Memorable Dining Experiences in Portugal

My wife and I enjoy food experiences, and we were excited about exploring the food and restaurants of Portugal.  These are a few of the more memorable experiences we had on our first trip to the country.

Dinner at Flor de Laranja, Lisbon.  The Moors have a long history in Portugal and the Moorish influence is scattered throughout the country, from castles originally built by the Moors to the beautiful azulejos that are seen everywhere.  We were excited about a chance to eat genuine Moroccan food and were surprised at how few Moroccan restaurants were to be found in Portugal.

Fortunately, we found a good one in the Bairro Alto neighborhood of Lisbon.  This very small restaurant is tucked into a narrow street and is a one person operation.  The owner is cook and hostess all rolled into one.  The atmosphere was appropriately exotic, the service was great, and the food was phenomenal.

Flor da Laranja

A couple words of warning, though.  Reservations are a must.  The owner only seats one or two groups at a time and will not allow anyone else into the dining room.  Also, because of personal attention the owner pays to her guests and the fact that she also cooks the food, do not expect to run in, slam down your food,  and then run out.   We found this to be true pretty much everywhere in Portugal.  The Portuguese love their food and take the time to enjoy the experience.  I suggest you do the same.

Dinner at Ze Manel dos Ossos, Coimbra.  This restaurant came highly recommended in several of the travel guides I’d read.  It’s a tiny little place located on a narrow alley near Hotel Astoria.  We arrived in a drizzling rain and had to wait outside in the alley with other hopeful diners until tables were available.  It was worth the wait.

The inside is tiny, with just a handful of tables and the walls are covered with notes and odds and ends left from past visitors.  Interesting place.  One word of warning, though; it’s cash only.  On the bright side, the bill was very reasonable, so you won’t break the bank to dine here.

The food was fabulous, what I would describe as country cooking.  We had braised goat, soup, and homemade red wine served in a stoneware jug.  There was so much food that we couldn’t finish it all.  And, as the waiter pointed out, we had ordered a half serving!

Breakfast at Cafe Guarany, Porto.  This place is an elegant old restaurant located on Avenida dos Aliados, right in the heart of Porto.  Established in 1933, this old cafe was once a favorite hangout of intellectuals and businessmen.  Named after an indigenous Brazilian tribe, the restaurant celebrates this with a beautiful painting by Porto artist Graça Morais  called “The Lords of Amazonia.”

Cafe Guarany

The food was great, as was the service.  It’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve had ice cream for breakfast.  If you want to experience one of Porto’s iconic cafes, this would be a great place to go.  We were so impressed that we stopped back later in our Porto visit for coffee and dessert.

Francesinhas in Porto.  Porto is famous for a sandwich called the “Little Frenchie.”  It’s anything but little, though.  We’d read so much about it in the guide books that we had to try it, and we weren’t disappointed.

The francesinha is a sandwich filled with a variety of meats including ham and sausage, and covered with melted cheese and a wonderful beer sauce.  It’s usually served with fries, and ours were.

Francesinha

It was a wonderful, delicious, messy delight.  We sat outside a cafe near the beautiful monument to Dom Pedro IV, in .  It’s a lot of food, though, so be prepared to either stuff yourself of leave your plate unfinished.

Dinner at Maria do Mar, Nazaré.  It was raining the night we wandered into Maria do Mar.  It’s a great little place that was full of locals, which is a good sign when you’re looking for good food.  It’s also a favorite hangout of the surfers who come to Nazaré for the giant waves at North Beach.  Maria proudly displays a trophy given to her by a young Brazilian surfer a couple years ago.

It was karaoke night, and several of the staff took their turns singing fado favorites for the locals.  It was a fun place and service was great.

We shared a big pot of seafood stew and a bottle of wine.  The food was excellent and Maria was a very attentive host.  It was a great way to spend a rainy night at the beach.

These are just a few of the memorable dining experiences we had in Portugal.  We had many other great food experiences, and I’m sure on our next visit we’ll find more to enjoy.

Porto, Portugal

I love the look and feel of Porto.  The bright colors of the buildings seem to reflect perfectly the vibrant feel of this city.  It may, in fact, be very old, but Porto seems to have a young feel to it.  It helps that it was a beautiful day when we ventured across the Dom Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Porto 1

Guimarães Castle

Guimarães was one of my favorite stops on our visit to Portugal.  We spent most of the day visiting Guimarães Castle and its neighbor, Braganza Palace.  The castle is one of the most important places in the country, known as the “Birthplace of Portugal” because it was here that Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, was born in 1106.

The castle was not the first fortification on this spot.  In the tenth century, Momadona Dias, one of the most powerful women in Portugal’s long history, had a castle built on the hill to protect the nearby monastery that she had founded.

Henry of Burgundy, the first Count of the County of Portugal, had the original castle demolished and a new castle built on its spot.  It’s near here where the young Afonso, during the Battle of São Mamede, defeated the forces led by his mother in 1128 and declared himself Prince of Portugal.  In 1139 Afonso was declared King of Portugal and, in 1143, the neighboring nations recognized his sovereignty.

It doesn’t take long to explore the castle, but it’s worth the time.  In addition to the walls and towers, the central keep houses an interesting little museum outlining the history of Guimarães and Afonso. You also get plenty of great views of the surrounding area, including Braganza Palace.

Guimaraes Castle

São Bento Railway Station, Porto

The São Bento Railway Station is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. While the azulejos in the São Bento Railway Station are the stars of the show, I love the floor to ceiling windows on the front face of the building.  The yellow tinted glass ties in nicely with the multicolored azulejos that top the walls and adds a warmth to the interior while the windows provide plenty of light to help display the wonderful blue tiles on the walls.

Sao Bento Windows

São Francisco Catacombs, Porto

Porto’s São Francisco Church is best known for its ornate interior, which is virtually covered with gold.  Below the church, though, is a interesting part of Porto’s history.

Cemeteries are a relatively new way of handling the dead.  The original method, according to one of the docents at the church, was to simply throw the body in the river.  This went on for many years.  Obviously, it’s a great way to spread disease among the surviving community.

Eventually the churches discovered that the wealthier members of the community would pay to be interred under the watchful eye of the church. This is where the catacombs comes in.

There are three distinct sections of the catacombs.  The first, where the wealthiest are interred, are the private tombs.  Each tomb displays the the name of the individual lying inside.  This section, to me, was made especially creepy by the stylized skulls at the top of each row of tombs.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 2

A step down from the personal tombs was to be interred in the floor, where each wood section was a tomb.  It took a few minutes for us to realize that we could potentially be walking on the dead, but a docent came to the rescue and said there were no longer bodies in the floor, so we no longer had to worry about where we stepped.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 4

According to the docent, the floor tombs were basically rented by the family, and after a period of time the body was removed to make room for the next paying occupant. So what happened to the occupant whose lease was up?  Around the corner, towards the back of the catacombs, lies the answer.

Sao Francisco Catacombs 5

Located in the floor is a glass and grate covered opening, a window if you will.  If you look through the window you’ll see the prior occupants of the floor tombs as well as those who could not afford private interment.  I’ve seen ossuaries before, most notably the one at the Verdun battlefield in France, but it’s still a bit of a shock to see.

While the gold covered main chapel at São Francisco is the undisputed highlight of a visit to the church, the catacombs and museum are well worth a look.  Just watch where you step.

Nazaré, Portugal

There are two beaches in Nazaré, Portugal separated only by a promontory jutting into the Altantic Ocean.  The two beaches, Praia da Nazaré and Praia do Norte, could not be more different. The two photos show just how different the two beaches are. Both photos were taken, on the same visit, from the road leading to the fortress located on the promontory.

The first photo shows Praia da Nazaré, the popular beach resort. The beach is wide with a gentle surf. Like most beach resorts, Nazaré’s beach is fronted by hotels, restaurants, shops of all kinds.  It’s a fun little town, especially during the off season when the beach is empty. It’s beautiful, is it not?

Nazare from Sitio

Turn 180 degrees from where this photo was taken and you see Praia do Norte. This beach, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, looks wild.  There are no buildings lining North Beach; instead, the beach is dotted with rocks and caves and the trees grow right up to the beach.

