Adventures in Lisbon and Porto

Our adventures this month continue to require maximum flexibility on our part.  The original plan was to work on the boat, supervise the installation of the new standing rigging, and then fly out to Portugal for some exploration before beginning the Camino de Santiago.  We encountered a hang up with the materials for the standing rigging, so we made the decision to head to Portugal early before returning to the boat to finish up the work.

We arrived in Lisbon late in the evening and grabbed a Bolt (like Uber) to our apartment in the heart of Lisbon.  It turned out that our driver was also a tour operator, so we were able to arrange a 9 hour private tour of the highlights in and around Lisbon.

The next day we headed out on foot to explore the beauty of Lisbon.  Lisbon is extremely hilly with many, many staircases throughout the town.  Our apartment was also on the 4th floor, so the amount of climbing we did over the few days we were there was phenomenal (and exhausting).  As with most European cities, the old town was lined with quaint little alleyways and cobblestone roads.  There were many small cafes and restaurants tucked up in alleys and in the main squares.  Cathedrals and churches were all around.  After a long day of exploring the surrounding area, we returned to our room for some rest before heading out later that evening for a 4 hour Portuguese cooking class.

We left a little early for our class to sample some of the local wines and a sour cherry liqueur, Ginjinha, which is a specialty of the area.  Everything was quite delicious.  When we arrived at the cooking school, we were greeted by the chef and met the 10 other people in the class with us.  8 of us were from the U.S. and 2 were from Portugal.  The class was structured a little bit different than ones we have done in other countries.  Here we would be making many different dishes, so each of us took on a variety of different tasks.  Throughout the experience there was wine…..lots and lots of wine!  We began with a charcuterie board of local cheeses, meats and bread as well as a fired chorizo.  Then it was time to cook.  We made cod fish croquettes, chicken gizzards, a marinated chicken, tempura fried long beans, a carrot dish, a rice dish, and an orange dessert.  Once everything was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy the food we had made.  We were sent all the recipes which we can’t wait to try out (maybe not the gizzards) when we get home.

The following day would be our last day in Lisbon.  Our driver picked us up at 9:00 a.m. for a full day of exploring before catching a 7:00 p.m. train to Porto.  Our first stop was a famous pastry shop (Pasteis de Belem) known as the original place of the Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart.  We bought several to enjoy later (that was a mistake – they are best enjoyed fresh from the oven!) From there, we headed to the river front where we explored a monument dedicated to explorer Vasco de Gama and the famous Belem tower.  We drove an hour outside of Lisbon to a lovely town called Sintra, home of the summer palace of Portuguese royalty.  We climbed steep hills and walked hundreds of steps to explore this amazing garden,  Reguleira, with an “inspiration well” that spiraled deep down into the earth where we then passed through long tunnels before popping out amongst waterfalls.  The grounds were very tropical and lush providing a sense of peace and serenity.  It was definitely scenery fit for a king.  Sintra is also home to Pena Palace, a 19th century castle (and UNESCO world heritage site) built by King Ferdinand.  

Pasteis de Belem – Home of the original Pastel de Nata
Pastel de Nata – the signature Portuguese dessert!
Monastery of Senhora and Tomb of Vasco de Gama
Belem Tower
Vasco de Gama’s starting point in 1497
Inspiration well in Reguleira
Pena Palace – Sintra
Castle fit for a King!

We toured many of the rooms inside the palace

I found it amusing when our driver told us that we would likely spend 2-3 hours in the palace.  Really?  That seemed like a really long time.  Nope, we spent that long!  By the time we hoofed it back down to the car, we were ready to take a break with a ride to our next site….Capo de Roca.  This is the westernmost point of Continental Europe.  The rock formations and crashing surf provided a spectacular backdrop.  There is nothing beyond this point until you hit North America.  Before long, we were making our way back toward Lisbon through a coastal fisherman’s village called Cascais.  The reality is that it was a fisherman’s village of the past.  Now, it is one of the wealthiest areas of Portugal boasting the pseudonym of the St. Tropez of Portugal.  For Dan and I, it was very reminiscent of driving through the ritzy beach towns of Southern California.

