One week in Portugal: Lisbon and Costa de Prata
Pictured above: one of the very rare occasions during this holiday when we were able to admire the beauty of the Portuguese sun.
I had been warned about the oceanic weather, yet I decided not to give a damn - to use a French expression - hence I caught a very cute flu that kept me company for the entire duration of the trip, how nice. My sister would say to me 'look at you, you're too old for that!'.
If, however, fate had stopped at that, the holiday would have gone great. Alas, we had quite a few misfortunes during those days! I will tell you some of them during the post, just to get a few laughs out of you.
Bad lucks aside, Portugal is a country that has left me with a rather conflicting memory and, to this day, I still can't decide if it is one of the most beautiful places I have been to or if I never want to go back there again until the end of my days.
But now, let's get started.
We were in Portugal for a bit more than a week, from 27 July to 5 August. For the first two days we decided to stop and explore Lisbon, a city I had never been to before (shame on me!), and then head to the coast. I leave below a summary of the places we visited, including - of course - various restaurants and attractions. You can find the full map at the end of the article or by clicking here.
Belém, LXFactory and Barrio Alto
Sintra, Praça do Comércio and Alfama
Peniche and surroundings (Isla de Baleal, Praia de Almagrera, Praia do Pico da Antena, Islas de Berlenga)
ALL THINGS LISBON
Day 1: Belém, LXFactory and Barrio Alto
The plans for the first day were ambitious, but we did it! We started our visit from the places of interest that were furthest away from our guesthouse (I will tell you more in the article where we stayed), namely the Belém neighbourhood, which is located in the south-western part of Lisbon and connected to the centre by tram 15E. The main attractions in the area are definitely the Monastero dos Jerónimos, an expression of the typical and enchanting Portuguese Manueline style, and the very famous Torre de Belém, a visit to which is an absolute must.
We then headed towards Barrio Alto, making a stop in the middle at the LX Factory. Originally an old disused industrial area slightly outside the centre of Lisbon (Alcantara area), it has been recently converted into a very interesting area full of clubs, bars, shops and bookshops. If you are looking for something original, this is definitely the place for you. The Hostel right at the entrance of the LX Factory has a very nice rooftop bar where you can sip a cold beer or a great Gin Tonic (click here to go to the list of all the bars and restaurants we visited in the city).
Once in Barrio Alto, we took some time to take a walk around. One of the things we definitely wanted to see is the Elevador Da Bica, one of the three historic funiculars (along with La Gloria and La Lavra) that connects the Barrio Alto district with the Baixa district in a few minutes of steep ascent (or descent).
The ticket is included in the price for both Lisbon Card holders and those who simply hold a day pass. It is not worth buying it on board, as a single ascent/descent of a few minutes costs 3€.
Another sight that we definitely did not want to miss is the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, which is easily reached on foot from the Elevador Da Bica, one of the city's many miradouros from which you can admire a beautiful landscape.
Day 2: Sintra, Praça do Comércio and Alfama
Our second day was mainly dedicated to exploring Sintra (easily reached by train), a small town 30km from Lisbon with a fairy-tale, enchanted atmosphere. The main attraction is undoubtedly the Palácio Nacional da Pena (tickets here), rich in colour and imbued with different architectural styles. Sintra also has a historic centre made up of quaint little streets to explore. Among them, we found an excellent typical Portuguese restaurant specialising in cod recipes, Bacalhau na Vila.
First bad luck of the day: see the hat in the picture? Well, that was my favourite hat. It was because I lost it on the train back.
Back from Sintra, we headed to the cultural centre of Lisbon, to explore Praça do Comércio and its surroundings, also a must-do.
From there, we moved on to Alfama, Lisbon's historical quarter par excellence. Here we got lost in the narrow streets, which - to me - tasted very much like home. We sampled the famous sour cherry liqueur, Ginjinha, and arrived at the world-famous Miradouro de Santa Luzia, from where we could admire one of the most beautiful views we have ever seen, both during the day and just after sunset. Although this miradouro is one of the most touristy, and therefore one of the busiest, I really recommend going. At sunset time there are several people entertaining with music and various shows and the atmosphere is really incredible.
Second bad luck of the day: from Italy I had brought a SPF 50 face sunscreen. We decided to go in search of a SPF 30, just so, to get a bit more colour. We bought it, after an hour of thinking about which one was best. After a few hours, just right after we applied it to our face - we realised it was actually a matte-effect foundation.
🏠 Where we stayed
As a base for visiting Lisbon, we chose a hostel called Chalet D'Avila Guest House. Great location, very nice rooms, very friendly staff. The only flaw was the cleanliness of the (shared) bathroom, on which they could certainly have done better.
🍽️ Food and drink
A padaria Portuguesa (several locations) is a fairly popular chain in Lisbon, where you can have excellent breakfasts at very affordable prices.
Koa Bar (Alfama) is a very nice café and cocktail bar near Alfama. Very good cocktails but, above all, fantastic centrifuges and milkshakes. Inside there is also a shop selling handmade clothes and accessories.
Park Rooftop Bar (Barrio Alto) is a rooftop bar located above a car park (as you might have actually guessed from the name!); to access it, you have to go through a car park and take the stairs up to the fifth floor. Very nice view at sunset time - I recommend, however, to go quite early if you want to get a seat; it gets crowded very quickly!
LX Hostel Rooftop Bar is another rooftop bar, this time in the LX Market area. Very nice for an aperitif in a super relaxed environment, sipping a beer or a Gin Tonic. Slightly above average prices.
The Green Affair (Saldana) is a Vegan restaurant located in Saldana, right next to the guest house. Few dishes, well thought out and good accompanying cocktails. Slightly above average prices, but on The Fork you can sometimes find very good deals.
Loucos de Lisboa na Graca (Alfama) is a typical Portuguese restaurant, with fairly simple and good food. It has several vegetarian options and relatively low prices. Also for this, I recommend having a look on The Fork because you can usually find several discounts.
Il Bacalhau na Vila (Sintra) is, as already mentioned, an excellent restaurant specialising in cod recipes. Slightly above average prices, but definitely worth a visit.
COSTA DE PRATA
Peniche and surroundings
Before I begin this part of the story, I must introduce you to our companion of travels and misfortunes: miss Vanette, a humble burgundy van, very nice - but which has certainly seen better times. We have grown very fond of her, despite the fact that she gave us a fright when, on one of the first days, she got stuck with one wheel totally submerged in sand. In the bad luck, some Portuguese guys were kind enough to help us pull her out. It could have been a lot worse!
Picking up the story, after spending a couple of days in Lisbon, we headed to the coast, more specifically, to Peniche, originally a small fishing town that has turned into a real hotspot for surfers from all over the world. Theoretically, a very sunny place. Or so we thought. Instead, another big mischance of the holiday, we only got cloudy days and some drizzle here and there. But, really, we should have known better when we headed for the bus station convinced we would catch the 12:30 bus which, of course, was all full (another big bad luck to add to the list). At that point, the rest of the holiday was already written by fate!
Despite the weather not being the best, we still managed to enjoy everything the area had to offer. We surfed and explored some of the most beautiful beaches in the area. I even managed to get sick and maintain a wonderful cold and a very comfortable cough for the rest of the holiday. The spirit, however, was there.
Baleal is a small 'island' (actually, peninsula as it is attached to the mainland by a very small strip of land) about 4-5km away from Peniche, which - with its wonderful stretch of sand (Praia Baleal) - offers surfers excellent access to the sea. It was our base for the next few days in Portugal (click here for more info about where we stayed), where we also took advantage of a few days to do a couple of surfing lessons. Again, we could have been luckier with the weather, but it really is a wonderful place that - if you are in the area - is definitely worth a visit.
Praia de Almagreira
Another truly INCREDIBLE (guys, omg!!) place is Praia de Almagreira, a beach about 10 km north of Peniche, known for the red colour of the sand and rocks surrounding it. Definitely, among the beaches seen, my favourite.
Praia do Pico da Antena
Another really nice beach near Peniche is Praia do Pico da Antena. Quite 'difficult' to reach, as it is mainly accessible from the road leading to the Marriot hotel, so not really on the main road, it is a long stretch of golden sand that has a large cliff behind it along its entire length. As anticipated, the weather was not the best, so even the photos do not render as well as they should.
Islas de Berlenga
If there is one thing ABSOLUTELY not to be missed if you are in Peniche, it is a visit to the Berlengas Islands. About 10 kilometres from Peniche, there is a well-guarded archipelago formed by three islands, Berlenga Grande, Islas Estelas and Farilhoes-Forcadas. These three islands form the Berlengas Nature Reserve, which has also been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2011. For this reason, in order to preserve its biodiversity and ecosystem, only 300 visitors are allowed daily on the main island, Berlenga Grande, which can be reached in about 45 minutes by boat from Peniche. Ferry tickets can be purchased here, while the pass to access (and regulate the number of visitors) can be purchased here.
I don't know if this can really be considered bad luck, but the boat trip was not the best. The archipelago is very exposed to ocean currents and even those who do not usually suffer from seasickness may find themselves feeling nauseous (like me!). I therefore recommend taking anti-nausea pills/chewing gum, just in case!
By now you will have understood the common thread of this holiday: we certainly couldn't catch a good day. So here are a couple of photos of a Nazarè that looks remarkably like a Novemberish Milan.
During our stopover in Peniche, we also took the opportunity to visit Nazarè, considered to be the most picturesque coastal town in central Portugal, but famous above all for its very high waves, the so-called big waves (if you want to read more about why this town has such high waves, read here). One thing we really enjoyed, however, is visiting the upper part of the town, which can be reached via a funicular railway. From there you can admire the beautiful panorama and eat in one of the quaint little restaurants.
Another place that came highly recommended to us, and which we therefore decided to explore, is Ericeira. Also very popular with surfers, it is also fascinating thanks to its alternating cliffs and coves of very fine sandy beaches, its narrow streets and incredible ocean views. Take some time to get lost and be enchanted by its small old town, full of colourful houses and typical shops.
🏠 Where we stayed
As a base for our exploration of the Costa de Prata, we chose (or rather, we were directed 😊 - thank you Apo!) to the very nice Residencia Quelhas, a Guest House right on Baleal Island, with a terrace from which to enjoy an incredible view of the entire landscape.
🍽️ Food and drink
We tried several small restaurants and bars, but I will leave below the ones we liked best.
Kirana Cafè (Ferrel) is a coffee shop / bar specialised in healthy, vegetarian/vegan food. Their breakfasts and brunches are incredible. Great value for money!
If you are looking for unique flavours that combine refined cuisine with Portuguese tradition, this place is for you. The Taberna do Ganhão (Baleal) is a fairly small restaurant, right on the beach of Baleal Island; they do not take reservations, so try to go relatively early - while waiting, you will be able to have a drink and relax right in front of the sea.
Entre Amigos (Peniche) is a typical Portuguese restaurant, with lower prices than the Taberna do Ganhão but with equally high quality. If you are looking for a quiet place to try typical cuisine, with a very friendly staff, then this is the place.
I leave you a map of all the places we visited, including restaurants / bars, beaches and CrossFit gyms :)
All the acknowledgements here, as always (this time there are plenty!!)
Alessandro D'A. for the super useful tips on Lisbon.
Ale Giorda and Silvia, for keeping us company in Lisbon and for taking us for a wonderful aperitif on the roof of a car park <3
A huge thank you also to Apo, for welcoming us to his Peniche with open arms!
And thanks to Ale (a thousand Alessandro - oh, it goes like this!), for being - again - a fantastic travelling companion, even through a thousand misfortunes!