12 days in April - May, 2005

We spent 12 days in Portugal starting on April 25. We spent all of our time in the northern 2 thirds of the country. The main attraction in the southern part is the Algarve, which is mainly sun-drenched coast and plenty of sun. Since we live on the Mediterranean and have plenty of sun, this area didn't interest us. Overall, we enjoyed this trip very much - the people are great, the fish is great, and the prices are still the lowest in western Europe.


Our itinerary is listed below:

3 nights Lisbon
2 nights Obidos
2 nights Viana do Castello
2 nights Porto
1 night Marvao
2 night Setubal
Before I describe the trip in detail, here are a few observations about traveling in Portugal:
The People:

The people are super. They are always ready and eager to help. In the larger towns, most of them speak passable English and a large portion of the rest understand Spanish, or other languages. In the smallest towns, bring a dictionary. We found restauranteurs with English-Portuguese dictionaries at hand in order to try to understand us or explain something to us.

The food:

This is a country for fish lovers. There's plenty of seafood as well (surprisingly on the pricy side) , but the fish in Portugal was the freshest and tastiest of any we have eaten anywhere. They know how to prepare the fish, and it's always fresh from the sea. Many of the restaurants feature a grill outside the restaurant right on the sidewalk and of course you can pick your fish from the display case. Only once did I ask if the fish was fresh. The chef poked the fish, which jumped a little, and he said;    "Fresh...???  Look at it! It's still alive!!"  We also found out that we enjoyed the simplest restaurants more than the expensive ones. We ate at a lot of really great small restaurants and I've tried to remember all the names.

The "cover":

Almost without exception, every restaurant, big and small, cheap or expensive, big city or village, charges a "cover". Generally this means bread and butter, sometimes with the addition of olives or some other minor item. This "cover" will appear on the bill and is mandatory. Depending on the restaurant the "cover" will cost somewhere between one and 3 Euros per person.  In many restaurants, the waiter will bring more items like these, perhaps a platter of cheese or salami, or an octopus salad. If you do not refuse these items before you start eating, they will appear on the bill whether you eat them or not. It's perfectly acceptable to reject these items, although some waiters seemed rather disappointed. 

The driving:

I've read that Portugal has the highest death rate on the highway in western Europe. I can't dispute that. The drivers on the highway are very aggressive, and tailgate as a rule. They also signal for a change of lanes after they've already started.  In contrast to their driving on the highway, in town they are very courteous. They will stop before a crosswalk even if you are only waiting on the sidewalk. In the countryside, there are two distinct types of roads - the "autostrada" - modern toll roads, which are quite expensive, and secondary roads which are clogged with local traffic. Very few roads between these two classes.

Tourist information:

Information for tourists is plentiful and convenient. Almost every city has a clearly marked tourist office in the center of town with lots of signs pointing to it. Also, they keep rather liberal hours, and if they take a break in the afternoon, it's only for an hour or two. Just follow the signs for "Tourismo". 

The ride from the airport to central Lisbon:

The Lisbon airport is very close to the city center. It's only about a 15-20 minute ride under normal circumstances. We took advantage of a service at the airport called "taxi voucher". We prepaid for the taxi ride to our hotel at a service counter right in the arrivals hall dedicated to this purpose.  The girl who took care of us at the counter took us with our receipt to the taxi driver and that was that. He took us straight to our hotel -  no add-ons, no tip, no argument, no language problems, no muss, no fuss. We paid 17 Euro for us and our suitcases.  We paid more than the standard because we arrived on a national holiday - April 25, independence day. The normal fare is around 12 or 13 Euro. I highly recommend using this service.

Here's a description of the highpoints of our visit.  Click on the thumbnails to see the full size picture.

