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Trip List by ockerman

Portugal for the First Time: a Trip Report

28 Jun 2007  
4.5 of 5 bubbles based on 15 votes

An 11 day summer tour of the city and country - without the children.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Lisbon, Belem, Sintra, Colares, Obidos, Tomar, Luso, Bussaco, Evora, Salema
  • Category: Perfect week or more
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Active/Outdoors, Never been before, Beachgoers
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Students, Budget travellers , Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Summer
  • 1. Getting There

    Row 52 of a British Air wide body jet that is just about full is not the ideal way to start your trip. Drink your wine and sleep if you can. DH got an international driving permit before departure. Our Fiat had no AC and no radio but traffic was light and despite the lack of obvious streetsigns (most were mounted on buildings) we found our hotel by noon.

  • 2. Best Western Hotel Flamingo
    Hotel Flamingo, Lisbon, Lisbon District

    Great location - no parking to speak of. We had a 5th floor room looking out on the street complete with bath and minibar. The ancient elevator is slow and small - stairs are better without luggage. This place was fine and economical but you may want to look for something more interesting.

  • 3. Belem
    Belem, Lisbon District

    The concierge helped us get the Fiat in reverse and we headed for the sights of Belem, neighborhood of naval and marine history in Lisbon. Still not seeing many street signs but following the water will get you there. We explored the Monument to Discoveries (loved it and the floor mosaic), and observed, but didn't visit, the Torre de Belem. We drifted into the Jeronimos Monastery, pale and ornate with the characteristic Manueline architecture and tombs of nobility and notables like Vasco de Gama. At the next door Marine Museum we took in exhibits about Portugal's golden age (don't miss the royal barges - you can just imagine them on the Tagus) and ordered successfully at the snack bar. On a lovely summer day this was a beautiful area to explore.

  • 4. El Dolfin

    The concierge recommended a neighborhood restaurant for dinner. We were embarrassingly early - the first guests. We learned that most establishments have some small appetizers on the table - if you eat them you are charged for them. We were hungry enough to eat everything and enjoy some port as well.

  • 5. Alfama
    Alfama, Lisbon, Lisbon District

    We set on an early walk through the Amoreiras neighborhood then hailed a taxi to carry us through maze-like streets to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia for a great view. We wandered taking in the Se (city cathdral) with its beautiful rose window, Igreja da Graca, and neighborhood shops. Wear comfortable shoes for this hilly neighborhood and enjoy a taste of what Lisbon was like before the 1755 earthquake.

  • 6. St. George's Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge)
    Castelo de S. Jorge, Lisbon, Lisbon District

    There is a film to enhance your visit. This is more of an outdoor experience than indoor - walk the battlements and drink in the views. There will probably be fellow tourists here,

  • 7. Lautasco

    This is a wonderful place to stop for lunch - if you can find it. Fresh seafood at fair prices in the shady courtyard - a refeshing stop.

  • 8. Baixa (Lower Town)
    Cidade Baixa, Lisbon, Lisbon District

    We walked through the mainly 18th century city center. It was full of tourists and shoppers and graffiti.

  • 9. Igreja do Carmo

    There is a surreal feeling sitting on grass within the walls of this ruins with blue sky framed by soaring stone above. Inside is a small archeological museum.

  • 10. Port Wine House (Solar do Vinho do Porto)
    Solar do Vinho do Porto, Lisbon, Lisbon District

    Footsore, we were sorry to see the celebrated Elevator to the Barrio Alta closed. We pushed on for aperitifs at the Port Institute. This is a very civilzed experience - a gracious waiter settles you comfortably at an upholstered seating area and hands you a large notebook filled with hundreds of port choices - thankfully with descriptions. We shared 4 glasses and discovered the variety that this wine could have. Sated, we stopped at a market for olives, cheese, bread and fruit for dinner.

  • 11. National Palace of Pena (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
    Park and National Palace of Pena, Sintra, Sintra Municipality

    We departed Lisbon and were quickly in Sintra climbing a winding forested road to the Palacio built on the peaks of the Serra se Sintra. Fog obscured the views but I highly recommend a visit. We left our car and walked down past the 8th century Castelo to the town bustling with tourists. A policeman recommended lunch at...

  • 12. Tulhas Bar and Restaurante

    ...this great little place in the old town. Good food and very reasonable prices though quite small. The waiter said that David Bowie had sat at our table - makes a good story, true or not. After lunch we visited the Palacio National and climbed back UP to the carpark. Sintra is a charming town for a visit or even a stay.

  • 13. Cabo da Roca
    Cabo da Roca, Colares, Sintra Municipality

    This was a scenic but scary 18 km drive from Sintra - and remember no road signs. It was too windy on this westernmost point of continental Europe to walk the dramatic cliff path. Note that this is a spot that attracts tour buses

  • 14. Estalagem do Convento

    We got lost 3 times trying to take the backroads from Sintra to Obidos - and finally made it there by 6:30. After dropping our luggage at the hotel we found one of the few parking spots within the walls. We ate a pris fixe dinner with impeccable service at the inn. I believe you can also stay at the castle in this town but the Convento was a lovely place to stay.

  • 15. Obidos Village
    Obidos Village, Obidos, Leiria District

    After breakfast we climbed to walk the city walls as the town was waking up. Prepare for wind and rugged pathway. There are churches and a small museum to explore as well. It feels as though time has stood still for centuries in Obidos.

  • 16. Convent of Christ in Tomar
    Convento da Ordem de Cristo, Tomar, Santarem District

    A scenic drive northwest brought us to Tomar and after visiting the tourist bureau we enjoyed cassoulet at Beira Rio (very reasonable little cafe). It is quite a steep walk up to the castle of the famous Knights Templar and ,if you're not tired of Manueline architecture yet, this is a wonderful place to see it as well as beautiful azulejo (tile) decorations. We shopped on the town square (if only we had a car stereo to play the Fado we bought!) and visited the park along the river - site of a Roman water wheel. This was one of the few inland rivers we saw on our itinerary.

