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PORTUGAL
Fall 2003

Azores | Madeira | Lisbon | Algarve

Lisbon (1) | Lisbon (2)

Atop the historic Alfama district of Lisbon is the Castelo de S. Jorge. The Castle and its surrounding walls are considered to be the birthplace of Lisboa. It is one of the most visited monuments in the city (we have been there several times before) because of the magnificent views of the city and the Rio Tejo and the intriguing remains to be explored. It was built prior to the 1143 birth of the country. During the second half of 18th century a mansion was built within the Castle on the site of the former Alcacova Palace Kitchens, known as the Palacete das Cozinhas (Kitchen Mansion).

The Mansion passed thru the hands of various aristocratic families over the years and gradually deteriorated over time to a very run down state. It is classified as a Historic Building and has recently been transformed into a hotel named Solar Do Castelo by the Hotels Heritage Lisboa, where we would stay for two nights before leaving for the Algarve. When in Lisbon we always stay in one of the Hoteis Heritage properties and we had been looking forward to visiting the new Solar Do Castelo.

Per the instructions from the hotel we had our taxi take us to the main entrance of the Castle, next to the Casa do Governador, and had the security guard at the gate call the hotel. They sent a golf cart to take us the rest of the way. If we had arrived by car we would have gone to the Largo do Menino de Deus entrance and the security guard there would have given further instructions. It was just a short drive through neighborhood streets, where the smells of lunch were wafting out the windows, until we turned a corner on to Rua das Cozinhas and stopped in front of number two. This short dead end street is tucked into the environs of the Castle walls and the Solar Do Castelo sits quietly challenging the imagination to see what is inside the wide blue doors.

It was a stunning introduction to the brilliant blending of the medieval remains with elegant contemporary design achieved by the architect Vasco Massapina. An ancient tile portrait welcomed us to with a simple chair, foot stool and lamp nearby. The stone walls were in contrast to the glass doorway straight ahead offering a visual invitation to the inner courtyard and gardens. In a corner was the original medieval cistern. Shiny wooden steps to the left led to eight rooms on two floors. To the right was a small sitting area for the understated reception desk. Beyond reception there is a large lounge adjacent to and opening onto the courtyard and gardens. This room is exquisitely furnished with elegant old and new pieces. The seating is subtly arranged in conversational groupings for comfort and privacy. There are attractive tables and chairs for work or games. A marvelous breakfast buffet is served here which can be enjoyed inside or out in the garden. It is such a comfortable room in which linger that one would probably want to take advantage of the honor bar. Complimentary Internet access is available at the reception. There are an additional six rooms in the space above the lounge.

We could hardly wait to get to our room and see what other miracles had been created. Up a few shiny, wooden steps and we opened the door to romance and serene comfort. Rich earth tones of stone, brick, wood and fabric were in partnership with the texture and tone of the king bed coverings, throw pillows and drapes. A wrought iron desk had an attractive fabric on top covered with glass, which fabric was on the matching chair. Contemporary sisal area rugs graced the wooden floors. The luggage bench and window seats had complementary upholstery. The bathroom was a blend of earth tone marbles with a trim of blue and white tiles in keeping with the historical nature of the property. A live plant decorated the vanity.

We finally got around to opening the drapes and saw that we overlooked the inner courtyard and garden and that a doorway from our room gave us direct access. We had been so intrigued by the lounge; we hadn't taken a good look out the windows and doors to appreciate the beauty of the outdoor design. In the center, a fountain with fish is surrounded by comfortable chairs and tables and neat adornments like a stone and tile basket-topped pedestal, the basket filled with bright yellow, fresh lemons. To one side, a lovely reflecting pond is surrounded by flowers and plants; in fact, there are potted plants and vases of flowers throughout the courtyard.
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We tore ourselves away to stroll once again through the Castle grounds. There is ongoing restoration work on the Castle remains and in the neighborhood surrounding the walls. We could see that the construction and restoration of two main squares, Praca da Figueira and Praca D. Pedro IV had been completed since our last visit and even from this distance the buildings looked shiny clean.

Fortunately one of our favorite little family restaurants, Farol de Luzia, is just down the hill from the Castle at L. Santa Luzia 5, tel. 8863884. It had been two years since our last visit but Jose Luis recognized us immediately. Guess that's why we keep coming back - besides, the traditional cooking is pretty darn good. This is a plain homey kind of place with a bar, open kitchen and two rooms of tiled walls. The fresh cheese and toasted bread hit the spot while we waited for the shrimp soup and mixed salad. The soup had a rich and flavorful shrimp stock with nice pieces of crisp shrimp in every spoonful. Some how Jose always manages to get the best tomatoes to make a salad special. A good Marisco Acorda is hard to come by. Tonight we had a big time winner. The seafood was fresh, the bread was soaked to a delightful texture the egg was properly folded in and the cilantro, garlic and bay leaf seasonings were in the right proportions; we were in heaven. Back in our cozy paradise we got into our bathrobes and slippers and enjoyed delicious Port while getting caught up on the news on CNN.

