Tavira, Portugal, Algarve

One Week in Portugal South

One week in Portugal is not a long time, but it´s enough to get an idea of where you´ll want to live for the rest of your life. The story about this post is that some (foreign) friends are coming to Portugal for one week and asked for an itinerary. Since they are coming in the summer and wanted to see some beaches, I´ve planned their trip with the sun in mind.

Here is the itinerary:

  • Day 1,2: Stay in Lisbon; head south by the end of day 2
  • Day 3,4: Wake up in Herdade da Matinha. Leave early next day.
  • Day 5(6?): Explore nature/beaches in Sagres and surrounding areas!
  • Day 6: Enjoy quaint fishing village of Tavira.
  • Day 7: Back to Lisbon

Day 1,2

Where to stay in Lisbon? If budget is no problem, then I recommend you stay in the São Jorge Castle, at the Palácio Belmonte. If you are budget conscious, then try My Story Hotels Ouro in Baixa. If this is still too pricey, then you should check out my favourite hostels post. If you have a car don´t forget to ask for parking, these areas are difficult to park on your own.

There are so many things to do in Lisbon, that it would be hard to name just a few here. If you´re into tours then I suggest you check this post: a hybrid car/boat tour around Lisbon with great tour guides. If you´re into walking, then from  you can walk around. Here are some highlights:

No one should come to Lisbon and miss out on a Fado night, but since most are catering exclusively to tourists, please, please check out my Fado Houses post here.

Get your car and head south! Don´t forget to ask the receptionist of the hotel about which bridge to take across the Tejo river: one is closer but may have a LOT of traffic, the other is further away but has no traffic. Head to Herdade da Matinha!

Day 3,4

Herdade da Matinha is a rural hotel about 15 minutes from some great beaches. You deserve the rest after walking yourself out in Lisbon, so enjoy a hearty breakfast, the pool, the nature and take a horseback ride around the area.

Although this rural hotel has a great chef (the owner) there isn´t much choice (only one choice of dinner). If you like the atmosphere (and the dinner menu), then you should stay here for dinner. If not, or if you’d rather get to know the area, head towards Porto Covo. When you get to the main square, just choose any of the restaurants (there aren´t that many). If you get there early, you can enjoy an afternoon at the beach.

On day 4, have breakfast, relax and then head south again towards Sagres.

Day 5 (and 6?)

There are all kinds of options for hotels in Sagres, from luxury to budget. The luxury options are the trendy Memmo Baleeira and the restful Martinhal Beach Resort . If you´re just looking for a place to sleep, then you can also opt for the budget Sagres Time Apartments.

There are plenty of beaches around Sagres. If the weather is good (i.e. no wind) then you can head north for a short drive to any (or all) of these beaches: Carrapateira, Amado, Arrifana.

If you feel like getting to know the Algarve head to Lagos, a quaint fishing village which will be a little crowded but with some very good beaches and restaurants.

I´ve given you enough for two days, but if you like driving more than seeing, then don´t miss out on Tavira.

Day 6

Tavira is the most beautiful city in the Algarve. Having escaped from the criminal over development common to the area, it still retains the old town feel.  Having said this, Tavira is 140 km from Sagres – don´t be fooled by the map!

The best place to stay in Tavira is the Pousada de Tavira. The Pousadas de Portugal is a hotel group that has restored many old castles, convents and monastery. They are expensive but not too expensive and you can find a place to stay in many places in Portugal (including some mentioned here).

In Tavira the best you can do is just walk around the old city. For dinner, I highly recommend going to Cacela Velha. This old little town boasts a few restaurants that are always full during the summer. Walk around and stand in line where your heart (and stomach) leads you.

Day 7

You´ll probably want to stay in Portugal for the rest of your life, but if you´re one of the few that actually make it back home, then take the highway straight to Lisbon in under 3 hours. The airport is near the Ponte Vasco da Gama (the bridge with no traffic) which you should use to cross the river into Lisbon.

Santini, Lisboa, pastries, gastronomy

Lisbon Sweet Tooth

If you have a sweet tooth, then Lisbon will delight you. Portugal is known for its pastries – walk into any café and you will find a varied array – and Lisbon has a few local gems (some better known than others).

The best known portuguese pastry is probably the “pastel de nata”, a custard cake. Due to its popularity, I´ve written a separate post here.