Lisbon is a fun city to tour.  It's the smallest capital city in western Europe and it's quite easy to get around. We bought a transportation pass for 3 days and that was a wonderful solution. We bought it at a place behind the "Elevador de Gloria" in the Baixa area. The price was 3.10 Euro per day per person and this entitled us to travel on any bus, tram, or subway in the city, as well as the "elevators" which take you from down to up. Some information on the web says you can get such a pass for either 1 or 6 days only, but this is not accurate. We bought exactly the number of days we wanted and paid for it by credit card. 

The main places to visit in central Lisbon are the Baixa, the lower downtown area which is laid out as a matrix and which can be walked from end to end in 20 minutes, the Alfama, the old Moorish part of town located on a steep hill, and the Alto Barrio, the upper old city which has many restaurants, night clubs and fado bars. One of the places not to miss is the Saint George Castle in Alfama. To the right is a picture of of the view of Lisbon from the castle ramparts.  Click on it to see the full version.
Away from the center of town are several areas worth visiting. One is Belem located a few kilometers from the city center, which has many attractions and many monuments, including one of the most famous of Lisbon's monuments, "The Monument of Discovery". Belem can be reached via tram number 28, or several different bus lines.  Another area which shouldn't be missed is the Parque das Nacoes area which was built for the Expo in 1998. This ultra-modern area includes a beautiful shopping center, restaurants, a municipal auditorium, a cable car running the length of the area along the river, and the beautiful Vasco de Gama Bridge. The easiest way to get there is the underground to the "Oriente" stop.

Regarding fado, the Barrio Alto is full of bars and night clubs featuring this distinctly Portuguese soul music. Most of the places charge 20 or more Euros for a mediocre meal and a fado performance (very often mediocre as well) which is strictly aimed at the tourists. If you can find a real fado bar where locals go, let me know.  We didn't want to eat a "fado" meal, so we wandered around until we found a bar with a 10 Euro cover and a fado performance. The 10 Euros covered 2 beers and we were entertained by a faded fado singer and his 3 accompanying guitarists. The place was nearly empty as it was the slowest night of the week (Tuesday) and he sat down and chatted with us primarily to desperately try to sell us a CD.   

Some useful links

Discover Portugal
A site developed by someone who really loves Portugal. Just don't forget to come back!

The Lisbon city bus site

Virtual Portugal
A great general information site about visiting Portugal

Official government site

Portugal Travel Guide

List of Portugal links

Manor Houses

We stayed at the Hotel Mundial, located very near the Rossio Plaza, one of the centers of activities in old Lisbon. The hotel is a legitimate 4 star property, and the location is absolutely perfect. We had a room with a wonderful view. The only drawback is that the hotel is very popular with tour groups.  We made our reservation through "Hotels-Direct" which is an excellent hotel reservation service. Their price was a few Euros less than the hotel site price and after the reservation confirmation, all contact was directly with the hotel. Best of all, there was no prepayment.

To the right is a view of the Rossio plaza from the "Gloria Elevator", which takes you from street level in the Baixa quarter to the level of the upper old city. You can't go anywhere from this elevator - all you can do is enjoy the view. Using it costs like using a bus. The Rossio plaza is the most central location for visiting Lisbon. The Hotel Mundial is located just off the right edge of this picture and is about a 1 minute walk from the plaza.

Here are the restaurants in Lisbon where we ate and which merit a mention.
The first place we ate at was the "Capitao Gancho" in Alcantara, which is a small area located at the foot of the "25th of July" bridge. This area has been renovated and today features many restaurants and night clubs. We had our first meal in Lisbon here and it was a nice meal, but don't take this as a recommendation for this restaurant, as I think all the restaurants in Alcantara are probably pretty much the level.
We also ate at the "Pap' Acorda" in the Alto Barrio. This restaurant is an upscale restaurant serving what they describe as traditional Portuguese dishes with a modern treatment. Acorda (pronounced asorda) is a traditional Portuguese stew filled with meat and bread. Many of the local dishes include lots of bread. The restaurant was excellent and we enjoyed the meal here which cost 72 Euros for 2 including a half bottle of wine. Reservations recommended here.
The most intimate place we ate at was a quiet little bar, also located in the Alto Barrio called "Pedro Quinto". This was a very small, cozy place serving a local clientele who appreciated the food and the atmosphere. The meal was very good and reasonably priced.