After a wonderful sleep we had a relaxing breakfast in the comfort of the lounge enjoying juice, fresh fruit, yogurt, fluffy scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and fresh rolls. The cheeses and sweets were tempting but we had to draw the line somewhere. We read the newspaper while sipping a second cup of the delicious coffee.
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We had made plans with a Lisbon friend to visit a few places north of the city that had escaped us in the past. Passing by Sintra we headed north to Mafra to finally see the Palacio Nacional de Mafra considered to be the most important Portuguese baroque monument. It was ordered to be built by D. Joao V (1689-1750 in fulfillment of a vow he had made for being granted a male heir from his marriage to Dona Maria of Austria, or when he was cured of a serious illness he was suffering, depending upon which version you believe. Standing in front of this massive structure we were awestruck by its monumental magnificence. A massive staircase in the center ascends to the Basilica with graceful pillars rising from the porch. On either side two striking bell towers define the perimeter of the Cathedral. Integrated into the Palace is the Franciscan Monastery, a religious treasure of Portugal. This architectural beauty is surrounded by the Royal Hunting Grounds, an ancient game reserve, gardens and streams.

Due west (10km) on the Atlantic coast is the old fishing village of Ericeira. (All the references on the Internet and published tourist pieces we have seen describe Ericeira as being northeast of Lisbon, you heard it here first, it is northwest of Lisbon.) The slogan of Ericeira is, "um mar de tradicoes", (an ocean of traditions), Our stop at the Praia dos Pescadores (Fishermen's beach) with the fishermen working on their boats and the old village of low blue-trimmed, white houses on the tiny streets behind brought the slogan to life. The entire shore front of thick, creamy sand beaches sheltered by high natural rock formations is a thing of beauty. Watching the large waves break on shore, it is easy to see why Ericeira is known world wide by surfing pros. From the Largo das Ribas we were further intrigued by the picturesque harbor. It was a special treat enjoying the diversity and beauty of this shorefront. The Praca da Republica is everything you could want to be as the center of town. Surrounded by neat pedestrian shopping streets and filled with trees and benches it is the perfect place to gather and relax, as we did, over a cup of coffee on the patio of one of several cafes.

While Ericeira maintains its traditions, newly constructed homes are fanning out in all directions as word has spread of the fine quality of lifestyle here on the Atlantic.
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On the way back to Lisbon we stopped for a late and long lunch in Queluz, just west of the city. The Restaurante Cozinha Velha is located in what were the old kitchens of the Palacio de Queluz and is part of the Pousada D. Maria 1. Entering is a step back to the baroque 18th century. In front of you is the marble table where royalty dined and the original cooking area and high chimney create a dramatic dining environment, enhanced by the high arched wood ceiling and draped windows.

A tall stone archway divides the room into two dining areas. The tables are set with exquisite tableware and glasses for every beverage. The service is polite with a light attitude. We nibbled on codfish cakes, sautéed mushrooms, black olives and dense, crusty bread before we got serious. A cream of seafood soup was chock full of large chunks of shrimp, topped with a thin dough crust - a flavorful delight. The presentation of the main dishes was picture perfect. A moist, thick cut of swordfish was topped with tomato and onions with boiled potatoes out of their jackets balanced on their ends. Grilled octopus with pieces of onion, pepper and garlic was joined by outrageous roast potatoes in their jackets. We finished eating for the day with profiteroles and apple nut flan. The service was unhurried between courses giving us the opportunity to appreciate our surroundings and each other.

As we drove in Lisbon we saw an awesome looking stadium under construction and we learned that between June 12 and July 4, 2004 the UEFA 2004 European Football Championship finals will be held in Portugal.

We decided to head south to Setubal to visit the Castelo de São Filipe which we had missed on our previous visit. We crossed the river Tagus over the elegant Vasco da Gama Bridge, one of the longest in the world. The views of the whole of the Tagus estuary from this graceful expanse must be seen to be appreciated.

The fort was built in 1595 during the period of Spanish rule to protect against pirates and English invaders. The fort is star shaped with a wide terrace that offers city and water views. A large gateway and stone tunnel leads to the interior which now is the Pousada des Filipe. There is a cute tiny chapel with tiles depicting the life of Filipe. We sat on the terrace enjoying the views with a cool, refreshing drink.

The 25 de Abril Bridge west of the city is the original expanse across the Tagus which we took returning to Lisbon. Coming off the bridge and heading north we are always struck by the sight of the looming huge and handsome Aqueduto das Aguas Livres which spans the Alcantara valley. This section across the valley has 14 arches the tallest of which is about 215 feet. The aqueduct was built to bring fresh water the city from the Mae d'Aqua springs and reservoir.

It had been a great day of great sights, great food, great weather - now we would enjoy the comfort of Solar do Castelo and rest up for our bus ride to the Algarve.
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