Portugal First Impressions Review—Quick Stop, Honeymoon, or Long, Long Linger

You can join many in Lisbon on high hills and other perches that afford a good place to take in the sunset

 

(Author’s Note:  Click on the links in this story to read the 35 more detailed stories that comprise the total Splash late Spring 2016 Portugal Tour report.)

 

Sintra has charm above and beyond its historic castles

 

For a first-time American visitor to Portugal who hasn’t learned the language, the first thing you too might notice is the beauty of the tongue, even if you, like us, have previously logged serious time in Brazil

 

Porto's orange roofs from up on high

 

Soon you learn that most Portuguese find their pronunciation inferior to what they describe as a more melodic Brazilian variant.  Strain as you might to hear the difference, what you will instead hear is that English is spoken nearly everywhere.  

 

Douro Valley-- eye candy in every direction

 

Spoiled Americans that we are—here is yet another chance to experience a different culture without struggling with the language.  And, as is true now worldwide, you can also find places that make you feel like you never left home.  

 

For those who like to find familiar surrounds when they go away, we thought this exercise room in a golf resort near a historic town had a very suburban office park feel

 

Then again, the congeniality and ever-even temperament styles you see everywhere suggest that you would never feel ashamed of mispronunciations if you are inclined to put Portuguese-language training wheels on.

 

Obidos transports you into another time

 

From Lisbon, to Sintra, to Caba da Roca, to Porto, to Douro Valley, then Óbidos , and with some back and forths—we logged 10 days in Portugal walking away with many vivid  and often visceral impressions any first-time visit to a new land helps you feel…

 

World of Discoveries museum in Porto describes the life and times of the great explorers in detail

 

We Re-Imaginined the Age of Discovery—not just at the Porto interactive museum dedicated to teaching this history to persons of all ages,

 

Some go to Castelo Sao Jorge just for the views-- but learning the history of the castle and exploring the architectural dig around it is even more intriguing

 

but also when we went to the best Lisbon viewpoint (Castelo Sao Jorge) and saw the grand hall where Vasco da Gama was received,

 

Portuguese TV Chef and Author Avillez is a font of information about how Portuguese cuisine reflects the country's maritime history

 

when we talked to one of Portugal’s most famous chefs about Portuguese cuisine,

 

You get to climb towers that were once lookouts for enemies, but then also a place where returning explorers would be seen and welcomed

 

when we peeked out the tower in Belem to see where the Kings did send offs and welcomes of the Explorers’ ships,

 

Imagine what it was like to look at the ocean from this most western spot in the EuroAsian land mass during the Age of Discoveries, before they knew the ocean was finite with another side

 

and perhaps most of all, when we went to the most Western tip of the EuroAsian landmass, seeing the vast ocean before us unspoiled, just as the great explorers would have seen it. 

 

Monserrate, with its extensive gardens and woods, is a very inviting place to linger


 

History Was Everywhere -- 

 

The twin chimneys of the National Palace of Sintra -- an iconic image that you will always remember

 

With our ever-so-knowledgeable guide from Parques de Sintra, Carla Ventura, we were able to visit four historic castles in just one day

 

Not the palace that inspired Disney's palace, but Pena Palace is the one that inspired the palace that inspired the Disney Palace

 

Monserrate,National Palace of Sintra,Palace of Pena, and the Moorish Castle

 

The Moorish castle

 

Looking back, we are astounded that we covered so much ground in one day but more, realized that our guide’ seemed to know history in such detail she could have easily lengthened the tour of each site to a full day or more—making it four days+ in total. 

 

But history buffs should note it’s not just the historic sites per se where you can access and relish history. 

 

A Travessa, in the historic neighborhood where Fado was born, pays homage to a puppet factory in its building and many other historic objets d'art in its tasteful decor

 

After a day in Sintra we returned to a Lisbon restaurant with décor that tells the history of what came before in that building and neighborhood. 

 

Taylor Fladgate is building a museum about the history of port wine

 

When you go to Porto you not only get to taste first class Port wines but can learn how they were born in the 17th Century in the context of European war.

 

You can find historic markers on Quinta Nova lands that demarcate the boundaries for the world's first designated wine area

 

—an education that can continue when you get to the Douro Valley where the grapes are grown

 

When you enter Hotel Teatro in Porto you feel as if you are in the historic theater lobby that used to be on the site

 

We were surprised to find history even in our Porto Hotel that pays homage to a historic theater fire similar to the Iroquois Theater fire so famous in US theater history and the history of US fire regulations.

 

The many and frequent references to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 --- an event that demarcates a before and after on landscapes, settlement patterns and more—jumped out at us, former visitors to Bhuj, India a few years after their earthquake.   It’s easy to imagine how time travelers from Lisbon circa 1756 would know exactly how their Indian counterparts are still feeling today.

 

LX Boutique Hotel pays homage to Portuguese literary great Pessoa and many other Lisbon definining people and places

 

Also, Reverence for Literature A popular hotel in downtown Lisbon that designs one of its floors in memory of a famous poet who walked nearby streets during his daily constitutional?  A pantheon for writers

 

Jeronimos Monastery is a holy feeling site but also has many poets and important Portuguese writers buried there

 

Famous writers also buried in top tourist attraction historic monasteries?  Book stores so historic and beautiful that they can charge admission – and you end up not minding?   Love of literature is everywhere and it’s infectious.  Prepare to leave Portugal with a long reading list of all the Portuguese classics you have never heard of but now feel you must read soon.