The Estoril Coast  

To the west of Lisbon is the Estoril Coast. The two main towns here are Estoril and Cascais. Sintra is also in the same area and any of the three can be visited by train from Lisbon for a nice day trip. What I mean is that Sintra would be a nice day trip, or Cascais and Estoril would be a nice day trip. The train ride to Estoril or Cascais is about 35 minutes and originates at the "Cais De Sodre" train station, and Sintra is a little longer and more involved because there is a problem at its' station of origin, the Rossio station, because of repair works at station. To the left is a picture of the beautiful Cascais seashore.

We did a day trip by train to Cascais during our stay in Lisbon. Cascais is a wonderful town for strolling and shopping, and is noted for the "Boca do Inferno" which is a spot along the shore where the sea hurtles against the rocks, but only when the weather permits. We were there on a beautiful calm day and the Boca was serene and peaceful. The town has nice shopping. The other town is Estoril which is famous for having one of the largest casinos in Europe. It's about 5 minutes from Cascais, but we didn't visit. We enjoyed our time in Cascais too much, and in any case, we are not casino lovers. We just watched the town as we passed by on the train. In Cascais, we ate at a very nice fish and seafood restaurant, O Pescador. The food was great and the decor is worth the visit, as the restaurant is filled with sea and nautical paraphernalia.


Sintra is one of the places in Portugal not to be missed. There are many attractions here. It's a beautiful place up in the hills and it has wonderful views in all directions. From some vantage points, you can see Lisbon.  We visited the National Palace which is located right in the center of town, the Pena Palace which is up above the town, and the Capuchin Convent. We didn't enjoy the National palace because of the hordes of people which made the visit very slow and unpleasant. It is a beautiful palace, but far more impressive was the Pena Palace located a few minutes ride above the town. There were less people here, and there was a lot more to see. It's also a magnificent palace that looks like it belongs in Disneyworld. Check it out on the left.

The other spot we visited in Sintra was the Capuchin Monastery. This is a monastery in a beautiful forest a few minutes from Sintra which had been inhabited by 7-8 monks for several hundred years, until it was abandoned during the last century. It is a very interesting visit, and the price of admission includes a guided tour. Alisa and I got a private tour conducted in English by one of the site guides. On the left is a picture of Alisa in the monastery kitchen.  


Obidos was once a strategic seaport, but is now high and dry and 10 KM inland.  The town is completely surrounded by the castle walls, and is a pleasant place to stroll about. We stayed here for 2 nights as it was a convenient stop after visiting Sintra, and for the following day when we would visit several towns within an hour's drive of the town - Acobaca, Batalha, Nazare, and Fatima. We slept in a nice inn called the Estalagem do Conventos for 2 nights.  The very attractive Inn is located just outside the city walls, and the service was super. Our only complaint was that the bathroom of the room we got (111) is very poorly designed, and very inconvenient for the user. I won't go into detail, but I did check several other rooms and none had the same problems. So, either request any room other than 111, or ask for room 111 to find out what "inconvenient" really means.

In Obidos we ate at the best restaurant of the entire trip. It's called the "Casa das Senhoras Rainhas" and it is an Inn as well as a restaurant.  The chef's name is Luis Prates, and his creations were very original and very delicious. Cod is very popular in Portugal, but this is the only restaurant where I ate it and really enjoyed it. I had a triple layered cod creation, with potato and other things between layers of cod under a crust of fine herbs. Even the names of the dishes were real creations - "royal cushions" (steamed crustaceans in a creamy wine sauce wrapped in philo, and garnished with seaweed), "wild tiger" (deep sea prawns dipped in a sage butter sided by wild rice and fried padrons). You'll find a picture of these delectable dishes in the restaurant section. To the right is a picture of me with our favorite Portuguese waitress, Candida.
We ate at another restaurant in Obidos. We had a nice meal here, but it wasn't in the same league as the Rainhas. It was called "A Ilustre Casa de Ramiro".


