Every year during summer my boyfriend and I plan a vacation. We go somewhere neither of us have been before, but somewhere we both have a lot of interest in. As our summer 2016 plans are coming into shape I simply could not help but reminisce over our previous excursions. Last year we went to Lisbon for our annual adventurous escape. Mission ‘Kath and Kerry on tour’ was beautifully executed in 9 amazing and fun-filled days in September 2015. Using Airbnb we found the perfect place in Baixa to call home while exploring Lisbon and some other nearby places of interest. Here are some of the highlights of our trip!
We spent our first day in Lisbon getting a feel for the city. We developed the perfect pattern of walking, stopping for a drink, consulting our map and then walking again. Exploring by foot is in my opinion the best way to really see a city and to feel like you are part of the action. However, I must warn you Lisbon is known for its hilly topography and I am pretty sure I left fitter than when I arrived. The highlight for me that day was walking through the streets of Alfama. Alfama refers to the oldest district in Lisbon. It is made up of narrow winding streets and small courtyards that lead you down (rather steeply) towards the coast. It is decorated by little balconies, potted plants and colourful laundry. Alfama was simply beautiful, but as we walked I noticed its unusual calm. This tranquil maze of narrow streets offered a stark but very welcomed contrast to the hustle and bustle we had experienced around Castelo de Sao Jorge earlier in the day. We found our way to a square along Largo Chafariz where we decided to sit and have lunch at a lovely little taberna called Ti’Camila. While we ate our late lunch, consisting of soft and succulent marinated salmon loin and roasted lamb tournedo with roast potatoes, we were serenaded by a very talented group called Guents dy Rincon playing Cabo Verde music. We visited Alfama quite a few more times to eat and to listen to traditional fado music.
2. Time Out Mercado da Ribeira
We had just gone on a wild goose chase in search of a market along the river when we decided to call it a day. I was feeling rather defeated and getting a bit “hangry”when my boyfriend suggested that we make our way to this Time Out market we had heard so much about. After grabbing a quick coffee and a snack we set off in search of our new destination. As we approached the place where our map said the market was, we got a bit worried as it looked quite quiet. On entering all I saw were fresh fruit and veg stalls packing up and my heart sank. However, my spirits were lifted once more as my boyfriend lead me into the neighbouring section of the building which was bustling with excited faces looking for a seat so they could start on their glorious plates of food. The range of gastronomic delights was immense! I saw everything from mounds of sushi to platters of charcuterie and cheese. I think I would have been really overwhelmed if I had not come for something rather specific: traditional Portuguese fish stew. Upon finding a stall that served this dish Kerry and I ordered, sat down and quickly tucked into our bowl of fish stew and rice. The fish was so soft and just fell apart as I nudged it with my spoon. The sauce was a light but well-seasoned tomato sauce that really added a deliciously tangy base to the dish. I was a bit nervous at first seeing the rice cooked in it because I was anticipating what my mum likes to refer to as ‘stodgy rice,’ but these fears were quickly dismissed and the plump but firm grains were a well received surprise. Since my first encounter with this stew it has made frequent appearances in my weekly menu.
One afternoon, while relaxing on the couch and chatting with our Airbnb host Ana, we asked her about things to do outside of the city as we were staying very close to two train stations. She immediately recommended Sintra. Sintra is a town in the Lisbon region, known for its mountainous terrain and its UNESCO World Heritage sites. I must admit I knew nothing about this town before visiting it, but as we climbed those hills Sintra both literally and figuratively took my breath away! This was by far my favourite day out. We visited the Castelo dos Mouros (a 9th century Moorish castle sitting a startlingly 412 metres above sea level) and the Palacio Nacional da Pena (a ridiculously colourful Romanticist palace on top of the Sintra Mountains that has the most incredible view I have ever seen in person.) If you are visiting Lisbon, Sintra is a must see! Make a day of it and take your time hiking up those hills. You can catch a train from Lisbon’s Roissio station to Sintra and from there you can take the bus or start walking.
4. La Taberna da Rua das Flores
I have shared with you my favourite day out, now I will show you my favourite meal! Our host had nothing but praise for the fabulously rustic and petite establishment that is La Taberna da Rua das Flores, so we simply had to go. We were warned that this little restaurant, serving delicious tapas dishes, often had an enormous queue, so we opted for an early dinner, arriving just before 6pm. Our waitress was lovely and explained all the dishes to us as they were in Portuguese. We ordered about five plates to share between the two of us. While all five were amazing in their own rite, two of the dishes really stood out for me. The first was a Thai-inspired carbonara served with squid ribbons and topped with an egg yolk. I was not entirely confident about this dish, but our waitress assured us that it was excellent and after my first bite I swear I could not stop talking about it for the rest of the meal. The perfectly cooked squid resembled fettuccine and was bathed in a creamy, slightly sweet coconut sauce that was perfectly contrasted by the saltiness of the crispy bacon bits.The second dish that wowed my taste buds was a mouthwatering mackerel tartare served on a seaweed salad and garnished with crispy brown shrimp. Honestly, these two dishes were perfect examples of true culinary talent. They were bold, unapologetic and unlike anything I had tasted before. I would go back to Lisbon just for a seat at La Taberna da Rua das Flores.
Cascais is a beach town 30km from Lisbon, consisting of several bays which are lined with beautiful beach houses and hotels. It is also the perfect place for a few paddle boarding lessons! Paddle boarding is something both my boyfriend and I are really excited about. We have had a little experience with it but some proper lessons were in order. Surf n Paddle Portugal is a fantastic paddle boarding school with really friendly and helpful staff. Nick Evans was our instructor and had us up on our feet and paddling around in no time at all. While Kerry took to it immediately, striding out in front, I saw nothing wrong with falling a few times and familiarizing myself with the slightly cold (freezing!) water. Cascais is only a 46 minute train ride from the Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon. If you have a day to spare, go and explore the various bays, rent a board or take a lesson. It is very worth it!
6. Sailing with Nigel
For our last full day in Lisbon my boyfriend organised a romantic boat trip along the river. He booked a tour including food and drinks with a company called ‘Sailing with Nigel.’ We got to the marina and there the yacht was waiting for our arrival. We climbed aboard and began the perfect last day in Lisbon. Both Nigel and David were amazing hosts, handing out beers, telling jokes and giving us tit bits of information as we sailed along. The sites from the river were spectacular! After a satisfying lunch of yummy fish pie and salad we continued on our journey. I even got a chance to take the wheel! As we arrived back to the Marina both Kerry and I agreed it was the perfect end to our Lisbon adventure.
Do you have any travel plans this summer??