Porto | Cascais | Portel | Lisboa
São Miguel, Azores
Our destination today was Cascais,
by way of Lisboa. It was a three hour and ten minute
train ride from Porto to the Santa Apolonia station near
the shorefront in downtown Lisbon. We hopped on bus #28
just outside the station and it was a ten minute ride
along the shore to the Cais do Sodré station where the
commuter trains leave for Cascais. We bought the tickets
at a machine and boarded a waiting train for the forty
minute ride along the coast to Cascais, and headed to the
nearby ice cream stand to treat ourselves to a Magnum
Cascais, which is an old fishing
village only 30 km from the city, on the Portuguese
Riviera, has evolved into an upscale bedroom
community and beach resort. The serene beauty of the
village streets, small sandy beaches and rocky shoreline
is adored by residents and visitors alike.
Last visit, we
discovered the Hotel Albatroz,
which is a three minute walk from the train station. From
the station, just cross Largo da Estacao toward the ocean
and proceed down Rua Sebastiao Carvalho Melo to the end
and you have arrived. Although the hotel complex is just
across from the train station it is tucked away from any
transit activity. We were happy to be back.
We were graciously greeted and
shown to our room, similar to the one we had in 2004,
just one floor above. It was a glorious sunny warm day so
I immediately poured a glass of Port from the decanter
and took it out onto our balcony, which overlooked the
pool, rocky inlet and picture perfect coastline. I was a
happy camper, breathing in the fresh salt air while
sipping my Port!
Linda sampled the
pastries beside the decanter while admiring our large
king bedded room done in soft blue and grey. Needless to
say, although she did, all the furnishings were top of
the line in design and quality. The report from the
bathroom, done in tones of beige, was that there was room
to roam and that I would appreciate the excellent
lighting and topnotch amenities. After her second pastry
she proclaimed the closet space was more than adequate to
accommodate the contents of our two carry-ons. ;-)
This exquisite property consists of
the building we were in, which is an extension of the
original Main House, the newly-acquired
White House, the elegant "Palace"
and the adorable "Yellow House", on the cliff
beside the inlet.
After watching the sun go down, we
opted for an early dinner at an old favorite, Flecha Azul
on Avenida Valbom, 8b where we knew the fish was fresh,
the service friendly and the cost reasonable. The sports
banner decor had not changed, perhaps a few more now
graced the walls. The sopa legumes, bolinhos and mountain
cheese starters were as excellent as we remembered.
Grilled sole and robalo with boiled potatoes and fresh
green beans and a glass of house red finished off the
simple, traditional meal.
After a good nights sleep on
a very comfortable firm mattress, soft pillows and crisp
linens, we were ready to resume where we left off last
night. Breakfast at the Hotel Albatroz is spectacular.
The dining room offers a panoramic view of the adjoining
sandy beach, sparkling ocean and coastline east to
Estoril. The presentation of the generous buffet competes
nicely with the view for attention. Fine quality smoked
salmon with plump capers, fresh cheese and grain breads
caught my eye while the health fiend headed for the
assortment of tropical fruits and yogurt. This was just
the beginning, of course. We managed to "sample"
a few more delights like: eggs, offered several ways,
crisp bacon, rice pudding, and glasses of various fresh
fruit juices. We did not do lunch.
We spent our few days leisurely
strolling the black and white stone streets of the town
center, hanging out at Fishermens Beach where the
colorful fishing boats are anchored off shore, and
briskly walking along the shore past the marina, fortress
and beyond invigorated by the sights and sounds of the
landscape and ocean. Heading north we passed splendid
homes and resorts under construction and eventually
turned inland wandering through lovely residential
streets back to the center of town.
While wandering the streets we had
been on the lookout for a new and interesting restaurant
and after stopping a zillion times to read menus had not
settled on a dinner venue. Back at the hotel we stopped
to chat with Luz Pinto-Basto, the Director of Marketing
& Public Relations, and asked her for a restaurant
suggestion. She offered Restaurant Enoteca, Rua Visconde da Luz, 17, which is located
right in the center of town behind the Jardim Visconde da
Luz knows Cascais and she knows
restaurants. This was to be memorable meal.
The kitchen is on the ground floor,
where the owner, Felipe, does his magic. He also manages
to greet his customers as they enter and show them up a
flight of stairs to introduce them to the smashing dining
room, with its walls of wine bottles. Subdued lighting
creates a calm, casual, romantic atmosphere. After
introducing us to our waiter, Felipe retreated to his
The menu features both
international and Portuguese cuisine. We opted for a
tasting menu and relied on our very knowledgeable and
charming server, Saul, for wine selections. The wine list
represents all regions of Portugal and there is a wine
We started with sublime fresh foie
gras, served with a delicate poached pear in a muscatel
reduction. A late harvest white Ribatejo, Colheita Tardia,
Quinta da Alorna 2001 was a fine match.
