We had heard so many good things about Lisbon, we decided to go for a weekend until we came to the realisation (again) that we are retired and we don’t have to limit ourselves to weekends anymore; so we booked a much cheaper Aer Lingus flight from a very early Sunday to a very late Wednesday. For the first time in ages, we had practically four full days. I reserved, as I usually do, a hotel on Booking.com. The best thing is that even though you pay a little higher rate than normally, you can reserve without payment and pay when you get to the hotel. I think this is brilliant and worth it, because you never know what can come up and at least you’re not at a loss. The http://www.hotel-florida.pt/was given a great review and was in a perfect and quiet location; a hop, skip and a jump from everywhere we wanted to go. We took a metro from the airport to the Marquis de Pombal close to the hotel. Literally across the road from the metro entrance. In the metro station, there are ticket machines where one can buy a ticket that can last you the duration of your stay and which entitles you to Metro, most buses, tram and some boat journeys. We dropped our cases off at the hotel; really pleasant staff (and to be found out later on in the day, huge rooms, a great big bed that Goldilocks would be happy with and great air conditioning) and headed off to https://www.timeoutmarket.com/lisboa/ which is an open, airy food court featuring a wide selection of global restaurants with family-style seating. All the restaurants are run by the very best of Portugal’s chefs. It’s a wonderful concept and the choice was very difficult but scrumptious. One of the best things we did en route was download one of the many free Lisbon apps. https://www.discoverlisbon.org/the-6-best-apps-for-visiting-lisbon/. which give excellent descriptions of various city sites. And if you’re using all these apps on your phone, be sure to have a portable charger.
We had pre-booked two tours before we left Dublin and the first was at 3.00pm with a Trip Advisor tour provided by https://www.insidelisbon.com/. We met in Rossio Square with about 12 other people of all nationalities. She gave us a three hour walking tour of Lisbon, and although this was certainly not the highlight of our stay, it did get us a little acquainted with the streets and history and the wonderful Jacaranda trees that are in most of the Lisbon squares. The air is drenched with their perfume.
Another valuable lesson from this tour, was that there are lifts dotted around the city. Lisbon is very hilly, and these lifts take you to some fabulous vistas of the city https://www.the500hiddensecrets.com/portugal/lisbon/buildings/lifts-and-elevators for example the Santa Justa which connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo which typically has very long queues. Or the Chao do Loureiro and Castelo which links the Baixa with the Moorish Castle and Alfama district and rarely has queues as it’s like a secret that the locals only know and now you do!
Speaking of the hills, be sure to have worn in your shoes/sandals as the streets are also beautifully cobbled. We had a divine pastry, Pastel de Nata, in the Baixa district called Natas D’Ouro. Do indulge.
We used the elevator that took us to Alfama. The steep streets of Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest areas, are lined with cafes and shops selling traditional crafts. Passengers pack the historic no. 28 tram, which winds through Alfama on its way up to 11th-century São Jorge Castle. Views from Miradouro da Graça terrace stretch over the city to the River Tagus. In the evening, melancholy Fado music can be heard in some of the area’s long-running restaurants. And if you want to listen to Fado, don’t go for the all in version with food, try out the Tivoli (not in the Alfama district) which has a tasting menu with the music and better value and food all round. http://www.teatrotivolibbva.pt/ We were lucky enough to be in Alfama for the preparation of the Santo Antonio Festival which is held in June. Stalls were being built along the narrow streets and food, a cherry liquor, called Ginjinha and their green wine Vinho Verde, are sold without a licence by house owners. The guide took us into what appeared like someone’s back yard for some sausages and wine. The cherry liquor was served in chocolate cups and I could drink Vinho Verde till the cows come home. A wine with just the right amount of a sparkle.
Back to the Marquis de Pombal station to our hotel, to our HUGE bedroom to freshen up and take some of Rick Stein’s advice from his weekend in Lisbon. We headed off to http://joaograo.pai.pt/ to eat Porco a Alentejana and their famous Sardines. I have to tell you what I learnt about how to eat Sardines. You place the sardine on top of crusty bread, then peel the skin; then you eat the meat of the fish and peel the bones out. Then you eat the bread which is soaked in the sauce. Thank me later. The meal with wine came to €38.00 but the meal was just ok, to be honest. Lisbon is so reasonable. We “walked up the Avenue” – (cue a duet from Fred Astaire and Judy Garland) Liberdade, which is very posh and lovely and I can’t afford anything there, to our hotel. I said goodbye to Dan in the large bed.
Day Two: We headed to Belem to see the Monastery and Tower………………….but this was Monday and they were closed. Lesson to be learnt. CHECK THESE THINGS OUT. However, we did have another pastry. Belem is the orginator of the famous Pastel de Nata.
The queues here are out the door. The story goes that the the monks at Jerónimos Monastery used the whites of eggs to starch their clothes, so there were lots of egg yolks left over. They used these to make the tarts to be sold at a shop next to a sugar cane refinery. Since then, the original recipe hasn’t changed, and it’s still a secret today, known by only a few, and kept in what is known as the “secret room”. There are quite a few “pretenders” and even competitions to win the coveted prize of next best Pasteis de Nata. We walked off this pastry by looking around the area and of course then we were thirsty and had to have a Vinho Verde on the pier. It’s a very pretty town but the Padrao dos Descobrimentos sculpture is not worth climbing its 276 steps for the view.
