March 24, 2018 – April 2, 2018
Note: this post took me a really long time to write, sorry if you fall asleep during it.
Move over Italy, Portugal is my new favorite country. From the wine region of Porto, to the busy city hustle and bustle of Lisbon, to the beaches in Lagos – Portugal had everything you could ever want in a dream vacation.
The first city on our tour of the coast was Porto. Although it took us almost the entire day to travel to Porto from Morocco due to missing our flight because of the longest customs line I have ever had to stand in (seriously, longer than 3 hours because only 2 people were working… when a third guy showed up he got a standing ovation from the 400+ people in line), the wait was worth it. We missed our dinner reservations, obviously, but ended up checking out a cute little wine bar on the Douro River called Wine Quay Bar. It was a little cold, so we sat inside, but still had a great view. It was here that I experienced my first Douro Valley wine, a nice crisp white. The first of many of the trip. We also had a little cheese and meat platter to sample. A relaxing end to a freaking hectic travel day.
On Tuesday (I had to fact check that this was Tuesday because on vacation, days of the week don’t matter), we took a trip with Sandra of Douro Exclusive Tours to the Douro Valley. We picked up another passenger, and embarked on the hour and a half drive from Porto. Luckily, the conversations were good and the scenery was enchanting so the drive flew by.
We drove through some hairpin turns down narrow roads, but made it to our first stop, Fonseca Winery, which is a smaller winery overlooking a tributary of the Douro River, perched up on a hill. The estate was white with a red roof and looked very regal.
We had our tasting outside and learned a little bit more about the wine region. The most memorable part to me was that 2011 was the wine year of the century, so naturally we tried to find this vintage everywhere we went for the rest of the trip. Sandra told us that no one knows how the 2017 wine will be because all of the vineyards had to harvest the grapes weeks earlier than the winemakers ever remember because of the weather. I guess we will find out in a few years.
After the first winery, we took a boat cruise down the river and tried a tawny port. The difference between the tawny and ruby port is that the tawny is aged in smaller batches in a barrel, so it has more contact with the wood. Port wine is a sweet wine, which originated in the 1500s when the English came to Portugal and tried to ship the wine back to the homeland. The wine would go bad from being on the ship for too long, so they put straight alcohol in the batches to preserve the wine, and this would stop the fermentation process, making the wines sweet. I really enjoyed the tawny port and also the views along the river.
After the boat tour, we went to lunch at DOC an amazing place on the river. We had a 3 course lunch with wine pairings which were refilled several times. The fish soup with sparking wine kicked us off and was superb. Then we had suckling pig and a red wine, then finished with a tawny port and several small desserts, all while enjoying the breathtaking beauty. The weather was so perfect, and we even got a little too much sun.
The final stop on our tour was Quinta de Tourias, a local winery that only produces 15-20k bottles a year. The owner and his wife were very attractive Portuguese people who had the cutest house overlooking the grapes, which also includes a B&B. I wanted their lives. I liked their wines a lot and even bought a shirt with their logo on it. The owner also noticed that I was very sunburnt and went into the garden to fetch me some aloe vera.
I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone going to Porto. It was by far the best wine tour that I have ever been on.
On our last day in Porto, we did a walking tour of the city. It was kind of shitty weather and it rained most of the tour. We saw some cool things, like the bookstore where J.K. Rowling wrote the first two chapters of the Philosopher’s Stone. The bookstore had a huge winding staircase as the focal point, and many bookshelves with ladders surrounding it.
We saw a few statues and some churches, but nothing too exciting. The real show stopper was just the amazing streets with intricate tiles everywhere you look.
After the tour we walked across the bridge to see Porto from the other side of the river. I enjoyed the views with all of the little red rooftops.
Because we always want to try the local cuisine, we stopped at a place that supposed has the best Francesinha (bread + ham + linguica + sausage + steak + chicken + egg + lots of cheese + tomato sauce). Tyler had a hay day, but I decided I would be going back to my vegeterian ways after this trip. We waddled back to our hotel after this rich lunch and caught a train to Lisbon, which was super easy to do.