After a suitable wait we were
served dourada filets with delicate tomato and cream
sauce sided with spinach and tomato. A 2004 fruity tinto
from Torais of Alentejo was an excellent choice.
It so happens that Saul is a
professional basketball player and since I am a big time
basketball fan we had a stimulating conversation while
awaiting the next tasting course, which turned out to be
succulent roasted black pork. The two sides, a mixture of
spinach and cornbread and cabbage filled with apple puree
were heavenly, as was the 2002 Douro tinto from Vertente.
We had not had borrego (lamb) in
Porto, so were delighted to be served a gorgeous rack,
roasted medium rare, paired with goat cheese and basil
wrapped in filo. It was a marriage made in heaven, even
better with the Touriga Nacional Dao red, 2000, from
Quinta dos Carualhais.
Sure there was dessert, chocolate
surprise, a delicate soufflé with pine nuts, alongside
ice cream with wild berry sauce. Our tasting extravaganza
ended with a Dao 98 Vintage Port and Moscatel from
We were not surprised when several
of our friends in Lisbon told us they come to Cascais
just to go to Enoteca.
We left Cascais contented and you
will too, if you include a visit to Cascais in your
Thinking it would be fun to learn
to cook Alentejo regional cuisine in a romantic rural
hotel, we found our way to Refugio da Vila,
in the town of Portel, just south of Evora.
We took the Rede bus from the Sete
Rios bus station, next to the Jardim Zoologico metro stop
in Lisbon. It was a 10 minute trip from the Avenida metro
station in the direction of Amadora Este. The comfortable
bus and accommodating driver left promptly at 11:45 in
the direction of Beja; 2 1/2 hours later we pulled into
Portel. It was a 5 minute walk to Refugio located in the
center of this sleepy town overseen on high by the
remains of a castle.
Originally a privately owned 1834
rural manor house the property has been transformed into
a lovely hotel while retaining its old charm and rustic
We were welcomed by General Manager
and Owner, Sophia Vieira, who invited us to join her in
the cozy bar for coffee, sweets, a bit of Refugio history
and a detailed schedule of events. In addition to the
cooking classes there are day trips to nearby Alentejo
destinations with a driver and guide. If your preference
is to relax and read a good book, the beautiful gardens
and swimming pool are yours to enjoy. If you enjoy
playing farmer, the orange trees, herb and vegetable
gardens welcome your attention.
A gracious center stone staircase
leads to a comfortable lounge and game room (billiards
and cards) with a fireplace. There are 6 rooms on each of
the first and second floors and 18 in the addition, at
the rear of the property.
Each room in the original building
is different. Our very large one was nicely done with
period furnishings on wood plank floors. The balcony
offered views of the castle and the town. You've got to
love a good size bathroom with a window. Terrific space
and old time comfort, always welcome.
The restaurant offers traditional
Alentejo recipes featuring local products served in a
spacious, attractive environment with high vaulted
ceiling, stone floors and pillars. Our dinner this
evening would attest to the regional authenticity of the
menu such as the appetizers of sheep cheese, olives and
the medium bodied tinto Reguenos.
The sopa legumes was followed by
costeletas de borrego and mista de porco preto served
with migas (Alentejo bread pudding) and vegetables. The
quality and grilling of the meats was excellent. Sponge
cake and stewed plums finished us off nicely.
The service was very good as it is
throughout the hotel; all the staff is home grown and
trained by Sofia. The breakfast offerings were pretty
The well-equipped cooking school
kitchen is just off the covered patio to the rear of the
restaurant. We donned our aprons and stood around a large
table cutting, dicing, peeling and chopping as fast as
our masters placed the products in front of us. The first
day we prepared a cherne recipe, a codfish and chick pea
salad and learned how to make migas with pork tenderloin.
Our teachers were friendly and practical in their
direction and explanations. We enjoyed the fruits of our
labor t lunch.
During our stay we visited Evora
and Vila Vicosa. Since we had visited the main sights in
these places years ago, we decided not to go along with
the planned tour but to strike off on our own to find new
treats and meet up with others when it was time to move
We had visited Evora in 1997
and apparently since then it has become a popular tourist
destination. We saw many visitors with cameras in hand
and an increase in the number of shops catering to this
Evora is worthy of the attention it
is receiving. Just wandering the medieval streets and
squares of white houses, impressive churches and historic
monuments gives a sense of the history and culture of
Evora and the Alentejo.
Evora's walls trace the heritage
and architecture of the city. There are three belts of
walls: the oldest Cerca Velha dates back to the Roman
period with Arab reconstruction; Cerca Nova was built in
the middle of the 14th century; the most modern
fortification is from the 17th century.
