Hello Beeple people,
Breath taking sceneries of hidden beaches under rocky cliffs. Freshly baked pastries with flaky and buttery crusts filled with creamy eggy custard fillings. Last but certainly not least...WINE! Oaky, devastatingly burgundy, swirl around your mouth wine. Acres and acres of it! What is this paradise I am describing? Portugal! The destination we selected for our honeymoon and what a honeymoon it was. We had chosen Portugal because of our love for their delicious wine (Douro Valley). In preparation for our trip however, we researched and realized there were millions of things we wanted to see! So we went to the bookstore and purchased one of those travel books and started narrowing things down in terms of cities and where we wanted to stay. Portugal's capital: Lisbon, was a definite must. Then we decided also that if wine was the reason that fostered our curiosity for this country, we had to visit Porto and a Douro Valley winery or two...or more ;) and finally a little beach time down south in the Algarve, a city called Lagos.
Long Live Lisbon!
Lisbon! Anciently paved in white and charcoal colors and casting spells on every human with its Pasteis vapors. Like many european capitals, it was hot, full of tourists and filled with many places to see. After a hardy breakfast, we grabbed our maps, bottle of water and started our journey on the Liberdad street (one of the mains). On our way we saw the Rossio square, the downtown area, Garret street, the colorful buildings (I especially love the yellow) and of course, all of the beautiful and typical Portuguese tiles. They covered the city like its very own tapestry. Perched on a very high hill, we admired the beautiful views of the Sao Jorge Castle and right after, we walked through the older part of Lisbon: Alfama. A charming neighborhood that offers calm streets and the tiny yet potted-flower-adorned balconies. You can really grasp the town's authenticity there. I highly recommend a stroll in that area. To be honest, if you are as squeezed in time as we were, I would advise to skip the Castle and take in more of the city center and Alfama. We only had one day and a few hours to do it all. We finished our day by hopping on a bus to go down to Belém. Yes, that part of the city where the famous Pastéis de Belém is located. We saw the Jeronimo monastery in which the tomb of Vasco Da Gama resides, amazing! It was late however, we had walked all day and this was our last touristy visit...We were tired and quite frankly only curious for the church and the great explorer's tomb. So we skipped the rigorous Monastery visit and made a bee line for the pastry shop. There was a lineup of course but it rolled rather quickly. We ordered three pastries, one each and one in Lucy's name which we split ;). If you go one day, don't forget to sprinkle the cinnamon and fine sugar packets that come with your order. Satisfied with our last stop, we headed back "home" to our hotel and packed for an early morning.
LISBON HOTEL: Dom Carlos Liberty hotel - Paying parking available.
Pronto for Porto
It was up and at 'em for us the next day! Once again, we had a generous breakfast and we packed a lunch box for the road trip. When I say lunch box? It was a small shopping bag in which we threw fresh fruit, snack bars and water. and a big chocolate bar, you know, for good measure. Once the car was packed and ready to go, we started the GPS, though I had printed Google maps just in case all else failed. We were a little nervous driving but once we hit the beautiful toll roads? It was a breeze! I was appointed navigator by yelling out exists and upcoming roundabouts and Phil drove stick and kept us up to speed with the locals who drove at a minimum of 130KM/H...not joking. Most of the time it was 150KM/H. While we were surprised when drivers would pass us, it was nothing offensive on their end, that's just how they drive, fast. I mean really let's face it the roads are well maintained, they don't have hazardous weather like ours so to be efficient, they step on it. Man does that get addictive. We were driving as fast as the locals in no time - it was so lovely to get places that quickly! The Portuguese are also much more courteous to pedestrians than Montrealers. One foot on the street and the cars will stop to let you cross, no problem.
We made a few pit stops, mainly because of my bladder, but made it to Porto in time for tea. We were up North from Lisbon so there was a significant drop weather wise. It was lovely though...We checked in to our old fashioned English hotel, Grande Hotel do Porto, (extremely well located) and I pulled out warmer trousers, a nice toasty sweater and we headed straight to the Majestic Café. Ok so I went to Benetton first and THEN we went to the café. A girl has her priorities. Phil had read about the café just the day before and per chance, it was a few doors down from our hotel! The café is charming and old fashioned as well. We had drinks and were on our way to walk the streets of Porto for a little bit before night came.
