Tag Archives: Portugal

Evora, Monsaraz — Portugal!

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Hanging in the Chapel of Bones

So glad we decided to come to this charming medieval walled in city, Evora. Narrow cobbled stone streets lined with white stucco homes outline in mustard yellow and sometimes pale blue, red-tiled roofs, blue and white tiles, wrought iron balconies. All eventually leading into the wide open main square with its elegant facades and fountain and last night a huge local orchestra playing a concert that started at 9:45 pm on a Sunday.

The 2,000 year old roman temple is on the highest group, flanked by the Gothic cathedral and a stunning Pousada (state-run posh hotels here). The University was also astonishing, with its classrooms lining a large courtyard, each room with blue and white tiles, some themed to match the courses taught in them. We also visited the Chapel of Bones, god knows how many monks skulls and femurs cover the walls and even line the buttresses. The skeletons apparently have been temporarily removed, which was fine with me. Spooky enough.

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Evora at night

We had a good meal at Restaurant 1/4 to 9— black-eyed beans with tuna in a light oil and lemon sauce, then a pot of shrimp and clams in broth full of bread that the waiter mixed with zest. The result was like eating very moist stuffing with seafood. Very filling and delicious.

Today, we tried some local pastries at Cafe Arcade, shopped along rue 5 outré, (who knew you could make shoes, purses and book jackets out of cork?).

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Monsaraz

We drove to several hill towns in the Alijento region, the most spectacular is Monsaraz, a walled town high above a river valley on he border with Spain. There are about two main lanes, no cars, all stone pavement lined with loved white-washed cottages with purple and red flowers spilling over walls. When we got to the remains of the castle’s limestone ramparts we climbed some metal steps to get to the top and were astonished to suddenly be inside a bull fighting ring. No fights today but apparently they are held occasionally.

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Monsaraz view

Tonight was dinner in Evora at a five-table place (all five advance booked) called Taquinha d’ Oliviera, which lived up to the hype. We ate only one of the appetizers placed on our table (custom here is if you eat, you pay) marinated chickpeas with fish and then Dirck had pork and clams, I had lamb and potatoes. Nicely done.

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Evora ruins

We love the little hip guest house we are staying at — Evora Inn Chiado Design. The front door is a humble affair that is easy to miss in the main arcade near the main square but after walking up several flights we found reception and a few flights up ,our little room with little touches of mod well-chosen furnishings and French doors that we have opened. My view past our wrought iron balcony is of red curved tile roofs and white buildings and the cathedral set against a sunset. Hard to beat that.

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Best resources for planning our Portugal trip

Hard to believe that in my youth, I rarely planned trips and never used guidebooks. In middle-age, with limited time to travel, a slightly bigger budget and advanced pickiness, I’ve taken to booking lodging and sometimes meals in advance using an array of guidebooks and travel articles. Here’s what’s come in handy for Portugal:

Lonely Planet guide – Got this from the public library and have used primarily to find lodging and bone up on cultural activities.

Rick Steves’ guide – It’s not as detailed as the Lonely Planet guide but Rick was helpful in narrowing down where to go during a two-week period. His guide is not as encyclopedic as Lonely Planet – with info on far fewer locations and for the locations it does list, offering fewer options. I didn’t use his lodging suggestions much – Lonely Planet had a wider range, more interesting off-the-beaten-track places and good subtitles like “rural inn” to help narrow things down. I don’t like big hotels or resorts. I prefer smaller family-run places where you can sort of get a feel for what real life is like and connect a little with locals/local life. But I think Rick’s guide will be helpful for actual sight seeing, with some good walking tours in places like Lisbon and Porto…

Newspaper travel stories – The NYTimes has a few including a story on The Other Algarve (which I found a bit late, after I’d spent considerably time trying on my own to figure out the least touristy places to visit) and a 36 Hours Lisbon; But I also found some really helpful stories from the Travel Channel (Anthony Bourdain’s show), the British press including some stories from  the Telegraph and the Guardian, plus Afar magazine.

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Where to go in Portugal …Sintra, algarve, Tavira

I met a woman on a flight to Dallas who had recently visited Portugal. She showed me photos of gorgeous gardens and moorish tiled buildings and courtyards. And she gave me several names of towns to visit including Sintra .

 

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