From Porto to Lisbon…
Unlike other countries which are tourist-focused, you will find in Portugal a laid-back atmosphere but therein lies the charm. While wandering around, you will step inside a haberdashery or grab a pastel de nata, the local creamy pastry. At dusk you will hear the Fado melodies through the slightly ajar shutters. Like storks who migrate South in the fall, we’ll depart from Porto and head towards Lisbon.
In order to feel the pulse of the city of Porto, start by visiting Ribeira, the old town. From the riverbank you will have an epic view on the Dom Luis Bridge which is an Eiffel’s iron-wrought construction. By crossing the bridge over the Douro you will reach the Gaia district where the cellars of Port wine are situated. If you opted for a wine testing at the Villa Nova and need to wash up, go to Lello and Irmao bookshop.
Among the landmarks you must cover, this one is definitely the most thrilling one. Built in the neo-gothic style, this place inspired JK Rowling for the draft of Harry Potter. What you may ignore is that the best-seller author lived in Porto for years. Personally, I was mesmerized by the winding stairs and the flowery glass roof. A few hundred meters away is the sublime Majestic Café that you must add to your circuit. With its ornate façades, its club armchairs and its chandeliers, it is a perfect example of Art Nouveau.
In order to feel the pulse of the city of Porto, start by visiting Ribeira, the old town.
Then visit the Sao Bento train station to admire its sublime azulejos. Andalucía is the historic birthplace of the earthen wave tiles. They usually depict some figurative or geometrical patterns using colors such as the Delft blue.
Traveling South towards the city of Aveiro (by train or by car) will give the chance of enjoying a superb landscape. The city boasts UNESCO worldwide heritage sites, of note is the Roman Catholic Cathedral out of limestone with its imposing tower bell. Notwithstanding, Aveiro is deemed the Portuguese Venice as well since it is run by canals. Therefore, you’d better navigate the city on a gondola-shaped boat to contemplate the Art Nouveau façades. Don’t forget to stop at the Pastalaria Veneza to sample the “ovos moles”, a local delicacy that was made by nuns during the 19th century.
Ensure that you make it to the Praia Costa Nova, a beach bordered by huts. Fishermen used to store their equipment in these white and blue striped wooden cabins. Over the years they have been converted in homes that look like doll houses. They will make for postcard-perfect views! Looking for a cool place to have a tea? I suggest you go to Casa de Cha where you will have a great beverage offering from tea to Cappuccino or even Caipirinha. You won’t miss the establishment since an eagle sits on top of the building.
To spark your wanderlust, I recommend you a fairy tale castle: Mata de Buçaco.
The micro-climate that benefits the area of Luso and the medicinal waters made the baths popular in the 19th century. The Royal family of Portugal had a hunting lodge built on the ruins of a former monastery. It turned out to be a magnificent castle. When approaching the estate, the forest is wrapped in a mist that confers the place an eerie atmosphere.
Although the castle is supposed to celebrate the discoverers of the Golden Age of Portugal (16Th century), it was designed by an Italian architect. Due to the presence of azulejos, it has something to do too with the Sao Bento train station or the Convent of Hieronymus. The last king of Portugal Manuel II lived here, in secret, with his lover, the music hall actress Gaby Deslys. Unfortunately, the Portuguese disapproved of the relationship and Gaby had to go.
Nowadays the castle serves as a hotel and it has a sublime landscaped garden. Some travelers have spoken highly of a restaurant located in the nearby village of Mealhada. According to them, the Reis dos Leitoes, offers some excellent cuisine.
Coimbra, the birthplace of university
Famous for hosting the oldest university in Portugal, the city boasts an ensemble of old buildings among which you will find the Old Cathedral. King Alfonso was the one who had the Romanesque church erected and it symbolizes the encounter between Islam and Christianity. Regarding the university, the Baroque Joanina Library will make for the highlight of your visit. How could 250 000 books written between 1500 and 1700 be kept in such a perfect condition? So, it seems, bats have protected them from book-eaters.
Besides Coimbra is renowned for its “Balconies of Republics”. Going back to the 16th century students the city has some student residences which happened to have played a significant part in the events of May 68. If you are a green-fingered type, you will love the Botanical Garden which is home to 51 varieties of eucalyptus, and you will bump into squirrels. As churches, monasteries… are not necessarily for youngsters, head to Dos Pequenitos, a theme park. Amid the attractions, you will love the miniature train. Last of all, if you fancy futuristic architecture, take a stroll on the Pedro and Ines Bridge which offers fantastic views.
To start with, make your way to the getaway of Lisbon: the Belém Tower and snap some shots. The monument stands out against the scenery which includes the Golden Bridge-like landmark. Then tour the city on board Tram 28, an old yellow cable car that san Francisco took up. You won’t miss the Praça da Comercio, the main square surrounded by massive ocher buildings. Facing the Tagus -gold and spices from the colonies used to be landed here, it is a living piece of history. If the former palace was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake, the monarchy ended here too.
On spot ensure you stop off at the oldest café of Lisbon, Martinho de Arcada. That’s the place where the intellectual elite used to meet, and you may bump into the ghost of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. In order to get a 360-degree view over the Lisboan roofs, use the alluring Santa Justa elevator. Before an electric engine was installed, a steam machine made this Belle Epoque lift work!
While strolling around, you will run into a ravishing little shop named Cumer. If you are after some meaningful souvenirs, the place hosts the best canned fish. To make your tour complete, climb up to the san George Castle mostly for the panoramic view and the narrow-cobbled lanes that lead to it. Where to eat the best pastries? Pasteis de Belem next to the convent of the Hieronymus, a large traditional café with a take-away option!
On spot ensure you stop off at the oldest café of Lisbon, Martinho de Arcada.
NB: if you have some energy left, go to the Christo Rei located over the bridge of 25th April by taking a ferry boat and using the Boca da Vento elevator. It turns out to be the best lookout to take some great shots…