Sunday, 9 August 2015

Road-tripping in Portugal

Dear all, it's been a while since I've written something on my blog, but it doesn't mean I haven't been travelling. This time I'd like to share with you some tips & tricks from my Road-Trip around Northern Portugal & 4 days in Sintra & Lisbon. Just like it always is with my posts in English - it's more about the facts than the literary merit of the story, so it's more of a bullet-point-style list of "nice things to do" rather than a novel ;)

Accomodation along the route: 

Here's the list of hotels we stayed at along our route, with links to my TripAdvisor reviews:
Santarem: Santarem Hostel (Hostel  R.Eng.António Antunes Júnior, 26), price: €40 per double
Belmonte: Pousada de Belmonte (Serrada Esperança, 6250-000 Belmonte), price: around €139 per double
Trancoso: Residencial Sao Bartolomeu (Rua Infante D. Henrique Br Sr Aflitos, 6420-007 Trancoso), price: €35 per double
Vila Real: Casa Agricola da Levada (Ruada Capela à Rua Fundadores de Vila Real, 5000-419 Vila Real), price: €62 per double
Porto: Hotel S.Gabriel (Rua de Alegria 98), price: €50 per double
Obidos: Casa dos Frutos Divinos (Rua Coronel Pacheco 6, 2510-086 Óbidos), price: €48 per double
Lisbon: Design Bed & Breakfast (Rua dos Sapateiros 231), price: €50 per double room


  • Check out the view of the Tagus River from Portas do Sol


  •  Break the house rules of the Tomar castle by coming in with an apple, flash & a dog on a leash :-)
  • Enjoy the impressive architecture of the castle modern art exhibits scattered around the monk's cells around the convent


  • Roam the cosy little streets, climb the hilltop to the Monsanto Castle's ruins, have a drink & watch sunset at the local bar, overlooking the surrounding area.


  • Visit Castelo de Belmonte, check out Marc Chagall-style-graffiti next to the Synagogue of Belmonte & check out Torre de Centum Cellas (bottom right)

Transcoso, Vila Nova de Foz Coa & Casa de Mateus

One has to be aware that Trancoso has a somewhat limited selection of dining options & I'm pretty sure that we've found one of the best one's in town when we sat down for a snail starter & a salad of pig's ears at the very local & family-run Cantinho do Arcos (Largo Do Pelourinho, 2A, Trancoso) :-)
Vila Nova de Foz Coa  – amazing archaeological museum with modern art exhibition about Paleolithic art
  • Go for a scenic drive along the hills of the River Douro & make a stop-over for a wine-tasting at the Quinta das Carvalhas in Pinhão (Ervedosa do Douro | São João da Pesqueira, 5085-034 Pinhão)

  • Stay at the amazing Casa Agricola da Levada, order dinner from a nearby pizzeria & get local wine from the "honesty shop" by the reception

  • Visit Palacio de Mateus - a very pretty villa, with amazingly well-looked-after adjacent gardens


  • Self-guided overview city tour of Porto (e.g. Lonely Planet)

  • Azulejos at the train station

  • Palácio da Bolsa - book a guided tour - those are fun & informative

  • Ribeira district - Unesco World Heritage site, lots of riverside restaurants & art galleries
  • Porto tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia - best port winery in the world; book with the local tourist office for a value deal

  • Vinologia (30, R. de São João 28) & The Wine Box (Rua dos Mercadores 74) – are two amazing wine bars, situated literally in front of each other. 

  • Curiously, there're many library-themed shops, bars & cafes. Don't miss the Harry-Potter-esque Livraria Lello & Irmão (Rua das Carmelitas 144) and Livravia da Baixa (Rua das Carmelitas 15) – quirky cocktail bar with library/bookshop décor & delicious cocktails.

From Porto to Lisbon along the coast

  • Obidos - characteristic little town within the old castle walls, but can be skipped if in a rush.
  • Coimbra - old university city, medieval churches, convent, nice nightlife. Famous for its 12th century Sé Velha de Coimbra & the pretty rooftops of the medieval city (best view from the university's clock tower).
    • Biblioteca Joanina – pretty amazing – keep in mind that you have to get the ticket at the university’s tourist center just outside the Porta Ferrea. that’s the usual way to enter the university from the city, but because we sneaked into the university campus through Minerva stars (1725) next to Biblioteca Joanina, it took us some time to figure out the system
    • St.Michael’s Chapel (ticket necessary) - worth seeing, but not mind-blowing; we got lucky & there was someone playing an organ when we came in, so that made it totally worth it.
    • Peak into the windows of the private examination room in the Northern corridor of the university – on a “normal” day it most probably will be someone’s thesis defense or something as equally exciting.
    • Go up the 18th century University Tower (bear in mind: there are a LOT of steps), but the view is magnificent.
    • Have the 50 cent espresso at the café on the main square, in the shade of the Coimbra Cathedral.
  • Alcobaça Monastery - marvel at 13th century monastery (UNESCO World Heritage)
  • Nazaré - make a was stop-over for a seafood dinner at one of the cosy family-run restaurants in the town famous for largest waves in the world. We dined at "A Tasquinha" (Rua Adrião Batalha 54, 2450 Nazaré) & were absolutely blown away by the quality. 


