After ten days in the Algarve region we headed to our next Airbnb, just outside Lisbon but a world away in the seaside village of Sao Pedro. We had planned on staying a little further west in Estoril, a popular beach town, but we saw the view of the sea from this listing and looked no further.
Sao Pedro is home to a popular surfing beach but little else. There was a small grocery store, a smattering of restaurants, and a shop dedicated to bikinis. Fortunately there was also a train stop 2 minutes away so we weren’t completely cut off from the city. But we didn’t mind this quiet enclave - especially after the touristic town of Alburfeira.
As I mentioned in the last blog, we were a little concerned about our Airbnb choice, but not only was it a comfortable place to call home, our host Anabela quickly became a new friend. She picked us up at the bus station in Lisbon bearing gifts of local wine, fresh cheese, and a jar of preserved fruit from the village where they also have a country home. As we say in our book Your Keys Our Home “a great host can make up for a mediocre listing”. And while the apartment turned out to be wonderful, meeting Anabela made it memorable.
We crossed the street to the beach every day and never tired of watching both seasoned and neophyte surfers take to the waves. We especially enjoyed the fearless little ones, sleek as seals in their wet suits willing to be knocked down again and again!
Speaking of getting knocked down, we dipped our toes in the water but the powerful surf and the rocky surfaces were a bit much so neither of us actually swam. However, we did have great walks on the beach and along the waterside path into Estoril. We also took the train into to Lisbon a few times, and then discovered Cascais (Cawsh-Kise) 20 minutes by train the other direction. It is a very livable city with a great beach, walking paths along the sea, good restaurants, several museums, beautiful green spaces, a lively art scene and the occasional castle. It is a new contender on the retirement short list.
On one of our excursions we took the train to Belem, a short train or bus journey out of Lisbon where there are several worthy places to visit. The first being the ornate Mosterio dos Jeronimos monastery with its extravagant architecture and rich history. If you’d rather not pay to go inside the monastery, don’t miss the ornate church sitting next to it where you’ll get a glimpse of some of the gold and silver plundered from Brazil. A short walk away is the Cultural Center - a modern structure that combines concert halls, exhibition space and the Museo Colecao Bernardo, home to Lisbon’s finest contemporary art collection. The entrance to the museum if free. We took in a classical music performance by a talented trio playing music from Bach and Beethoven on the piano, cello and bass violin. At $12 a ticket, it was a perfect Senior Nomads outing.
Once you’ve rested in the beautiful gardens, you can cross the boulevard to find the massive, soviet style Padro dos Descobrimentos monument, an elegant and powerful sculpture dedicated to Portugal’s command of the sea. Nearby is the well preserved Torre de Belem tower. There are always long lines to go inside, but our sage walking tour guide said take a few photos and save your money for the monastery. Last but not least, Belem is home to The Pastéis de Belem bakery - the bakery that made the Pastel de Nata egg custard tarts famous.
On our last Sunday in Sao Pedro, Anabela scooped us up for a day trip to the farthest western point of Europe. We drove through Cascais and then joined the scenic drive along the coast. On one side there were rolling dunes carpeted with succulent wild flowers, while on the other side the sea turned a dozen shades of turquoise. There were boardwalks traversing the dunes and pedestrian and bike trails stretched along the water’s edge that we’ll definitely return to someday. We reached our destination and climbed to the lighthouse on Cabo da Roca (9°29'56 W) where we waited in line with a cluster of other tourists to have our picture taken in front of the stone monument confirming our location.
Anabela is a self professed talker! So we heard all about her family, and the time she and her husband both worked for IBM when he lived in New York and she lived in Toronto. And of course we had running commentary on the sites along the way. Her driving speeds correlated with the story she was telling. So if the story was exciting, she slowed down to concentrate on the details. If there was a rare lull in the conversation she sped up and drivers behind us no longer roared past. She also liked to use the “I know it’s around here somewhere” form of navigation. That’s also one of my favorites because you get to see things you might have missed otherwise.
