Seven Days in Portugal
Day One - Porto
We arrived at Porto airport on the 28th March, a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, where Cameron and I reunited with his parents after a long seven months. It was emotional to say the very least and wonderful to see their smiling faces waiting for us at arrivals.
The four of us, very eager and excited to catch up, took a hire car to an apartment called Casas Do Porto, the accommodation we were staying in over the next three nights. The room was gorgeous, very homely and central to everything in Porto (well done for your amazing travel agent skills Heather), and the kind concierge gave us a very detailed rundown of the must-dos, must-eats, must-sees of Porto which we found extremely helpful. She also gave us her phone number and we communicated via WhatsApp whenever we needed advice or wanted to request a restaurant booking. What a lovely lady she was!
We were extremely hungry after the flight so we quickly took on the quest to find the perfect spot for our very first tastes of Portuguese cuisine. We had a late lunch at a sweet tapas restaurant named Jimão tapas e vinhos, one of the restaurants the concierge had recommended (can confirm Portuguese cuisine does not disappoint!). My favourite dish here was the melão com chouriço, which translates to melon with chorizo - who would have thought such a wonderful combination could be such a hit?
Despite the sudden rainfall that afternoon, we didn't let it stop us from exploring this gorgeous city. The coloured buildings of Porto were a raw example of how the streets would have looked hundreds of years ago - perfectly picturesque. Everywhere I looked I was charmed by stunning blue and white patterned azulejo tile-work that felt oh so very 'Euro'. I tried (and failed) to bargain with store owners for four umbrellas. But in the end, we made the well-worth full price investment of €4 per umbrella. We continued to wander along the waterfront with a fabulous view of the famous Dom Luís bridge before returning back to our apartment.
That evening we tried to get a table at the popular restaurant Adega São Nicolau, but sadly they were full so we landed at RIB - Beef & Wine, a seemingly posh restaurant which did not disappoint. We shared a tender steak accompanied by delicious side dishes and wine. It was the perfect end to the first day of our holiday.
Day Two - Porto
We were eager to visit the Majestic Café, renowned for where JK Rowling spent her afternoons writing the famous Harry Potter books. Thankfully, the queue wasn't too long and the staff were especially friendly and chatty. Once inside, it was completely breathtaking with its grand architecture, high structured ceiling and shabby interior. We sipped on hot tea as we appreciated its every remarkable detail. I ordered a scrumptious seafood salad which set me off on a seafood obsession for the rest of the holiday.
We then visited the gorgeous Bolhao Market where I purchased delicious fresh fruits and sweet Portuguese keep-sake tea towels for my loved ones back at home. It was a truly authentic and refreshing experience to see the locals socialising, drinking wine and beer and laughing in the market's old cafés. We wandered the contemporary graffitied streets of Porto some more and I purchased a stunning white long dress for a bargain price - it would have been rude not to.
Cameron and I enjoyed a drink at an authentic Portuguese street bar before meeting his parents at Adega São Nicolau for dinner, which this time we had pre-booked to avoid disappointment. I ordered a scrumptious dish of sea bass 'without the head please'. When served, the waiter extracted the fish bones in one go like 'magic', as he called it. It wasn't magic, but it certainly was fresh and delicious. #SorryNotSorryFishy. Cameron and I then settled in at a quaint wine bar called Prova, situated opposite to our apartment, where we sipped on sweet red wines and listened to a live Portuguese Jazz band. It was relaxation at it's finest.
Day Three - Porto
Whilst tucking into a bowl of porridge we were startled by a gigantic bang and shudder, something not dissimilar to the blow of an earthquake or a bomb, which I greatly feared. Still in our PJs, the four of us as well as the rest of the locals on our street gathered on our balconies to seek out the cause of all the commotion. An apartment block just two doors down from us (attached to our building) had collapsed - seriously. The roof, which had been under construction, had completely caved in. The local bakery store owners from three floors below called the emergency services and soon enough the road was closed off to all oncoming traffic with the weighty barrier of two bread bins. We never did find out if anyone was injured, but we sprinted through all construction sheltered paths holding our heads thereafter.
Later that morning, we headed down to the docks where we booked combined tickets for a boat ride along the river and a trip on the gondolas. We had 20 minutes to kill until the boat was scheduled to leave so we a grabbed a cup of coffee in the Ribeira square. We arrived back at the docks with 10 minutes to spare only to see the boat sailing away without us on board. Great. After a huff and a puff, they put us on the next scheduled boat. We put on a brave smile as the heavens opened up above us and we took cover in the small gift store where we had previously bought the umbrellas (which we had ironically left back at the apartment). When the time came for us to finally board the boat, the sun reappeared enabling us to photograph some gorgeous images of the river, Porto's stunning buildings and the Dom Luís bridge. The short, wet wait had been completely worth it.