We headed back on the bone-shaking tram to meet our second tour guide from http://www.withlocals.com. This was brilliant. A four hour foodie tour with two local drinks and with the most gorgeous tour guide called Mariana. If you take this, do ask for her. She was quite wonderful; full of stories, wit and wisdom. The four hours flew. We ate snails, pork sandwich and sardines in Casa da India https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g189158-d2188859-Reviews-Casa_da_India-Lisbon_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html – a wonderfully authentic place, then moved on to taste salted cod fish cake called Bolinhos de Bachlau and Rissois de Camarao, pastry filled with prawns. Our last port of call after seeing so much of the city was Cruzes Credo https://www.thefork.com/restaurant/cruzes-credo/428469 right beside the Se Cathedral in Beco Da Caridade where we had a lovely cheese platter as the sun faded. Mariana is a travel blogger so everything came easy to her and she was charming company. I have to say that Lisbon would fail on a lot of levels for Vegans, but I did spot one restaurant on my travels called https://www.veganapati.pt/. It’s rather a pescatarian’s paradise and of course they do serve Piri Piri chicken in this renowned restaurant https://www.golisbon.com/food/restaurants.html/Bonjardim.html. On the recommendation of my son, try the cocktails at Chinese Pavilion and https://www.cincolounge.com/en/
Day Three: Heard so much about Sintra and also Cascais, it was a decision we had to make as to which one we wanted to visit. Sintra won, so we took the train. About 45 minutes from the Centre.
A long-time royal sanctuary to get away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon, its forested terrain is studded with pastel-colored villas and palaces. The Moorish- and Manueline-style Sintra National Palace is distinguished by dramatic twin chimneys and elaborate tilework. The hilltop 19th-century Pena National Palace is known for a whimsical design and sweeping views.The “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron spent much time here in Sintra. Apparently, he was supposed to land in Malta but took a wrong boat and ended up in Lisbon. “Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes in variegated maze of mount and glen.”
We took the bus at the station to the Palace. Dan had some barmy idea of cycling and boy am I glad it just remained in his thoughts. It was a steep and scary ride up in the bus and they are all quite crowded, so you may have to stand. There was a queue for the Palace, despite the fact that we had pre-booked, but it was sunny and delicious and we were on our holidays, so who cared. Get your audio tour guide for your phone. Takes you every step of the way and Pena is well worth visiting for its whimsy alone.
We took the glorious trail to the Historic Centre from the Gardens of Pena. Oh, do please take this trail. Our sandals were rather ridiculous as this is really a hill walking trail, but it is a down hill trail, at least. The gardens are magnificent. On our way down we spotted a gorgeous and quaint little cafe called Casa das Minas. It’s an absolute gem of a place with amazing views overlooking the gardens and you can buy lunch for as little as €3.00 plus it caters for vegetarians. They had Celtic Woman playing in the background, so we felt right at home as the owner hates Fado, which made us laugh. I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of Celtic Woman, but it added to the quaintness. I believe it is also an Art School and if you couldn’t find inspiration in those surroundings, I don’t know where you would.
I could insert loads and loads of photos of the garden, but if you haven’t switched off yet, you surely would then.
We headed then to the National Palace of Sintra which is a present-day historic museum. Glad we did Pena first. Although worth going to, not quite as good as Pena.
That night, as suggested by our tour guide, we had booked into “Lisbon Under Stars” https://www.cityguidelisbon.com/event/lisbon-under-stars-2019/. held at the famous Ruins of Carmo Church. It’s spectacular and pretty wonderful, gazing at the real stars in the heaven and the projected scenes of the history on the walls of the old church with beautiful singing and lighting. We ate in a wonderful restaurant, once again recommended by our guide as being like sitting in someone’s sitting room, in the Bairro Alto called Cantinho do Bern Estar https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Restaurant_Review-g189158-d1116634-Reviews-Cantinho_Do_Bem_Estar-Lisbon_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html. Worth it for many reasons along with the food. And the price. We strolled through the Bairro Alto,back to our hotel.
Day four: We decided this was our day to potter, to be without a set plan. After checking out the annual Book Fair very close to our hotel https://www.feiradolivrodelisboa.pt/
we headed to the Castelo de S. Jorge. Is it worth it? Not particularly except for the views and the Sangria served overlooking the city. And the peacocks.
We had a really lazy day and it was 34 degrees. But we did make it to another of Rick Stein’s recommendations, the restaurant called Cervejaria Ramiro https://geral24128.wixsite.com/cervejariaramiro/copia-home. If you enjoy fish, this is where you should go. Be very aware that there are vast queues. We were lucky in that we went around 5pm, but it packs up really quickly. Prawns, sizzling in butter, garlic and chili peppers, clams in a broth of coriander and wine and another dish of huge prawns. All with toasted chunks of garlic bread. I breathed fumes for the journey home.
Lisbon is a city I would return to; it’s beautiful, friendly, reasonable and for fish foodies, you have died and gone to heaven.