Nazare is a coastal town which was once a "quaint" fishing village. Today, It's hardly quaint. The main part of town is an attractive, albeit very typical seaside resort. When you get to town, you may think that the main attraction is the town on the beach. Not so. The main attraction is up on the cliff's edge above town. This upper part of town is known as Sitiu and is a far more interesting part of Nazare. It includes the remnants of an ancient fishing village, and has a great view of the town below.  To the left is a picture of the town's womenfolk in their traditional garb, selling nuts, seeds, and candy.

And to the right is the restaurant where we ate lunch in Sitiu. The restaurant's name is "A Tasca". The picture shows Miguel, the owner grilling our fish, his daughter accompanying him with her recorder, and a woman from the neighborhood no doubt giving him advice on how to grill the fish. The bill for this meal for 2 of us was 12.90 Euro. Sorry, no web site.

Alcobaca & Batalha


These 2 towns are about 20 minutes drive one from the other, and both have similar characteristics. Both have one major attraction, in Alcobaca is the "Mosteiro de Alcobaca", and in Batalha is the church monastery "Santa Maria da Vitoria". Both have long interesting stories about why they were built. (One was built due to a kingly vow, and the other due to a military victory.) We visited both towns, but only visited inside the monastery's church in Alcobaca. It's very impressive and was well worth the visit. Alcobaca also has the National Wine Museum, which we didn't visit. If you have plenty of time, visit both of these towns. If not, one will do.      

The Fatima Network

The Fatima Apparitions

A Site about Fatima

Fatima is a place you want to visit. It's one of the holiest Catholic shrines in Europe and was built on the site where 3 young shepherds reported seeing the Virgin Mary in 1917. There followed disputes and controversy until 1930 when the apparitions were declared worthy of belief by the regional Bishop, and thus began the "Cult of Fatima". Since then, it has become a mecca for millions of pilgrims who come to Fatima to pray, primarily for healing of their ailments. They've built a beautiful basilica, several  chapels and a huge plaza. At the far end there is heavy construction going on, but I couldn't figure out what they are building. The town  itself is very clean and pleasant. To the left are a few  links if you want to find out more about Fatima. 


Bucaco was probably the most beautiful place we visited during this trip. It is a forest built by the Order of the Barefoot Carmelites in the early 17th century (1630).  It was selected so that they could be isolated and far from the secular world. They built a wall around the forest with only one gate (in the direction of Coimbra) and filled the forest with exotic plants and trees. They built for themselves simple "hermitages" where each one lived in solitude.  In 1810, there was a big battle in the area, and in 1834 all monastaries and convents were confiscated by the government. The monastery was abandoned, but the forest carried on. In the beginning of the 20th century, an opulent "hunting lodge" was built for the royal family, but was never used. Today it operates as a very opulent  5 star hotel.

The forest is open to all, free, and absolutely beautiful. It has picnic tables and is well worth a visit if you are looking for a tranquil spot to relax or have a picnic.  On the way in, stop off in Luso, the nearest town. The town has a thermal bath, and at the local tourist office, they have a map and information about the forest. Or, if you have the budget for it, stay at the Bucaco Palace Hotel. To the right is a picture showing the central gardens and the hotel in the background.

The Minho  


The Minho (pronounced my-o) province is the area north and northeast of Porto and is the most beautiful area of Portugal. It includes mountains, beautiful coastlines and wide forests, as well as several of the most beautiful cities in the country. We stayed in Viana do Castello for 2 nights, drove along the northern border with Spain, and throughout most of the province. Here's a summary of the towns we visited.