The next morning, after yet another delicious breakfast, we headed towards the Sé Cathedral and crossed the Dom Luis Bridge, designed by Gustave Eiffel. It is quite an impressive and windy view from the top! We walked and walked and admired all the Porto lodges that were popping out at us. We eventually stopped for lunch at this, go figure, Italian restaurant since the typical Portuguese spots were all filled with tourists. After a replenishing plate of carbonara pasta, we were refueled to continue our journey on foot to the promised land: the Graham's 1890 lodge! Phil's pick for porto tasting of course. We had a very informative and interesting tour in the huge basement cellar and we purchased a delicious tasting that we enjoyed after the tour. We savored a vintage 1982 porto and it was divine. We had so much fun Phil and I, we were the last two drinkers remaining in the private room laughing our hearts out. Afterwards, we hauled out way back to our hotel and enjoyed a small dinner.
PORTO HOTEL: Grande Hotel do Porto - Paying parking available
Drinking in Douro
It was already time to pack the car again as we were off to the mountains and valleys...the Douro Valley to be precise. This part we were quite excited about since 1) we knew we would be visiting many wineries, and 2) part of our stay in Douro was at an exquisite luxurious 18th century mannor that was ranked as no.1 in one of the latest Wine Spectator magazine, Quinta do Vallado. First though, we had one night to spend at the Douro Scala Hotel which was also quite beautiful but harder to find in the mountain and uphill roads. One wrong turn and you're at a road block in someone's private farm surrounded by chickens. Also, the GPS went bonkers and made us take weird turns that made no sense. At one point I told Phil to wait in the car as I checked out the street it was telling us to turn on. It was so steep, you couldn't see the end of it. So I climbed up and then down and realized it was a private road and that it was so inclined that the car would not have made it back up without a tractor. So as I climbed back up to tell Phil that we shouldn't take this turn, the strap of my sandal snapped and then, so did we. We drove back to the Scala hotel and decided to relax for the remainder of the day. We hung by the pool with our books, a coffee and a view. Later, dinner and great conversation awaited.
The next day was Quinta do Vallado Mannor and WINERY day! We were thrilled! When we first got to the Vallado estate, as we made our way to reception, I was immediately taken back to our estate in Italy. The ancient and traditional yellow colors. The sound of the water coming from the fountain (we have one almost exactly the same in Italy) and especially the peaceful and stillness of the large property and its acres of land...breath taking. Our room wasn't yet ready so we gladly unloaded our luggage and jumped back in the car to start our winery visits. We visited the Quinta do Panascal (Fonseca port), the Quinta do Bomfin and my personal favorite, Quinta do Tedo. Actually, the first bottle of Portuguese wine that got me hooked was a Quinta do tedo. Oblivious to the matter, we booked our trip to Portugal in September which is grape harvest season! So we got to witness the grape pick ups and selections and of course, grape squishing with the machines and by foot. All three wineries have stupendous views while you are enjoying a taste of their well known wines. Most of them have small shops to purchase wine bottles and souvenirs. After an entire day of wine tasting we finished the day with none other than....you guessed it....more wine tasting. This time though, it was at our very own hotel, the Quinta do Vallado winery. We sampled some grapes that had just arrived in for production and saw all of the stages in which the grapes go through before becoming the fabulous end product that they are. We had some wine tasting there too and they were ALL excellent. I think what I like most about Portuguese wine is that French Oaky taste they have.
I have to spend some time here describing the Vallado estate because it is really something. It is perched on a hill which enables you to have incredible views from pretty much anywhere you are (they also use gravity for their wine making). The ambiance is magnificent There are two sides to the estate: the new wing and the traditional mannor, and we stayed in the latter. The rooms are cozy and comfortable and greet you with freshly picked grapes and a small bottle of wine, on the house. The property is enormous but there aren't too many guests at once. That is, at breakfast, we were only five or six couples maximum. Speaking of breakfast, the cook himself will come ask you if you want an omelette or eggs and there is a wide variety of choices. Even the picky eater will be happy. Phil and I eat everything and we love hardy breakfasts so we were in heaven. As if that weren't enough, you can enjoy a nice view as you are eating. Next to the breakfast/dinner room, there is a large living room adorned with comfortable leather couches and quirky chairs, more snacks and an espresso machine. There is a huge library, a television...everything to make you feel at home. I didn't think we would have time to enjoy this inviting space since we wanted to have a relaxing pool day but, luck would have it that we got a rainy and sunny day. So we spend half the day reading and lounging in this huge living room and the other half enjoying a late lunch by the pool when the sun came out...with that bottle of wine from the room! Pure bliss. The pool itself is out of this world, facing the incredible view that surrounds the Quinta do Vallado. We were lucky to have had two nights at Vallado. Some couples had booked in April and weren't able to reserve the weeks they wanted in September - we were fortunate to have a travel agency that had fought for us to have those two nights. What an experience...I even purchased a nice ancient yellow sweater they had on display at reception as a souvenir.
DOURO VALLEY HOTELS: 1) Douro Scala Hotel - Free parking available 2) Quinta Do Vallado - Free parking available
Grottos in Lagos
Next thing we know, we are on the road again going back down south to the Algarves. Destination? Lagos. There were many cities that were highly recommended to visit but Lagos won our hearts. It is an ancient maritime town with more than 2000 years of history. It is well known for its more authentic feel, nightlife and beautiful beaches. Actually, Phil and I were determined to check out the famous grottos (naturally created caves) that also reside in the Benagil Beach which is also somewhat close to Lagos.
So, for the beachy part of our vacation we opted for an apartment with a kitchenette. We had a nice long drive (5 hours) and once we arrived at our apartment, we dropped from our 9th cloud a little in comparison to the Vallado estate we had just come from, but we got cozy in the humble apartment rather quickly and it did the job nicely for our remaining four days. We were dead tired but we needed groceries for the next morning as we were quite low on supplies. That won't do on my Italian watch. So at about 7:30pm, we found a small grocery store nearby and got food for the following next days.
The next morning we were off in the car again, Benagil Beach bound! About 20 minutes away from Lagos, we got there easily but were a little concerned about the weather. The sky was literally half sunny half rainy and the ocean looked choppy as hell. Originally, we wanted to kayak to the grotto to be able to get off the boat since we knew the boat tours didn't dock for passengers to get out. We found the beach, parked and walked to it and were a little disappointed. There was NO WAY we were able to kayak on our own, the water was too agitated and strong. Anyway, we learnt kayaks were only available form the marina. We then reluctantly bought tickets for the boat tours that took you to the many grottos that surround the beach. Equipped with water shoes, bathing suits and sweaters (it was chilly without the sun), we got on the boat (8 passengers max) and slipped on our life jackets. I had low expectations because I thought my dream to see the gigantic cave was shot. The boat captains were VERY experienced and know their engines very well. It was comforting to see since the water was very rocky and it was no problem what so ever. There are MANY caves and we saw a lot of them including the ONE. We started with smaller caves and the captain shot in a few explanations here and there. He also gave us time to take it all in. the spaces were tight at times but one again, he knew how to handle it calculating wave height, engine force and avoided knocking our heads against the edges all at once. He had fun with us and got us splashed quite a few times and it was really fun! I held on to my Canon camera for dear life. I kept switching between my iPhone and my Canon, Phil assisting me at times! ;) The grand finale was the the gigantic cave with the enormous hole at the top. The one I have as wallpaper on my computer at work and that's featured on every Portugal travel book. Though we didn't dock to get off the boat, the captain truly let us enjoy the view and got close to the beach. There were actually two individuals that had kayaked and were chilling on the beach but they took a high risk in facing the choppy and unforgiving waters. The grotto did not disappoint…looking at it we were all silent in awe…I couldn't believe I was in my computer's wallpaper. "I am here" I was telling myself…"I can touch the water and I can see the sun piercing through the hole and hitting the sand". Unbelievable, another bucket list item scratched off! Another engine rumble and we were off and back at Benagil beach.
That night we went in the city center and had a greasy dinner. The Lagos city center is lovely, covered in artistic murals and full of life. We explored many wine stores and little boutiques. The restaurants all offer terraces and there are lots of choices. The following days, we walked to praia di Piedade and other surrounding beaches. Praia di Piedade is made of rocky cliffs on which the ocean breaks. At the bottoms there are grottos and hidden beaches as well. The cliffs are open to the public sight seeing so you have to watch yourself up there. That night, we made pasta and salad at our little apartment and enjoyed a nice bottle of Portuguese wine while watching the American debate on TV. Yep, we had CNN going on strong. Our last day was spend at yet another lovely beach, Porto de Mos, about a 10 minute walk from out apartment. It was nice to finally relax in the sun and read our books and break with an ice cream cone or two. I have to admit that the water was VERY cold. Nothing like the Mediterranean or Caribbean waters I am used to. Still, just walking in it is refreshing enough.
After dinner, we showered, packed our luggage and even prepped our breakfast to save time in the morning. Waking up at 5h30AM, I realized there was no running water! We tried many times and nothing was coming out of the taps. To top it off, we had slim amounts of bottled water left. Luckily, I had covered the essentials the night before: I had already prepped the coffee machine! PHEW! So we had breakfast, got dressed and we were out of there in a jiffy. We decided we would stop at a nice rest area to brush our teeth and freshen up for the day. By 6:45AM, we were on the road before the sun was up to race back to Lisbon, drop the car off and enjoy the rest of our last day.
LAGOS APARTMENTS: Canavial I & II Apartamantos Free parking available
After checking-in at the Holiday Inn Express, which was efficiently close to the Airport for our early flight back home the next morning, we hopped on the bus and walked the streets of Lisbon's city center once more. Phil was a on a mission to purchase a specific bottle of wine he had been looking for and I wanted to visit a special ballet shop to get me fresh new ballet gear for my return. We also took the time to sit down, order two coffees and decadent pastries to stuff our bellies. Later on, with a new bottle of wine and spanking new ballet leodards in our bags, we made an early return to our hotel. While packing one last time, we opened a spare bottle of wine we had to drink since we couldn't bring it back, it was over our alcohol limit to declare…oh darn! ;)
Before we knew it, we were sitting in an empty airport at 3:30AM heading back to Paris and, after purchasing chocolates and truffle spread in the Parisian tax free boutique, we raced to our gate and made it back home. All the while in the plane, I glanced at my new yellow Quinta do Vallado sweater and thought to myself: "we were there…". That's the thing about traveling though, every place you go, you trade in a piece of youth for nostalgia.
Bee Honey mooning!
*** A few unsolicited travel tips ***
I am old school when it comes to planning trips such as these and go with an agency. I always want to have a third party so as to have someone I can go to that will fight for me if things go wrong. So far, it has always been very useful. We went with Voyage à Rabais and had great service; they made wonderful suggestions and were very understanding. Thanks to them, we got to stay at some of Portugal's most beautiful and luxurious places.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Like many European cities, the first thing that happened when we got our luggage, is waiting an hour in line to get our rental car (I am not exaggerating, we moved 5 feet every 14 minutes) and dealing with a rep who tried to scam us big time. He unfortunately took advantage of the language barrier and the fact that we were tired to impose a fake car theft insurance fee for which apparently we weren't covered. We didn't want to chance it so we took the insurance but it was complete bull and we are getting a refund because WE double checked our paper work and I had insisted on making a copy of our voucher before leaving it in the hands of our scammer. Anyway, it didn't tarnish our trip but it's no fun to start the trip that way. Had we been in Italy, I would have given the guy a truck of my vulgar thoughts.
RENTING A CAR
In reserving the rental car, Phil had requested to upgrade the car to make sure we had enough strength to climb steep hills in the mountains, good thing he did because it really came in handy. Another thing that came in handy? Having a GPS with pre-loaded addresses and purchasing extra phone data in case all else fails and you NEED to google map it.
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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