Perfect Portugal

After spending over a week soaking up the sun and culture in Spain, it was time to head to our next European destination….. Portugal! We had been looking forward to visiting this country for quite a while, and once we had finally arrived – after 8 hours on a bus – we weren’t disappointed! Portugal was love at first sight! What we really appreciated about this country was its great combination of history, culture, food and drink (more specifically the port and wine).

Lisbon

We started our visit to Portugal in Lisbon with a 4 hour walking tour of the city. One of the main reasons that we wanted to visit Lisbon was to experience the local cuisine, so ensured that the walking tour that we had booked included food tastings along the way. After seeing the main sights in Old Town such as Rocco Square and the Old Town wall, we made our way to an old church named São Domingos. In 1506, the Lisbon Massacre began after a Jewish man was murdered during a Catholic Church service. After the massacre of hundreds of Jews, the church is now said to be haunted. A fire also broke out in the church many years later and the damage was never repaired so when we entered the church, we definitely felt an eerie presence within the church walls.

As we continued our tour, we stopped by a small cafe and it was our first time tasting a Lisbon specialty – Custard tarts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon with a good quality espresso! Apparently, the locals have 6-8 shots of coffee each day! One was certainly enough for us! Next we continued to explore more of the city with our guide before stopping for some local cheese and marmalade. It was here that we learnt that marmalade is not actually orange jam like the English claim, but rather a thick jam cut into slices made from quince (marmelo in Portuguese, hence the name marmalade). It was delicious combination of taste and texture when eaten with the cheese!

Marmalade and Cheese

We also tried Ginjinha – a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing sour cherries in alcohol and adding sugar. It was originally created as a cough syrup but people kept drinking it for the taste and not for the health benefits, so these days it is as a beverage to be enjoyed at Ginjinha stands throughout the city. The locals claim that Ginjinha is meant to be good for your health and they firmly believe and recommend that you should have 6 shots a day…. However, each dose has an alcohol content of 30%; it may not cure your headache, more so as cause one.

A Bottle of Ginjinha

Tasting Ginjinha

While sipping on our Ginjinha, we began our decent of the hundreds of stairs that lead to the trendy part of the city; The Barrio Alto District. This part of Lisbon is known for its wide selection of bars and great food (mostly traditional restaurants), although we did see an Indian-Italian restaurant which we thought was a strange combination. Later, we returned to this part of town for dinner where we had a very traditional dish to Lisbon, pork with clams. It sure sounded like a strange combination but the two flavours actually moulded together quite nicely. Dinner was then washed down with some local beer before we headed to a bar that overlooked the river. We were hoping to have a drink at the pharmacy museum which turns into a bar after dark and has a collection of eclectic furniture on the front lawn, however we were just a few minutes too late to be a part of that experience.

As our walking tour continued, we headed out of Barrio Alto and down the hill to the Port of Lisbon. From there we caught a ferry across the river to Cacilhas. This region is meant to have the best seafood in Portugal, and it definitely did not disappoint! It was then that the walking tour that we had booked that included food tastings really satisfied us in more ways that humanly possible. We sat at a lovely seafood restaurant by the water and enjoyed; cod cakes, shrimp balls and fresh king prawns. We washed these delicious seafood samples down with some Vinho Verde (green wine), which really means a young wine. This type of wine is meant to be consumed within a year of bottling. The wine had a really crisp, fresh taste, which was just what we wanted after walking the hilly streets of Lisbon in the scorching heat all morning. After the tour finished we decided we hadn’t had enough seafood, so we ordered some more local specialties… fried sardines along with seafood rice. Needless to say, we headed back across the river to the mainland in Lisbon with very full bellies and the satisfaction of being able to enjoy some of the most fantastic seafood in Europe!

The view from Cacilhas with Lisbons famous suspension bridge in the background

A cocktail at our hotel’s roof top bar after a long day of sightseeing – Lisbon castle in the background

Sintra

The next morning was an early one, as we headed out to Sintra to see one of the top sights of Portugal: The Pena Palace. Getting to the palace was an effort in itself, as you turn corner after corner on the incredibly windy roads – just to get to the car park. From there, it’s a 2km walk uphill through a rainforest before the palace unexpectedly jumps out in front of you as the amazing array of colour reminds you of a castle that would resemble one from Disney Land! We then spent 2 hours exploring this amazing place and taking in the panoramic views from every angle around the circumference of the palace. There is no way to describe this beautiful palace, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking for us instead, and hopefully our photos will do it the justice that this place truly deserves.

