, living room and kitchen. I booked it through www.choose #7413 at 95 Euros per night after a recommendation from Peppermint Patti on this site. The owner Fernando met us at the apartement and gave us a tour and orientation. He is a lovely man and was willing to show us around the Ribeira but we were too hot and tired. We really enjoyed this apartment and the only problem we had was with the noise at night but the noise may have been greater while we were there due to all the people coming into Porto for the Red Bull Air Races. The apartment however became very warm with the windows closed as there is no air conditioning but to be fair the temperatures were very high. With the windows open we had the noise and a few mosquitos. I would recommend this apartment without any hesitation if the owner put air conditioning units in or if you were going when it was a cooler time of year.

Porto appears to be much more of a working city than does Lisbon. It is gritter, dirtier and a little rough around the edges. The Ribeira and the Vila Nova de Gaia are definitely the hightlights although there are interesting sights, such as the Cathedral, in the rest of the city. When we arrived it was evening so we went for dinner at Ora Viva on Rua Fonte Taurina 83, a Rick Steves recommendation. We wanted to eat outside and there are two tables outside on the narrow backstreet with a bar with rock music right across. It’s a great location to watch the locals going about their evening activities. And the food and service was wonderful. So good that we went back three nights in a row. I’m embarrassed to say that we didn’t venture to any other restaurants in Porta as this one was so good. We did look around at other recommended restaurants and their posted menus but always came back to Ora Viva. With the Rick Steves book, you get a free glass of 10 year old port and we did. On the second night, I said we didn’t expect the free glass of port but when my husband ordered one and had another glass of 10 year old port, the owner said it was on the house. On the third night, same thing but this time it was 20 year old port!

Day Six - On our second day in Porto, we drove off to Barcelos for the Thursday morning market. This is quite a market with live poultry and lots of fruits and veggies but also lots of cheap clothes and trinkets. We bought a bunch of fruit including a bag of figs. The heat was so high reaching nearly 40 degrees celceuis that we decided to go to Viana do Castelo to the beach as it was really too hot to do anything else. Viano do Castelo is a lovely town which we didn’t’ see much of as we headed straight for the water. The beach was nice, fairly secluded and with no chairs or umbrellas to rent – only a small café with cold drinks and snacks. We had a delightful afternoon. Late in the afternoon, we left to go to Braga to see Bom Jesus. What an extraordinary place. And of course for dinner, we were back to Ora Via.

Day Seven - On our third day in Porto, we went for tours and tastings at Vila Nova de Gaia. We just walked across the bridge and made our way up the hill to Taylors. The tour of the vats was short but there were two tastings at the end. From here, we went to Crofts for a similar experience. On our way down the hill to Sandeman, we caught the smell of something tasty and stopped to eat bifinas at a stand set up outside of a restaurant. These were delicious and the best we had of the trip. A waiter in Lisbon who was originally from Porto told us not to miss the Bifanas in Porto. Bifanas are meat sandwiches and in any other place in Porto they are fairly boring pieces of pork in a bun. But here, these were delicate pork slices in a wonderful tomato sauce. Two bifanas and two beers cost us 5 Euros. Satiated, we walked on to Sandemans where the tour is much more substantial with two tastings but costs 4 Euros not free like the others. Following the tour, we sat on the grass to watch the Red Bull Air Races training sessions as the bridge was closed and we couldn’t walk back anyway. These races involve small planes that race down the Duoro through large inflated targets. It is really stunning. Unfortunately the training sessions were cancelled due to some fog. So when the bridge opened we headed back to our apartment in the Riberia then on to supper at Ora Viva.

Day Eight - The last morning in Porto we did see the racing planes in their training sessions and it is truly unbelievable what they do. From Porto, we began our drive through the Duoro Valley to our Quinta in Pinhao. The Duoro Valley is beautiful especially after Mesao Frio when you can really see the vineyards. We stopped along the way to buy more figs. And then my husband saw some bbq smoke and pulled over quickly to see what was on the grill. A small roadstand selling fruit and baked goods was also selling grilled piri piri chicken. We bought one hot off the grill for 5 Euros, a couple of cokes, and had a picnic in our car. The chicken was about the best I’ve ever had.

Once back on the road, we continued on our way to Pinhao with a short stop in Peso da Regua to see the historic Steam Train. I almost had booked tickets for the steam train in advance at 40 Euros each and so glad I didn't as, although the train looked great, there was no air conditioning and the temperature in the valley was 42 degrees celcius. The train travels through Pinaho on to Tua then returns – about a 3 and a half hour trip with beautiful scenery.

We arrived in Pinhao and had to stop at tourist information to find out how to get to Quinta do Passadouro. It was up the road then up another winding road with a cliff on one side then we were there. What a wonderful experience. I booked it after hearing about it on this site and Tripadvisor. I was going to book Quinta do Rosa however they were not very helpful when I emailed a couple of times so I gave up on them. Quinta do Passadouro is a working vineyard with a rustic 6 bedroom house for accommodation. Ronald and his wife own and run the place and it is really delightful. On our visit, everyone else there was Dutch as are Ronald and his wife. This made for great fun as we were the first Canadians that some of them had ever met.