Upon arrival in Lisbon, the first thing I noticed was the hills. I felt like I was back in college again walking to my classes in Ayers. But it was also warmer than in Porto, so I didn’t even care. We arrived kind of late, so we basically just had time to check into the hotel and then went out in search of food. We kind of accidentally stumbled into a place called Bistro 100 Maniedas. It was AMAZING. The cocktails were great. The asparagus mushroom appetizer was great. The bottle of 2011 Douro Valley red was great. The spicy octopus was great. The cheese foam dessert was SO great. So great that I wanted to go back the next night for round 2 of cheese foam, but it didn’t work out.
One of the things Tyler was most excited for in Lisbon was seeing Fado, basically Portuguese karaoke. We waltzed right into this hole in the wall place and sat down during someone’s performance, which is probably frowned upon. The people were so nice and didn’t care that we were the only tourists in the local bar. There was a guy playing a Portuguese guitar, and the emcee would call random people up to the front to sing their song. The whole crowd knew the tunes and would sing along. I wish I knew the words.
Because walking tours are kind of our jam, we started off the next day with a tour of Lisbon. Walking tours in Lisbon are hard because of the hills and the fact that things are kind of spread out, but I liked seeing the different parts of the city. We stayed in Baixa-Chiado which is like the party district, and our tour guide took us through the center of the city and then to Alfama which was my favorite.
It still seems very local and had cute little houses with different colors and people hanging laundry out the windows. Our guide told us to say hola to all of the people living there because they are mostly elderly and don’t like the tourists.
Because there are a lot of old people in Alfama, recently an artist started taking portraits of them and sharing their pictures on the walls with their stories. I couldn’t read this one, but I liked it.
The only story I remember from the tour was about this old church that had no roof. There was a huge earthquake in Lisbon on November 1, 1755 which happens to be All Saints Day which includes a tradition of lighting candles for the dead and going to church. Many people died because they were in these big stone churches when the quake happened and the ceilings started crashing down. Then fires started from all the candles, and people ran down the hill towards the water, but then a tsunami came from the sea and many drowned. It was a dramatic series of events and apparently all the non-Catholics lived up on the hill and were spared from the damage, so naturally everyone thought it was a sign from God.
We spent the rest of the day kind of wandering around the city with no real agenda.
At one point we found ourselves at the bottom of a really steep hill we needed to get to the top so we hopped on this cute little cable car. It reminded me a lot of San Fran.
After all of the wandering, we popped into a cool bar where you could play a guessing game to see how many corks were in this big glass bottle. It was 989, but my guess of 148 did not come very close.
For dinner, per the recommendation of a friend we tried our Tapa Bucho. We got there and there was a huge line in front of us, but we ordered some wine and sat out in the street while we waited. It took forever, but we ended up making friends with a group of English folks and they gave us some recommendations for when we are in Bath at the end of the month. Win-win. The dinner was delicious and cheap (we found Portugal to be relatively inexpensive everywhere). We ended the night with some more Fado.
The next day, we planned to get up early and rent a car to drive to nearby Sintra. Unfortunately we got off to a late start and had to wait for about an hour at the Hertz so I wasn’t in the greatest mood when we set off for our adventure. Once we got into Sintra, the road to the top of the mountain was single file one way and so crowded. We spent about another hour making our way to the top. We finally reached our destination about 3 hours later than planned, so we kind of rushed through the sites.
Our first stop was at the Palace de Pena. A really cool looking mansion on the top of a mountain, that is painted bright yellow and red and kind of has a moorish vibe with the intricate tiles. It was so crowded and impossible to stay out of everyone’s pictures, but it was beautiful.
I wish we would have had time to explore the area around the palace grounds which was basically just a big park.
Instead, we walked down to the Moorish castle, a fortress made of stone. We got there are walked up about 1,000 stairs to get to the top tower where we had great views of the Palace de Pena.
It was really windy at the top, but you could see the Atlantic Ocean and all of the valleys. I enjoyed it until the rain hit and we raced back down to the car.
From Sintra, we continued west, so far west in fact, that we reached the western most point in Europe, Cabo de Roca.
It reminded me of a mini version of the Cliffs of Moher (but there was a handrail at this cliff).
We chilled here for a while until it started sprinkling again and then went to a bar that had been recommended to us nearby. It had legit Mexican food and I was so excited that I got nachos and a pina colada before hitting the road back to Lisbon.
