Porto – The land of Port wine

7 01 2018

I love port wine. So since I was already in Lisbon, it will be a shame if I don’t pay a visit to the home of port wine, Porto. Well known for its wine, beautiful Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and yummy seafood, the second largest city in Portugal is well underrated and overshadowed by Lisbon. Given that there is much less tourists here versus Lisbon, Porto emits a more laid-back feel. The colourful city is split by river Douro (translated as the “river of gold”) with many nice bridges spanning across the river, the most picturesque being Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge (or in short Ponte bridge).

The city’s old town lies in the Ribeira district which is a world heritage site. The narrow winding cobblestone streets and churches somehow creates an old-world feel to this city.

The city’s Sé cathedral with its 12th century Gothic rose windows is a must-see. A visit to the famous book shop Livraria Lello Porto which is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstore will not disappoint. For Harry Potter’s fan, this bookstore used to play host to JK Rowling who once taught English in Porto. The São Francisco Church is also another impressive church to visit. Though the exterior may not look astonishing, the lavish design inside this Baroque and Gothic-style church where almost every inch is covered in gold will make you go wow!

For shoppers, Santa Caterina will be your heaven. Just make sure you spare some time for sightseeing and also head to the nearby cafes for the yummy Pastéis de Nata (custard tart) for your in-between shopping breaks 🙂

Tips:

1) For wine lovers, cross Ponte bridge to get to the south bank to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the famous port cellars.

2) Some spectacular views of the city can be seen from the Ponte bridge and also from the top of the hill (behind the cathedral) where you can catch a nice shot of the river, south bank and the Ponte bridge.

3) Porto can be reached by air and also via a fast train from Lisbon. You can refer to my Lisbon blog here for details.

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Lisbon the city of hills

6 01 2018

I love cakes and pastries and one of my favourite is the Portuguese egg tarts. I always wonder if the Portuguese egg tarts that we have in Asia are indeed those that one will find in Portugal. Coupled with my love for port wine and the desire to see the iconic yellow trams, I decided to pay a visit to this western most country on continental Europe. Well, a “simple reason” to make a trip to the capital of Portugal lol.

It is hard not to fall in love with this hilly city. Yellow trams snaking up steep streets, black and white cobblestones, beautiful monuments, and of course the wonderful custard cakes Pastel de nata and many more, you will surely find something that you like in this city.

The first thing I did was to rush down to Torre de Belem (Tower of Belem), one of Lisbon’s iconic sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was built in early 1500s and was once a fortification to guard Lisbon and the mouth of River Tagus. Looking at this beautiful tower, I can imagine how the Portuguese sailors felt back in the 16th century when they saw this tower, their first sight when they sailed home.

From the Belem Tower, you can see a bridge looking similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge spanning across River Tejo. This is Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge which commemorates the revolution of Portugal from the Salazar regime on 24 April 1974.

Across the river stands the statute of Christ Cristo Rei with his arms raised similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio Brazil. This is another Lisbon’s most iconic monuments and was built in reverence for Portugal avoiding the horrors of WW2.

Walking around the city central, you will not miss Arco da Rua Augusta, a beautiful arch at the open square of Praça do Comércio. A short walk away from the arch is the square of Rossio, paved beautifully with black and white cobblestones and has a column with a statue of Dom Pedro IV, the first emperor of Brazil. Walk further and you will reach Praça dos Restauradores and the obelisk, a monument to commemorate Portugal’s liberation from Spain. Here, you can get a good view of how Castelo se São Jorge and see how hilly Lisbon really is. For the singles looking for a partner, the statue of Saint Anthony in front of the Igreja Santo Antonio May well be of help to you. Apparently, if you can throw and land a coin on the book of Saint Anthony, your wish will come true. Let me know if this works for you!

I love the old Alfama district with its labyrinth of narrow streets that climb the hill from the Tejo estuary up to the castle, many nice cafes, boutique shops and small bars.

For me, the best way to wrap up the trip apart from sightseeing is shopping! Well most girls like shopping isn’t it? 🙂 Avenida da Liberdade, the Champs Elysee of Lisbon, is the place to go where you can literally shop till you drop (or broke lol). The closest metro station is Avenida which is 5 to 10 minutes away.

Other nice sites to visit are the Jeronimos monastery, the majestic Castelo de Sao Jorge (Castle of Saint George) which was the ancient seat of power for over 400 years, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Sé de Lisboa Cathedral and many more.

One last thing, I did my countdown and welcome a new year in this city with lovely fireworks!

Side trips from Lisbon

(1) Sintra:

Sintra, which used to be a summer retreat for the Portuguese nobility, is now the most popular day trip from Lisbon. Extravagant palaces, grand residences, lush forests set amidst the cooling hills of the Serra de Sintra makes this town super charming. Sintra is connected to Lisbon by an inexpensive train service that departs from Rossio train station in central Baixa. The journey takes around 45 minutes. Thereafter, you can take Sintra 434 tourist bus from the train station to the town centre, Pena Palace and Moors Castle.

The historic center of Sintra with its cobbled streets and traditionally painted buildings and the Gothic-Renaissance styled Palacio Nacional de Sintra are must-see if you visit Sintra. Of course, don’t miss out the ruins of the Moors Castle constricted in the 9th Century by the Moors to protect the fertile lands of Sintra (though it was unable to defend against the Christian crusades) and the nearby Pena Palace designed by King Fernando II. You can also hike up to the Cruz Alta (530m), the highest point in the Serra de Sintra and will get to see wonderful views over the Pena Palace.

(2) Cabo da Roca

We all like to visit the “far-most point” and the westernmost point of continental Europe is one of the breathtaking site to visit. The high steep cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean with strong winds and crashing waves will let you see (and feel) the dramatic forces of nature. Cabo da Roca can be reached by bus number 403 from Sintra and takes around 40 minutes though the timing is not regular so you will need to check the timetable. A better alternative (though more expensive) is to either drive or take a taxi.

(3) Devil’s Mouth and nearby Cascais

The Devil’s Mouth (Boca do Inferno) near Cascais provides an unobtrusive point along the coast. The nearby charming town of Cascais,a fisherman town, is also worth a stop. Cascais is easily accessible by train from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre train station and the journey takes around 40 minutes. From there, you can take the taxi to Devil’s Mouth or rent a bicycle and cycle there.

(5) Porto: Fancy some port wine? The city of Porto is just a train ride away. Check out my blog on Porto here!

Tips:

1) Getting to/from airport: The more cost efficient way is to take the aerobus. There’s also metro available though the aerobus is more hassle-free. Again if you have 4 people, you may want to take the taxi which is around 15 euros.

2) Given that this is a hilly city, it also provides many nice viewpoints for you to snap wonderful photos. Some nice viewpoints include the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, Miradouro de Santa Catarina, the roof tops of the Alfama district.

3) If you can not navigate around the hilly city, there are trishaws which can take you around.

Food:

1) Do try out the Portuguese egg tarts. They are delicious. Almost every shop I tried are pretty good.

2) I love the Portuguese seafood rice. Around Alfama area has some nice family run cafes. I went to the first one (can’t remember the name though) and the food is good!

3) If you ever go to Sintra, there are many nice residents in this charming town. If you like a traditional Portuguese restaurant, do head to Restaurant Curral dos Caprinos which is one of the locals favourite. This is 10 minutes away from the town center but well worth the effort to visit.