Written by Tom Thrun.
Thanks to Globus and our Travel Leaders affiliation, this September we embarked on a two week Iberian adventure to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. We began our trip with five days in Lisbon, what a great way to start things off! It was our first time in this wonderful city and it was a pleasant surprise at every turn. First of all the weather, unique among European cities, Lisbon has both Atlantic and Mediterranean climatic zones offering a pleasantly temperate climate year round. We enjoyed sunny days with temperatures in the mid-80s the entire time. The city is also strikingly beautiful. Its position on the seven low hills beside the Rio Tejo is a stunning sight. Add to that the welcoming people, cultural diversity, its laid back ambiance and beautiful architecture; this is one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe. Here are a few of the highlights that we enjoyed during our stay.
Eating and drinking get serious attention in Portugal where hearty portions and excellent value are the norm. We were here for the seafood and the variety, which are endless. We had a memorable dinner at a restaurant called Cinco Oceanos on the Rio Tejo. Starting with the traditional Ameijoas (clams) followed by a whole grilled robalo (sea bass) topped off with almond cake and port… welcome to Lisboa! We also discovered Portugal’s favorite fish dish Bacalhau, or salted cod, which has been a Portuguese culinary obsession for four hundred years. And don’t forget the Arroz de Marisco, the king of seafood rice dish that is moister than paella and less sticky than risotto. Because of Portugal’s colonization around the world and African influences, this is a country that boasts an array of national dishes. The locals tend to eat a little later than we do, although not as late as Spain.
“Olive oil, wine and friendship; the older the better.” – Portuguese proverb
Touring the City
Lisbon is a manageable city that is small enough to explore on foot. We stayed at the Sofitel located on the tree-lined Avenida da Liberdade, just minutes from the city center. Shops, restaurants and beautiful architecture are all in the neighborhood. We had sangria at the famous Café Nicola in Rossio, Lisbon’s main square; the vibe and people watching are second to none.
To get out and about, Lisbon has three different hop-on hop-off bus routes. I recommend sitting on the top deck and taking in all the beauty that this city has to offer. Visit the Castelo de São Jorge sitting on top of a hill overlooking the city where the original settlers lived. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, one of the most visited sites in Lisbon, was built in memory of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India (he is actually entombed here). The Torre de Belem is just ten minutes from the monastery and is probably Portugal’s most photographed monument.
A trip to Lisbon would not be complete without a visit to a Fado house to listen to Portugal’s treasured version of the “blues.” Originally, these melancholy love songs were written by homesick sailors back in the eighteenth century. Fado houses feature singers accompanied by only guitar players, usually in a restaurant setting. The passion and emotion of the performers is intoxicating.
We went to a Fado house on our actual anniversary and after the performance they presented us with a cake. Between the soulful music and the celebration of marrying my soulmate, I dissolved into a weepy Fado mess. Joy then gleefully pointed this out to the entire house… obrigado, honey!
Outside the City
There are several excursions within close proximity of Lisbon that you can do in a day. Visit the town of Sintra, just 20 miles northwest of the city. A UNESCO world heritage site, this playground for Portuguese royalty is popular for its bars and cafés in the old town. Enjoy some of Portugal’s famous beaches in Estoril and Cascais, only 20 minutes away.
We opted for a visit to Fatima, a scenic hour and a half drive from Lisbon. People go to Fatima for a few hours or even a few days depending on the level of interest. We took a half day tour and for us it was perfect. Other than the shrine and the museum, there is not much else to see. Believer or not, it is a moving experience. The square is twice as big as St. Peter’s in Rome and we attended mass in the Chapel of the Apparitions. Preparation has already begun for the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions in 2017 and will be attended by Pope Francis.
* Take a ride on the Elevador da Santa Justa, an iron lift designed by a Portuguese pupil of Gustave Eiffel. There are photo ops on the scenic terrace at the top.
* On Thursdays and Sundays there is an outdoor antiques market on the Avenida da Liberdade. Stroll down this charming street, take in the interesting booths, and stop in for a drink or light lunch at one of the many kiosks along the way.
* For late night fun, go to the Bairro Alto. This neighborhood is home to several Fado houses as well as bars and clubs that stay open all night long. Not that we would know.
* As far as shopping goes, Portugal is famous for beautiful ceramics and tiles from old styles to contemporary. The country also produces over 50% of the world’s cork, who knew? But they make everything out of it, from wallets to clothing. It looks and wears just like leather. Joy purchased a couple of purses and I got a golf hat.