Braga is about an hour northeast of Porto and we were very impressed by the beauty of this town. It should be visited and could provide a good base for visiting the area if you don't want to use Porto. Its center is really lovely and it has several beautiful public gardens. We were here on a Sunday afternoon when the whole town was out strolling about.

Located 30 minutes from Braga. This is a town with a lot of history as it was Portugal's first capital. It's also a very attractive city to stroll about.


Another beautiful town to the north of Braga. It has a beautiful center and a long graceful bridge part of which was built by the Romans. The main square by the old bridge has a central fountain and is ringed by little cafes. We were there on a Sunday afternoon and the whole town was out strolling about. Here is where we ran into the first of 3 celebrations of "students' week",  when Portuguese university students are awarded their diplomas. See the full description below.

This town is located not far from Ponte de Lima and is also famous for its bridge. The area around the river and its bridge is one of the most beautiful spots we visited. Here's a picture to the left. The Romans called this spot the "River of Oblivion", because its blissful beauty was said to make travelers forget their home.



This is one of many fortified towns along the border with Spain. It is surrounded by the perfectly preserved castle walls, and when we were there (Sunday) they had a gigantic market going on.

Moncao is another fortified border settlement, although much smaller than Valenca. It was a pleasant stop with a beautiful view of the river. I mention it mainly because here we ate one of our more memorable lunches. We found a strictly local restaurant. We ordered a dish for 2 - arroz de marisco, rice with seafood. The owner of the restaurant was pleased with our selection and brought to our table a large pot filled with this popular dish. We asked if it was just for us and she laughed. She left the entire pot on the table. To the upper left you can see this delicious dish. As for identifying the restaurant, the bill was a scrap of paper, and of course the bill was paid in cash, so, I have no idea what the name of the restaurant is. Instead, I've supplied a picture (on the left) of me at the entrance. It is located just off the center of Moncao. If you get to the center of Moncao walk along the river to the east about 50 meters, and the restaurant will be down some stairs on the right hand side of the road.

We spent 2 nights in Viana. It's a nice town with a few things to see and it provided a good base for visiting the Minho. It's a port town with plenty of restaurants and a pleasant town to stroll about. On the other hand, in retrospect, after having visited the other towns in the area, I might have picked a different town as a base. I think Braga would have been nice.
We stayed at a hotel called the Margarida de Praca, which is billed as a four star hotel, but I think that depends on which room you get. The hotel is located right in the center of town, and it has unlimited parking - right across the street is a vast free public parking area. The staff was very helpful, and when we complained about the shower in the room we were given, they did their best. They couldn't move us right away, but the next day they moved us to a different room, and we felt like we had moved to another hotel. The room was nicer and the bathroom, including shower was super. We also got a river view. This hotel may not have really been 4 stars, but it was definitely worth the 50 Euro per night we paid. 
We ate at one nice restaurant in Viano - "Os 3 Potes" (the three pots). It was nice, although nothing to write home about. It's located right in the center of town.
From Viana, we took the nicest drive of the trip which covered most of the towns mentioned above. Up the coast to Caminha, Valenca do Minho, Moncao, Arcos de Valdevez, Ponte de Lima and back to Viana.



Oporto is Portugal's second largest city and the capital of the northern part of the country. It is most famous for being the center of port wine production. We enjoyed our visit to Oporto. We spent 2 nights at the Porto Ipenema  Hotel, which was the best hotel of the trip. We reserved our room through "Holiday City", a reservation site similar to the site I described above (Hotels Direct). Again, the reservation was made directly with the hotel, and no prepayment was required.  More about the hotel below in the "Best of..." section. The city itself has many interesting attractions, but the port wine is in the town across the river called "Villa Porto de Gaia".  Here the biggest port houses are located, where they sell their wines, and most offer tours of the winery, which generally includes a rudimentary tasting. Most are free, but not all. We decided to go to one that charged admission, on the theory that you get what you pay for. We toured Sandeman, where the tour cost 3 Euro and was very professionally done. The tasting was nothing special, and we saved our purchases for elsewhere. To the left is a picture of our tour guide explaining to us what we were tasting.