The view of the castle when you first see it!

Caboda Da Roca

After the tour of the palace, we then returned to the small town of Sintra, where we sat down for a long lunch. After our lunch and a 1L beer for Matt along with a 1L milkshake for Hannah, we headed onwards to Caboda Da Roca; the most western point in Europe. Apparently if you sailed in a straight line from the point where we stood, you would you eventually reach New York. It’s a beautiful place to visit with cliffs over 100m high and bright blue water lapping against them and certainly a wonderful place for a photo (unless the wind wasn’t in your favour)!

Cascais

Our next stop… Cascais. Cascais is a former fishing village that is now one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. It is very popular with tourists as it has become a beach holiday destination. Unfortunately, we only had two hours to explore this small town, but it was enough time to taste the best ice cream that Portugal has to offer and to have a relaxing walk along the esplanade. This was also the first time we have walked on a beach that has proper sand (not pebbles), since we left Australia over one year ago!

After our big day sightseeing of Western Portugal, it was time to head back to Lisbon so we could catch our evening train to our next destination – but not before trying some authentic “Nandos” chicken! We asked around and a local told us the best place to sample authentic peri peri chicken. It was different to way in which Nandos prepare their chicken, as they serve their chicken ready for you to eat, cooked in all the spices that they use. The authentic method in Portugal is to serve the cooked chicken and then they provide you with a small bowl and brush and you apply the peri peri “sauce” on your chicken yourself. As expected, it was very different to the Nandos we know and love in London, but it still tasted amazing – and it is one more thing that we can cross off the “to do list”!

Porto

The last destination on our Portuguese holiday was Porto. We spent our first morning exploring the hilly streets, until we made our way to The Clerigos church. The church’s tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clerigos is one of the most iconic symbols of Porto and can be seen from various points throughout the city. The tower is 75.6 meters high and we climbed the 225 steps to reach the top. Of course – just as our luck may have it – we passed the bells in the tower, just as the clock struck 12 o’clock. This resulted in the both of us becoming momentarily deafened by the longest 12 o’clock chime in the history of clocks. However, the climb to the top of the tower was worth it, as the view over Porto was simply breathtaking.

Climbing the tower

Passing the bells as they ring for 12pm

Finally reached the top!

After all the step climbing, of course we were ready for lunch and an ice cold beer. We headed down hill to the banks of the Douro River where we sat at a little café and had lunch before crossing the lower level of the Ponte Luis I (The Luis 1st Bridge) an iconic sight of the city. At the time of its construction, it was the longest double-decker bridge in the world. Once we crossed the bridge, we entered Vila Nova de Gaia, which is the town where port is made, stored and essentially the main purpose for us wanting to come to Portugal.

It is on this side of the river where you will find a large number of port lodges or “caves” as locals call them. Different companies produce and store their own different varieties of port wine in their caves. As a tourist, you can visit the different lodges and have a tour of the cellars which includes a tasting of their port. The tastings are really cheap and usually only cost a few Euros for 2- 3 glasses, and some companies even offer them for free. The first lodge that we visited was Sandermans. Here we had a tour of cellars and learnt about the differences between tawny, ruby, white and vintage ports. We also learnt how they store the different varieties and the effect that this has on the taste and colour of the wines. A highlight of this tour was seeing the largest barrel in their cellars which holds over 40,000 litres of port! We finished the tour with a tasting of their recommended drops.

Our tour guide

40 000L Barrel of Port

Now that we have a better understanding of port wine, it was time to visit some other caves and see what they had to offer. After a while, we lost count of how many that we visited, but we did keep a photo record – so that we could refer back to it later (see below). All in all, we had 14 glasses of port each that afternoon and we had only spent a total of $18! Truly a cheap and fun way to drink!

Unwilling (or rather unable) to walk back to the bridge, we decided to take the cable car. We soon agreed that this was a good decision, as the sun was setting and we took in some fantastic views of the water front in Porto. We then walked across the top level of the Ponte Luis I (which is only for pedestrians and trams), and took in some more of the beautiful sunset before heading back to the riverbank in Porto for a final meal of fresh seafood to end our time in Portugal.

As we headed to the airport we felt sad to leave this amazing country but also excited to head onto our next destination. Spending only four days in this country certainly wasn’t long enough and we will definitely be back one day to explore more of what it has to offer!

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