After lounging in the gardens yakking with the others and drinking beer, Ronald took us for a tour of the winery and vineyards. They have owned this winery for 8 years and have bottled wine exported to other countries including Canada but yet make very little profit because of the expenses of the land and overhead costs. One thing they still do here is crush the grapes by foot. There were several vats of grapes and in one there were 10 locals who get paid to stomp the grapes all evening. Of course, my husband wanted to stomp grapes too so he and 3 of the other guests changed their clothes to old clothes that Roanald provides and hopped into the vat. The reason wineries still use foot stomping is because machine crushing also crushes the grape seeds and this can add bitternes to the wine. Foot stomping is still used for vintage wines or ports.

Following the stomping, we all sat down outside at a long table in the garden for dinner which is 28 Euros each. The accommodation is 65 Euros per night. The dinner was lovely with salad, potatos and pork in gravy with a dense chocolate cake for desert. Wine throughout was poured by Ronald paired with the course. Overall wonderful. Off to bed for a good nights sleep then a good breakfast of cheese, ham, breads and fruit. We then had to leave but the other guests were all staying for at least 4 nights. I could not have stayed another night though because I began suffering from altitude sickness (nausea and dizziness) which I have had before skiing in the Rockies. Besides another night drinking with those Dutch might have done me in.

Day Nine - We began our long drive from Pinaho to Evora. Along the way we saw many cork trees in the Alentejo Region which is a major producer of cork products. The trees look so strange as they are blood red where the bark has been peeled away and most had a number stamped on them. The trees can have their bark stripped every nine years so the number indicates how long they have to go until they can be peeled again.

We arrived in Evora and drove to our hotel, Solar Monfalim, which was easy with the GPS as were all our driving directions. I had requested room 104 as recommended by another Fodorite and it was wonderful, very large with large windows and full of antiques. The hotel itself is a 16th century nobleman's house converted into a hotel in 1892. It's lovely with a large balcony off the front to sit and have a drink. Cost was 85 Euros per night including breakfast in a lovely breakfast room.

We wandered through the town and went for dinner at Cervejaria 1/4 Para as 9 (Quarter to Nine). No fish this time as we tried the pork and clams which was delicious. Service and ambience very nice.

Day Ten - The next morning after our nice breakfast at the hotel (although must admit I was starting to crave bacon and eggs), we took a walking tour again in the Rick Steves book through the town. We stopped for coffee and pastries at Cafe Arcada and had cheese tarts which are like small cheese danish in pastry only better. After a wonderful afternoon nap in our hotel, off to dinner at Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira where there is no menu and the waiter just brings you a great 4 course meal with wine and coffee for 45 Euros for the two of us. Lots of fun and lots of locals who chatted with the owner. We didn't have a reservation but we arrived an hour before the restaurant opened at 7:00 and were able to snag the last table left for the evening but of course had to come back at 7:00. The owner was putiing little pieces of white paper on each table and ours said Canadians.

Day Eleven - The next morning we headed off to Salema but first stopped at the Megaliths. These are ancient placings of stones similar to Stonehenge. After a drive down a dirt road, we arrived at the stones in the middle of a cork forest with no one else about. It was a little eerie. When my husband began to take pictures in the centre of the stones, his camera started to make a strange whirring sound and wouldn't function. As soon as he moved out of the circle of stones, it worked fine. Proof positive that there is something going on there!

We continued on our drive to Salema and arrived at our hotel A Mare after about 3 hours. Our apartment in this hotel was on the top floor and had a balcony as big as my living room with a view over the town and the beach. Outstanding for us as we love to sit and comtemplate the view with a glass of wine. Our apartment included a living room with full kitchen, bath and lovely bedroom. No airconditioning but nice breezes from the sea.

Salema is a small town towards the western edge of the Algarve. Much less touristy and much smaller than Lagos or other towns in the Algarve. We loved it. Every morning the fish truck honked it's way into town and we ran down to buy fish for dinner and to give a sardine to the cat who waited patiently there for us. The bakery truck opened from 8:30 to 10:30 but it was important to get there early to get the tarts. There are several restaurants and two small grocery stores but no bank machine or pharmacy. The beach is lovely although the water is cold and only a few hardy types like me were in swimming. There are other tourists, mostly Brits, and the restaurants do cater to them by offering fry up breakfasts and such. The town still has active fishermen who take their boats out every day.

Our first night we tried Mira Mar Restaurant which has a nice location on the sea but the service was fairly surly and put us off. The second night we ate at O Lourenco recommended by the hotel and had wonderful grilled fish although the price was a little high. After that for the next three nights we were there we cooked our own supper with fresh fish from the fish truck.

From Salema we took a drive to Praia Casteljo which is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It's isolated but has lots of surfers and a nice restaurant at the top. We couldn't swim but just enjoyed the beauty. The best way to get there is to go to Vila Bipso, the next town from Salema, and follow the signs for the pharmacy. Once at the pharmacy, there is a sign to the beach. At a crossroads near the beach, follow the signs for the restaurant. These roads just don't exist on the GPS.

We also took a drive to Cape Sagres to see the end of the world, the western most point of the European continent and where Europeans of the 14th century thought was the end of the world. It's beautiful. We also took a drive to Lagos to get a boat out to the caves. At the Lagos harbour, there are many boattrips advertised and we took Bom Dia which was a sail boat to the caves, a swim, then a small boat into the caves and grottos. Beautiful! After 5 nights, we left and drove back to Lisbon via the scenic route which took about 5 hours including a stop for lunch.

Overall we really enjoyed our time in Portugal and I hope that this trip report will be helpful to someone else. If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to try and answer them. Thanks again to all the Fodorites who helped me plan this great trip.

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