Santini makes the best ice cream in the world (at least that´s what we think). It is also one of the oldest store of its kind in Portugal. Started by an Italian entrepreneur, Attilio Santini, in 1949 it had just one store, in Cascais, until a few years ago when they sold the distribution rights to a wealthy portuguese businessman. If you´re around Lisbon, then you can visit their store in Chiado. Unless you go early in the morning,  you´ll be up against a 30 minute line, but here´s a local trip: once you get to the cash register buy a 10 ice cream coupon and skip the line on your next visit.

O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo (translation: the best chocolate cake in the world) is a portuguese success story. Started by a young entrepreneur it has stores all around the world (from Australia, to Germany, to Brazil). I don´t know if it´s the best chocolate cake in the world, but it is very good and certainly worth a visit. You can find the Lisbon store in Campo de Ourique. If you´re in the area, visit the famous Prazeres Cemetery. Sounds a little morbid, but this is where many famous portuguese personalities are buried and the gothic architecture (and amazing views) are a hit with “cemetery tourists”.

Convento dos Cardaes is a Carmelite Convent that has been functioning since 1681 and survived the 1755 earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon. They sell both fresh and conserved products to take home with you. You can find the convent here. If you decide to visit you can also enjoy their many activities and take a guide tour (monday to friday, until 5PM).

Confeitaria Nacional is the most famous portuguese pastry house in Lisbon. Situated in the center of Baixa, it not only has a delicious pastel de nata and a wide variety of other pastries you should try at least once in your life. If you´re in the area, then take the opportunity to burn those extra calories by taking a walk around the area. See this page for suggestions.

If you want to try a little bit of everything and find out the history of portuguese dessert gastronomy, then take the Delicious Lisbon tour, a guided tour where you can walk off the calories as you eat.

Pastel de Nata, Portugal

Pastel de Nata

Pastel de Nata is the most famous portuguese pastry, it is a custard tart made with egg and flaky pastry. Most portuguese desserts (pastries included) are made with egg yolk, because…religion and clerical thriftiness. Has anyone ever wondered how nuns keep their veils (aka cornettes) so straight? They used the egg whites to make the fabric hard and mouldable. What do you do with the leftover egg yolks? You make cake! As most pastries in Portugal have a clerical origin, most portuguese pastries are made with egg.

You can find pastel de nata in every portuguese café, but you should´t just go into any café and try one. You should go to the best. Here is al list:

Pasteis de Belém hold the original recipe of this pastry. Invented by a monastery pastry chef to provide extra income, the recipe was sold to an entrepreneur when the monastery was closed down. It is located in Belém, where they are served fresh out of the oven with a touch of cinnamon powder. If you decide to go here, expect a long line.

Chique de Belém is located a couple of hundred meters from Pastéis de Belém, and although it is not as popular as the original, the pastel de nata is just as good (some people would argue, better). On the plus side, you don´t have to wait in line, because only locals know better.

Pastelaria Aloma was voted the best pastel de nata in Lisbon by Time Out Lisbon magazine. It is located in a residential neighbourhood, Campo de Ourique, and is a great place to walk around and relax in. If you´re in the area, visit the famous Prazeres Cemetery. Sounds a little morbid, but this is where many famous portuguese personalities are buried and the gothic architecture (and amazing views) are a hit with “cemetery tours”.

Confeitaria Nacional is the most famous portuguese pastry house in Lisbon. Situated in the center of Baixa, it not only has a delicious pastel de nata and a wide variety of other pastries you should try at least once in your life. If you´re in the area, then take the opportunity to burn those extra calories by taking a walk around the area. See this page for suggestions.

Nata Lisboa is a modern take on the pastel de nata. Set up by portuguese entrepreneurs, this company started just a few years ago and has as its main goal to export pastel de nata. They have several stores around Portugal, Spain and France. They are also open to franchise opportunities, so here´s your chance to take the pastel de nata to your hometown.


Lisb on Hostel

Hostels Lisbon

Hostels in Lisbon have been voted best in world.

Portugal has gone through tough economic times during these last few years. One of the few industries that have not suffered with the recession is tourism. In fact, with prices remaining low, more tourists are coming to Portugal to get more bang for their buck. Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Western Europe and also one of the cheapest.

This doesn´t mean the portuguese have skimped on quality. In fact, during the 2013 Hoscars, four portuguese hostels made the 10 list as first, second, third and fourth. All of the winners are in Lisbon and here they are (in qualification order):

Yes! Hostels won the first place and was considered the best in Portugal and the world. The prize was a huge surprise for the staff who, when interviewed, said they spent the first few hours trying to make the phone stop ringing. It is a big hostel with 100+ rooms, and sits at the front of Baixa (near the river). If you´re looking for a party hostel, this is it.

Home Lisbon Hostel is smaller than the Yes! and sits one street down from it, in Baixa. The appeal of this hostel is definitely the food. The cook is the owner´s mother and she will definitely delight your taste buds after a hard day walking the hills of Lisbon. She is not a chef, mind you, she cooks traditional style like all typical portuguese old-school mammas!

Lisbon Travellers House has studios, suites and hostels. The studios are separate from the hostel, which makes it appealing if you want the hostel accommodations without the hostel experience. The private rooms will make you feel like you´re in a luxury hotel, with modern facilities mixed with old 16th century architecture.

Living Lounge Hostel is owned and operated by Portuguese artists. It is the smaller of the lot, which will guarantee a little more coziness and a little less noise. They have a lot of activities, will offer you free maps of Lisbon and will have some bicycles if you´re brave enough to take on the Lisbon Hills (you can just pedal around the river, of course).

Lisb’on Hostel didn´t make the list as one of the best hostels in the world, but what it lacks in distinctions it makes up for class inside and the garden and view outside (featured picture). Contrary to the top 4, this hostel sits in Chiado (the noblest part of Lisbon) which will make it easier for you to walk home from a night out partying. Speaking of partying, this hostel caters to those who want to have fun, so if you´re a private, shy person…this hostel will do you a world of good!

Fado Houses Lisboa Portugal

Top Fado Houses

I had some Brazilian friends of mine who were staying at a posh hotel, asked the concierge for a good fado house and were told there weren´t any. The truth is many fado houses cater to tourists and although you will still enjoy it, the experience is subpar. Check out my favourite Fado Houses in Lisbon (this is where the locals go to listen to fado).

  • Mesa de Frades is a very small fado house where the new “fado star” Carminho used to sing every thursday. This is one of the best choices but is a little out of the way. The mood is one of the best, with excellent food and true fado lovers sitting at every table. It´s in Alfama and you´ll need your walking shoes (or a taxi) to get there. (picture in the header is of Mesa de Frades, from their Facebook page).
  • O Fado is located in what used to be a brothel. The owner is a typical portuguese romantic, married to a Russian dancer, and will light up your night with his eccentric manner. It closes late and you can get a great night or a poor one, depending on how many people are there and how Nelo’s day, the owner, went.
  • Tasca do Chico is one of the most famous fado houses in Lisbon, and if you´re lucky you will find fado stars such as Mariza among the guests. It is situated in Bairro Alto and is ideal for those who want to enjoy some drinks after a meal with fado.
  • Caldo Verde is a true fado house also located in Bairro Alto. As any place in Bairro Alto, during the night it will probably be full so it is a good idea to make a reservation. If you want to experience a true fado experience you´ll find that this place won´t led you down.
travel lisbon

Top Portuguese Illustrators

Portugal has long been known as the land of the poets. Did you know that we also have world class illustrators? From the cover of New Yorker to gold medals by the US Society of Illustrators, portuguese illustration is hot right now. Check out my favourite illustrators below:

  • Jorge Colombo has illustrated many New Yorker covers and his work continues to be recognised around the world. Check out his homepage on the link above and spend some quality time browsing his work.
  • Bráulio Amado is a Brooklyn based graphic designer and illustrator who has worked for the likes of Pentagram. Check out his website on the link above or read the article and see his work  on the blog It´s Nice That.
  • Marta Monteiro has had her work on the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post. She was awarded a gold medal by the US Society of Illustrators and is regularly commissioned in Portugal and all around Europe. Check out her hilarious Clap your Hands illustrations.
  • Mario Belém is all about Portugal. An avid bodyboarder and traveller he is recognised as one of the top illustrators in Portugal. He´ll gladly exchange an illustration job if the waves are good or if he finds a wall to paint. From commercial work to just illustrating to friends (in exchange for food), Mário is about passion.
  • André da Loba is another world traveller who has had his work commissioned all over the world. Check an animated short film illustrated by this artist on Vimeo.