She did find a restaurant hidden down a narrow lane that is very popular with those in the know. Moinho de Don Quixote served up simple local fare with a sort of Mexican twist. The decor was about as eclectic as any I’ve ever seen - every wall was covered with memorabilia. Seating was scattered inside and out with the outdoor tables tucked into nooks and crannies of a sprawling garden of cacti and indigenous plants. You could see the sea from most everywhere, but if you were tucked deep in the foliage, like us, it was hard to remind the servers you hadn’t placed your order. The portions were huge so between the three of us, we split two roasted pork sandwiches and two desserts - one a rich chocolate brownie with ice cream, and the other a massive slice of tangy Key Lime Pie slathered with whipped cream. Siesta anyone?
Our last stop was a market that wound along both sides of two intersecting country roads. It was a place tourists would never find, so the prices were reasonable and the produce was just picked from farms nearby. Cherries were in season, and they are my favorite fruit so I filled a lunch sack for just a few euros. We also came away with fat, juicy strawberries, green beans, apricots, fresh bread and a bottle of slightly fizzy Vinho Verde Rose. Delicious!
We returned home via Sintra, a fairy tale city towered over by medieval castle walls and royal palaces. We had seen the famous Pena Palace last time we were here so we just drove through the town to connect with a winding road through that took us through the forest and back to Sao Paulo. It was a great day out thanks to yet another new friend that made our journey special.
The final four days of our three-week stay in Portugal were spent in central Lisbon. Early in our travels we stayed for two weeks in the ancient Alfama neighborhood where the narrow roads twist and turn up and down steep hillsides. It is the only area of Lisbon that was spared in the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1755. On our next visit, two years later, we stayed in Porto, a bustling city in northwest Portugal, and aptly, the home of Port. This time, as I mentioned previously, we were looking for some beach time. But we also looked forward to a few days in one of our favorite capital cities.
We chose a small, brightly decorated Airbnb in the heart of the “cool kids” Barrio Alto District. It was the perfect location to explore the city - especially if you don’t mind an invigorating uphill walk to get to the center of the city. Or you could ride the famous Number 28 Tram that rumbled right beneath our balcony. We rode it from one end to the other - a great way to see the neighborhoods and vistas toward the sea as it grinds its way up and then simply glides down the many hills of Lisbon.
We could also walk to the new Time Out Market, a homage to all the great food to be found in Lisbon. Many of the cities best restaurants have opened outposts in this cavernous former warehouse, where the choices seem endless. Once you’ve finally decided between burgers, sushi, paella, grilled octopus, fresh pasta, seasonal salads, and desserts of all kinds, you carry your prize to the communal dining area in the center and battle for a seat. Once you find one, you’ll make instant friends with the people around you as you compare your choices and save each other seats so you can go back for more.
I am a big fan of tiles. All tiles, big and small. In fact, mosaics are my favorite art form so Lisbon is my happy place. In parts of the city every facade is covered with tiles forming colorful patterns or elaborate pastoral scenes. Fat blue cherubs are everywhere and walkways made from black and white stones guide you from one neighborhood to the next. We visited the Museo de Azulejos (the Tile Museum) and learned more about the history of tiles and how they came to be so prevalent in Portugal. You can thank Moorish occupation as it turns out.
Often times our paths cross with friends we’ve made through our blog. First, we met newly minted Nomads and blog followers Tess and Roger Marshall for a leisurely lunch in Cascais. They sold their home, cars and worldly goods, and were just starting their journey - beginning with Lisbon. It was fun to hear their story and relive some of the early challenges of life on the road. The next evening we met again to attend a spectacular, immersive experience called Lisbon Under Stars where the history of Lisbon is told through music and images projected on the walls of the Carmo Abbey ruins.
On our last day we met up with ReAnn, a friend we made in San Miguel de Allende in January. She was also on an extended tour of Europe with her friend Joyce. ReAnne writes a great blog called My Home on the Roam. Definitely worth following if you are a women of a certain age with a case of wanderlust.
It was interesting to find ourselves in Portugal so soon after being in Brazil where Portuguese influence can be found in the food, the language, the music, the architecture and of course the tiles. What we learned when we were in Rio de Janerio about Portugal’s brutal colonization of that country, including slavery, the decimation of the native population and the export of every ounce of gold and silver hacked from the hills back to the motherland took some the luster off of our visit. But in the end, what country doesn’t have a history that needs to be reconciled with the present?
This warm, vibrant, eclectic country will always be a favorite destination for us. In fact, the next time we answer the number one question we are asked: “If you had to name one favorite country what would it be?” We may just change our answer from Croatia to Portugal!
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads