September 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
The castle of Almourol was built by the Romans and rebuilt in the 12 century by the Knights Templars. Situated on a small island in the middle of the Tagus river, it was part of the defensive structure set up by Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal. The castle quickly lost its strategic importance but retained its romantic appeal. At Almourol time stands still so we can get a glimpse of the Middle Ages.
It is tempting to sit on the river bank, enjoying the view of the castle, dreaming about chivalry and courtly love. But don’t miss the chance to cross the river by boat to visit the castle. You might arrive in time to free a beautiful princess or slay a nefarious dragon.
September 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
We dreamed we had died and gone to heaven. And heaven was a large pavilion sparsely furnished with long tables and bathed in white light. To our surprise, paradise was scented with the aromas of Portuguese cuisine: parsley, coriander, olive oil, garlic, codfish, and cinnamon. And there were many great chefs urging us to try their creations. We had a “pastel de massa tenra” cooked by Miguel Castro e Silva, roasted pork cooked at low temperature by Henrique Sá Pessoa, squid “pirolitos” made by Marlene Vieira, and a delicious tomato soup prepared by Alexandre Silva. We loved them all.
When we woke up, we realized we had been dreaming about a real place. The magazine Time Out Lisbon created a space in Mercado da Ribeira, one of the city’s food markets, where many of the best restaurants in Lisbon have stands. For a modest sum you can pick the food you like, pair it with some great Portuguese wine and enjoy the meal at one of the many tables. It is a heavenly way to experience the delights of Portuguese cuisine.
September 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
First-time visitors to Lisbon are often surprised by its beauty. But, when you live in the capital city, you begin to take this beauty for granted and look around for something new. You don’t have to look far. Drive a few miles down the coast and you’ll find secluded beaches that will tempt your heart.
One of these beaches is Praia do Abano, on the coast of Cascais. Its cliff top offers breathtaking views of the Sintra mountain and the endless sea. Sheltered from the wind, Abano is the perfect place to enjoy a day in the sun.
There is a rustic restaurant on top of the cliff that you won’t find in tourist guides. It serves simple, wonderful food, such as amazing clams with irresistible country bread, delicious rabbit cooked in wine, and flavorful shrimp “açorda.” It is an unforgettable experience to dine there while the sun melts and the moon comes out to gild the sea with silver light.
An afternoon at Abano feels like a vacation. You return to Lisbon relaxed and content and, when you arrive at the capital, you are surprised by its beauty all over again.
The Abano beach is 21 miles from Lisbon. The telephone number of Restaurant Abano is 214870342.
September 8, 2014 § 2 Comments
When we sat down for dinner in the beautiful esplanade of the Arraiolos Pousada, we expected good food and attentive service. We got much more than that. We were served a series of delicious dishes that harmonized perfectly with Alentejo wine and made us feel we were at the right place, at the right time.
The dinner started with two soups, a Summer cucumber soup, followed by a tomato soup with quail egg. We then had “migas” (an Alentejo specialty made with bread) with wild asparagus and lamb grilled with rosemary. The grand finale was a sampling of traditional convent desserts updated with great refinement.
We congratulated the chef, Elizabete Velez, who told us that she learned to cook with her mother and grandmother in a small village in Alentejo. She offered to give us the recipe for her delicious Summer cucumber soup because it is very easy to make. Here it is.
Elizabete Velez’s Summer cucumber soup
Get the very best cucumbers you can find. Peel them (this step is key because the peel is very bitter) and remove their seeds. Dice the cucumbers, season them carefully with salt, pepper, and great olive oil. Puree the mixture in a blender. Pour into small bowls, placing one or two ice cubes in each bowl. Garnish with toasted slivered almonds, small strips of cucumber peel, and Portuguese sausage (preferably from Alentejo!).
Imagine eating this soup in a warm Summer evening, as the sun sets over a grove of olive trees and the stars wait their turn to shine on the Arraiolos castle. It’s magical!
September 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
One of our favorite places in Alentejo is the Arraiolos Pousada, a 16th century monastery that was converted into a wonderful hotel.
There’s a lot to do in the vicinity of the Pousada. You can take horseback-riding lessons, visit wineries, shop for the famous Arraiolos rugs, or do some sightseeing. But it is also great to relax in the spacious balconies that overlook the countryside or to seat by the pool, enjoying the view of the perfectly-round Arraiolos castle.
When we first arrived at the Pousada, we walked to our room through a sequence of hallways of different sizes that took us from light to shade and then back to light. This walk felt like an initiation rite. And indeed it was. Our stay at Arraiolos was an introduction to the art of enjoying the passage of time. We now need to return to continue our apprenticeship.
August 29, 2014 § 2 Comments
King John II, who reigned in Portugal in the late 15th century, liked to say that “a nation is like an ocean. There are many types of fish in the ocean. The sardine tastes good and it is abundant, so it is cheap. The mullet also tastes good, but it is rare, so it is expensive. I prefer the sardine.”
Historians debate whether this aphorism, in which the mullet represents the nobility and the sardine the people, was good court politics. But it is good advice to those going to the fish market.
August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
If you’re a wine lover traveling in Alentejo, don’t miss the chance to visit a wonderful winery called Adega Mayor. It is located in Campo Maior, a region on Portugal’s border with Spain that was once the stage of fierce battles between the two countries.
Adega Mayor was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a Portuguese architect who received the Pritzker prize. He is famous for his ability to create buildings that are in harmony with their surroundings. At Adega Mayor, he succeeded brilliantly. The winery is a subtle white accent on the Alentejo landscape, toped by a terrace with amazing vistas. It is extraordinary to sit on the terrace at sunset and watch the Alentejo sky painted with colors others skies can only dream of.
The wines of Adega Mayor are produced with immense skill and care. But they offer much more than technical perfection. They carry in them the soul of Alentejo.
We left Adega Mayor with a warm feeling of optimism. We saw ancient battle fields turned into peaceful vineyards that produce extraordinary wines.
Click here for Adega Mayor’s website.