Avillez’s neighborhood

“What makes Portugal unique is the combination of great ingredients and a rich culinary tradition with our warm hospitality.” It could not be described better.

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Bairro do Avillez

It is common for writers to imagine new worlds and share them with us. But it is uncommon for chefs to pursue this creative strategy. José Avillez, the Michelin-starred chef of Belcanto, dreamed of an old Lisbon neighborhood where friends gathered to share great food. He imagined old buildings guarded by carved wooden doors with windows adorned by crocheted curtains.

When the space once occupied by the 13th-century Convent of Trindade became available, Avillez seized the opportunity to make his dreams come true. He invited architect Joana Astolfi to design an installation inspired by old building facades, artist Cátia Pessoa to create ceramic sculptures representing fish and vegetables, and painter Henriette Arcelin to produce a large tile panel at the famous Viúva Lamego factory.

The result is a fun atmosphere perfect to enjoy the classics of Portuguese cuisine, refined and, in some cases, reinvented. Bairro do Avillez (Avillez’s neighborhood) has…

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The tavern of the tides

The best sardines you can imagine when you eat them in Portugal.

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Portimão, a city in the Algarve, is famous for the quality of its sardines. Our favorite place to enjoy the silver of the sea is Taberna da Maré (tavern of the tides), which opened in 1946. The current owner, Zeca Pinhota, restored the restaurant with great sensitivity and care, using the original floor mosaic, vintage furniture, and photos by Julio Bernardo, a photographer born in nearby Ferragudo 103 years ago.

The food is wonderful. When they are in season, between June and September, the sardines are the main event. But there are a lot of other delicacies. We had a feast composed of razor-clam rice, fried fish with “açorda,” clams Bulhão Pato, and grilled fish eggs.

We told Zeca that his clams are amazing. “That’s because they come from the sea to the restaurant. They do not spend time in tanks, shedding weight and flavor.” Zeca explained. “I call the local fisherman first…

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The ducal palace of Vila Viçosa

This place deserves a close look.

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Palácio Vila Viçosa

Portugal is a dream reborn in the prairies of Alentejo. In 1580, the king of Portugal died without an heir and the king of Spain inherited the throne of Portugal. After six decades of Spanish domination, a small group of nobles organized a coup to restore independence. They wanted to make Dom João of Braganza, a duke with royal blood who lived in Vila Viçosa, king of Portugal.

The king of Spain had arranged a marriage between Dom João and a Spanish aristocrat, Dona Luisa de Gusmão, hoping she would persuade the duke to support the Spanish rule. Instead, Dona Luisa became an advocate for Portugal’s independence.

Dom João worried that the rebellion was likely to fail. He was willing to die for his country but did not like risking the fate of his wife and children. Dona Luisa convinced him to go forward with the words: “I would rather be queen for a day than duchess for life.” Portugal…

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Mizette’s rugs

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Composit Tapetes Mizette

Mizette Nielsen moved from Holland to Portugal and got into the production of textiles.  In 1976, she received a large order and started looking for a factory to execute it.

She traveled to Reguengos de Monsaraz to visit the Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios (Wool Factory of Alentejo). Entering the factory was like stepping into the 19th century. Inside, she found the last manual looms of the Iberian peninsula. Old weavers operated these looms with confidence and grace to make wool blankets traditionally used by shepherds to keep warm during Winter.

In the early 20th century, these blankets were often included in the trousseaux of Alentejo brides. But they had since fallen out of fashion.

Realizing that the factory might close soon, Mizette decided to buy it. “I could not stand the idea that the knowledge of these master weavers would be lost forever,” she said with quiet intensity. “I got them to teach the next…

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Lunch at Herdade do Esporão

There is no end of the food in Portugal.

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composit Herdade do Esporão

We should have known that it is hard to get to paradise. We drove from Vila Viçosa to Herdade do Esporão guided by a GPS system that chose an old dirt road over the new road from Reguengos. Taking the slow road helped us understand that Esporão is an oasis. A place in the dusty interior of Alentejo where a blue lake nurtures pristine vines that produce some of Portugal’s best wines.

The road to the success of Esporão was also slow. José Roquette bought the estate in 1973 at a time when Alentejo was not a major producer of great wines. Shortly after the 1974 revolution, the estate was nationalized. It was returned to its owner only in 1984. The first wine was bottled in 1985 and released in 1987. The success of this vintage and of those that followed put Alentejo on the world wine map.

Maria Roquette, the daughter in…

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The Queluz pousada

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Composit Queluz.JPG

Once upon a time, there was a prince called Pedro who was calm and handsome. As the younger brother of the king, he did not expect to have to perform royal duties. So he devoted his energies to the construction of a palace in the village of Queluz where he could host hunting parties.

The king died and his daughter Maria inherited the throne. Her volatile temperament made many fear for the future of the kingdom. Pedro was asked to marry his niece, so that he could help rule Portugal. The prince accepted this arranged marriage as an obligation. But the queen fell in love with her dashing prince and her devotion was such that he fell in love with her.

The Queluz palace became a royal project, financed by the river of gold and diamonds that flowed from Brazil. A French architect, Jean Baptiste Robillon, was hired to build a…

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Ephemeral gardens in Viseu

This sounds like a great place to visit.

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Every year, the Ephemeral Gardens festival jolts Viseu, a serene city in the interior of Portugal. Sandra Oliveira organizes this grand event, inspiring a large troupe of collaborators to adorn Viseu with modern art and serenade it with contemporary music.

Shops become installation spaces, ancient churches double as music venues, old walls serve as canvases for street art. Every plaza seems to have its own DJ, every garden its own sculpture show.

Stores, bookshops, restaurants, and bars stay open until late. The flowers of the linden trees blend their fragrance with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla and popcorn. There are workshops to attend, movies to watch, performances not to miss. It is a wonderful celebration of the many ways in which the old inspires the new.

The Ephemeral Gardens (Jardins Efémeros) festival runs from July 1 to 10, 2016. All events are free. Click here to see the program. 

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