Thursday, July 25, 2019

Coming soon...guides to traveling in Spain and Iceland!

Owner of La Jamoneria carving ham in Zaragoza, Spain

We came, we saw, we ate ALL THE JAMON. We're back from 11 days in Spain and Iceland, and it was amazing! I'm working on pulling together all the details to share with you. Coming soon!

Gorgeous Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in Iceland

Monday, May 21, 2018

Where to Eat in Portugal

I read every article I could get my hands on about dining in Portugal, and in the end, I think we ended up with a top notch mix of restaurants. Read on for the scoop on where to eat in Portugal!

Ceviche at A Cevicheria in Lisbon, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi

Where to Eat in Porto

Pedro Limao - perhaps my favorite spot of the whole trip. 37 Euros got us a delicious multi-course
tasting menu in a cozy dining room.

Cafeina  - stylish and upscale dining in high-end Foz neighborhood.

Restaurante Lider - our only miss of the trip. I was not feeling this place at all. Felt very authentic in that it was way outside of the normal tourist area, but the dining room had no atmosphere and while the food was ok, I thought it was quite pricey for my least favorite meal of the trip. Service was friendly but spoke no English so it was hard to navigate the menu.

Francesinha Sandwich at Porto's Brasao Aliados, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Francesinha at Brasao Aliados in Porto

Brasao Aliados - Known for their francesinha sandwich, a Porto classic. This sandwich is a Porto take on a croque monsieur but way heavier, with wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce and served with french fries. Get the fried artichoke with black aioli and a porto tonico and don't move for the rest of the day.

Where to Eat Douro Valley
DOC in the Douro Valley, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
DOC in the Douro Valley

DOC - included in our Douro valley tour. Beautiful setting on the water, high-end and delicious food from a Portuguese celebrity chef. The nicest restaurant in the valley with another outpost in Porto.

Where to Eat in Coimbra
Fangas - we had an awesome meat and cheese platter at this tiny, friendly restaurant. Note the lunch location is a few doors down from the dinner dining room. There's only a sausage plate or a cheese plate on the menu but the friendly waiter combined them into one for us. It was huge and perfect with some local wine.

Where to Eat in Alentejo
Basillii - I was pleasantly surprised by the on-site restaurant at Torre de Palma. The veal was one of the best dinners of my trip. Breakfast was included in our rate and was plentiful with lots of delicious pastries.

Adega Mayor Winery in the Alentejo, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Adega Mayor Winery in the Alentejo

Adega Mayor The only winery we were able to make an appointment at. We skipped the tour and headed straight for the tasting. They did hefty pours, so we were able to try all their higher end wines and even splitting some glasses, had more than enough to drink. We brought home a bottle of the wonderful Grande Reserva red.

Where to Eat in Lisbon

A Cevicheria in Lisbon, photo credit: Jeff Viscomi
A Cevicheria's famous octopus
A Cevicheria - a Peruvian ceviche spot might sound like a weird choice for Portugal but you'll recognize the octopus hanging from the ceiling from every article about Lisbon. The Portuguese know their way around fish, and I loved the bright, flavorful ceviches and my pisco sour. We squeezed this in as "first dinner" at 5-ish when no self-respecting local would ever eat, and it was still jam-packed (no reservations) and it was all light enough that we still had room for "second dinner" at 8.

Tasca da Esquina - Located in a less touristy area, this tapas spot was one of the few places we ate that was actually full of locals with nary an American in sight. Get the cod carpaccio with potatoes and egg.

Cervejaria Ramiro - a shellfish focused, no frills seafood restaurant made extra famous by Anthony Bourdain. Pro Tip - You can make a reservation by emailing in advance. Even locals we met didn't seem to know that, and the wait to get in if you didn't have a reservation was epic. They don't trouble themselves with things like side dishes, so come ready to stuff yourself with super fresh garlic shrimp, oysters and lobster and crusty, buttery bread. I wouldn't have been willing to wait in the line, but with a reservation it's well worth trying what many say is Lisbon's best seafood restaurant. Don't miss the "prego" steak sandwich for dessert. Yes, I said dessert, just go with me on this.

