Situated off the Western coast of Spain and engulfed in culture, cuisine and art, Portugal is definitely the hottest spot to visit in Europe. There’s no question why when you’re surrounded daily by the most genuine of people, inspired by their beautiful country and eager to help out some naïve North Americans.
A colourful city surrounded by narrow cobblestone sidewalks, err, streets rather, the classic yellow cable cars and of course, tuk tuks honking about. This is a city like no other. It was busy as to be expected for a country’s capital, but none the less magical.
Stay: Corinthia Hotels Lisbon
A friendly, welcoming hotel with a chic interior and the best breakfast buffet you could ask for, (order the customized omelettes and espresso.) Decked out in shiny floors, marble tables and cream chairs in the lobby, this hotel puts your worries at ease for traveling to a new place with their helpful staff at reception and eager to please concierge. The rooms are huge and fully equipped. Take a dip in their indoor pool and when you want to relax, chill out on their outdoor patio terrace.
Savour: 5 Oceans Lisboa
If you’re a fan of a restaurant overlooking a bridge (much like the golden gate bridge in San Francisco) amid a beautiful viewpoint of the marina at the Alcantara docks than this should be your go-to spot. Not only does it offer sweeping views of boats and yachts but it serves some of the best seafood around. Opt for the grilled sea bass, it’s to die for – just watch out for the bones. For desert, let the glasses of Portugal’s famous port flow alongside platters of pastries, port is one of Portugal’s most wellknown drinks and it’s delicious, not too sweet, just right for a night cap. This was a truly unique experience because it’s like its own little town with busy restaurants and bars lining the streets of the marina.Do: Start at the Port of Lisbon for a day of adventures and walk through the colourful streets and alleys. Grab a bite to eat at the oldest restaurant in Lisbon, Café Restaurante Martinho Da Arcada for a real cultural taste of the city. There’s a lot to do in Lisbon, so take my hint and get up early.Take the metro to Belem and visit the Torre de Uclem, a fortified tower that is a symbol of Lisbon and a UNESCO world monument. Dip a toe into the cultural commercial square (read: Praca do Comercio) and visit the Jeronimos Monastery and the Maritime Museum for a good dose of history. For me, I always find visiting these historical monuments give me real knowledge of the place I’m visiting, take a day or two and visit the many historic buildings Lisbon has to offer, and than head out on the town.Next, catch a tuk tuk back and towards the Alfama Portas do Sol, which is the oldest Moorish district in Lisbon. Stop at a charming shop called Ai Maria for a shot of Ginja, a Portugeuse liquer made by infusing ginja berries in a chocolate cup. (This was delicious, the berry flavoured alcohol definitely paired nicely with the chocolate, I mean alcohol and chocolate? Yes please). Tour around the Alfama district for some culture amid the narrow, old cobblestone streets and whitewashed houses surrounding. Afterwards, hop back on the tuk tuk where your friendly tour guide will take you to the best lookout point in the city at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia monument. Snap a selfie while you’re at it. (I definitely recommend taking at least one of these, they give you the real taste of what Portugal is like because they are so tiny they can easily weave between the narrow streets!)
You can’t visit Lisbon without checking out Sintra and its multitude of beautiful, breathtaking palaces and castles. If you’re in shape and wanting to get a work out, hike up to the Pena Palace in Lisbon, or for those wanting to save their calves, catch a bus to the top. This hike is not for the faint of heart though, but the ascent is worth it for the tour at the top. (Not going to lie, we were pretty pissed at first taking this route because of how ‘hard’ it seemed at the time, but afterwards were very pleased with ourselves!) The Pena Palace is engulfed in bright oranges, yellows and blue tiles, one of the prettiest palaces you could ever lay your eyes on. While in Sintra, visit the Quinta de Regaleira castle, which, while it isn’t decorated in bright colours like Pena, it makes up for in intricate gothic renaissance styles. Beautiful gardens are also within Quinta de Regaleira and it makes you truly appreciate how much effort goes into tending them.Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, so there is great shopping around; it’s a mixture between the designer retailer stores and local Portuguese shops too. I even picked up my Dior sunglasses at the Dior store in town. I really wanted a Gucci bug, next time!