Favorite Hotels in Lisbon

I´ve seen a lot of people asking on forums about places to stay in Lisbon. I always find that the best option is just to rent an apartment through airbnb. Location? Anywhere near Baixa will get you close to most good places, although take note that some streets in Baixa get pretty deserted at night and noisy during the day. If you would rather stay in a calmer more chilled place try Princípe Real.

If you would still rather stay at a hotel, here are my suggestions:

  • Lx Boutique Hotel is right in the centre of the action. Behind you there is Chiado and a short 5 minute walk will take you to Praça do Comércio. I´ve visited the rooms of this hotel and although they are small, they are very accommodating. It´s a minimally staffed hotel purposely thought out for people who want to spend their day travelling around Lisbon and come back to a very comfortable room. There is also a trendy sushi restaurant next to the lobby (which is also where you´ll have your breakfast – sushi not included). There are plenty of bars around so if that´s not your thing, pick somewhere else to stay.
  • Casa Costa do Castelo is a charming guesthouse with very few rooms. It sits on the top of the São Jorge Castle hill from where you will enjoy amazing views of Lisbon. The rooms are not hotel standardized , but they are what you would experience if you were to stay in a local apartment. From here you will have plenty of places to visit and see although be prepared for a steep climb back to your guesthouse after a day´s walk.
  • Memmo Alfama Hotel is the probably the priciest of the lot. It´s a luxury hotel right in the middle of a poor/trendy/touristy area of Lisbon: Alfama is an interesting place to visit because it shows Lisbon pre-1755 earthquake. The great fire and massive reconstruction that followed left this area of winding, narrow streets intact. This hotel is a luxury hotel with great views and in a great location. There are other cheaper options, but if luxury is your thing try this one.
  • Palácio Belmonte is my favourite hotel of the bunch (it is pricy, though). There is a lot of history here. Wim Wenders, the German Film Director, filmed one of his films Lisbon Story [DVD] [1994] at the ruin of what would eventually be this hotel. Wenders fell in love with the area so much that he insisted that the residence of the main character should be here and had the reconstruction delayed because of it. It sits right next to the Castle of São Jorge and you will not be disappointed if you stay here.
  • Hotel Fontana Park Run by the Hilton chain, this hotel is in the working part of Lisbon. It is a design hotel with very cool rooms and in the centre of all things non-tourist Lisbon. A 15 minute walk will take you to the most important foundation in Lisbon, Fundação Gulbenkian. This Foundation has sponsored portuguese culture for more than 50 years and has two great museums (classical and modern). It also hosts an outdoor jazz music festival during the summer. It is NOT walking distance to most touristy places, but it has two city malls close by and you´ll surely enjoy your time here.

EXTRA: Check out my two luxury hotel choices here. I also recommend Lisbonaire Apartments if you want to stay in a design-inspired apartments – a new take on aparthotels.

Lisboa Beaches

Top 5 Beaches Day trip

Deserted Guincho
Deserted Guincho

If you´re coming to Lisbon in the Summer (or Spring or early Winter), then you probably want to spend a day or two at the beach. Lisbon is on the river, and if you want to go to the beach you have to take a train or a car. Unfortunately, access to the beach from Lisbon is shockingly limited, but we will get to that. There are two main options: crossing the bridge towards the beaches of Costa da Caparica or head west/north. Here are your best options:

  • West of Lisbon: If you take the train from Cais do Sodré you can easily access a lot of beaches that are west of Lisbon. The first and closest beach is in Carcavelos. You’ll face a quick a 5-10 minute walk from the train station to the beach, but it is very accessible. As all ‘city beaches’ this will be very crowded during the summer. If you stay on the train, though, you´ll eventually reach Estoril and Cascais. Both of these places have a lot of beaches to choose from, and they are also crowded during the summer. There is a pathway that takes you from Estoril to Cascais, which is a nice way to know the area and to choose your beach. There are also restaurants, and once you reach Cascais you can walk around this former fishing village.
  • Guincho: Guincho is one of the most iconic beaches of Portugal. A paradise for surfing, wind and kitesurfing, this is the beach where the locals go. It boasts a backdrop of a Sierra and is surrounded by nature. It is a great place to take a backpack and walk around the nature trails just next to it. The weather in Guincho is a little iffy and if Lisbon is windy odds are Guincho is uninhabitable. On the other hand, a good day at Guincho just might turn into the best beach day of your life. The downside is transportation. If you’re coming from Lisbon, then you have to take the train to Cascais (see above) and then take the bus 405 or 415 from there. You can also pick up a free bicycle and ride it until Guincho (about 30 minutes, straight most of the way).
Bicas, free bicycles in Cascais.
Bicas, free bicycles in Cascais.
  • Costa da Caparica: south of Lisbon, across the bridge, Costa da Caparica boasts the most beautiful beaches close to Lisbon. About 10 minutes by car it is also a pain to get there by public transportation. Most busses to get there leave from Praça de Espanha which is accessible by Metro. Once you get to Costa da Caparica you can take the mini trains to any of the numerous beaches in Lisbon. The further you go on the train the less crowded the beach will be. Getting there by car is very easy, just use the google maps link above and ask for directions. You´ll have to pay a toll coming back and beware of traffic – the usual 10-15 minutes can easily turn into a one and a half hour trip. Restaurants on the beach abound!
  • Meco: My last suggestion is the beaches of Meco. Although further then the other beaches, Meco has the best and most deserted beaches around Lisbon. By car it takes about one hour, but the beaches are well worth it.  In theory you can get there by public transportation, but it is not recommended. In the summer, you´ll find that driving to Meco and back will take less time than driving to Caparica during the peak hours (I never go there in August, all 2 million Lisboans seem to be there). The best beaches are near the camping area (avoid the main beach), but they don´t have any restaurant/bar, so you need to take your own food and water. Lastly, head to the village and find a restaurant to enjoy the best seafood in the area.



Bairro Alto

Top 5 Lisbon for Teenagers

I came upon a post in a travel site asking about what a teenager should see and do in Lisbon. According to the picture on the post, this request is made by a parent. So, I´ll first address the main concern: Safety.

Lisbon is a safe city. I´ve walked around what are supposedly ‘difficult’ areas in Lisbon during the night and I´ve never had a problem. Luck is a factor, of course. Also, I´m an adult, a male and a local. The problem in Lisbon for tourists is mainly theft (in the 38 tram and other heavy tourist areas), but these types of crimes are property and not physical crimes – you won´t know you were robbed until after the fact. So, if you´re travelling take the necessary precautions: don´t keep all your money in the same place, carry around a copy of your passport and leave your original in the safe at the hotel.

Here are my top 5 for teenagers in Lisbon:

  • Where to stay: The Independente is a hostel is in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon (where all the bars are) and  is a great place to stay if you want to meet people and enjoy the Lisbon nightlife. A lot of locals frequent the hostel´s restaurant and bar, so it´s a great way to get into the local nightlife. If you´re more into Lisbon during the day, though, I recommend Travellers House, which is located in the center of Baixa (Baixa gets a little deserted at night, so not the ideal place if you plan to go out at night a lot).
  • Walk around Lisbon: I´ve said this in many of my posts, but the best way to see Lisbon is just to walk around – get lost and find your way again. If you start from here, you should walk around the this area and then go towards the ‘Castelo de São Jorge’. From the castle, walk down towards Alfama. You´ll find a lot of restaurants and other places to see. If you´re a photography fan, you´ll find plenty to show your friends back home.
  • What to see 1: Colecção Berardo is the best modern art collection in Lisbon, with many famous painters from the modern school (Bacon, Rothko, Rauschenberg, etc..), including Paula Rego, the most famous living portuguese painter. This collection is housed in Centro Cultural de Belém, which hosts many festivals during the summer, and is next to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which houses a beautiful church. You can reach this area by taking the 15 tram from Praça da Figueira or Praça do Comércio, both in Baixa. When you come back, though, I recommend walking along the river, it´s just beautiful.
  • What to see 2: Bairro Alto is a great place to just walk around, have lunch and do some shopping. Many shops are from local artisans, and although prices are steep, the quality and the originality of the stores make it worthwhile. This is also the place where you´ll find a lot of nightlife, so don´t go too early if you don´t want to walk around piles of plastic beer glasses.
  • Day Trip to Sintra. If you are adventurous and feel ready to take a day trip on a budget, you should head to UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra. Check out a youtube video about it here. You can catch the train in Entrecampos (get there using the Metro). Please be aware, though, that this train stops at ‘rougher’ neighbourhoods outside Lisbon. You can also talk to your hostel/hotel and ask them about day trips to Sintra.