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Portugal trip report - longish

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Returned just about a week ago from a 12 day trip through mid to northern Portugal, with a stop in Barcelona for a few days at the end. This post will just be about the Portuguese adventures – Barcelona will be a separate report.

I’m going to concentrate on the winners (with only a brief mention of losers, and not all of them). Trip started with a smallish bang in Lisbon. First lunch, picked totally at random from the Rough Guide, was at a tiny place in Alfama called Barracao de Alfama where we had the most fantastic grilled sardines, as it turned out, of the entire trip. Washed down with the house Vinho Verde it was a perfect cure for jet lag. We also began, on our very first day, a search for the ultimate nata. I believe our first ones came from Confeitaria Nacional at the bottom end of Rossio – and the obsession was off to a great start. This led us, of course, to the Antica Confeitaria de Belem the next day – for warm, crispy ones, which fed our madness. A dinner at Bonjardim was good – oddly enough the fish (sea bream) was actually better than the chicken (but I think I'm spoiled because we have such good churrasco in Toronto). But both were delicious and cheap. Other Lisbon dinners were at Joao do Grao – I found the bacalhau with eggs really heavy and it stayed with me way too long, to be honest – and Solar dos Presuntos where I have to say my favourite thing was the presunto (but the grilled prawns were delicious too).

From Lisbon we went to Evora – a gorgeous, charming town. Had a picnic lunch at tables outside the market: cheese (omigod), tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. presunto, bread, melon. Dinner at Botequim da Mouraria which is, I suppose, what passes for a Portuguese tapas bar. And it was fantastic. We ate sardines (canned, I think, but good ones), grilled peppers, mushrooms, some kind of fish roe, eggs with asparagus, tomato salad and an unbelievably delicious Evora cheese sprinkled with oregano and olive oil and baked until melty. The owner speaks no English but sign language worked well enough. I suspect his 10 year old granddaughter did the menu translation for him because one of the items listed on it is “fried skunks with garlic” (we didn't order it). The next morning we discovered that our hotel (Albergaria do Calvario) serves the best breakfast I have ever had at a hotel anywhere – beautiful fresh fruits, cakes, cheeses, jam, eggs, pancakes and French toast (to order) and very good coffee. Dinner that night was at Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira – there is no menu. You get whatever he made. It was delicious (some kind of braised “black” pork, veggies, dessert and a truly delicious wine- Paulo Laureano DOC something-or-other). Good and fun.

From there, a long and winding journey that eventually ended in Porto. Had dinner reservations at Pedro Lemos – a restaurant that has been mentioned numerous times on this board. We had the 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings and it was beyond perfect. Highlights: an incredible dish with cod done as a croquette in the shape of a sea urchin, filled with cod cheeks and in a pennyroyal-scented broth; two of us who don’t eat meat had a delicious pear filled with goat cheese and wrapped in phyllo (not a dessert); a modern take on roast suckling pig; and a stunning dessert that included a chocolate mousse and cherry sorbet. The wines were wonderful and we fell utterly in love with a Quinta do Crasto LBV 2004 port that was served with dessert. Alas, we all had a bit much to drink and so were probably a bit overly rambunctious but I’m hoping we didn’t disturb the other diners. It was a really great meal. The next day we did a port winery crawl – with the clear winner being Calem where we got chummy enough with the guides to get all kinds of extra pours to taste.

The rest of the trip we spent partly in a manor house in the Douro Valley where the food was adequate but nothing special. Another two nights in Barcelos where we found an excellent churrasqueria the name of which I forgot to note and a night in Obidos where we were forced to observe a medieval festival.

Fantastic trip, wonderful wonderful wines. I discovered that I love the wines from Alentejo – much more than the Douro wines – and I can’t stop drinking Vinho Verde since it’s been so hot here at home. Also I love natas. Who knew? Thanks to all who made any recommendations. It was all fab.

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  1. Thank you for a wonderful detail report; lots of good good and wine.

    1. nice. literally drooling here! i have a soft spot for PT. ate so much presunto and (pastei de) nata there. the pastry selection is staggering! i don't have a sweet tooth but even ate the sweets lol. i find Obidos extremely touristy but it has to be done once (and no more).

      PT is fantastic all round. muitas saudades!

      5 Replies
      1. re: Pata_Negra

        I've been raving nonstop about the trip - to the point that I think my friends will stop talking to me altogether. Portugal is, indeed, a fabulous country and very very tourist-friendly. I knew there was good wine in Portugal, but it was better than I expected. And although I was never a port drinker before - except on the rare occasion that an English friend brings out a bottle with dessert (usually a bad sign in terms of our sobriety) - I absolutely love it now. Came home with two bottles - one great one, one pretty good one. Those bottles, along with 4 bottles of olive oil, two small jars of some kind of game pates, and about 6 jars of rosemary honey, are the reason that I had to buy a second piece of luggage to come home. The dried oregano, the Spanish saffron, the smoked paprika and the smuggled package of jamon Iberico (from Barcelona) were relatively lightweight in comparison.

