AN 8 DAY GUIDE TO LISBON, PORTO, AND MADEIRA
This May I teamed up with 3 of my favorite travel bloggers for a trip to Portugal: The Belle Abroad, Passport To Friday, and Blonde Atlas! All hailing from the U.S. but sharing a mutual fascination of discovering what the world has to offer. We started in Lisbon, flew to Madeira, then back up to Port country in Porto. We admired endless gorgeous tiled architecture, listened to Fado, saw a school of dolphins, and indulged fully into the delicious cuisine and culture that the country has to offer.
I had always heard great things about Lisbon but nothing could prepare me for how quickly I was going to fall in love with it- its steep city streets with the iconic trams whizzing up and down, it's colorful tiled buildings, rooftop views, and trendy cafes. Lisbon is the second oldest city in Europe right after Athens. It's considered one of the sunniest cities in Europe as well- with one of the more mild climates. Famous for its pastries and delicious seafood- there's no shortage of things to try. Although the attractions and things to do are endless in the city, if you're short on time like we were, here are a few of the must see spots: Visit the Belém Tower, watch the sunset from Castillo de Sao Jorge, catch a ride on the famous Tram 28 to move around the city, enjoy a night out in Bairro Alt, admire the 25 de Abril Bridge, and go grab some fresh produce from The Mercado de Alvalade Norte.
We stayed at the gorgeous CASA BALTHAZAR with the best views over the city. The charming boutique hotel is right in the center of the historical old part of town. The courtyard has a stunning pool where you can enjoy a coffee or your breakfast by. Our room had a jacuzzi on the balcony where we enjoyed the views, wine, and catching up. With three living rooms and honesty bar, you feel right at home walking around the grounds. If you're in town for a bit longer the rooms are equipped with kitchenettes so you can cook if you feel like staying in. The Casa quickly begins to feel like home. Although it's in the middle of the bustling city, when you walk into the grounds you're immediately immersed in a quite and relaxing oasis.
I sent a drop pin to my mom when I got to the Island of Madiera, out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, over 300 miles of the west coast of Africa. The Island is part of Portugal but actually closer to Morocco than Europe. I had been warned about the scary landing into Funchal but had no idea how terrifying it would actually be. Forewarning- if you fly to Madiera, cover your eyes when getting close to landing! The island isn't know for its abundance of beaches but more for it's adventurous road trips around the ocean and through steep tropical mountains.
We stayed at the iconic Belmond Reid's Palace in the town of Funchal. The island retreat looks over the Atlantic oceans and has breathtaking views of the mountainside city. For 120 years the luxury hotel has been hosting guests. With 10 acres of beautiful gardens, pools, and places to sunbathe, the hotel is undoubtably one of the most picturesque places I've ever seen. The rooms are super bright and well lit, with big balconies overlooking the exotic grounds. It has two heated pools where we found ourselves most the one day, drinking sangria and basking in the warm sun. If you wanted, you would never have to leave the grounds due to the incredible restaurants, bars, and poolside lunch menu at Reid's. I had never had such a delicious assortment of exotic fruits in my life- we were all definitely trying things for the very first time. The hotel is a short cab ride or walk to the historical old town filled with traditional cuisine, street music, and more stunning views. You're also at the doorstep of sky scrapping mountains where adventures are waiting to unfold.
Before heading out on our road trip on the island we heard of a restaurant that we had to try- Restaurante Do Forte. The bright yellow 17th century fortress stands tall above the ocean in the town of Funchal. Between the 4 of us, we tried pretty much everything on the menu and had no regrets. We ended up spending 3 hours there and never wanted to leave. The views, the historical fort, the colorful and modern seafood left us completely stuffed and delighted.