Stroll along Marina de Cascais & look at the pretty boats
have a seafood lunch at Baía do Peixe (Av. Dom Carlos I 6) or one of the countless amazing restaurants


  • San Jorge Castle in the evening - on the way back (or there), have a glass of wine at Wine Bar do Castelo (R. Bartolomeu de Gusmão 11/13, 1100-000 Lisboa) – according my multiple sources (including me!) – that’s one of the best wine bar in Lisbon, we were totally blown away by how knowledgeable the owner was & how personal his approach was in selecting wines & letting you try things before you actually commit to getting a full glass.
  • For a different perspective on a castle, have a drink with a view @ Rooftop Bar of Hotel Mundial (1100-341 Lisbon, +351 21 884 2000), which also has live Jazz on Thursdays
  • Convento do Carmo - the ruins of a mediaeval Gothic convent that was ruined in the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake
  • Alfama district walk great for pictures, go to Mirador Santa Luzia – best view of the hidden courtyards, labyrinth alleyways – you can take a tram there from the center. 

  • Fetch a ride with tram 28 or with Elevador da Bica, which climbs Calçada do Combro & Rua do Loreto.

  • Visit the Belém district
    • Palace of Discovery - celebrate the Portuguese Age of Discovery and remember Henry the Navigator at the 52 metre-high Padrão dos Descobrimentos.
    • Visit the Lisbon'd iconic Tower of Belém on the bank of the Tagus River
    • East pastel de nata (custard tart, served warm & dusted with cinnamon & powder sugar) – @ Pastéis de Belém (R. Belém 84-92).

  • Oceanario & Vasco da Gama bridge + Parque of Nations – if you have like half a day (it’s a bit further away from the center) & would like to escape the crowds a bit. To get there, you'll need to catch the red metro line (directrion "Aeroporto") till Oriente (don't forget to stop & appreciate Gustavo Calabtrava's masterpiece: Gare do Oriente). 
  • One can simply stroll down the Parque of Nations to the Vasco da Gama bridge, but I felt our experience was enriched when after the walk we took along the shore, next to the sail-shaped Myriad hotel, up to teleferic, which took us to Oceanario, where we, without rushing, chilled out after a hot day in the city & watched all kinds of fish, penguins & the cute little otters. By the way, there're lots of restaurants on the promenade on the way from the train station to the Parque of Nations - I tried the tastiest Estrela mountain cheese there!
  • Go to a ginjinha bar around Rossio station
  • Have dinner somewhere in Chiado - the best place to eat in Lissabon. The best dining tip I have about Lisbon is Restaurante 100 Maneiras (Rua do Teixeira, 35, everyday, 19h30-02h; only with reservation) - an amazing culinary experience with creatively playful presentation, palette-cleansers & great Portuguese wines. A "100" is also approximately the amount in euros that you're gonna leave there for all that awesomeness, but it's totally worth it! Definitely TOP 3 restaurant I’ve been to in my life. 
  • Marvel at the Se cathedral. And, if you’re hungry around the time you’re there - there’s a great restaurant Cruzes Credo (Rua Cruzes da Se 29) – great unassuming restaurant with local food, I ordered Arroz de Tamboriz & was totally blown away.
  • Eat tapas & drink at Bairro Alto or Bica - nice bar scene. They have something kind of weird to me in Lisbon: “take-away cocktails”. What is even more surprising: they are actually GOOD, sometimes even great. Just out of curiosity I stopped over at Bar Clandestino (Rua da Barroca 99) & was amazed at the quality, fresh ingredients, hearty portions & the overall - I can honestly say that you might get something like that only at the top cocktail bars in Amsterdam, needless to say, you'll pay a fortune for it. 


If you have one day outside of Lisbon, go to Sintra (45mins by train, direct connection from Rossio): trains leave from Rossio Train Station - every 30 min, takes about 45 mins to get to Sintra.
  • Palacio de Pena
  • Moorish Castle
Quinta da Rigaleira - walk though Luigi Manini's fantasy in the labyrinth parks & get lost in the dungeons secret passages & initiation wells. 
And, of course, don't forget to bring some delicious goodies home for friends & family: