In August 2018, ten family members, four adults and six kids, dashed off to Portugal for an all-encompassing exploration of this truly beautiful country. For some reason, Portugal was never on the top of my Wanderlist, but now, after spending ten (10) glorious days there, it is a destination I would return to over and over again and I highly recommend it for my clients.
Sharing the details of these memorable trips, is also part of the fun, my sister-in-law Sarah compiled perfect memories of our family vacation, which you will find below. So, after reading about our trip and when you are ready to become a fan of Portugal as well, let me know, I will create a fabulous Portuguese experience just for you!
Day 1 – Porto
After arrival in the late afternoon, we relaxed, walked around this charming town, took a boat ride on the Douro river and had an amazing dinner at La Ricotta restaurant. A tasty glass of port ended a delicious meal!
Day 2 – Porto
Our day started with a visit to Café Majestic and Lello Bookshop, the one that inspired the author J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series (she was married briefly to a Portuguese man and lived in Porto while working on the manuscript for the first book in the series). The elaborate staircase is the model for the moving stairs at the Hogwarts school – so ornate and beyond cool! The kids had a blast exploring this magical Bookshop.
We then met Sandra, our Portuguese tour guide, who was filled with energy and knowledge, and led us through a fast-paced walking tour around Porto, including a visit to Porto Train Station with its beautiful painted tiles, we walked all around town, crossing beautiful bridges, visited the Igreja dos Carmelitas, and ended with a visit to a Port wine purveyor on the banks of the Douro river.
Tonight, we had an amazing dinner at the beautiful restaurant eLeBe, where we tasted all sorts of Portuguese cuisine, including octopus, swordfish, steak and much more!
Day 3: Aveiro, Costa Nova & Evora
After breakfast, we drove to Aveiro, the “Venice of Portugal” for a stroll around the cobble-stoned streets looking at the houses with tile-lined facades and canals filled with moliceiro boats, their high bows brightly painted with images. We had lunch on the beach in Costa Nova, just down the road from Aveiro, with its colorful candy-striped houses.
Then we drove to Evora and checked into our next hotel, the 5 starred M’ar de Ar Aqueduto. And what a hotel it is! A beautiful, modern hotel set in an old monastery right in the medieval, UNESCO Heritage site of Evora. We all rushed to put on our bathing suits so we could enjoy a sunset swim in the courtyard swimming pool overlooking the famous aqueduct walls. What a fun swim!
Then, we all met and took taxis to Tabua & Barro Do Naldo, a dining establishment offering wonderful, exotic tasting menu at. The waiter had a BIG personality and sent people away when they arrived late – hence us needing to take a taxi even though the restaurant was only a 15-minute walk from our hotel! The place was like a Spanish tapas bar and the meal was very interesting, everyone’s favorite was the dessert.
Day 4: Evora & Algarve
We had a lovely buffet breakfast, sitting outside in the courtyard by the pool, overlooking the ancient walls of the aqueduct. We then walked all around the old, walled city of Evora, with its cobble-stoned streets and adorable little shops. First, we visited the fortress-like medieval Se Cathedral, climbing the tower for great views of the beautiful Evora town and the countryside.
Then we strolled past the Diana Roman ruins, the temple of Diana, with only 14 columns remaining, they are the best-preserved Roman ruins in Portugal – the temple is so well preserved because it was covered and used as a fortress and then a slaughterhouse in the Middle Ages. Our day in Evora ended by visiting the very renowned “Chapel of Bones”, a Chapel completely decorated with bones and sculls, including inscriptions reminding visitors that: “We bones that are here await yours.” And other poetry and reminders to pay attention to death as it awaits all of us. Back to our beautiful hotel for a very quick dip in the pool, then check out and head south to the Algarve for our three nights in Lagos, on the beach.
We arrived at the Belmar Hotel & Spa in the early evening and tested out all the five indoor and outdoor pools. Then we dashed out for another wonderful dinner at the Adega da Marina restaurant, located on the Avenida dos Descobrimentos, overlooking the river. This dining establishment serves a variety of very fresh fish to large groups and families seated around long tables – with flags from European soccer clubs hanging from the ceiling. No reservations and a long line to get in, but definitely worth the wait!