On our last night in Lisbon, we had a dinner at a steakhouse that some Dutch friends had recommended. They brought the steak out raw on a sizzling hot rock, and you could cook it to your liking, which was kind of fun. They also made you wear a bib.
The tables at the restaurant were so close together that you were practically eating dinner with your neighbor, so I wasn’t surprised when the French guy next to us started chatting us up. I love a good chat with strangers and the service was better than most places in Europe. We ended the night with one more round of Fado. A perfect way to cap off the Lisbon experience.
The next morning we embarked on a road trip to Lagos after first stopping at the Belem tower and the pasteis shop. Pasteis are little flat muffin shaped egg desserts that kind of resemble creme brulee with a flaky crust. Super lekker.
In order to get to Lagos we had two options: the direct route that would take about 2.5 hours or the scenic route along the coast that took about 4 hours but we could stop in little beach towns. It was a no brainer so we headed towards Sines along the coast. We stopped for lunch in a sleepy little beach town called Porto Covo at a place called Tasca Do Xico where we sat outside overlooking a cove. From our seats, we had a good view of people walking along the beach and up a big hill. The tide would come in and then they would get stuck and have to wait for it to go back out so they could recross, it was very entertaining.
The food was also really good and I once again enjoyed some octopus! After lunch we walked over to the cove to admire the beautiful oceanside.
The drive from Porto Covo to Lagos was on narrow windy roads through the countryside. We basically got the local experience going through the middle of nowhere. We were just cruising with the windows down jamming out to some good tunes. A proper road trip. We got to Lagos and checked into our hotel which had a sweet pool and even sweeter ocean view.
We explored the city a little before dinner and found that it was kind of a city for vagabonds. There were several travelers there and college kids. Lots of dreadlocks and people playing instruments for money. All of this guaranteed a pretty cool bar scene, which there was. Since it was a Saturday night, we checked out a few places before heading back to the hotel.
On Easter Sunday, we woke up and headed to the beach. It was a warm day and I wanted my toes in the sand.
After a light lunch at the beach club, we made our way to a kayak tour in the ocean. Tyler and I have kayaked and canoed together before, so I was not nervous about the trip, but it turns out I should have been!
The waters were really rough and I thought we were going to tip over. The tour group even sent a speed boat along with us to help in case anyone flipped, which did happen to one unlucky couple. The water was freezing, so they were not pleased. Right when we got to the halfway point, the lighthouse, our guide made us navigate in between these two rocks that were so close together. We made it through the first ones and then ran into a kayak of two girls who were stuck and had no clue what they were doing.
I thought we were going to tip, but instead we made it to the camel beach where we chilled for a while. The water was so clear and the beach was super secluded and beautiful.
On the way back, we all hooked onto each other and the speed boat pulled us back in. The guide said that we would stay tied to each other until people started flipping over from the waves, but luckily none of that happened. I was so glad were were tugged in because my arms were really sore!
To cap off the night, we ate some delicious fish and chips at a place called Ol Bastards. Tyler and I both agreed that the fish tacos and fish and chips were some of the best we’ve ever had. We capped off the night with rooftop cocktails in the starlight.
On the last day of our trip, I was really sad to leave, but thankful for a great vacation! We had some time to kill so we headed to the lighthouse and beach to take a look at the ocean from the opposite view of how we had seen it from the kayaks the day before.
We had one last stop to make on the way to the airport since our flight was so late, lunch at a Michelin star restaurant. We learned of the place from our companion on the wine tour in Porto and just had to go. The restaurant was in the Vila Joya hotel, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The hotel was immaculate and the view overlooking the glistening sea and camel colored rocks was just the best.
The food was also amazing and very intricately plated. The flavors were so intense and it was probably one of the best meals I have ever had.
I can honestly say this vacation was one for the books. If you get the chance, put Portugal on your travel list!
Duoro Valley Exclusives – Gold Experience: the best wine tour I’ve ever been on
Wine Quay Bar
Porto A.S. 1829 Hotel
Alecrim ao Chiado Hotel
Bistro 100 Maneiras
Duque da Rua
Moinho Dom Quixote
Baluarte da Vila Apartments
Linda the Beach Bar
Kayak tour (just not when it’s rough AF on the water)