The place to be in Lisbon

July 21, 2014 § 4 Comments

Palácio Valle Flôr compositF©For the price of ordinary accommodations in London or Paris, you can stay in an extraordinary palace in Lisbon. It’s all thanks to José Dias, an entrepreneur who made a fortune producing cocoa to feed Europe’s insatiable appetite for chocolate. After many years of hard work on the island of São Tomé, Dias returned to Lisbon. He received the title of Marquis of Valle Flor and began the construction of a magnificent palace.

The Marquis bought land with breathtaking views of the Tagus river and hired architects to design a building with perfect proportions. He then decorated it with great refinement, commissioning elegant furniture, beautiful paintings, graceful sculptures, and radiant stained-glass windows. After its inauguration in 1915, the palace became a fashionable gathering place for the royal family, celebrities, and nobility.

With the death of the Marquis in 1932, the edifice entered a period of slow decay. To save this work of art from oblivion, Dionísio Pestana, a successful hotelier, bought the building in 1992 to convert it into a luxury hotel.

It took almost ten years to restore the edifice and equip it with modern comforts. The result is the Pestana Palace, a hotel favored by a long list of celebrities that includes Bill Clinton and Madonna. The Marquis of Valle Flor would surely love to see that his palace is, once again, the place to be in Lisbon.

The Pestana Palace is located at Rua Jau, 54, tel. 210401711 , email: guest@pestana.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site.

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The name of this wine estate near Lisbon means golden hill farm. It is a fitting designation because this is a place where grapes are treated like gold and wines are made with a jeweler’s precision.

The soil of the farm is similar to that of Côtes du Rhône, so José Bento dos Santos, the farm’s owner, planted the same grape varieties that thrive in that French region: Syrah and Viognier.

Graça Gonçalves, the estate’s enologist, talks about each parcel of the farm as if they are old friends. She knows their qualities and shortcomings and choses cultivation methods that help each of them thrive. We ask which is her favorite parcel and quickly realize it is an impolite question. Graça does not answer, but when she talks about parcel 24 her eyes shine more than usual. This parcel is planted with Syrah grapes that came from old vines in Côtes du Rhône. Each plant is different and it is this variety that creates the quinta’s top wines, such as the aptly named Syrah 24.

When harvest time approaches, Graça walks through the vines, taking samples to analyze in the lab, tasting the grapes, imagining the wines that will be produced. When the time is right, the grapes are picked by hand and carefully selected. There are then numerous decision to make, such as how to press the grapes and whether to stage the wine in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats. Why such meticulous care? Graça explains: “Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion.” It is impossible not to feel this emotion when you open a bottle of Quinta do Monte d’Oiro wine.

Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.

Black figs

July 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Figos

When you go to the market buy black figs, recommends the Portuguese writer Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen in her poem The Morning Walk: “but figs are not black, they are blue on the outside and pink on the inside and they all shed a tear made of honey.”

The best of both worlds

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Azeitonas Bel Canto-F

Portugal is a country with century-old traditions. But it is also a place where a new generation is creating the future.

Consider the fruits of the Olea europaea, commonly know as olives. If you visit a Portuguese farmers market, you’ll find delicious olives cured in traditional ways. But if you dine at Belcanto, José Avillez’s wonderful restaurant in Lisbon, you’ll be served three invented olives. The first, a spherical olive that explodes in the mouth, is an homage to Avillez’s apprenticeship at elBulli. The second is a delicious black olive in a light crunchy tempura. The third is an inverted dry martini: the liquid is olive juice and the “olive” is a sphere of gin.

Which do you prefer, tradition or modernity? In Portugal you don’t have to choose.

Belcanto is located at Largo do São Carlos in Lisbon, tel. 21-342-0607.

Making love last

June 26, 2014 § 2 Comments

Mangerico

In Portugal, June is devoted to celebrating the popular saints. In Lisbon we celebrate Santo António on the 13th, in Oporto São João on the 24th, and in Sintra São Pedro on the 29th.

There is an old custom of writing a verse and offering it with a “manjerico” (a pot of miniature basil) to our loved one. According to tradition, if we smell the manjerico with our nose, it dies quickly. We should instead pat it gently with our hand and smell the hand. Then, the manjerico will last and, presumably, so will our love.

Boi-Cavalo

June 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Boi e Cavalo (composit)

One of the best-kept secrets in Lisbon is an amazing new restaurant in Alfama called Boi-Cavalo (wildebeest). In a renovated old butcher shop, two chefs, Hugo Brito and Pedro Duarte, place their prodigious technique at the service of Lisbon’s culinary tradition. The result is a dazzling array of delicious dishes, such as marinated mackerel with Alvarinho gel, clam soup with foie gras and grilled onions, cauliflower soup with requeijão (a Portuguese soft cheese), and peas with eggs in a dashi broth.

Luxury restaurants often employ pompous waiters who make clients feel they are not worthy of the food being served. At Boi-Cavalo, the service is orchestrated with such sympathy and grace that we feel right at home.

It takes great generosity to produce three-star food and serve it with such modesty in attitude and price. When the chefs came to our table, they didn’t brag about complex preparations or rare ingredients. Instead, they asked us: how did you like the food? We loved it!

 

Boi-Cavalo is at Rua Do Vigario, 70B, Lisbon, tel. 21-887-1653, email geral@boi-cavalo.pt.

 

Amazing produce

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Older people often complain that food doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Are they right or it is just that everything tastes better when we’re young? We can answer this question thanks to Herdade do Freixo do Meio, an Alentejo estate.

In 2001, the Herdade adopted organic production methods and planted old varieties of fruits and vegetables that were left behind by the industrialization of agriculture. They also started to raise black pigs, Barrosa cows, Alentejo turkeys, and other animals, letting them roam free. You can see and taste the amazing results by visiting their store in Lisbon’s Ribeira market.

When you try their products, you quickly realize that older people are right: food used to taste much better. The good news is that Herdade do Freixo is bringing that taste back!

Click here for the Herdade do Freixo do Meio web site.

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