Our guide to Lisbon, Sintra and the rota vicentina
The return of the travelogue !! After Greece, Andalusia and Puglia we are taking you to another sunny destination: Portugal. And yes, this summer we decided to work on the tomato tan in Lisbon and on the Atlantic coast. I have seen a lot of things but I will try to be synthetic in this article and only to talk to you about my favorites 🙂 So Ihop in my suitcase, first stop: Lisbon where we resided for 5 days .
The area we surveyed the most was Alfama. Because of the narrow and tortuous streets of Lisbon, we often lost ourselves, which led us to discover beautiful places. The Alfama and Graça are located on the heights of Lisbon and offer many nice point of views or miradouros in Portuguese. No need to give you the address because your wanderings will take you there for sure. The famous tram number 28 serves the area so if you do not have the motivation to make a small ascent it can be a good way to enter this corner of Lisbon.
The Alfama is also the home of fado, Portuguese music which consists of melancholic song about the the city, love, life … We did not understand a word but yet the emotions and the power of the voices carried us the time of a break at the corner of a street.
We also had the opportunity to eat in a tapas restaurant that was hosting a concert. Fado na Morgadinha, Largo do Peneireiro
The next day we went up a little further up in the neighborhood to visit the Castelo Sao Jorge which is built on the highest hill in town. It is a fortress dating from 138 BC. J-C, as for many monuments in Lisbon you find alot of Arab and baroque influences. There are plenty of olive trees and pine trees in the castle walls which makes it a very peaceful place despite tourist groups. A group of Peacocks lives freely in the castle and makes its little life in the trees.
On leaving the castle we also discovered beautiful works of street art. Graffiti is very present in the city and many works of great qualities are within sight. The permanent contrast between the different districts, the historic city, the docks and street art brings freshness to the city and you never get tired. We did not have time to inquire but there must surely be a great guided tour of street art in Lisbon.
Here are two examples of many of the works that we saw and the one I liked the most.
Before leaving the Alfama to talk to you about another neighborhood, let’s have a gourmet break! Near our airbnb was the Feira da ladra, a flea market in which you can find everything: from painted tiles to old creepy dolls. The flea market is organized around a building in which you can find photo exhibitions , a few books shops and a “canteen” where you can eat very cheap.
The “ladies of the canteen” prepare very tasty and convivial dishes : Octopus salad, fish gratin and homemade lemonade. After that we went for a good siesta! Last stop on our way to the neighborhood of Baixa, the shop A vida portuguesa in which we made our small selection of souvenirs. The decoration of the place is very beautiful and we spend a good amount of time leafing through the notebooks, cookbooks and fantasizing on fabrics with colorful patterns.
There are many ceramic swallows in the shop, it brings happiness and symbolizes the journey and freedom in Portugal. There are also cutting boards in the shape of dried cod (and yes it is an endless passion in this country) and there are also beautiful blue dishes. Thebrand has several shops throughout the city but the one we explored was at Largo do Intendente Pina Manique 23.
The bairro alto et baixa
We did not have much time to discover these areas so I do not have as many pictures to show but if I go back to Lisbon I would probably stay in the Bairro alto to see Lisbon in another atmosphere. It is the district of many festivals and small original shops, near the port of Cais do sodré. It was, at a time, the headquarters of the seamen.
What is striking about the baixa is the organization of the neighborhood which is totally different from the rest of the city. The area was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1755 and it was rebuilt according to an orthogonal grid of 7 shopping streets where you can make your stop shopping or listen to groups of music that occur in its large pedestrian alleys overlooking the place of trade.
At the end of one of the streets is a sculpted iron tower, the elevator of Santa Justa. Inaugurated on July 10, 1902, this all-iron construction of 45 meters in height is the work of the engineer Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, whose family is French origin but was born in Porto. You can borrow the elevator to go and see the view of the city, we did not do it because the queue was very long. The viewpoints are so numerous in Lisbon that one was more in admiration before the structure itself than before the panorama that it offers. At nightfall our stomachs guided our eyes closed until the time out market installed in the mercado da ribeira.
Mercado Da Ribeira
More and more European cities adopt the concept of market halls converted into small restaurants. I had already had the opportunity to go to a similar place in Amsterdam and Florence which allowed me to discover plenty of different dishes in a short time and to treat myself at a small price. Special mention for the restaurant Tosca in Florence’s Mercado where I ate the best pasta of my life. In lisbon we finally took a little bit of Italy in our dish but re-adapted to the Lisbote sauce. We chose to eat on the stand of the head Marlene Vieira, only woman among the restaurateurs of Mercado. It offers various fish dishes (cod of course!) With coriander, or cream of chickpeas.