Ee had lunch at a restaurant in the Ribeira square where Cameron took on the battle of the 'francesinhav', a famous Portuguese dish originating from Porto involving a sandwich filled with three layers of meat including cured ham, steak and sausage, then covered in melted cheese, a thick tomato and beer sauce and often an egg. Basically a heart attack on a plate but seriously YUM.
After yet another Portuguese custard tart, we headed for 'the worlds most beautiful bookshop', the Livraria Lello Porto. Unfortunately, it was heavily raining by the time we got there and the queue was extremely long so we appreciated the store from the outside, got our holiday snaps and left. Once the weather had calmed a little, we took a walk over the Dom Luís bridge where we were greeted with absolutely spectacular views of Porto. Despite nearly being knocked off by the heavy winds, the smile didn't leave our faces the entire time. It was a true highlight of our stay in Porto and an absolute must-do. Once we had reached the other side of the bridge we caught the gondolas down to the main street where we tried our very first glass of port. In fact, we indulged in a mini wine tasting experience with five different types of port to try between the four of us.
Feeling rather sleepy from the port, we decided to head back over to 'our side of the bridge' where we dined at Jimão tapas e vinhos again. This time I ordered their delicious shrimp dish and Cameron tried octopus which I had a nibble of. Much to my surprise it was the most amazing thing to have ever touched my lips!
Day 4 - Óbidos & Lisbon
Moving on from Porto, we set off in a hire car for Lisbon, but not before a quick pitstop at the stunning town of Óbidos. We had been warned about the town's reputation for pickpockets so we were a little nervous about leaving the car with our valuables. But after much debate we decided to brave it - and thankfully we did. The main narrow cobblestone street had me in awe with lengths of tall pure white buildings and brightly blooming flowers. Some of the houses had been transformed into cutesy cafes, restaurants, mini markets and boutiques selling the daintiest clothing and jewels. Every corner turned was a new photo opportunity. It was a sunny day and we enjoyed lunch in one of the many little local restaurants where we devoured typical fresh Portuguese foods. If you are ever lucky enough to pass this area, it's well worth a visit.
We arrived in Lisbon a few hours later to the perfect two bedroom apartment at Chiado Trindade Apartments. I'm talking Sex and The City apartment 'goals' right in the centre of the city - amazing! The staff at the accommodation were very friendly and gave us a rundown of what to do in the area. It was still bright and sunny so Cameron and I headed out for a jog along the river to stretch our legs and grasp our bearings. It was a charming city, to say the very least, and with it being the long Easter weekend tourists flooded the compact the streets with excitement.
That night we had dinner at Cervejaria Trindade where we had a true authentic Portuguese experience. The restaurant was based in a cosy, yet very grand, historic monastery. I ate the best king prawns I'd ever tasted (my new found love of seafood). It was a tiring yet perfect day and we all slept well that night.
Day 5 - Lisbon
I don't know if it was because it was Easter Sunday, April Fools Day, or that we were tired from travelling the day before, but we had woken up a little late this particular morning so we didn't venture out from our apartment until 11 am. To make the most of the morning we had lost, we put on our best tourist boots and headed for a busy afternoon of exploring - maps out and all.
With each corner I turned in Lisbon, I was filled with a sense of complete wonderment. Over and over again, just when I thought we couldn't be more overwhelmed, I was. It wasn't just the dilapidated ancient buildings, the brightly coloured detailed tiles on the walls, or the old Portuguese residents hanging out their washing over the perfectly unkempt cobbled narrow streets, Lisbon gave me a feeling that no other European city had; a sense that every street, every bench, every crumbling wall had a million stories to tell.
As we continued to stroll the history-rich pavements, we took in every detail of the vibrant culture Lisbon had to offer; the small cafes, sweet bakeries, street musicians, paint artists and markets stalls selling cork made shoes, bags and caps. I found myself by the water's edge watching it glisten in the Spring sunshine and soaking up its warmth against my skin. It was perfect.
After lunch, Cameron and I journeyed by foot to the other side of Lisbon, past the main shopping street towards the Castelo de Sao Jorge - a castle that dates back to medieval times. The hilltop walk was a very scenic one to venture up and although we didn't go into the actual castle grounds we got some amazing views from its surrounding streets. After taking one too many photos, we walked back down via an alternative route where we were stopped by a group of Asian tourists to take 'selfies' with them.