Now, if you really want to learn about and taste port wine, you must go to the "Port Wine Institute". In Portuguese it's called the "Solar do Vinho do Porto". This institute includes several sitting areas (on couches) and an area outside in the garden. The atmosphere is that of an upperclass gentlemen's social club rather than a place to drink port. The menu includes about 200 types of port, which is sold by the glass or bottle, and just a couple of items to eat. The staff is a generally 2 waiters who know their port and will gladly advise you what to taste. The prices are surprisingly reasonable, with the port starting at about 1 Euro per glass and reaching 20 or 30 per glass for the more exotic vintages. I am convinced that the Institute had the most reasonable prices for port by the bottle anywhere in Portugal, and of course they have a very wide selection. There is a similar institute in Lisbon, but we didn't try that one. The one in Porto we visited twice. It is a very relaxing place and the view of the river below is very nice. It was very convenient for an after dinner drink, and it was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. To the above right is a picture of the approach to the entrance of the Institute. Inside you can see what I called the "tasting couches". To the left of the building you can see the terrace.


One of the places to visit in Porto is the Ribiera, an area right on the river next to the Ponte (bridge) Dom Luis I to Villa Nova de Gaia, where there is a wide selection of fish restaurants as well as bars serving port. We ate our cheapest meal at a very  simple restaurant here. The beer cost more than the food. In any case, the restaurants in this area are nothing special as far as I could tell.  The bridge is named after Dom Luis I, and is covered with scaffolding while it is going through extensive renovations. The noise from the bridge work is deafening, as it is in many parts of Porto. The city is full of construction projects, including an underground metro system. Above and to the right is a picture of the Port wine boats which used to bring the new wine from the countryside to Villa Nova for aging in the wineries. In the background is the Dom Luis I bridge. 
To the left is a picture of another place not to be missed - the Estacio Sao Bento, the main train station.  The inside walls are completely covered with painted tiles (azulejos) depicting all kinds of scenes including the history of Portuguese transportation.

Marvao and Castello de Vide

From Oporto, we took the longest drive of the trip, over 300 Km on the way to the central area of Portugal known as the Alentejo. Our destination was 2 small towns in the mountains overlooking the approaches to Spain. The two towns are Castello de Vide, and Marvao. Both were the mountaintop jewels we had expected. Castello has an incredible castle with what is advertised as a medieval village and people still living inside, and the views are magnificent. It also has a "Jewish Quarter" which includes a synagogue from the 15th century. The synagogue is of course just a museum, as today there are no Jews left in the Jewish Quarter.
Marvao is also extraordinary, and we found many beautiful places to sit and relax. We stayed at a beautiful hotel called the Albergaria El-Rei Dom Manuel, which is described in detail below. To the right are a couple of pictures - the one above is a picture of what Alisa called the "ladies' parliament of Castello de Vide", and the lower is one of the nicer pictures of this trip showing the Marvao castle and city museum.     


On the way to Castello de Vide and Marvao, we stopped off to visit Tomar. Tomar is another fascinating old town which boasts the oldest synagogue in Portugal. We visited it, but it was closed. Ate here at another Mom & Pop restaurant right on the main square of the old town, and even here, the fish was excellent. As far as I could tell the restaurant had no name.



Evora is the largest city in the Alenteja province and it has many fine attractions. It is another one of the many walled cities of Portugal with perfectly preserved walls and a very friendly and attractive old city. The center of the old city is the Praca de Giraldo. To the left is a picture of one side of the Giraldo Plaza. In Roman times this square served as the forum, and today it is still the center of things. All the most interesting attractions are within a 10-15 minute walk from here. There is the cathedral, the temple Romano, the Posada dos Loios, the shopping street of "the 5th of October", many attractive churches and museums and the city gardens. The gate nearest the city gardens also has a huge and very convenient parking lot which I recommend using if you come by car. This particular gate has no name, but it is at the lower end of the "Rua de Republica". From here it's about a 10-15 minute walk to the Praca de Giraldo. This gate is also the location of an outdoor market which wasn't open on the day we visited.

