August Braga

Braga Composit

Walking in Braga, a beautiful city in the north of Portugal, is like taking a journey from ancient times to the present. The city flourished during the Roman era when emperor Augustus honored it with the name Bracara Augusta. But, with the demise of the Roman empire, Braga fell on hard times. The city emerged again in the 11th century, when the king of Castile and Léon offered it as a wedding present to his daughter Teresa. Her son, Dom Afonso Henriques, became the first king of Portugal.

In the early years of Portugal as a nation, the archbishop of Braga, Pedro Julião, became pope John XXI. Perhaps that is why the city has as many reflections of spiritual power (convents and churches) as temporal power (defensive towers, palaces, and manor houses).

In his book “The Design of Cities,” published in 1967, Edmund Bacon writes that: “Throughout history, architects have lavished much of their tenderest care on the part of the building which meets the sky.” Braga provides many wonderful examples of what Bacon has in mind. Its monuments are made of heavy granite but they strive to reach heaven.

First impressions of Lisbon

Composit LisboaFirst impressions are important, so we recommend for your first stop in Lisbon the top of the Rua Augusta arch. More than a century in the making (from 1759 to 1875), the arch is a symbol of the reconstruction of the city after the devastating 1755 earthquake.

The three statues on top of the arch (glory, valor, and genius) remind us of what Portugal at its best can do. The two statues on the sides, which personify the Douro and Tagus rivers, are symbols of the country’s natural beauty. The remaining four statues represent important historical figures: Viriato, a military leader who resisted the Roman invasion, Nuno Alvares Pereira, the hero of a key medieval battle against Castile, Vasco da Gama, the famous navigator, and the Marquis of Pombal, who oversaw the efforts to rebuild Lisbon after the earthquake.

You can reach the top of the arch by elevator. The views are breathtaking. On the North side, you see St. Jorge’s castle, the ancient cathedral, and the spacious, orderly downtown district that replaced, after the earthquake, the narrow, irregular medieval streets. On the South side, you see Terreiro do Paço, the entry hall of the city, adorned by the Tagus river. And so you’ll meet Lisbon, a city that is rich and poor, extroverted and mysterious, an aristocratic old lady full of youthful charm.

Contemporary tiles

Azulejos PedroIf you’re an art lover, make sure to visit Ratton, a wonderful art gallery in Lisbon that commissions works in azulejo (the Portuguese word for glazed tiles) from contemporary artists.

When Ana Viegas opened the gallery in 1987, tiles were no longer considered an art medium; they were made cheaply for utilitarian purposes. To convince artists to create works for azulejo, Viegas procured the finest clay and searched for artisans who could paint and glaze tiles by hand, using techniques perfected in the 18th century. Soon, she had great artists like Paula Rego, Julio Pomar, and Menez working for Ratton. Today, you can see the gallery’s azulejos all over Portugal and as far away as Russia or Brazil.

The photo shows a piece by Lourdes de Castro inspired by the “invitations figures” that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. These panels of azulejos with life-size images of footmen, nobleman and aristocratic women were placed in stairs and patios to welcome visitors. Castro used her own silhouette, as if she is inviting us to experience her art.

It is this interplay between inspiration from past and present that makes the work exhibited at Ratton so unique.

Ratton is located on Rua da Academia das Ciências, 2C, tel. 21 346 0948.

On top of the world in Marvão

Marvão composit @

Some people climb the Kilimanjaro, others struggle to conquer the Himalayas. But you can feel on top of the world without hiring sherpas or buying oxygen masks. Simply drive to Marvão, a village on the São Mamede mountain, 834 km above sea level.

We spent the morning exploring the ancient castle and walking the beautiful narrow streets. After working up an healthy appetite, we walked to the Pousada for lunch. The view from the dining room is absolutely stunning.

The Pousada has some wonderful signature dishes, including codfish Santa Maria, partridge with 14 (partridge cooked with 14 ingredients), and shrimp Alentejo style. We asked chef Conceição Lourenço why codfish Santa Maria tastes so wonderfully unique. Her eyes smiled brightly for this is one of the culinary secrets she has guarded in her three decades as a chef. She confided that: “the codfish is cooked with flour made from a local mushroom; but that’s all I can say.”

We stayed for quite a while at the table mesmerized by the view. Seen from Marvão, the world below looks harmonious and the skies above divine.

 

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Marvão.

Porto de Santa Maria

Porto de Santa Maria @_

The Portuguese are so obsessed with the freshness of their fish that they prefer to consume it on the coast, to make sure the fish does not need to travel. This obsession is the reason why there are so many restaurants on the “marginal,” the seaside road that connects Lisbon to Cascais. Our favorite is Porto de Santa Maria, which has served outstanding fish and seafood since 1947. Everything on the menu is wonderful: grilled fish, oysters, clams, shrimp, stuffed spider crab, and lobster rice.

Porto de Santa Maria is famous for its fish baked in bread, a technique to cook a whole fish that keeps it moist and succulent. Savoring this culinary delight while enjoying the magnificent ocean view is simply unforgettable.

 

Porto de Santa Maria is located in Guincho, 30 km from Lisbon. You can make reservations by telephone (351 214 879 450 ) or email (reservas@portosantamaria.com). Click here for the restaurant’s web site, here for a virtual visit to the restaurant, and here for a live camera view of the beach.

The allure of Monsaraz

RBD_Monsaraz_2b
Monsaraz, ink on paper, Rui Barreiros Duarte, 2014.

Monsaraz is a medieval village perched on a hill in Alentejo. Squint at the landscape and you see an abstract painting of white and pink shapes. Open your eyes and you see a world of peace and tranquility. Faint are the echoes of the battle in which Geraldo Sem Pavor (Gerald the fearless) first conquered the town from the moors in the 12th century. Gone are the busy years, early in the 14th century, when king D. Dinis built a castle to ensure that this strategic hill would forever remain Portuguese. The soldiers who kept watch from the castle towers were replaced by photographers who shoot with their cameras the majestic view.

Vinicius de Moraes, the Brazilian poet who wrote the lyrics of Girl from Ipanema, recorded his feelings about this Alentejo village: “Thank you, Monsaraz, but I do not want to see you ever again because, if I do, I will stay forever inside your white walls amidst your men and women with eyes full of honesty.”