We finished the afternoon off by the waterfront in a swanky outside bar called Quiosque Ribeira das Naus with an awesome DJ, front row lounger seats facing the sea and a litre jug of sangria.
That night we dined at the fabulous establishment Bairro Do Avillez - one building, multiple gourmet menus. Due to availability, we opted for the restaurant Cantina Peruana that offered an authentic, mouthwatering Peruvian cuisine. We ordered multiple tapas style dishes including chicken, tuna, octopus, prawns and other flavoursome delicacies. It was argueably the most enjoyable meal of the entire trip (perhaps the next trip is Peru?).
Day 6 - Lisbon
After breakfast, we took a bus back to the Castelo de Sao Jorge area where we explored more of the local shops and markets. You can usually catch the number 28 tram, however due to road works it was not running (probably another collapsed building). On our return we visited Rua Augusta, Lisbon's main shopping street. We entered what we thought was a sardine shop where they were offering samples on bread. We were all feeling rather ravenous by this point, but on presentation the shop worker muttered the word eel - "Eel?!" I shrieked. She then communicated what I thought was a reassurance that it wasn't eel, "no no, much much smaller than eel." We all sampled the so-called smaller-than-eel food with puzzled looks on our faces. Of course, it was in fact eel. I wasn't so hungry after that.
Despite the eel-ordeal, we went on to a lovely lunch before walking to Alfama, Lisbon's oldest district. The restaurant we dined at was called Maruto, a petite bar and bistro where we ate delicious cheese boards, meats, sardines on bread (actually sardines this time) and fresh salads. A word of caution: you need to stir in at least a kilo of sugar to their house-made lemonade to avoid your face screwing up with each extremely sour sip. But seriously guys, the food here is absolutely devine!
We shimmied through the ultra narrow streets of Alfama rather quickly. It was worth seeing but we didn't need long there and all the construction work made me nervous after experiencing the collapsed building in Porto.
We took a cab to the God of all Portuguese custard tart cafes, the famous Pasteis de Belém. We found the gigantic cafeteria-looking joint to be a little underwhelming, but the custard tarts themselves were not (shall we get two, or three more?). We were also impressed by the amount of tarts they were pumping out at any one time. There must have been at least 20 bakers back there.
We carried on past the breathtaking Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome where tourists swarm like moths to a flame) and on to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, another grand monument on the waterfront. It was stunning in itself, but there was a live band playing melodious music in the square which produced a most dreamy atmosphere. We caught an Uber back to the hotel who ended up taking us the long route, but he did stop traffic mid-road when he felt a photo opportunity arise for us keen tourists, so we decided not to give him one star after all.
That night we dined at an Italian restaurant before Cameron and I retuned to Bairro Do Avillez's 'Pisco Bar', where we sipped pricy (but totally worth it) Peruvian cocktails and dabbled with the idea of ordering more food from their other menus.
Day 7 - final day in Lisbon
The most magical, a perhaps my most favourite, day of the trip was when we journeyed to the town of Sintra to visit the extraordinary Palacio Nacional de Sintra - the National Palace of Sintra. And my gosh was it a palace!
The photos say it all, but I truly felt like I had landed in a Walt Disney movie and I was a princess waltzing around the brightly coloured castle exploring its majestic exterior. Its pointed arches, ancient grounds and architectural brilliance overwhelmed me. My phone died very quickly from camera over-use and I quickly filled up Cameron's camera roll with exquisite photos too.
After strolling the palace walls both inside and out, absorbing each and every detail, we had lunch at the palace restaurant before returning back to Lisbon. I had ordered a cup of tea to-go for the journey only to find they didn't offer lids on their take-away cups. But did that stop me? No. I lasted around five minutes before the blistering hot brew had completely soaked my now burnt hands from trying to keep the liquid from spilling over a very unimpressed Cameron and poor Heather beside me. Sadly, the tea had to go.
We spent our final evening in Portugal at, of course, a Portuguese restaurant just a few doors down from our apartment (we'd had our eyes on it for the past few evenings). The restaurant was called Ofício Restaurant, said to be 'for professional fork handlers only'. I ordered their roast chicken and, well, I was almost licking the plate. Cameron and I then ventured to a stunning rooftop bar called Silk Club, which offered the most impressive panoramic views of Lisbon. Oh the finer things in life. It was the perfect end to the perfect visit to Portugal.