We had our morning coffee at the Cafe Arcada in the Praca de Giraldo. This cafe has been a city landmark for many years. The place is worth a visit even if you don't need coffee. It's both a restaurant and a pastry shop, and has huge murals on the walls showing the big bands who played here during the 40's. To the left is a picture of one corner of the cafe. The full size picture makes you feel like the band is still playing there.  Also, if you look at the picture above, you can see tables of the cafe on the street.

As I mentioned above, there are many amazing churches here in Evora. Regarding 2 which we visited, one was the biggest ripoff of the trip and one was the biggest bargain. There is a church connected to the Posada dos Loios. The church is covered inside with ceramic tiles, and through a hatch in the floor, a chamber  filled with the bones of hundreds of monks can be viewed. The church is beautiful, but this 3 minute visit is definitely not worth the 3 euro admission price. About a 5 minute walk from there is another church - the Igreza de Misericordia (church of mercy). No bones, but it is also completely covered inside with beautiful tiles, and is free to tour or to pray.
In Evora we ate at a very good restaurant, and strictly for the locals. It's located just off the Giraldo plaza, and It's called "A Choupana". There was nothing extraordinary about the food. It was just tasty, authentic, local, and we could see that local businesspeople were waiting in line to get in. It even has a website! (part of Evora.net)


Setubal (pronounced Shtubal) is the largest city on the Setubal peninsula south of Lisbon. We stayed here for 2 nights at the "Estalagem do Sado", a lovely 4 star hotel located on the high ground in Setubal with a lovely view of the town and bay below. In Setubal, we ate at the "Riberinha do Sado" restaurant, one of our favorites and one of the the best of the local restaurants we ate at in Portugal. We really enjoyed this restaurant. We chatted with Andre, the son of the owners and the chief fish griller. He studied engineering for 2 or 3 years, so his English was excellent. He's currently debating between the restaurant life and going back to his studies.  The fish was absolutely delicious and they offered an amazing array of desserts prepared by momma. The fish here wasn't cheap as we ordered the "expensive fish" which are priced by weight - 35-40 Euro per kilo. Our meal cost about 45 Euro, but that was for the two of us, including desert, and beer, and an exciting soccer game on the wall mounted TV. The restaurant is located right on the main street, "Avenue Luisa Todi" number 586.

The Setubal peninsula has many attractions and is worth a day's drive to tour it. We visited Azeitao, which is famous for its soft white goat cheese and which also has many wineries. The specialty wine in the area is the Muscatel. We're not big fans of muscatel, but what we tasted at the "Jose Maria da Fonseca" winery was excellent and we bought a bottle to take home. This winery is located right in the center of town. We also drove through the Arrabide forest which is a very scenic forested mountain range and a national park. At the western end of the peninsula is Sesimbra, a beach town where it was almost impossible to find a parking space. We ate here at Rodizio restaurant. To the right, you can see the entrance to the restaurant, where you can pick your fish, and where the chef grills the fish to perfection. By the way, "Rodizio" means buffet, and this restaurant offered all the fish and salad you can eat for 12 Euro. This doesn't include all the types of fish on the display, but we certainly enjoyed what we ate.
The last place we visited in the Arrabide area was Portinho de Arrabide, a tiny little town which is an incredibly beautiful spot to just sit and relax and watch the sea.


Here are the highlights of this trip:

The best hotel:  

The best hotel overall was the Porto Ipanema Hotel in Porto. This is a 4 star hotel with 5 star amenities and service. We were pleased with everything about the place. It is located in a very nice part of town, about a 20 minute walk from downtown, but has many bus lines running right in front of it.  A 2 minute walk from the hotel brings you to a shopping center, many stores and one of the city's biggest produce markets.