The seafood is fresh at Lisbon's Cervejaria Ramiro, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Lobster at Cervejaria Ramiro

Cantiho do Avillez
 - Local celebrity chef Jose Avillez has multiple renowned restaurants. Everything was good, although nothing was super memorable. Try the deep fried green beans and the professor style eggs.

Landeau Chocolate - Go for the chocolate cake. It's unbelievable - simultaneously rich and light. It's the cake all other cakes aspire to be. Bring cash because they don't take foreign credit cards.

Chocolate Cake at Landeau Chocolate in Lisbon, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Divine chocolate cake at Landeau Chocolate

Fábrica do Pastel Feijão - Pastel de Nata (custard tarts) are rightfully famous and found everywhere. Don't miss them of course, but for something a little different try these incredible white bean pastries. The chef revived an old recipe and spiffed it up, and now he dishes out these award winning little delights at a tiny Alfama storefront. We visited on our food tour, but it's worth a stop regardless. I loved the crunch of the creme brulee like top contrasting with the creamy white bean and almond filling.

Pastel Feijão (white bean pastries) at Fábrica do Pastel Feijão in Lisbon, photo credit: Jeff Viscomi
White Bean Pastries at Fábrica do Pastel Feijão

Treasures of Lisboa Food Tour - I highly recommend this food tour. It's a great excuse to see the winding roads of the Alfama neighborhood with a knowledgeable guide and of course, you get to taste plenty of delicious food from family-owned businesses in the hood. Ruthie, the owner/guide is bubbly and has an obvious love for the city, and it was an awesome way to spend a morning.  You can book her via Airbnb but pro tip - she makes a lot more money if you book it directly through her site like we did.

Planning a Trip to Portugal

Beautiful Lisbon and the famed Tram 28, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Beautiful Lisbon and the famed Tram 28
I'm obsessed with planning vacations. Like go way down the rabbit hole researching ever potential option, and planning vacations a full year in advance kind of obsessed. We just got back from our much anticipated trip to Portugal and despite a nasty cold turned sinus infection, I had a blast.

Portugal is on every publication's where-to-go list these days so it's not exactly a hidden gem, but it still doesn't have the everyone has been there and done that vibe of somewhere like Italy. I loved the beautiful views, delicious foods, low prices, and wonderful people of Portugal!

One thing you must know before going - Porto and Lisbon are very, very hilly. Assume you will wear comfortable walking shoes at all times because it's not only steep, but also slippery because it's stone rather than pavement. Even at nice restaurants at night, people were still wearing sneakers. I was amazed that people with strollers were pulling it off. Personally, I would recommend waiting until kids are old enough to walk for themselves.

7 days in Portugal Itinerary
Day 1: arrive Lisbon, immediate transfer to train station for 3-hour ride to Porto.
Day 2: wine tour of Douro Valley with Douro Exclusive, sleep back in Porto
Day 3: Porto, tour Porto and Port wine houses on the other side of the river in Nova de Gaia
Day 4: Rent car, drive into the Alentejo wine region with a stop in university town Coimbra, stay at the glorious Torre de Palma wine resort. Visite Adega Mayor winery.
Day 5: Drive to Unesco World Heritage town Evora and onto Lisbon
Day 6: Food tour in Alfama neighborhood with Treasures of Lisboa
Day 7: Day trip to Sintra and return to Lisbon
Day 8: Depart Lisbon

Porto, Portugal, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Beautiful view of Porto, Portugal

Harry Potter-esque Robed Students in Porto, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Robed students in Porto

What to see in Portugal

Porto is a must-see if you're a wine, food or just generally pretty stuff lover. It's an easy and inexpensive 3 hour train ride from Lisbon. The downside is it's newly accessible to the rest of Europe via cheap-o airlines so it's very crowded with tourists. But the views can't be beat and there's no shortage of places to try out their namesake wine, port. Walk across the bridge to Nova de Gaia for a day of port tasting and take in the robed, Harry-Potter-esque students all over town. Fun fact: JK Rowling was inspired by this unusual look when writing Harry Potter, so the similarities are no accident.

