Trip Report: The Alentejo and Lisbon

Jul 8th, 2006, 07:03 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report: The Alentejo and Lisbon

Well we've just returned from a (and I don't use this word lightly) PERFECT vacation in Portugal. It was both stimulating and utterly relaxing. As usual I have the many people on this board to thank for their passion, experience and problem solving; all of which helped us to craft the kind of experience we were looking for. Jen's Portugal trip report is so thorough that I'm almost embarrassed to attempt my own for it is sure to be long on rapturous adjectives and short on actual helpful details (I never pay attention to the benefits of museum/metro passes and fine print car rental contracts-it is a maturity gene that i seem to lack). So I'll do the best I can and if anyone has any questions, I'm happy to help in any way that I can. To give some context: My husband and I are in our early 30's and have traveled quite a bit. Our trips are usually very active and relatively frugal. This trip was slightly different. It had been a very long and trying year and we needed to get away and have peace and quiet. We didn't want to schlep someplace new every 2 or 3 days but we did want to do some sightseeing. We had frequent flier points that covered our airfare and car rental so we decided to splurge on hotels this trip.
Here's the bare bones:

Day 1 arrive in Lisbon Airport pick up car rental, drive to Pousada in Arraiolos
Day 2 Estremoz, Borba, Vila Vicosa
Day 3 Marvao, Castelo de Vide
Day 4 Evora
Day 5 Alcacer do Sal, Arrabida Natural Park, Sesimbra
Day 6-14 Lisbon we dropped off the car at the airport on day 6

There were a handful of elements that made this trip come together: glorious weather, amazing hotels, delicious food, stimulating culture, and last but not least, the people. Everyone we came across was kind, helpful and willing to laugh...from the waiter in Arraiolos who introduced us to 'migas' to Victor the Lisboan make up artist who watched the Portugal/England match with us at our hotel bar (sorry matt and lobo for both of your losses...but it all was pretty thrilling there for a while wasn't it?!).

WEATHER HIGHLIGHTS: self explanatory. 14 days of sunshine, light winds, 78 degrees

HOTELS:
We stayed in 2 different places in the Alentejo (because of availability reasons). The first was the Pousada in Arraiolos. It's a gorgeous building with a lovely chapel covered in azulejos. It's a design hotel so if you're looking for something that makes you feel more Pedro and Ines than Ana Salazar, this might not be your place. It's a lot of granite and minimalism and hard edges. BUT, the views of the Alentejan hills from the terrace are unbelievable. We would just sit out there, drink port and listen to nothing but cow bells and moo-ing. fantastic. The restaurant is pretty good but you're way better off going into town and getting a meal there. We found it to be true that the less you spend, the tastier the meal. The second place we stayed was a farm house called monte do choro cascas right outside of Montemoro. It was fantastic. It's a 7 bedroom house in the middle of beautiful farmland. It's impeccably decorated, the owners are attentive and helpful, there is a beautiful, comfortable common room where you can just read and listen to jazz or head out to the pool and look at the castle on a hill in the distance. They also served an unbelievably delicious dinner on Saturday night (although I think that was the only night they served dinner). I would go there again in a heartbeat. The third hotel was the Bairro Alto Hotel in Lisbon. It's perfectly located (right by the famous Namaka apartment I believe!) on the Praca Luis de Camoes. It's beautifully designed, and beautifully attended. The service was astonishing. It was always a pleasure to come back to at the end of the day and go up to the roof top terrace to relax, have a drink and still have Lisbon in our eyesight. We're not usually this hotel obsessed but these places really were special.

RESTAURANT HIGHLIGHTS:
estremoz-isaias-inexpensive tavern that is tasty, lively and friendly. Thanks Lobo!

castelo de vide-bar da vila- again, inexpensive, tasty-good lunch stop

evora-restaurante a choupana-excellent lunch stop-delicious,friendly,tiled...it's like the Portugal equivalent of a New York diner. loved it

Lisbon-
Resto- a sweet restaurant in the Alfama with a gorgeous view of Lisbon. Go at sunset. Reasonable prices, friendly service, yummy food. It's next door to Chapito which is a physical theater school (aka clown school) and the students do a show every night from 10-10:30.

cafe brasileira
pasteis de belem--both places seem to be swarming with tourists and locals alike for good reason...coffee, custard tarts and ambience...although the custard tart really sealed the deal for me

Flores-it's the restaurant at the Bairro Alto Hotel. It's pricey but very tasty with excellent service. The cuisine is more International than Portuguese

stravaganza- bairro alto-inexpensive italian food. a nice lunch place

lisboa noite-bairro alto-simple, satisfying, portuguese cuisine

Cervejaria da Trindade-bairro alto-a must. for the ambience and beer alone...

te amo chiado-chiado-another cute lunch place if you're taking a break from shopping in the Chiado!

Olivier-bairro alto- pricey compared to the rest but an unbelievable value for what you get. Delicious, delicious meal in a cozy atmosphere. Go hungry...there are NINE starters before you get your entree...

CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS:
-the aforementioned port wine drinking and cow mooing
-gazing at the wheat colored Alentejan hills that are dotted with cork trees
-hiking around the 3 marble towns (estremoz, borba, vila vicosa). There's more marble than they know what to do with! Marble drinking fountains!
-the windy quiet of Marvao
-the lively color of Castelo de Vide and the incredibly difficult hike up to the castle after a long sangria filled lunch
-Evora's Roman Ruin
-Evora's Igreja Sao Joao which is COVERED in beautiful azulejos
-Evora's castle and cloisters
-Lisbon's many miradouros
-Belem's many riches. From a manueline monastery to a coach museum to a design museum featuring Eames and Gehry...and those custard tarts....
-Sintra's toy museum
-Guilbenkian, there is a Manet there that I've never seen before and I fell in love with it
-The Alfama-just meandering
-the Oceanarium!!! So beautifully done! We must have watched those otters for over an hour
-Sao Vicente de Fora-Alfama-a gorgeous monastery with views over the Tejo
-antiquing along Sao Bento, resting in Principe Real and then stumbling into the Botanical Gardens

All in all, it was an amazing trip. My only 2 regrets are that our schedules with the friends we were meeting in Lisbon got messsed up and we weren't able to hook up with Matt, Lobo or any other LDC-er and that we left Portugal without having visited Alcoboca/Batalha and Tomar. I very much believe that we will be back though. There is so much more to see and to explore and to learn. It's a beautiful country and I can't wait to return.
henryandcasper is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 05:13 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,250
Hi. Well, I think you did a great job. We are particularily interested because we will visit most of the very same places you did on this next trip.

Did you feel that you got a little taste of the Alentejo in the six days that you visited? We are doing a sweep from the Serra da Estrela to the coast a little further South than you did at Sesimbra. We did not include Castelo de Vide. Do you think we should make some time for it?

Thanks for the lunch suggestions in Lisbon and for the rest of your trip. We are staying in apartments almost the whole time, but are really not interested in making lunch. So while we are touring it is good to have places to eat that are good and reasonable.

Where did you rent your car and was it a good experience? I always find this helpful information.

Thank you for posting. It was a great report.

Sherry
Sher is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 06:18 AM
  #3  
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Hi Sherry!
I'm already jealous that you have your trip ahead of you instead of behind!!! We rented our car through Sixt at the airport. We decided to use them because Secretplaces recommended them and they really steered us in the right direction with hotels. The rate was really reasonable (stick shift car, not automatic, 173E for an economy car for a week ) and they were really helpful at the airport with directions to the Vasco de Gama bridge. One other thing of note-that I believe you already know since you've done quite a bit of driving in Portugal already-driving was much less stressful than I was lead to believe. We had more stressful times in the car in and out of Siena, Italy than anywhere in Portugal. Everything is clearly marked and the roads were quite good. There was the occasional insane, speedy, tail gaiter but we never felt in danger.
As for the amount of time in the Alentejo...it's a hard question to answer because I never feel like it's enough. We spent 9 days in Lisbon alone (with the exception of a day trip to Sintra) and it didn't feel like enough! We forced ourselves to not get too list happy and to make sure that we spent time having a leisurely breakfast, allowed ourselves to come back in the late afternoon and just read on the terrace or by the pool. We really needed to unwind as well as sightsee. So, we limited ourselves to 2 at the most, 3 towns a day and it felt like a great pace. If you're really feeling ambitious, of course you can do more. But I think 6 days is a nice amount of time for that area. I wanted to go south to Vila nova milfontes but it seemed like to much driving for one day and we opted to do the Arrabida/Sesimbra itinerary instead. I think you will get a nice feel for the area in that time. We did at a very slow pace...
As for Castelo de Vide, it was one of my favorites. I'm not sure why. So much of traveling has to do with one's state in the moment doesn't it? I was just in the mood for it's color and charm and ease. I was even in the mood for a drunken climb to a castle. It was really open and inviting. There is even another little village within the castle walls! For us, the Marvao/Castelo de Vide combo was really great. They're also really close to one another so you could leave it as a maybe, and if you find you have extra time, check it out! It's hard to go wrong in that area...
henryandcasper is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 09:27 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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I also wanted to ask you if the bar at the hotel is open late at night.

We are staying at the apartment a la Namaka and thought we could enjoy the view, since you make it sound so inviting. It would be nice to walk over there and have a drink.

I didn't find driving in Portugal stressful except where I noted the passing lane. Maybe it is because the year before we were on the Amalfi coast and we fought every day in the car. My husband hated being on that very narrow road smack up against a wall to let a bus pass. We did not drive in the Alentejo and I am glad to hear that you found the roads well signposted.

We realize that it is a fairly long drive from Estremoz to Vila Nova, but we plan to spend three days there and we couldn't resist.

This trip is only four nights in Lisbon, probably too little. But we will have to make due and plan to return.

Portugal is just so inviting.
Sher is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 10:09 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 187
great report. Takes me back and gives me plans for the next trip.

Sorry you missed out on an LDC but sounds like all your experiences were special.
Barb65 is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 01:43 PM
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sher-
There is a bar downstairs at the hotel which is very comfortable and also the rooftop terrace. I think it's open until at least midnight and serves some light snacks as well. You can always ask them at the front desk as you walk by, since it's right next to where you are staying, just to be sure of closing times.
My husband and I have definitely had our share of fights driving in other countries!! But not in the Alentejo if you can believe it. We also used a michelin map which is an essential on any trip. I can't wait to hear your report on Vila nova milfontes! It really sounds special. I think 4 days in Lisbon will both satisfy you and tease you to come back! You will get a great feel for it, I have no doubt.
Barb-
I'm sorry about our missed LDC opportunity as well! It really sounded like fun. I'm anxious to hear about Sarasara's and Namaka's vacations as well!
henryandcasper is offline  
Jul 9th, 2006, 02:26 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2004
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Beautiful report. Isaias is so fun!!! Within one month period, I'm sure I'm going to eat there.
lobo_mau is offline  

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