        1. re: Nyleve

          Nyleve- headed to Portugal in October, so this is a great help....you mention staying in a Manor House in the Douro Valley - which one? We're planning to stay in that area for a couple of days - any 'should't miss' food or sights there? thanks, Rusty

          1. re: rburwell

            We stayed at a place called Casa das Torres de Oliviera. It's between Mesao Frio and Peso da Regua - at the edge of the Douro wine region. From there we drove to Pinhao one day and visited the Fonseca vineyard (free tour and tasting!) - there are many many port wine quintas along the way and many of them are open for tours. We chose to take dinners at the manor so that we wouldn't have to drive on the winding roads at night after drinking. The food at the manor was very much Portuguese home cooking - nothing gourmet but decent enough. There are many of these manor houses throughout the country with a range of prices so google Portugal Solares and you'll get a big listing. We usually bought bread, cheese, vegetables, ham etc. for lunches so always made a picnic of it mid-day. The cheeses are outstanding everywhere. I had no idea about this - each region has its own particular cheeses, many made from goat and sheep. We found some great stuff at the markets. Shouldn't misses? I say don't miss Porto, eat everything, and have fun. I found Portugal to be a very easy place to visit, with a much more casual vibe regarding food than other places I've been. The wines are also, in my opinion, quite underrated - we drank some delicious ones.

            If you're there in October, you may be there in time for some grape and olive harvesting! Have a great time.

            1. re: Nyleve

              The cheeses are a revelation too aren't they? The clever Lusos keep them for themselves!
              We still remember the fish roe we had, grilled outside a restaurant in Setubal a few years ago; sublimely simple and delicious.
              Thanks for your report - it's reminded me I have to visit again soon. Glad you enjoyed it so much xx

              1. re: arobmadrid

                The cheeses! Seriously. We were in love. Such deliciousness. I'm sure that the best ones don't ship out of the region, never mind the country. They were fabulous. As I said - the most wonderful ones we had in Evora, where they make small rounds of something brie-ish but not brie at all, from sheep's milk. Stunning. Just a great trip altogether.

      2. What a great report Nyleve! It made me want to get on our flight earlier. We leave for Lisbon in two weeks and have 4 days planned in Lisbon and then three nights in Evora. I cannot wait to try the places you recommend. We're staying at Albergaria too!

        Did you drive to Evora? what was the drive like and did you rent a car in Lisbon? That's the one piece of our trip I haven't finalized as I've been a bit worried about the car rental places and the drive itself.

        2 Replies
        1. re: docrck

          Oh you're going to have such a good trip. Yes, we rented a car - picked it up at the airport (since the airport is so easy to get to from the centre of Lisbon) and then it was also very easy to get to Evora. The airport is no more than 10 minutes from the Vasco da Gama bridge and the highway to Evora. A very easy drive.

          The breakfasts at Albergaria are amazing. There is a stunning array of fresh fruits, cheeses, cakes, breads, meats - you name it. They also serve several varieties of local olive oils - some of which I bought and hauled home with me. Also in Evora, there's a nice municipal market where you can buy some really wonderful cheese and presunto, as well as fruits and vegs. Beside the market and down some steps there's a rather modern shop that sells all sorts of Portuguese products - foods and wines - a good place to browse for nice stuff to bring home. I think the shop is called Divina or something like that (I seem to have misplaced their card). On Saturdays the market is bigger, with sellers outside as well.

          Have fun and say hi to Fletch, the Albergaria dog for me.

          1. re: Nyleve

            Thanks so much for your prompt reply Nyleve. I'm a whole lot calmer reading it....despite driving in NYC, I'm always a bit concerned about driving if its my first time in a new country.

            I'm going to print out your post for the places you've listed in Evora and will post when we return.

            Thanks so much again!

        2. This is a fantastic roundup, thank you! I just added Pedro Lemas to my MUST-Do list in Lisbon. I leave in 2 weeks for a 2 week trip starting in Porto, heading to Lisbon via train and ending in Albufeira. I will be visiting Evora, but on a organized tour, so not sure if I will be able to dine there.

          If you have any other suggestions, let me know.

          Thanks!

          2 Replies
          1. re: bombdarby

            Pedro Lemos is in Porto, not Lisbon. Reservations are probably wise. We loved all of Portugal and I'd go back to explore more of it in a heartbeat. Enjoy your trip.

            1. re: Nyleve

              Thanks, I mistyped and do have it on my Porto list. I just made a reservation on their website (in Portuguese). Hope I did it right!