Westernmost point in Europe…
With our tour driver – Pramesh from Mozambique
Seaside town of Cascais

It was hard to believe how much we saw in our 9 hour window.  We loved every minute of it, but I would not recommend blazing through all these sites in one day.  Take the time to stop and really smell the roses.  You won’t regret it.  Sadly, it was time for us to say goodbye to Lisbon and make our way to Porto.  I wasn’t super excited by the idea of a 3 hour train ride (and that was the high speed version) nor arriving at our apartment after 10:00 p.m.  It had already been a really long day!

High speed train to Porto

The train ride turned out to be relatively painless and before we knew it, we were in the lovely riverside town of Porto.  Once again, our apartment was on the 4th floor.  The worst part was that there was a flight of stairs to get to the starting floor of 1, and each floor had 2 flights of stairs.  Our apartment was on the top floor which overlooked the city and rooftops which was absolutely stunning!  The downside was there were also 3 flights of stairs IN our apartment.

The next morning, we headed out on foot to explore the historic center of Porto.  Once again, we found ourselves climbing hills and hundreds of stairs to reach the many beautiful churches and cathedrals.  Just like Lisbon, the streets were crawling with people. Despite being April, tourist season was already in full swing….boo!  All around the town, musicians played beautiful music for coins and the hope you’d buy their CD.  The city runs along the river which has 7 beautiful bridges running across it.  On the opposite side of the river, there were many, many port (the wine) makers and tasting rooms.  

Azulejos of the Igreja do Carmo
Porto has a vibrant street music scene

On our next outing, we took the foot bridge across the river in search of some port tastings.  Our first stop was Calem caves where we sampled one port before deciding to move on.  We had been told by a friend to go to a place called World of Wine which consisted of many shops, restaurants and bars.  This was indeed a gem as it was very quiet and free from the hoards of people milling around.  We headed for a spot called Angel’s Share to enjoy a port tasting.  We were seated on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river and city center.  We were given 3 different types of port and an explanation as to what to pair them with.  Our tasting came with a tray of several different items:  cheese, rosemary sourdough crisps, pumpkin jam, carmelized walnuts, and a dark and fruity chocolate truffle.  It was amazing!  I am head over heels in love with the cheeses they make here, and the pumpkin jam they pair them with puts it over the top!

Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia – home of famous Port wine
Most of the world’s port is produced in this area
Burmester Port wine cellars
Trying some Calem Port
An example of the river boats that delivered Port from the Douro river valley
Fun Port wine tasting at World of Wine

After our tasting we walked the riverfront and came upon this tall building with quite a bit of action going on.  As we wandered in, the walls rose 3 stories high and were lined with books.  The whole place was brightly colored and on the second level an organist played fun music like we were at some kind of old fashioned circus.  There were a couple of stations where you placed an order and received a cod fritter packed with hot, runny cheese and a large glass of port all served up on this small painters pallet that they hung over your thumb.  You could enjoy your treat in the place of walk the riverfront with your goodies and the glass and pallet were your souvenirs to keep.  Now that was fun!

Bacalhau (codfish) and glass of Port to go!

For our last night in Porto, we followed our friend’s advice again and made a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant called Elemento.  We felt very fortunate that we were able to get the reservation as it can be very difficult to get last minute reservations.  We opted to do the chef’s tasting menu which is always a lot of fun.  Tasting menus can always be a little challenging if you are like me and averse to some tastes and textures.  Every item was unique and unusual and everything hot is cooked over an open fire….no ovens or stovetops.  Most of the hot dishes had a bit of a smokey flavor or used a smoky flavored sauce.  We were treated to several seafood and meat tastings which included things like dried fish eggs on mackerel, raw shrimp, and venison loin.  It was a very nice experience.

Elemento Michelin starred restaurant in Porto

We were a little sad to be leaving Porto.  This was definitely one of my favorite stops despite the crowds, but it was time to make our way north and begin our pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago….120 miles of fun filled walking!  Stay tuned as we trek our way from Portugal into Spain to the place where the Apostle, St. James, is interred.

5 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x