 

Eye-catching accessories in the Portuguese fashion designed uniforms for the TAP Portugal airline crews. Photo courtesy of TAP Airlines

 

Visual Aesthetics So Portuguese – Classic and Modern – It was a relatively quick trans-Atlantic flight on TAP Airlines, yet in retrospect also such an excellent quick brief on the looks of Portugal—both in its modern fashion consciousness in flight attendant uniforms to the choice of “stone carpets” as a business-class goodies book theme. 

 

A square with trademark mosaic tiles of Lisbon

 

Mosaic-adorned Lisbon side street

 

Looking back, what impresses us most is that the “stone carpet” mosaics are not just on the grand boulevards—but also found here and there on small side streets of Lisbon.    

 

One of many awe-inspiring church interiors in Lisbon

 

It strikes too that if you admire majestic churches you’d barely need to go 20 minutes on foot in the places we visited to get another fix of breathtaking cathedral.  All are stunning—and each with a unique signature.

 

The city gate of Obidos

 

A church in Porto

 

Stone carpets, blue tiles, and a church-- iconic!

 

Prepare too to come home and feel like our public buildings are so stark for lack of ajuleco—the ubiquitous blue and white decorative tiles that you find both on grand buildings but also on the likes of a small tavern too.

 

Serralves Museum

 

Portugal, though historic, does not feel stuck in the past.  Relatively low-cost Portugal is quickly becoming a playground for cosmopolitan Europeans and it feels like the style thought leaders of Portugal reaching for the gold ring in both architecture,

 

Lisbon's Lisbon’s Inspira Santa Marta Hotel helps develop clean water sources in the developing world

 

green design,

 

ARCO, a famed European art fair, was staged in Lisbon for the first time this year

 

and art are in no small way helping meet that goal. 

 

One of the many places in the Quinta Nova Winery House that invites you to sit, sip and enjoy the views of Douro Valley

 

Note:  Don’t confuse Portugal being relatively “low-cost” with any implication that Portugal doesn’t know how to do luxury.  Just one night in the stunningly beautiful Quinta Nova Winery House in Douro Valley will certainly convince you otherwise.

 

Medalhão Maronês com pastelão de Salpicão - a recipe given to Splash readers by Portuguese Chef Rui Paula. Photo courtesy of Rui Paula

 

Portuguese TV Chef Avillez has also shared recipes with Splash readers

 

The talented chef at Quinta Nova's Conceitus Restaurant shares his recipe for Squid, Tomato and Fennel salad with Splash readers. Photo courtesy of Quinta Nova

 

Food and Wine Especially Intriguing to Americans – Newness alone should excite you about Portuguese food. 

 

In Porto's elegant DOP Rui Restaurant you can watch the pastry chefs at work

 

Yes, some Portuguese recipes are common in US cookbooks, but like the gourmet food we tasted at restaurants–

 

Photo courtesy of Sea Me Restaurant in Lisbon, a top pick restaurant by a leading concierge in the city

 

lots and lots of seafood,

 

Can-the-Can is whimsically decorated with cans of all descriptions

 

and from canned food (?!?),

 

In trendy Lisbon restaurant Bico do Sapato you can nurture hopes of spotting its famed co-owner, legend of stage and screen John Malkovich

 

often in swank surrounds, and always with Portuguese wines very much in mind.

 

Quinta Nova wines are some of the relatively fewer Portuguese wines that are easier to find in the USA

 

We just don’t see this kind of food in the States, with some exceptions. For example, using my home base as a reference point, a neighborhood in Chicago that is considered one of the foodie havens in the country, I count in short walking distance:  four Italian restaurants, not including the nearly dozen high-end pizza places; four Thai restaurants;  six Japanese; 3 Nouvelle Southern; one French; four Middle Eastern; three Korean; one Costa Rican; one Argentinian; one Cuban, one Korean Puerto Rican fusion even; etc. etc.—and NO Portuguese restaurants.  (Directories list three in all of Chicago—one is a roasted chicken restaurant that nobody seems to know is Portuguese.)

 

TAP airlines introduced us to unique green grape wines of Portugal- -that they had sommeliers taste on the ground and in the air! Photo courtesy of TAP Airlines

 

New food—how fun!  And the new-to-us high quality green grape bright sparkling wines—a totally refreshing summer drink to get on your radar!

 

Fado, Fado and more Fado

 

Lisbon’s Adega Machado is an authentic place to go for a taste of Fado-- Portuguese Soul Music

 

Yes, you can find the occasional Fado performance in the United States and no shortage of Fado recordings on YouTube—BUT, we learned at one historic Fado house that this really is a musical genre with its own musical flora and fauna that seems to thrive best on native soil.  Better, we found that asking a Lisboan about their favorite Fado places was a guaranteed ice breaker and unleashing of their passions.

 

Casa da Musica in Porto

 

If we had it to do all over again, we certainly would have checked out the reasonably priced concerts in Porto’s Casa da Musica or in made sure to attend a concert in a charming venue during the Sintra Music Festival.  That said—it’s difficult to imagine any return trip to Lisbon not including a live Fado performance nearly every night.

 

Photo courtesy of TAP Airlines

 

Will we return?  With TAP airlines offering a free 3-day stopover in Lisbon whenever you fly their airline from the States to 39 destinations in Europe the answer seems to be most probably yes—and soon, we hope. 

 

 

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