Praia Norte

There’s a reason the beach is missing the hotels and restaurants that populate the other beach. Waves up to one hundred feet high are common here, and man-made structures wouldn’t stand a chance against these giant walls of water. Local fishermen avoided the area because of the huge waves and several people have been swept to their deaths while walking on the beach.

That doesn’t stop the surfers, though. Each Winter, Praia do Norte is host to the Nazaré Challenge, a stop on the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour. In 2011, Garrett McNamara set the world record by surfing a 78-foot wave and in 2017 Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa broke the record when he surfed an 80-foot wave.

Nazaré is a great little town and has plenty to offer visitors.  My suggestion, though, is unless you like to live life on the edge of a surfboard, stick to Praia da Nazaré  or watch the world class surfing from the fortress.

 

City Hall, Lisbon

This beautiful structure, located on , is the Lisbon City Hall.  The City Hall has a troubled past.  The original City Hall, built after the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755, was razed by a fire in 1863.   That building’s replacement, which you see here, was seriously damaged by a fire in 1993.  After the fire, the current City Hall underwent major restoration to repair the damage caused by the fire and to bring this building, which has gone through several modifications since it’s construction, closer to the original plan.

There are three things of interest here.  First, I’m a big fan of Portuguese pavement and the pavement in City Square is especially beautiful.  Second, the monument in front of the City Hall is topped by an armillary sphere which I knew nothing about until last week.  If you didn’t see that post, an armillary sphere is a spherical framework of rings representing longitude and latitude and was used by Portuguese navigators during the Age of Discovery.  Finally, the four round windows above the second floor are called oculi, which were a common feature of Neoclassical architecture.

Lisbon City Hall

Mumadona Dias, Guimarães

In honor of International Women’s Day, I present Momadona Dias, who ruled the county of Portugal first jointly with her husband then, after his death, on her own.  She was the most powerful woman in northwest Iberian Peninsula during the 19th century.

During her reign, she founded the Mosteiro of São Mamede in Vimaranes.  To protect the monastery from Viking raids, she had the Castle of Guimarães built.  Vimaranes eventually became Guimarães and the castle became, a century and a half later, the birthplace of the Kingdom of Portugal.

In the statue pictured below, Mumadona Dias holds a cross in her right hand and what appears to be the Castle of Guimarães in her left.  I love how Portugal honors their heroes- men and women- with beautiful works of art that are not displayed in museums but in public where everyone can enjoy the art and remember their history.

Mumadona- Guimaraes

Tower of the University of Coimbra

The Tower of the University of Coimbra is one of the most photographed structures in Coimbra, and with good reason.  The tower, built in the 18th century to replace the old tower, is stunningly beautiful.

The tower’s bells and clocks regulate life at the University.  Ringing a quarter hour behind the town’s clock so as not to confuse students and citizens alike, the tower’s bells signal the start and end of classes and is also used to toll for the death of a teacher and to call the academic community to official acts performed in the Great Hall.

The top of the tower has a platform that was used as an observatory.  You can climb the 180 steps to the top  of the tower.  We chose to forego the climb to allow more time to explore the palace.  Maybe on our next visit we’ll make the climb.

Goat Tower

Two Churches, Viana do Castelo

As I’ve said before, churches in Portugal are like Starbucks in America;  there seems to be one on every corner and, in some cases, more than one on the corner.  These two beautiful little churches, across from the Viana do Castelo railway station, share the same parking area.

The church on the left is the Convent and Church of the 3rd Order of Saint Francis and was built in the 18th century.  The church on the right is the Convent and Church of Saint Anthony, also built during the 18th century.  Both are built in the Manueline style unique to Portugal.  I love the similarities in the two churches, even as both strive to be unique.

I love the facade of the Church of Saint Anthony because of the figures in the niches and the offset bell tower.  I also like the slightly rougher stonework.  It shows that the church is a few decades older than its neighbor. The Church of Saint Francis is slightly younger, with a cleaner facade.  Both churches, though, are really beautiful.

Viana do Castelo is a beautiful little city.

Two Churches