Drive to Carvoeiro, in the Algarve region. This region is the utmost southern part of the country’s coastline. The Algarve should definitely be on your list as it has much to offer, think the famous orange cliffs, caves, lagoons and the bluest water there is. There is much to explore while you’re here and it’s a great place to get some well deserved R&R. It was one of my favourite places that I visited in Portugal, I’m such a water baby and love all of the beautiful beaches there are.Stay: Tivoli Hotels Carvoeiro
This hotel has the best view money can buy, with a pool situated right in front of the ocean and the stunning rugged caves. Spend a day by the water and walk down to the village for dinner, there are tons of restaurants to choose from and even little markets to pick up some fresh fruit and water, or in our case, some late night munchies.Savour: Villa Medici
Just a few minutes away from the hotel, take a trek down to the village and go for the best Italian in Portugal at Villa Medici. For appetizers, opt for the garlic pizza, yes it’s a thing and it’s fabulous. Quench your thirst with Portugal’s own beer, Sagres, a light and refreshing taste.
Do: Drive up to Cape St. Vincent, next to the Sagres point, in Algarve, southern Portugal where you will find a handful of surfers walking down the steps of the cliffs to the water. This place isn’t a huge tourist trap, and should definitely be on your list. The Romans liked it too as they used to think of it as the “End of the World’ because they considered it a magical place where the sunset was much larger than anywhere else, and because it’s the south-western most part of Portugal closest to Africa. The view is as far as the eye can see, with rocky cliffs just below you and the bright turquoise blue ocean, there is really no place like it. This has got to be one of my major highlights, I mean even to this day, I love telling people I was actually at the “End of the World.” I even got a mug that says it too, so hah.At the end of the world…no big deal.Leave early and drive to Evora, one of the hottest cities in Europe, get some culture in and visit the Igreja de Sao Francisco, one of the most prominent Gothic monuments in Portugal. This cathedral is gilded in gold, and intricate woodwork, covering almost the entire church; it’s considered one of the most outstanding of Portugal. And outstanding it was, intricate as ever and amazing how much gold as used. Next, walk over to the Chapel of Bones, where yes, you guessed it, the interior walls are covered with human skulls and bones. There is a message waiting for you upon arrival (“We bones that here are, for yours await”). Pretty crazy, cool too. Another pretty cool experience, it’s not everyday you can walk into a chapel made of bones is it?After a long day out exploring, drive to Cascais, Europe’s version of the Hampton’s. What was once a sleepy fishing village, Cascais is now a bustling beach town. To tell you the truth, we didn’t get to spend that much time here and I really wish we had, so it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to. (I also hear it has the best shops!)
Stay: Fortaleza de Guincho
Change things up and stay at a fort, well, in my opinion, what was really a castle. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing spot right on the beach with the sounds of crashing waves, or a quiet place to get some work done, this is the place to stay. Boasting views of the waves crashing on the shore, and the rugged rocks below, Fortaleza de Guincho presents a true European experience. With suites outfitted in gilded wooden décor, round rustic doors, and sprawling bedrooms with embroidered drapes there is not much else you need. The bathrooms are even enriched in the original Portuguese blue tile, complete with Hermes Paris products, proving this is the place to be when you’re in need of a beachy oasis. Waking up the next day felt so surreal, it honestly felt like I was waking up in a castle and that I was a princess, hah, a girl can dream right?This was my room in the fort..incredible.Savour: Fortaleza de Guincho Restaurant
Stay in the hotel for dinner and eat at the world-renowned restaurant where you will find the best fish and seafood from the Portuguese coast as well as the highest quality of service, with a Michelin 1*. This isn’t a fast dining restaurant, this is all about the experience, with a philosophy based and inspired by the Atlantic, you get the true feel for the Portuguese cuisine. Opt for the Sea Bream, a delectable white fish served with fennel and barley, and try the Memories of my Childhood for dessert, served with plums, chocolate and edible flowers. Quite possibly one of the best meals I have ever had, the detail and thought put into every single serving was incredible, not to mention, your view is of the stunning Atlantic ocean. Not too shabby.See you next time, Portugal!