Belèm and the docks
For our last day in Lisbon we took the bus to discover the neighborhood Belém which is outside the city. There you can see the famous tower of Belém which is on the banks of the Tagus and is connected to the land by a small wooden pontoon. Before the earthquake of 1755 which ravaged Lisbon, this tower found itself in the middle of the river. It was not destroyed in the disaster but was moved several meters.
If you stroll along the banks of the Tagus River you will also see a beautiful monument to the Portuguese explorers such as Vasco de Gama who allowed the discovery of India in 1498. Then, if you continue your walk you will approach a “ a much more contemporary construction. MAAT, a museum of art, architecture and technology, forms a wave of white tiles that leave the pavement of the promenade to offer a view on the 25 April bridge and the buildings of the former power station.
This architecture completely melted in the neighborhood allows visitors and passing to discover it from several angles. It is possible to climb on the roof of the wave and then to descend in its hollow to take refuge in the shade. Unfortunately we could not visit the museum which was in full installation of their new exhibition but the architecture itself was worth seeing.
Before returning to the center of Lisbon we visited the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jeronimos Monastery). A grandiose place that was also spared by the earthquake of 1755. Within the cloister one analyzes the exuberance of the various ornamentations to the vegetable, religious and royal inspirations. The sand-colored stone takes on golden tints when it is bathed in the sun’s rays. We thought that monastic life should not be so terrible in such a setting!
Our last night in Lisbon was devoted to the discovery of the LX factory. A place full of creativity and culinary delights that bacame a favorit of mine. LX factory and the underground village are a set of old industrial buildings converted into a place of exchange, creation and encounter. The artists workshops merge with the concepts store, library, gym, and restaurant. A really cool atmosphere weighs on this place which is also given to aim to make discover another facet of Lisbon to the tourists.
This little utopian village is located at the foot of the bridge of April 25, a kind of replica of the golden gate of San Francisco. When the night falls, the bridge lights up and offers a beautiful show from the many viewpoints of the corner. To take a little height we are going to one of the towers of the LX which has a bar / restaurant on its roof. It was definitely a nice way to end our week in Lisbon and I strongly recommend you to find some time during your stay to check out LX.
After having tasted a great cocktail on the roof we went down into the alleys of the “village” to eat at the cantina near the entrance. Mottled decor and kitchen oriented around regional dish. I could taste enormous tentacles of octopus with lemons and garlic. What was great in Lisbon is that the food prices are not very high in comparison to the quality of what you eat. So we were happy and we tasted a lot of different things.
There would be a lot to show on LX factory but I think I like the idea of leaving a part of mystery around this little jewel. You should see it for yourself 😉
During our week in Lisbon we also took a day to discover the city of Sintra and its palaces. Far from the industrial style and street art of the docks, Sintra allowed us to discover life around Lisbon.
To get to Sintra simply take a train from Rossio train station in Lisbon. 40min later you arrive at the terminus which is below the city. From here the easiest way is to use the bus 434 which runs around (Buy a ticket at 5 euros and you can go to see the main attractions.)
So we started with a short tour in the historic center of Sintra and had lunch in the square of the Sintra National Palace.
We had the opportunity to eat a very good sandwich on the go, made with marinated cod, spinach, and coriander. And to make the meal even better we tasted some Ginja. It is a cherry-based liqueur served in minis chocolate cups.
Bacalhau na vila
Rua arco do Terreirinho
The atmosphere of Sintra is a little mystical: the mansions, palaces and castles are discovered through the light fog overlooking the city. At times, you have the impression walking through a Game of thrones set and feeling like a conqueror. But instead of the Iron throne you’ll have the most beautiful sight.
We started by visiting the medieval style castle of the Maures . What remains of the castle is mostly the wall which you can go around to have an impregnable view on the landscape. Certain installations also make it possible to discover the vestiges of the populations that occupied the place. There are pottery dating from the Paleolithic and a beautiful animated film that tells the story of the castle.
If you are going to Lisbon for more than just a weekend I definitely recommend you to plan an excursion in Sintra. The scenery is breathtaking and the atmosphere will allow you to catch some air before returning to the the streets of Lisbon. The next stop after the Chateau des Maures is the palace of Pena.
We start by climbing the huge park surrounding the palace and full of palm trees, ferns and pines. Then we gradually discover the blazing colors of the palace that seems almost unreal. Oriental influence blends it with the baroque style and the azulejos that adorn the main entrance of the palace. The least we can say is that Mies Van Der Rohe (less is more) would have fainted before all these colors, but me, it fills me with good humor.
A small passage of the our travel guide book talking about the architecture of the palace:
The German baron Ludwig von Eschwege, a geologist and geographer, is a geologist and geographer. He conceives an eclectic, exuberant and romantic work combining Moorish, Manueline, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. standards, conceived as an incredible architectural cocktail, fruit of an imagination overflowing and without prejudices. Pena is considered the first romantic palace in Europe, having been built 30 years before the castle of Neuschwanstein by Louis II of Bavaria.
I took around 100 photos of this place, it’s so hard not to show you everything! But you should keep a little surprise effect for your visit.
We ended our visit with a small tour in the huge park of the castle. Completely alone in the middle of this small Portuguese jungle one takes to dreaming of a royal and luxuriant life :p
Okay, I’ll stop there for the pictures. The visit of the two sites as well as the village will have taken the day. We returned with the last bus at 7pm and enjoyed our day in Sintra. For those who would have more time, it is also possible to see the coast and more precisely cabo da roca which is the most western point of the European continent.
After several days in Lisbon we decided to end our trip by a getaway on the Atlantic coast and more precisely along the vicentina rota. It is a succession of small villages, beaches and pine forest located in the Alentejo region. We discover cute little white Portuguese houses with windows surrounded by an intense blue color, and beautiful views of the beaches.
We stayed in the Villa Nova de Milfontes which is located at the mouth of the Mira River and the Atlantic Ocean, which has the advantage of allowing access to different types of beaches. It’a great place to chill, eat grilled fish, surf and tan (roast) in the sun.
This small break was appreciated because after having surveyed Lisbon in all directions, we were happy to spend a day doing nothing but accumulate our quota of sun to survive the Alsatian winter.
We walk in this pretty and exotic village, here there are few or no color tiles but the charm comes from the homogeneity of all these little houses with orange tiles and bright colors. We also discover, in the alleyways of the village, many life-size dolls that intrigued us and whose history I can tell you 😉
A few centuries ago, Vila nova underwent numerous attacks by pirates as it was the entry point of the mira river. Over the years this population has not stopped diminishing and the city was constantly plundering. To compensate for this, a small castle was built to protect the few remaining inhabitants. Problem, they were no more than 8 and therefore not enough people to stand guard in the fort and hold the pirates away. The villagers then had the idea to create more than 1000 scale 1 dolls that they placed along the ramparts. From their long sight, the pirates saw these dolls and believing them real they renounced to attack the city. Since then, some of these dolls have been preserved as a tribute to the creativity of the inhabitants of Vila nova de Milfontes.
Small ballads and anecdotes past we embarked on our last adventure before returning to France: a 20km hike along the coast to go from Vila nova de Milfontes to Porto covo.
The rota vicentina is a set of great hiking trail allowing to discover the Alentejo by the coast or by the land. We chose to take the fishermen’s path along the Atlantic and offer beautiful views of the sand dunes and cliffs. It was the first time we had a hike of more than 5 hours so we were not sure we would go all the way. But we did, and I confess that I’m rather proud of ourselves. Despite the pounds of sand collected in our shoes, the unlikely sunburn and the lack of water we arrived happy and full of energy.
This hike offered us magnificent views of the paradisiacal beaches that reminded me of the wild Brittany coast that I love so much. It was hard not give in to a swim but we kept heading to the village of Porto covo because we wanted to get home before dark. I let you discover in picture the beautiful landscapes of Portugal:
Praia do Malhão
Between the Mira river and the Atlantique sea
Once the hike was over it was time to pack our bags and take the bus to the airport. If you are interested in this excursion you can find all the information on the site of the vicentina rota. As for the journey from Lisbon to Vila Nova de Milfontes there is the bus company Rede expressos which connects the city to the costa vicentina for cheap (30 euros the AR). unlike my small misadventures in Puglia the use of public transport was very simple in Portugal. Everything is well indicated and in case of doubt you will always come across a nice person to refer you:)
The culinary delights that we discovered in Lisbon
Small recap in illustration of the delights that I could taste in Portugal. Bacalhau is the number one fish of the country, it is cooked in a thousand ways and it is interesting to discover the creativity with which it prepares it. I ate almost every day without ever getting tired. Every morning when we left our apartment in the Graça neighborhood we could smell the smell of the fish grilling for lunch. It was a real pleasure to eat as much fresh fish because as Alsatian I do not often have the opportunity. Then for the dessert we tasted the famous pastel de nata. I did not expect anything special and yet, what a delightful surprise! This is a kind of egg yolk cream in a small puff pastry shell. Usually they are eaten lukewarm at all hours of the day.
I hope this article will have given you some tips on things to see and do in Lisbon and that you will enjoy the city as much as I did. We are interested in your feedback so feel free to share your impressions in the comments.