By Don and Linda Freedman

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PORTUGAL Spring 1997 (3)


Porto | Matosinhos | Port Wine | Coimbra | Nazare | Lisboa1
Sintra | Belem | Evora | Setubal | Lisboa2 | Cascais

After a good, long sleep, the buffet breakfast in the bright, cheerful breakfast room at the Hotel Britania was an excellent start to the day.

We walked to the Rossio station and took the 11:22 train to Sintra. Since Sintra is a major commuter point, both for residents and tourists, there are frequent connections. The trains are modern and clean.

On the way out of the city, apartment buildings are jammed together and there is a great deal of construction taking place; railroad tracks, streets, overpasses, buildings - employment sites everywhere!

Halfway there, the landscape takes on a more suburban tone.

Sintra is considered to be one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. It is green with trees, vines, bushes, and shrubs, with bursts of brightly coloured flowers everywhere. It is located in the Sintra hills and the lush vegetation is due to the micro-climate created by the clouds that often rest upon the mountains.

It's a lovely short walk into the town center. We were struck by the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, a white building with two conical kitchen chimneys that provide a unique character. The narrow streets of the center were filled with tourists and shops catering to the throngs. Because the NATO meeting was in progress, there was no access to the Pena Palace, a highlight of the area. The casino was recently converted into the Sintra Museum of Modern Art and has a permanent collection of international works dating from post-war years to the present.

While we were waiting for the train to depart for the return trip to Lisboa, we passed the time in typical DONLIN fashion - making love to two dark chocolate Magnums we purchased from the, as always, conveniently located Ola stand on the station platform.

Arriving back at Rossio, we climbed the stairs to Bairro Alto and covered all the streets we had missed the previous day. Walking north on Rua D. Pedro V, past Praca Principe Real to Rua da Escola Politecnica, we discovered an area lined with elegant public and private buildings.

Then going east again to Avenida da Liberdade, we found lovely residential areas with beautifully styled apartment buildings. As we walked along our hotel street, Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, we stopped to look at the menu at O Santo at #112A. We felt like having a light meal for a change and this simple, small place, a combination cafe, pastry shop, snack bar and restaurant, might just fill the bill.

There was a young, adorable boy, perhaps thirteen years old, washing his bicycle out front who came over and asked, in perfect English, if he could be of assistance. He helped us translate the menu and ushered us inside to meet his parents who own the establishment. His parents did not speak English. Edgar took charge and waited on us. While we were waiting for our food, we watched Mrs. Santos cleaning non-stop while Edgar and his father served the customers.

Edgar handled the customers with the charm and maturity of someone much older. We fell in love with him. Our grilled pork and beef steaks were tasty and served with fries and salad. The star of the meal was Edgar. What a great kid!

After another fine breakfast, we took the #46 bus north from Avenida da Liberdade to the Gulbenkian Museum, Av. de Berna 45. Located on gorgeous grounds, it houses important collections of Islamic, French, Egyptian and Oriental art. It is certainly worth a visit - and it's free on Sundays!


As we boarded the #46 bus heading south, we told the driver we wanted to go to Belem. He told us to get off at the next stop and take the #49. Belem is west of the city, right on the river, and the ride on the bus gave us an opportunity to pass by the Ponte 25 de Abril, the longest suspension bridge in Europe. We were amazed to see that they are adding train tracks below the existing roadway of the bridge.

Belem is where the ships of Vasco de Gama and other famous explorers set sail and here you find the Monument of the Discoveries, stark and powerful. It depicts the teamwork which made the exploration possible. Not far away along the river is the Tower of Belem, the often photographed example of Manueline architecture. When we were there, it was undergoing restoration, the work cleverly shielded from view by fabric printed with an illustration of the tower.

Across the river around the Praca do Imperio and Praca Afonso do Albuquerque are impressive stately buildings: the Palacio de Belem which is the official residence of the Republic, the Coach and Maritime Museums, the Manueline Jeronimos Monastery, the Gulbenkian Planetarium, the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (which is in the cloister of the Santa Maria Church) and a huge cultural center.

Belem is a wonderful place to visit, right on the river, particularly on a bright, sunny day. Best of all, it is the home of the original cream filled tarts or pasteis de Belem available at Antiga Confeitaria de Belem, Rua de Belem 84-92. The place was packed so we bought a sleeve of six and ate them on the go.