As most Europeans, our nights just kept getting later, with us arriving from dinner back to the hotel just before or even after midnight. In fact, when we ate at Adega da Marina, a large family with a baby ARRIVED at 11:30 pm and placed the baby in a baby seat at the head of the table! Joi de Vivre!
Day 5: Lagos, Algarve
Today, we spent the day at the Beach Meia Praia (Half Beach) across the river from center of town, we rented lounge chairs with shade, swam for hours in the ocean, walked & read on the beach. We all had a very scenic lunch at Berlim Restaurant on the beach in the sand dunes just behind where we were sitting – we had just barely enough cash to pay the bill since we didn’t know they did not take credit cards! We scraped together all our coins and managed to pay the bill! We then had dinner at Portofino’s Italian Restaurant, on a terrace overlooking Lagos marina.
Day 6: Lagos, Algarve
Today we had one of the best kayak trips ever, a Sea Kayaking Tour of Lagos Grottos. Some of the grottos were so small that we had to bend all the way backward so that we were lying on the kayak – in order to prevent us from hitting our heads on the rocks. “Kayak limbo” was the way our kayak guide described it! After visiting the grottos, we swam at a beach only accessed from water. Our final dinner in Lagos was at the Restaurant/Bar Mar, a lovely restaurant set on cliffs overlooking sea and town of Lagos.
Day 7: Lagos, Sagres & Lisbon
This morning before breakfast, we took a spectacular walk above the grottos and cliffs – the views were incredibly beautiful. We had our final swim in the Belmar hotel pools before driving to Sagres, the furthest southwestern point in continental Europe. In Sagres, we visited the lighthouse, we walked on cliffs, took photos and had some snacks.
Then we drove to Lisbon and arrived in the early evening with sun setting over “Golden Gate” Bridge and Christ Statue modeled after the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We arrived at the Porto Bay Marques Hotel in lovely neighborhood near Avenida de Liberdade in Lisbon –and we swam in a TINY square roof tower pool! The view from the roof with the setting sun was lovely! We walked down the Avenida de Liberdade (like Champs Elysees in Paris) to the Tagus River and then along river to Time Out Market for dinner, tasting food from best restaurants in Lisbon: Steak, pasta, pizza, Asian. It was packed and very busy and a fun experience since this is the FIRST Time Out Market in the world and others are arriving the cities including Boston shortly!
Day 8: Sintra & Cascais Tour by minibus with Adriana & driver
We had a full day tour with our guide Adriana & minibus/driver to Sintra & Cascais. We visited the Pena Palace (summer palace of the kings, colorful, mix of styles); the Town of Sintra with its narrow streets winding up and down the hill; The Regalade de Queluz Castle & Gardens, including the tunnels and mazes. We had our final formal dinner at the Restaurant Solar dos Nunes on the Rua dos Lusiadas, 70, Alcantara, Lisbon, a delicious & atmospheric Michelin 1-star restaurant.
Day 9: Lisbon Self-Guided Tour
We purchased 24 hour passes to Lisbon public transportation/metro system: a good idea suggested by Adriana but it did not work out so well because the lines to the old-fashioned trams that we wanted to take were huge, forcing us to walk and take big modern trams and buses – and to walk more – and we never managed to get a ride on the beautiful, scenic, old-fashioned tram cars.
Taking taxis to the areas we wanted to visit would have made more sense! On the other hand, it did give us a new perspective to visit Lisbon by public transport and to role model for our children how to do that (as we hope they will be traveling around Europe on their own before too long!). We took the Underground Metro to Liberdade near the river. Then we walked up the hills to and around Alfama, the Old City, visiting the Lisbon Cathedral, the St. Vincent Church, and various viewpoints over Lisbon. We had lunch at a delicious Italian Restaurant in Alfama area. We then took the Tram to Belem Area, where we visited the Old Part of Coach/Carriage Museum, where the coaches were incredibly elaborate! Next, we visited the world class Belem Monastery with the very ornate Cloisters and church. We took a bus back to our hotel and had dinner just a short walk from the hotel at the Santa Marta Restaurant.
Day 10: Departure Day
A glorious experience way beyond our expectations! Portugal is a must-see country!