The best meal:  

No doubt here - the best meal we had was at the Casa das Senhoras Rainhas in the unlikely town of Obidos. Obidos doesn't seem like a town for gourmet restaurants and that made this restaurant a doubly big surprise. The new chef's name is Luis Prates and his dishes are extremely original and tasty. The names are also very original. I had the "seafood cushions", a very interesting dish. To the right is a picture of the two meals we had. I had the layered cod and Alisa had a delicious a dish with giant shrimp (called tigre). This was the only restaurant where we ate cod which we enjoyed.

The most disappointing meal:  

No doubt here either. We ate at the best restaurant in Porto - The Portucale. It has a great view of the city (on top of a 20 story building), provided excellent service, and charged very high prices for traditional Portuguese dishes. One of the Portuguese members of the Fodor's forum, said that enjoying eating at the Portucale is an "acquired taste".  Quite so. It just didn't do anything for us.

The prettiest hotel:  

That would be the Albergaria El-Rei Dom Manuel in Marvao. This is a small hotel (31 rooms) within the city walls. We have never stayed in a small hotel so lovingly and expertly decorated. The central motif is forest green with highlights of orange and red. Everything follows this motif and the overall effect is wonderful. This color scheme is followed on doors, the hotel literature, the hard candies which were abundantly supplied, the hotel stationary, and even the air conditioning vents.  The bedspread was coordinated with the window curtains. The overall effect was very beautiful. The place was also spotlessly clean, and we thoroughly enjoyed the one night we stayed there.

The most impressive castle:  
There were several very impressive castles - the St. George in Lisbon, the Pena Palace in Sintra, but the most impressive visit overall was the one in Palmela. This was one of the few with literature and explanations of everything in several languages, including English, rooms with archeological digs, several on site stores with artist's work, and absolutely great views of the entire area in every direction.

The most relaxing spot to relax:

There are several worth mentioning and the choice is difficult. There was the cafe garden in Marvao, the riverside cafe in Setubal , or the spot next to the bridge in Arcos de Valdavez (click here for another look), but our favorite was on the very last day of the trip - Portinho de Arabbide, on the beach within the Aribbeda forest on the Setubal peninsula. The view is in the picture to the right. We are sitting at the near end of the gangway sipping cold drinks.

The biggest surprise:

The biggest surprise for me was the beauty of the small towns in the north. I am referring specifically to Ponte de Lima, Arcos de Valdavez, and Braga.  These towns were absolutely beautiful and should not be missed. In one of the sections above is a picture of the "river of oblivion" in Arcos de Valdavez. To the right is a picture of one of the beautiful public gardens in braga.

The most unexpected activity we took part in:

We had no idea that the first week of may is "Students Week" in Portugal. All over the country, each University conducts a ceremony in the local town center to award its graduating seniors their diplomas. What's interesting about the ceremonies is their colorful nature. The students wear black cloaks covered with emblems. They wear high hats, ribbons, and carry a walking stick in the color corresponding to their particular faculty. The colors are really bright yellow, orange, blue or other strong colors. We ran into the ceremony in Ponte de Lima, Oporto and Setubal.  In Oporto, it was the biggest and for several hours the center of town was literally shut down. On the left is a picture of a lovely student in her ceremonial colors and to the right is the procession in Oporto.  

What we were sorry to have missed:

In the far north of the country is the Parque de Nacional da Peneda-Geres. It's supposed to be a very beautiful area. With the other places we visited, there just wasn't enough time to get there.
The place which we really would have liked to visit was the Douro Valley, as well as Amarante and Villa Real. The pastoral Douro valley is famous as the source of the grapes for port wine. Amarante and Villa Real are two of the more interesting towns in the area. Maybe next time.


This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

 LAST UPDATED: March 9, 2010