I am on tour with my Taste Travel friends and we begin in Lisbon. It is a good start to the tour with our charming guide. Guides in Portugal study for many years and with its murky past you need to swot in order to recall so much detail – the skull-duggery and adventures of its leaders, scholars and the many cataclysmic events like civil war, earthquakes and Tsunamis that have shaped this country.
A basic introduction to the city had us driving around in a comfortable Mercedes Benz mini bus with air conditioning which we need here at the moment, and our guide insists on us being buckled up and that is unusual as you don’t always get a seat belt option on bus travel.
We drove up to a couple of Lisbon’s many hills for panoramic views and our driver squeezed the minibus into the narrow streets many times sharing the road with traditional wooden trams that travel down the centre of the steep inclines. My advice is if you don’t join me on a tour here in the future then take the number 28 tram if you cannot face the climb on a hot day. Of course being with my small travel group we were royally escorted up the hill in our minibus.
The Saint George castle is a must, it is on the highest hill and we spent over an hour walking its ramparts and admiring the views within, and to the city and River Tagus below. This was the residence of the Portuguese kings and after Manual I built a palace downtown, the castle was pressed into use as a theatre, prison and arsenale.
There is a restaurant within the castle here but our guide tells us to avoid wasting our money here. But I can imagine it works well for functions particularly if you get to use the terrace outside in summer evenings. Wandering about freely was a peacock and we saw its female counterparts sitting on either side of a windowsill near a cafe.
The area of Belem has this extraordinary Monastery and for those weary of church inspections in Europe I can guarantee you will not be bored by Monastery dos Jeronimos. Vaulted arcades in pale stone are carved with various designs that range from exotic animals to flowers and navigational instruments, the latter being a regular theme through Portugal due to its formidable maritime past. There are entry fees to the castle and the monastery but our guide has that covered, so for one of the rare times I am relieved of having to attend to buying tickets.
At the end of our afternoon tour we were taken to the famous Belem patisserie that specialises in the Pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tartlets). The tarts are made all day and we were lucky to arrive in time for a warm batch. You can get these tarts all over the world but to be able to have the best you cannot go past this institution. I thought the way of packing them for takeout was ingenious. They cup the tarts – face two together and scoop them up in a long hexagonal shaped carton, no hands have to touch the tarts. This photo shows how they are laid on the tray ready to be scooped!
Our dinner tonight is at one of Olivier da Costa’s restaurants and I read in a Platinum magazine that I received back in Australia that he is one of Portugal’s most well known chef’s, and lucky for us it is in the beautiful hotel we are staying in. According to our driver who brought us to the hotel from the airport ‘Oliviers Avenida’ is so popular that the car park is full every night with luxury cars. So glad we booked from Australia. We were all very impressed with our meals but a peculiar addition to the table were bowls of potato crisps. Freshly made of course, you could tell by the texture and taste. We are so used to them being a dare I say it ‘juvenile snack food’ that the appearance of them in a swanky restaurant was a jolt to the senses.
Neverthless the crisps were rather nice I must admit but we did not need to fill any gaps with them as all the meals were served in generous proportions. When I enquired of a strange dish of scrambled eggs that the waiter was delivering in a frying pan to diners nearby, he actually saved a little and served a small portion on a plate for me to taste. That is service. And they were a cut above the standard scrambled eggs. I often go for a northern hemisphere sea fish when travelling and was not disappointed by my choice of sea bass.
We are off to Sintra this morning and a cooking class in the afternoon so I hope I get time for another post tomorrow morning. Roz MacAllan and company!