Bus #43 took us to Praca da Figueira which is just east of Rossio, where we got #37 to Castelo Jorge at the top of Alfama. It's the best way to do Alfama; start at the top and work your way down. We might point out that we avoided the infamous tram #28, which most tour books advise using. We were tipped off that pickpockets have a field day on that tourist-jammed tram.

The views from Castelo Jorge are terrific, although a morning visit would be advisable for taking pictures of the city bathed in sunlight. When it started to rain, we boarded the #37 bus again and managed to get a good look at the streets of the upper part of Alfama as we headed back down.

Walking back to the hotel, we stopped at Bom Jardim, Travessa de Santo Antao 10, famous for grilled chicken and bought a plump, golden beauty along with a bag of homemade potato chips and had a finger-lickin' good meal in the comfort of our lovely room.


The bus to Evora leaves from the Estacao Rodoviaria, Av. Casal Ribeiro which is northeast of Praca Marques Pombal. Bus #44 from Av. Liberdade took us north to Praca Duque Saldanha and from there it was a five minute walk. We had front seats on the top deck so it was great sightseeing all the way. It was a two hour comfortable ride and we were served coffee!

Evora is located in the Province of Alentejo, the region of Planicies (Plains), which stretches south to the Algarve, east to Spain, west to a strip of Atlantic coastline and Costa de Lisboa and in the north it is bordered by Costa da Prata and Montanhas (Mountain Region). It's a land of wide open spaces, vast plains, cork trees, golden wheat fields, olive groves, vineyards and sunflowers.

Hunting is one of the most popular sports and there are reserved zones where tourists can hunt. Health spas with curative waters are to be found in several locations. History is preserved in walled cities, fortresses and medieval castles. The handicrafts are extraordinary - pottery, tapestry, weaving, cork and wood designs are some of the highlights.

About 50 kilometers before we reached Evora, we started seeing the cork trees. It was interesting to learn that the trees have to grow nine years before the bark can be harvested.

The Hotel Solar Monfalim, Largo da Misericordia 1, is a short walk from the bus station. The hotel is well located in the center of the city. The reception area is up two short flights of stairs and the hotel is entered via a pleasant outdoor balcony, furnished with tables and chairs for enjoying breakfast, a beverage, or just relaxing between touring this fascinating beauty of an ancient walled city. The hotel is a charmer, possibly an old villa, with its whitewashed exterior and rambling layout. In addition to the reception area, the first level contains a pleasant breakfast room and a cosy library cum bar.

Our room was on the second level so it was one more stairway to climb. The staff welcomed us warmly and offered to carry our bags upstairs to our room - but we toughed it out. The room was a bit smallish, but with a high ceiling and double doors to the Juliet balcony overlooking a quiet courtyard. The furnishings were nice and there was a ceiling fan and a television. The good size, well-equipped bathroom had a window. This is a good value three star hotel with a comfortable homelike environment.

We decided to visit Estremoz by bus and save the next day and a half for Evora. It was a pleasant 45 minute trip through forests of cork and olive trees. We stopped for a bica and pastry between the bus stop and the old city. We walked steadily upward, with a few twists and turns, through this typical medieval walled Alentejo town, to the pinnacle, the Medieval castle. The castle is now the beautiful Pousada da Rainha Santa Isabel, through which we were permitted access to the tower, from the top of which are superb views of the surrounding countryside.

Praca Giraldo,EvoraWe were back in Evora by 18:00, in time to do a restaurant search. Walking on Rua dos Mercadores, which is off the Praca de Giraldo, the main square, we spotted Linda's Boutique. She had some exciting looking fashions and a great name! The two Lindas hit it off and we quickly became old friends along with two customers in the store.

After the small talk, the conversation shifted to serious food talk and together they chose three restaurants for us. Linda, of the boutique, insisted that we go to A Choupana immediately (it was now 20:00), because it has the best home cooking at the best prices. It was up the street at #20 Rua dos Mercadores and thanks to her urging we got the last table before the line formed outside. It's a small place and the owner was there quickly to greet us and happy that Linda had sent us.

The regional vegetable soup we started with was like my grandmother's, with potatoes, chick peas, carrots, onions, tomato and macaroni in a pure vegetable stock. The portion was enormous, thank goodness, and the crusty grain bread was a perfect accompaniment.

We shared half orders of coelho `a cacadora (rabbit stewed in a wine sauce) served with fries and salad and frango do campo `a jardineira (chicken cooked in a pot with all kinds of veggies) which came with a salad. The Reguengos red wine was excellent. Like the lady said, a great meal at a great price. As we were to find out, the cuisine in Evora is outstanding - as is everything else!

