Portugal - The Potato Chick

Porto, Portugal

In a sentence...loved, loved, loved it here.

Food we loved...the sensational meal we ate at Tasca da Quinta. Seriously, I thought I was going to explode with happiness.

I had been looking forward to visiting Porto from the moment we flew out of Australia over 6 months ago. I’m pleased to say that it easily met my lofty expectations.

Of course it is pretty easy to like the place where the delicious drink of Port comes from. Throw in a beautiful setting on the Douro River, colourfully tiled buildings and easy access to Portugal’s coast and you have a winning destination.

We arrived in Porto just in time for a late lunch of the classic local dish of Francesinha. Francesinha is a sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, two types of sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce. Served with French fries of course. All I can say is that it was lucky we had run 8 kilometres that morning. This was not a dish that Jenny Craig would recommend.

Of course, our first stop after lunch was the other side of the river, the town of Gaia, for a tour of Calem winery and some tastings. Port has long suffered from a bit of an image problem at home with “Tawny” considered the domain of the older generation; mainly drunk from a cask by old men wearing slippers and a smoking jacket. At Calem (and every winery on the Douro) there was much more than Tawny on offer. We tasted ruby, rose and white varieties as well. The white Port was an early favourite.

While Port should be served as an aperitif or digestive we broke all the rules and ordered a glass with our dinner, causing the hipster waiter great concern. Not to worry, it was still delicious even if served with a small dose of his pity and judgment.

Aside from the Port we enjoyed a free walking tour and also just wandering around the city which is even more hilly than Lisbon. Our walking tour guide took us to a great restaurant for lunch where Nick tried another delicious Portugese dish – Alheira. This is a type of Portugese sausage made with meat other than pork (usually poultry) and bread. It was invented by the Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity to deceive the Portugese inquisition.

We took the scenic tram along the coast to the beach where Nick had a swim and I did some people watching of a group of leathery old ducks who had met up at the beach for a day of sunbaking.

On our final day we jumped on a train and headed into the Douro Valley to see the vineyards for ourselves. The train trip was just gorgeous as we wound along the river past huge hillsides filled with terraces of vines. Despite being in the heartland of the Douro Valley the small town of Peso de Regua was not really set up for tourists. With the help of Google Maps we wandered along the side of the road for a while until we found Pacheca winery. We had a fabulous tasting of 8 different Ports. We wanted to buy a bottle and had a very hard time narrowing our choice down to one.

Deliriously happy with our Port-induced sugar high, we headed back into town for a quick lunch at Tasca da Quinta. At this point, I didn’t really think the day could get any better. How wrong I was. We were instantly welcomed to a table set with vintage crockery and a gorgeous bright table cloth. Every dish we ate was amazing – a cheese platter, cod with red pepper, quail with wine, vinegar and spicy sauce and Alheira. We didn’t really have time for dessert but we squeezed it in anyway – almond ice cream and raspberry mousse. We had to run to the train station to make our train afterwards but it was totally worth it. A brilliant end to our day and to our time in Porto.

Next stop...Madrid, Spain.

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Posted 3 November 2014

Lisbon, Portugal

In a sentence...a great capital city.

Food we loved...pastel de nata again. These little sweet delights might be my favourite discovery of our entire trip.

After some quality beachy time in Lagos it was great to reunite with Jules, Hannah and Emma P for two fantastic sunny days in Lisbon.

Lisbon is set on the river Tejo which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The river is so large that it feels like the ocean. The city itself is very hilly and feels a bit like what I imagine San Francisco would be like, with cute little trams trundling up and down the streets.

Thanks to Hannah’s organisational skills we had our very own apartment in the cute old town area of Alfama. It had great views of the river and the incoming cruise ships. With the five of us essentially sleeping in the one room it felt like we were back in year eight again having a sleepover.

Our time in Lisbon started with our longest free walking tour to date. The website advised it would take two and a half hours. In reality, we were grateful to escape at a little under the four hour mark – an absolute marathon. We barely had the energy to stop at the quickie mart for essential wine and cheese supplies before returning to our apartment.

Luckily, the tour was very informative and took us all over the city centre and to the major landmarks before finishing up at a fabulous viewpoint as the sun set over the city.

We spent most of the next day in the suburb of Belem. We checked out the tower and the monastery (from the outside) and the cathedral (from the inside) before having a picnic lunch in the park. We sampled what are reported to be Portugal’s best pastel de nata at Casa Pasteis De Belem. Of course they were delicious but they always are, no matter where you buy them.

We returned to the city centre in the afternoon with plenty more on the agenda. We intended to make full use of our all day public transport pass.

We travelled up Lisbon’s only elevator for more good views of the city. Then we jumped on Tram 28, a tourist tram which cuts a scenic route through the city. It took us a while to obtain five coveted window seats but we managed it eventually. We had the wind in our hair as the tram rocketed down Lisbon’s many hills.

As the sun set we relaxed on the harbour with a few drinks; a fitting end to a lovely few days.

Next stop...Porto, Portugal.

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Posted 1 November 2014
Some of the above photos were taken by Jules. Special thanks to Jules for sharing them with us.

Lagos, Portugal

In a sentence...the longest Summer continues.

Food we loved...pastel de nata, better known at home as Portugese tarts. I don’t even like custard normally – that’s how good these are.

Lagos was the kind of town that we love to visit – on the coast with a relaxed vibe, good food and a beautiful natural setting. We came for two nights but stayed for three because we couldn’t bear to leave.

Within an hour or two of our arrival we had ticked off several Portugese “must-dos” – piri piri chicken and pastel de nata. Our bellies full, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the beach and soaking up the glorious sunshine.

On our first full day we did a beautiful walk along the coast stopping at various beaches along the way, including one where we had a picnic lunch complete with a few cheeky bottles of cider. Portugese beaches are similar to Australian beaches – real sand and good waves. The area really reminded us of the 12 Apostles.

We also did a day trip to the tiny town of Sagres to see the nearby cliffs of Cabo de Sao Vicente, the southwesternmost point of Portugal. We started off with a fabulous lunch at a cute cafe in town. Our breakfast burrito and muesli with yoghurt and seasonal fruit would not have looked out of place at any brunch spot in Melbourne.

After lunch we hired bikes to ride the 6 kilometres to Cabo de Sao Vicente. The ride along the coast was just spectacular, enough to distract me from the fact that I was wearing a dress and thongs and probably flashing my knickers to every passing driver. We battled a headwind back into town (let’s be honest – Nick battled the headwind while I tucked myself in behind him) and finished off a great day with a cool drink on the beach.

The next day we were sad to leave Lagos but comforted ourselves with the happy feeling that we will definitely be back.

Next stop...Lisbon, Portugal.

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Posted 31 October 2014