The Cathedral, said to be where the
flags of Vasco da Gamas fleet were blessed before
he sailed to the Orient in 1497, was built in 1283 in the
Roman-Gothic transitional style. The stonework is
impressive with three majestic naves separated by huge
stone pillars and a large carved marble altar. The facade
is anchored by two square towers with a vaulted portico
featuring statues of the Apostles.
Igreja do Convento da Graca was
built in the 16th century by King D. Joao III and
believed to be one of the first works of Renaissance
design in the country. The facade of the Augustinian
convent features "Lads of Grace", statues of
giants symbolizing the four spheres of the world and the
universal power of King Joao III. Also of note is the
cloister by Miguel de Arruda where Publia Hortencia de
Castro, poetess of the 16th century, is buried.
Igreja de Sao Francisco was built
between 1480 and 1510 is a beautiful example of gothic-manueline
architecture - simple, clean, striking. The Chapel with a
monumental single nave and high vaulted ceiling is a
testimony to the Portuguese navigators, as expressed in
paintings and symbols of their accomplishments.
Across from the Church of St.
Francis is the brand new Mercado Municipal. Below the two
levels of selling space are the preserved remains of a
portion of the aqueduct which was built between 1532 and
1537 to carry water 18 km from the Prata fountain at
Graca do Divor to the fountain at Praca de Giraldo.
Back at Refugio, we settled in at
the dinner table with a bottle of tinto from Vila dos
Gamas. Theres no escaping the ubiquitous sopa
legumes (vegetable soup). Our sirloin steak, grilled
medium rare, was a bit chewy; the fries were tasty but
cold. Offered desserts did not appeal.
Today we would revisit Vila Vicosa,
known as "The Princess of the Alentejo" because
it's a beautiful town. It is also known as "The
Marble Capital", due to its abundant use in the
construction of houses, palaces, churches and monuments
throughout the town. Marble is everywhere from major
portions of buildings to decorations around doors and
The Ducal Palace, Palace Square and
the Castle are the most important historic sights. Having
admired both our previous visit, we opted to spend our
time patrolling the handsome wide boulevard in the center
of town created by Av. Bento de Jusus Caraca, with marble
benches in the center island, and Republic Square as well
as the lovely streets darting off on both sides.
The attractive facade of the Town
Hall captured our attention and we wandered inside to
find a striking interior. We were greeted by one of the
administrative staff who offered to show us the Noble
Salon where the town officials held their meetings and
she also pointed out a photo of the towns famous
poetess, Florbela Espanca.
The facade of the
Baroque St. Bartholomew Church is impressive with three
levels of windows, three doorways with Doric columns, and
two decorated bell towers, each of which has 6 bells.
Magnificent marble dominates both inside and outside.
The 16th century Espirito Santo or
Misericordia Church next to the hospital has a plain (no
marble here) exterior with a Renaissance doorway. Inside
are excellent examples of religious art, gilt carvings
and decorative wall tiles.
The Sacred Art Museum in the church
of the ancient convent of the Holy Cross has a worthwhile
collection of paintings, sculpture, jewelry, furniture
and liturgical garments from the 16th and 17th centuries.
It was a sunny day and the
whitewashed houses and white marble were sparkling as
were the streets and doorsteps. This is a very clean town.
From Praca Republica to the side streets folks were out
sweeping and scrubbing. Add to this the plants and
flowers on every window-sill and balcony. It is truly a
Princess of a town.
Ah, so little time and so much to
see, but we had our priorities. The most important
question: where to have lunch? The dilemma was solved at
the tourist office where we were advised to make a
beeline for O Forno Churrasqueira, Rua Cristovao de Brito
Pereira, 13, before the lunchtime crowd arrived. Even
with the heads-up, we got the last table. Frango is the
favorite here. We started with a spectacular vegetable
soup loaded with greens and noodles. The frango no
churrasco was hot off the grill and served with heaps of
fries. It was as good as it gets and as the woman at the
tourist office said - "very inexpensive".
On our way back to Portel, we
stopped at a working quarry. What a sight, 130 meters
deep with sides of varying colors. The craftsmen have to
cut it out, haul it up and make color decisions before
cutting. It takes intimate knowledge, experience,
strength, skill and creativity at every step.
Watching those men work gave us an
appetite. Back at Refugio they were ready to solve our
problem starting with two salads: chickpeas with codfish,
and tuna with beans, both with olive oil, coriander and
lots of garlic. A soothing chicken soup with orzo and
mint leaves and our immediate needs were well taken care
The main course of roasted duck
breast with fresh spinach was delightful as was our stay
with Sophia and her wonderful staff.
Off to Lisboa tomorrow!
Porto | Cascais | Portel | Lisboa
São Miguel, Azores
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