We teamed up with Visit Madeira to make sure we saw as much as we could in our 3 days there. The four of us set of on a one day road trip around the island. Little did we know the biggest adventure yet was the steep and winding roads in between each destination. Thankfully none of us are prone to getting car sick. Our first stop was Pico do Arieiro, a hike and look out high above the clouds. At first someone asked, "is that smoke?!" Then we quickly realized we were immersed in a foggy white out of clouds. For twenty minutes on the winding tiny road, we crawled along with no end in site. We went back and forth on whether to turn around or not, but our determination to see this mountain range over road our skepticism. Much to our relief suddenly the clouds parted and we were standing about rolling waves of clouds and the bluest mountain range. After that we were off to Santana, completely on the other side of the island from Funchal, which is a tiny village famous for its adorable thatch roofed huts. We kept on north along the incredible coast line where we saw waterfalls, vast mountains dropping into the sea, and heavenly lush terrain. On our last day we took a boat ride around with On Tales, where we were greeting by a giant school of dolphins jumping all around us. Absolutely a moment I will never forget and cherish forever. We're certain we need to go back for at least 10 days to see it all.
The gorgeous town of Porto is known for it's giant bridges, port wine production, colorful buildings, and riverside restaurants. The culturally rich city is the second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon. I was completely shocked at how many cute trendy restaurants I walked past. In a city of ancient architecture, there is no shortage of adorable shops and cafes there. Actually, in all of Portugal, I found there to be a new wave of modish eateries. We found ourselves marveling the colorful tiled houses (Azulejos), taking in the views from the bridges that tower over the river, and of course did all sorts of Port wine tasting.
We stayed in the InterContinental Porto - Palacio das Cardosas which was the perfect location in the center of everything. The beautifully restored hotel has views of the Liberdade Square and is only a few minute walk to one of the main train stations São Bento (although you're in the perfect location to just walk everywhere.) One of our favorite parts about Porto was how easily walkable it was. The rooms were luxurious yet super comfortable- exactly what you need when you're traveling with 2 other girls and let's just say, we definitely didn't have the smallest suitcases you've ever seen. The all inclusive breakfast buffet had traditional Portuguese pastries and the most decadent hors d'oeuvres.
We spent one evening wandering around the World Heritage Site proclaimed by UNESCO where we ate dinner at the lovely VINHAS- DALHO. The restaurant is right on the river with perfect views across the river. The restaurant was incredibly popular and in the evenings is packed with guests excited to hear the traditional Fado music. The food is presented beautifully and gave you a taste of the phenomenal Portuguese cuisine with a modern twist. It's a must to try the melted sheep cheese with the bread variety as one of your starters- truly one of the best things I've ever tasted. Cod is also a staple for Portugal along with the Vinho Verde ( I'm usually not a white wine drinker but actually loved it.)
You can't go to Porto without going port tasting. We spent half of our day touring the W&J Graham's Port and eating at their restaurant Vinum at Grahams. The lodge is fascinating and has some of the best views of the city. The Port hails from the Duoro Valley since the 1890's and is still a family business today. Back in the day, the "fortification" process was used so that the Port would be preserved for the long sail back to England. It's processed the same way today by intentionally interrupting the fermentation of the grapes by adding aguardente, also widely known as Brandy. The region of the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal is the only place in the world that can produce authentic Port. We got to do the Port Tasting after the tour in the Vintage Tasting Room, which I would highly recommend. Afterward we ate at their restaurant, Vinum, which has great views overlooking the river. The fish are freshly delivered directly from the Matosinhos Harbour and their meats from Trás-os- Montes. All of the cuisine here revolves around the flavors of the wine. The restaurant is in an old 19th century wine cellar, surrounded by 3,200 oak barrels where the wine is aged.
We had a colorful brunch in the quaint backyard of ROSA ET AL Townhouse one afternoon. The menu is huge with tons to choose from between sweet breakfast plates to savory salads and soups. Don't forget to try the Vinho Verde with you meal. You'll get a taste for Portuguese cuisine with a new and contemporary spin. The Townhouse is in a super artsy and trendy part of town and has 6 elegant rooms for the B&B. On Thursday and Sunday evenings they offer cooking classes in the kitchen. When visiting, you also have to stop by their gift shop to stock up on Portuguese trinkets and gifts.