Right around the corner from the hotel is the best gelato we found in the country. At Gelateria Zoka they make their own and it is excellent.

Although we had had only a small taste of Evora, we already sensed that we were in a special place. As we walked the streets and viewed the architecture, with remains from every age, the churches, monuments, towers, aqueduct, fountains, palace and university, all in beautiful, serene surroundings, we felt safe, relaxed and right at top of page
The university with 7000 students bustling about, is most impressive. It is said to be the best preserved university in the country. The Loios Convent, now a luxury pousada is worth a visit, if not a stay. The cathedral, the largest in Portugal, also has the oldest organ in the country and an interior of marble and granite that must be seen to be believed. While renovating the City Hall to build a cafeteria, Roman baths were discovered, which are a fascinating sight below the main floor.

When we arrived in the Praca Giraldo, we saw groups of men chatting all over. It was Tuesday and these were the farmers in the area who gather at this time every week to negotiate and set the crop prices.

The Capela dos Ossos is unusual in many ways. There is a large, wide covered area with columns on the sides with separate chapel areas. The main alter is all marble. There is a passageway to a small chapel with a dramatic alter that has a statue in black - powerful Spanish influence.

Next is the Bones Chapel - unbelievable! A sign on the wall translates to "we are waiting for your bones". Every wall of the room is covered with bones. It is a catacomb built for meditation. There are 5000 skulls embedded in the walls and pillars along with small stones - very impactful! And as if that wasn't enough, there is a mummified mother and child hanging on a wall. Time for lunch! No kidding.

The restaurant was named Quarter To Nine - and this is THE place to dine. The appetizers were so gorgeous we sampled them all: salad Russa (Russian salad), pimentos (peppers in olive oil), gambas (boiled shrimps), feijao atum (beans and tuna) and queijo de Serpa (Serpa cheese).

The fish soup was served with the broth and chunks of bread in individual bowls, separate from the pieces of fish and boiled potatoes which were presented on a separate platter to be added to the broth according to one's preference. The other entree was a platter of pork and clams. The ingredients and the preparation of every dish were absolutely top notch.

As Quarter To Nine is famous for its tortes, we tasted all three of the day: mel e noz (honey and nut), murgado (pumpkin and almond) and bolo de toucinho (lard). Just a touch of the last one, doc, honest! The after dinner drink, Poejo, an herb liqueur, was superb. Needless to say, no dinner that night! What a way to go!!

We enjoyed a long, leisurely walk in the afternoon while attending to some housekeeping duties. We went to the bus station, checked the next day's schedules to Setubal, bought our bus tickets and found a laundry on Rua de Aviz that agreed to wash and press our travel-tired collection in plenty of time for us to catch the 16:15 bus the following day.

The next day, after chatting on the hotel terrace with two young women from Strasbourg, France (which we adore) we set off to the morning market. Outside the produce market, beautiful pottery was being sold at excellent prices. Sure, we can squeeze some in! Thank goodness for the wheels!!

It is easy to understand why the cooking is so wonderfully flavoured. We saw more varieties and quantities of herbs than we have ever seen in one place. The same can be said of the fish market. It is a large building filled to overflowing with an enormous variety of fish and shellfish. The women slice and chop away according to the requirements of their astute customers.

They love their food. It is said that the roots of their cuisine came from the class culture; from the poor - bread, from the middle class - sweets and from the rich - meats. It is further said that the people of the region really do not enjoy working but would prefer to hunt, fish and enjoy good food and wine. They believe in a spiritual way of life - contemplation.

After the smells of the market and a good walk, it was time to visit the third restaurant on Linda's list, Lampiao, on Rua do Mercadores again. We walked through a long bar area with booths to a small, simple dining room. Our waiter was very pleasant and offered us the only appetizer of the day, a bean and tuna salad. As we had enjoyed the version we had the previous day, we eagerly accepted and it was equally good.

The caldo verde was perfection, probably the best yet. With no intention of matching yesterday's feast, we shared an order of costecotas de borrego na grelha (grilled lamb chops) - four rib chops of superb quality, tender baby lamb grilled perfectly and beautifully seasoned with garlic and herbs. The salad, fries and bread were as good as it gets. It was a wonderful meal at an excellent price.

Before picking up our laundry, we went to Pastelaria Violeta, Rua Elias Garcia 47, which had been recommended as having the best homemade pastries in the city. Linda had a fabulous cookie and I a magnificent slice of cake made with crushed nuts and a thick, dark chocolate frosting. The bica, too, was exceptionally good.