Douro Valley Vineyard, Photo Credit: Jeff Viscomi
Taking in the Douro Valley

I highly recommend the Douro Exclusive tour. They picked us up at our airbnb and took us into the valley for the entire day. The tour included stops at two wineries, lunch at the gorgeous and delicious DOC and a boat ride down the Douro. I especially loved our visit to a beautiful family-owned winery where we did a private tasting with the owner/winemaker. It was a lovely way to spend a day and well worth the splurge (190 euros/pp).

Douro Valley Wine Tasting, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Private tasting on our Douro Valley tour

Port tasting at Fonseca in Douro Valley, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Port tasting at Fonseca in Douro Valley

Coimbra was a last minute stop but totally worth it. I loved the winding streets and beautiful architecture, and a couple of hours was plenty of time there. Word to the wise, it is very difficult to drive in those little streets, and we almost got stuck trying to navigate a turn, even in our smallish rental car. Google maps will try to send you down streets that are not in fact navigable by car.

Winding streets of Coimbra, Portugal, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
University town, Coimbra

If I could go back I'd reconsider the time in Alentejo. It proved very challenging to visit wineries so not sure it was worth it, although I did love our lovely room at the Torre de Palma Wine Resort. If you want a similar itinerary, I'd suggest either trying to book winery visits at least a month in advance or skippin Alentejo in favor of a beach town.

Alentejo wine tasting, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Sundown wine at Torre de Palma Wine Resort in the Alentejo
Sunset at Torre de Palma wine resort, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Sunset at Torre de Palma wine resort

Evora was ok (don't miss the chapel made with human bones) but honestly I could have skipped it and been fine.

Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal; photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Chapel of Bones, Evora

Sintra is gorgeous, but man oh man is it overrun with tourists. Pena Palace is brightly colored and oh so lovely, but we basically had to stand in a non-stop line as we very slowly made our way through it. Worth visiting but try to arrive early or go on a weekday. It was so crowded on a busy Friday that I found it hard to enjoy. Much better for me was Quinta da Regaleira, a bizarrely gothic mansion and beautiful grounds. Our uber driver railed against it since it's not at all representative of typical Portuguese architecture but I loved it, and there is a very cool immersive app that you can use while touring. Don't miss the amazing well, featured in Dark Knight.

View from Pena Palace, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
View from Pena Palace

Well at Quinta da Regaleira, photo credit: Jeff Viscomi
Well at Quinta da Regaleira

Lisbon has a dilapidated charm that I absolutely loved. We stayed in Chiado and found that to be a perfect distance from the best parts of town. It was the kind of city where there is plenty to see if you want to see churches, monuments and museums, or like we did, you can just wander around and take it all in. The Portuguese love pastries and good wine, so we felt it was our duty to try as much of it as possible. We had more than one 3-pastry day and it was totally worth it. I also especially loved the cherry liqueur Ginjinha found over town.

Fado music is a slightly mournful music that is very much part of Lisboeta culture. Tasca do Chico is the famous spot to see it, but you and every other tourist will be in line. There are plenty of other places to hear it in town, so don't give up if you can't get in there.

In Lisbon, I  highly recommend the Treasures of Lisboa food tour. It's a great excuse to see the winding roads of the Alfama neighborhood with a knowledgeable guide and of course, you get to taste plenty of delicious food from family-owned businesses in the hood. Ruthie, the owner/guide is bubbly and has an obvious love for the city, and it was an awesome way to spend a morning.  You can book her via Airbnb but pro tip - she makes a lot more money if you book it directly through her site like we did.

Tile covered building in Lisbon, photo credit: Lindsey Viscomi
Dilapidated charm of Lisbon
Wondering where to eat? Check out my round up of where to eat in Portugal
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