  • 17. Bussaco Palace Hotel
    Bussaco Palace Hotel, Luso, Aveiro District

    We loved our spacious first floor room at the hotel, especially the bath with its azueljos and the beautiful breakfast buffet full of local fare and fresh squeezed juice. After checking in we walked the grounds and enjoyed some room service wine and fruit and cheese but we couldn't be bothered to dress up for a formal dinner. This became a theme for the remainder of the trip as we grew increasingly relaxed.
    Be sure and explore the hotel - especially the lovely blue and white azueljo murals.

  • 18. Palace of Bussaco
    Palace of Bussaco, Bussaco, Aveiro District

    The next day we walked the forest paths with a map provided by the concierge. The trees have been protected for almost 400 years and there are over 700 native and exotic species of plants represented. We were the only visitors in the Carmelite House with its cork doors and lintels.
    We left the park lands to visit the Battle of Bussaco monument.

  • 19. Luso
    Luso, Aveiro District

    Just below the palace is the town of Luso, famous for its spring water that is bottled and sold around the country. Locals bring large plastic bottles to the spring and fill them free of charge. We soaked our feet in a brook running to a lake where families on vacation enjoyed paddleboats.
    There was a street market open and we found embroidered table linens - a wonderful souvenier. We tried our first Portuguese pizza in town but can't recommend it.

  • 20. Ibis Evora
    Ibis Evora, Evora, Evora District

    It was time to head south, and with only one wrong turn we were on our way to Evora, located deep in the Alentejo countryside (saw our first cork trees) and containing a UNESCO World Heritage listed town center. After splurging at the Convento and Bussaco Palace we were staying cheaply at this chain hotel. The location was fine and the room though small was clean and comfortable. In retrospect, we should have paid more for something more atmospheric within the city walls.

  • 21. Evora
    Evora, Evora District

    There is a lot to see here - stop at the tourist bureau and you can check your e-mail. Evora was the center of the Roman grain supply and history leaps out at you around every corner. The lovely Placa was the site of a beheading and inquisitional burning.

  • 22. Fialho

    Some local Mormon missionaries recommended this place and we quite enjoyed the food though I wasn't feeling well and simply ordered soup and the waiter sniffed with disapproval. The dishes served around us looked excellent.
    On our walk home we came upon a string quartet an listened in the moonlight.

  • 23. Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos)
    Capela dos Ossos, Evora, Evora District

    We slept in a bit and then walked back into town for breakfast and some shopping - we bought some framed azuelhos picturing the Alentejo countryside. The Public Gardens, set on the site of a palace ruins, was full of flowers, birds and picnicking
    families. We enjoyed a drink next to the Roman Temple but couldn't summon the ambition to visit the nearby city museum.
    We did arise to visit the macabre Chapel of Bones in the Igreja de Sao Francisco. Created in the 17th c. from the remains of 5000 monks it is a stern reminder of mortality.

  • 24. Cathedral of Evora (Se)
    Se Catedral de Evora, Evora, Evora District

    The cathedral was completed in 1250 AD and the treasury is full of sacred art and glittering pieces. Be sure and climb up on the roof for a great view of the city.
    We cannot recommend our dinner restaurant choice, O Bacalhau, where we had the grisliest meal of our stay.

  • 25. Pension A Mare Bed & Breakfast
    Pension A Mare Bed & Breakfast, Salema, Faro District

    Time to head for the sea, and of course, the Algarve is a popular destination. In our effort to avoid the crowds we picked Salema a small fishing town rapidly being discovered by travelers. Our small inn on the hill was simple but just what we were looking for - good views, quiet, good breakfast - and a discount for cash. The only drawback was the lack of parking.
    We enjoyed wandering the town and settled on a bustling seafood restaurant for dinner - excellent fish and shrimp though our dinner was a bit spoiled by the loud party at the next table.

  • 26. Figueroa Beach

    It wasn't easy to find but that kept the crowds down - probably less than 60 people all day. Beware, clothing is optional.

  • 27. Ribeira do Poco

    We wanted to explore west and had a lovely dinner in this small seafood restaurant - very reasonable - mostly locals. We watched a couple enjoying gooseneck barnacles that we had seen a family gathering on the beach. We weren't brave enough to try them.
    Unfortunately, fog rolled in and curtailed our exploration and a much anticipated sunset.

  • 28. Figueroa Beach

    Our final beach day and we had a plan. Arrive early at low tide and wade/swim east and you'll have a magical cove complete with sea caves all to yourself. We saw other people only 3 times between 9 am and 4 pm - very romantic and relaxing.
    Dinner was more fresh seafood in Salema on the beach.

  • 29. Lisbon
    Lisbon, Lisbon District

    Time to return to the city in preparation for departure. We drove along the coast and crossed the ponte by the Cristo Rei statue. We shopped at the Amoreiras mall - our favorite find were lovely dish towels. One last night at The Flamingo and then home on British Airways. This time our flight to London was delayed so an airline representative picked us up in a van to make our connecting flight. The service was great and they upgraded our seats but, of course, our luggage was left behind.

  • 30. The bottom line

    We knew nothing about Portugal before our visit and that was part of the fun. Though we met many European visitors we saw very few fellow Americans. The trip was more economical than other European destinations we have visited, And we really liked the mix of outdoor beauty and cultural experiences. We rise early and go to bed early on vacation so we missed any nightlife experiences. You can't count on having English speakers wherever you go but we had no trouble making ourselves understood.