We left Evora knowing that someday we would return to explore more of the Alentejo.


The bus to Setubal was a local and it took two and a half hours for what is normally a one and a quarter hour trip. It was worth it. The scenery was nice, we went through many interesting and pretty villages and we got to see and meet the locals as they got on and off.

Setubal is in the Costa Azul region of the Costa de Lisboa. It is southeast of Lisboa and is a busy fishing port. The old city center, with its pedestrian streets turning and twisting in every direction, is filled with all the shopping and eating experiences one could want.

We asked a gentleman for directions from the bus station to the hotel but he could not understand us. A lady passing by stopped and offered her assistance. In fact, she insisted on accompanying us to the front door of our hotel since she felt that the maze of streets in the old town center would make taking us there easier than trying to describe just where we had to go. It was a good 10-15 minute walk and she not only showed us the way but gave us a running commentary on the city. When we got to our destination, she hugged and kissed us both and wished us a good time in her city. Her name, of course, was Linda!

The Hotel Bocage, Rua Sao Cristovao 14 is billed as a four star pensao residencial. We would call it a typical three star. It is well-located at the south end of the old town with easy access to Avenida Luisa Todi which is the main street through the city. The hotel offers clean, small functional rooms at a very good value price.

We started out west on Luisa Todi toward the restaurant area and stopped a man to confirm that we were heading in the right direction. We told him the names of a few places we were considering which he confirmed were good, but he thought we should go to a spot that the locals go to which he said was much better. He had pushed the appropriate buttons, so off we went to follow his suggestions.

The place he sent us to, Restaurante Duarte dos Frangos, Rua Joao de Deus 5A, was closed this night and the next day. However, their grilled chicken take-out area was open where they were grilling chicken on spits over an enormous charcoal grill. We got so excited, we almost forgot that this is seafood country.

As it turned out, they also own Varanda do Rio, located on the street directly behind, which is a cervejaria e marisqueira (seafood tapas bar) which serves regional cuisine. There is a large open kitchen and seating area as you enter. The middle aged women doing the cooking were dressed in white and greeted us with big smiles. We sat in the good size dining room in the top of page
The patrons were all locals, knew each other and were eating wonderful looking, and smelling, food. No rush here. Take your time - enjoy - and did we ever! It would have been easy to make a meal of the corn bread, garlicky olives and right-out-of-the-garden mixed salad. But then we would have missed out on the arroz mariscos (rice and shellfish), the best dish of the trip. The huge clay pot was loaded with exceptionally well cooked rice, vegetables and herbs mixed with a stupendous array of mussels, clams, shrimps, crab and lobster - perfectly steamed and fresh as could be. The house white met the challenge. The neighborhood pricing made it all unreal!

The following morning, we decided to check-out the fishing village of Sesimbra, just down the coast. It's a beautiful one hour bus ride through areas of Arrabida National Park, mountains, forests and the ever-present cork, olives and grapes. Sesimbra is a bit of a hilly town, but quite manageable. Thankfully, they have kept alive the tradition of the bright coloured fishing boats which are so photogenic. The sandy beachfront was alive with huge waves and surfers having a blast. The terraced Hotel do Mar looked like a fine place for a beachfront stay.

Working our way through the streets of well-kept homes, we saw many fisherman seriously focused on mending their nets, neither noticing nor caring that they were being photographed. As this was to be a one-meal day, we settled into the Restaurante O Escondinho, Rua dos Industrials 15. As it was the tail end of the lunch period and we were the only patrons, we asked if we would be disappointed and were assured that it was not a problem. Right they were!

We wanted to try a traditional seafood dish that we hadn't yet experienced, so the boss suggested cherne na cataplana. Cherne comes from Portuguese waters and is a delicate, sweet, white fish. Filets of this fish are lightly floured and browned before combining them with shrimps, clams, potatoes, tomato, onion, carrot, garlic and herbs and cooking them together in the special covered copper vessel in which the dish is presented. They certainly know how to prepare seafood in this part of the country. It was a delicious delight and once again, very reasonably priced.

Back down to the waterfront area for a walk in the sun and a smell of the surf. On the way back to the bus station we stopped at Ricardo's coffee shop, Pastelaria Verde Lima, Rua Candido dos Reis 15-17, for pasteis de nata, bica and a friendly conversation with Ricardo.


We decided to visit the morning market in Setubal before heading back to Lisboa for the last two days of our trip. Forget everything I said about the size of the fish market and the activity in Evora. This has to be the granddaddy of fish markets! It's a real slice of life - neighbors greeting one another, animated conversation, negotiations - one big block party - with everyone hauling off big bags of seafood.

On the produce side, the farmers were hauling in their crops and their wives and children were busy selling them just as fast. Fresh baked breads and pastries were everywhere, but we had to hurry to catch the 10:15 bus to Lisboa.

At 11:15, the bus arrived at Praca Espanha, north of Praca M. Pombal, and it was an easy connection to our new hotel the Lisboa Plaza, on Travessa do Salitre, just off Avenida da Liberdade on the west side (a bit south of the way to the Hotel Britania on the east side). The Lisboa Plaza is under the same ownership as the Hotel Britania and it was a pleasure dealing with them via email. This hotel is the four star version of the three star Britania. As with the Britania, the service was personal and caring.

The marble-floored lobby is exquisitely furnished and decorated, the light flowing in through the fully paned-glass panels of the front wall and doors. The reception area is set back from the inviting entry hall. All the public rooms - the bar, lounge and restaurant - are elegantly furnished, comfortable and inviting.

The accommodations are what one would expect to find at a superior first class hotel. There are only eighty-seven rooms and six suites - large enough to offer all the comforts but small enough to provide that cosy, homelike environment the weary traveler craves. As in the public areas, the rooms are beautifully furnished and decorated, with marble bathrooms, thermostatically controlled air conditioning, satellite T.V., hair dryer, minibar and soundproof windows. Our room was very good size with all the amenities including two thick terry robes. The Lisboa Plaza Hotel, as its sister The Britania, represents exceptionally good value in the best location in the heart of a major city.

The moment we checked-in and arrived at our room, Linda made a beeline for the shower; a pidgeon had decided to use her head for target practice! It started to rain fairly heavily so it was a good opportunity to enjoy the comfort of our room and get caught-up on our notes.

We later dashed around the corner to Rua do Salitre 9 to Cervejaria Choupal which looked like a good neighborhood place. We both had creame marisco, a fish soup with a touch of cream and croutons. We shared grilled sardines and fried carapau served with sides of boiled potatoes, carrots, mixed salad and acorda. These very standard, traditional offerings are reliably good and always reasonably priced.

The breakfast buffet was o-u-t-s-t-a-n-d-i-n-g and included wonderful desserts. It wasn't easy to tear ourselves away, but we were off to Cascais.


The commuter line to Cascais runs from Cais do Sodre at the waterfront. Before reaching Cascais, we passed through Estoril with its casino at the center and magnificent beach. There is a 4 km. seafront promenade which leads to its neighbour, Cascais.

Long a fishing village, today Cascais is primarily an elegant resort. photo of cascaisThis is an outstandingly beautiful town and deserves its reputation as such. Its rocky coastline is interspersed with little beaches and a picturesque fishing harbour fronts a delightful area of pedestrian shopping streets and lovely residences. Since the year round population is substantial, we found the prices were not as high as would normally be found in a sophisticated resort town. If one preferred to stay near but not in Lisboa, this would be the perfect place for relaxing and taking advantage of the easy thirty minute commute into Lisboa, as the natives do.

We found an Ola stand at Praia da Ribeira and had our Magnum fix. There are many wonderful restaurants around of all types; I'm sure you're relieved to know that you won't have to go hungry! Luckily it was a warm and sunny day and we were able to fully enjoy all that this splendid village has to offer.

Back in Lisboa, we walked to the Praca do Comercio (more commonly known by its former name: Terreiro do Paco) and north via Rua Augusta to our hotel for the last time (this trip, anyway). We freshened-up and headed out to the restaurant we had selected for our final night in Lisboa.

Along the way, we heard music and went to investigate. We found a neighborhood cookout getting started - change of plans! We sat down and ordered draft beer, grilled chicken, pork ribs and a mixed salad. We watched the man at the grill preparing our dinner as we enjoyed our beer and soaked up the sights and sounds of the neighborhood in action. It was a fun experience sharing our last night with the locals - people we had come to love during our three weeks in their beautiful country.

After a sinful breakfast the next morning, bus #45 on Avenida da Liberdade had us to the airport in just 30 top of page
As our plane took-off, we knew it was just a matter of time before we would return.

Jump to:
Porto | Matosinhos | Port Wine | Coimbra | Nazare | Lisboa1
Sintra | Belem | Evora | Setubal | Lisboa2 | Cascais

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