Perfect moments in Alentejo

This part of Portugal is so much better than you can imagine. But make sure you bring a translator. It is not the routine you might be used to!

Salt of Portugal

Monte Barrão Composit

Many tourists drive from Lisbon to Algarve without stopping in Alentejo. If the beautiful landscapes you see from the highway tempt you to make a detour, you’ll be richly rewarded. Alentejo is a place where days are blessed by warm light and nights bejeweled by precious stars.

The best way to discover Alentejo is to stay at a local farm. Being surrounded by nature helps us put aside schedules and to-do lists to go where our senses take us: follow the scent of lavender, the sight of a stork in flight, the shade of an olive tree, the chant of a local brook.

If you don’t have friends who own a farm in Alentejo, we can introduce you to Helena and João Borges. They receive guests in their beautiful farm near Alter do Chão through a program called Perfect Moments. You can take horseback ridding lessons, taste wines with their enologist, try the farm’s magical olive…

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The convent of the blue monks

And today, some tidbits of Portuguese history.

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Composit Évora

When we entered the Pousada dos Loios in Évora, we stepped on grounds that have seen war and peace, creation and destruction. The Arabs built a castle on this site that was destroyed by fire during the Portuguese war of 1383-85. In 1485, a local noble built a convent for the order of Loios on top of the castle ruins.

The villagers called the members of this order the blue monks because of the color of their robes. These religious men lived an austere life, working and praying in silence. Their serenity and wisdom led the royal family to choose them as confessors.

The convent was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake and later rebuilt through the efforts of an enterprising priest. In 1834, Portugal abolished religious orders and the convent was closed down.

In 1963, the ancient building was converted into an historical hotel.  The cells of the monks were turned into comfortable…

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A roadside restaurant

This makes me hungry. I don’t think I have ever visited them. Yet.

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Composit Pombal

Before highway A1 was built, it took a long time to drive from the north of Portugal to Lisbon. To make the trip easier to endure, our parents liked to stop at a small roadside restaurant in Pombal called Manjar do Marquês. As soon as we sat down, we were served a delicious tomato rice with a choice of accompaniments, such as codfish cakes, veal milanese, or fried hake.

After a long hiatus, we recently returned to Manjar do Marquês. We entered the restaurant’s new premises just off highway A1 with some trepidation. What if the food is not as wonderful as we remember it? Would we destroy our childhood memories? Luckily, some things never change: the tomato rice is as appetizing as ever.

We asked the owner, Maria Graça, what makes her rice taste so good. She smiled and answered: “My husband really wanted to have a restaurant. I worked for the phone company and had…

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Artistic pots and pans

Another surprise in Portugal.

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Silampos (“seelumpoos”) is a Portuguese brand of cookware that has produced great pots and pans since 1951. Joana Vasconcelos, a Portuguese contemporary artist, used these pans to build giant high-heel shoes. These sculptures were given pride of place in the Room of the Throne when Vasconcelos showed her work at the Ajuda Palace in Lisbon.

What would D. Maria Pia, the queen who lived in this palace, think about Vasconcelos’ work? We like it. And we always liked Silampos pots and pans, even before they mingled with artists in the royal court.

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The Portugal Years: Year Three – The Journey, the Wedding and the Housing

I remember this so well. Found it in On This Cay

The Portugal Years

The Journey

We faced a seven month absence from our home and friends. This trip felt like an unending challenge. It was not a solo flight, nor a flight for two; it was a transatlantic voyage with an infant. Wearing cloth diapers. And she would have no seat. For at least seven hours. (This was not including getting through customs on both end and the long road to Philadelphia). Another couple would be staying in our house while we were gone, and I was uncomfortable about that. Then, before we could leave, we had to find a place to board our Samantha cat. It would not have been my first choice, or any choice at all. She loved me and trusted me, and I was leaving for what would be, for her, an eternity.

The flight was better than I expected. Bethy was eating food, but was still nursing, so…

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Bolo Bolacha

It’s a good thing that we can’t get fat by reading about these treats.

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Bolo de bolacha

Plato thought that the circle was a symbol of the divine. Alberti, an Italian architect, considered it the perfect shape. But no one was more obsessed with the circle than Guarino Guarini, a brilliant Baroque architect. His buildings are made of concave and convex spaces delineated by circles. One of his most important works, the church of Santa Maria da Divina Providência in Lisbon, was famous for its undulating facade. Sadly, the church was destroyed by the 1775 earthquake.

By happenstance, the circular shapes included in Guarini’s treatise, Architettura Civile, resurfaced in Portugal in the 20th century in the design of the popular bolo bolacha (biscuit cake). This cake is made with the circular Maria biscuits invented in 1874 by an English baker to celebrate the marriage of the Duke of Edinburgh with the Russian Duchess Maria Alexandrovna. To make the cake, the biscuits are dipped in strong coffee, layered with buttercream and then assembled according to designs…

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Lisbon treasures

There is nothing like the Portuguese tiles.

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Composit Viuva Lamego

We’re often asked whether you can see Lisbon in a day or two. Sure, you can drink an espresso at Brasileira, take a brisk walk through Rossio and Terreiro do Paço, climb to Alfama to tour the castle, and rush right back down to go to Belém. Once there, you can try the famous Pasteis de Belém and go for a quick visit of the Jerónimos monastery and the Belém tower.

You’ll have seen a lot, but you will not know Lisbon. The city doesn’t reveal itself on a one night stand. To understand Lisbon, you must take the time to walk around and discover its many hidden gems.

One of these gems is Viúva Lamego, a store that has sold handmade tiles and ceramics since 1849. The blue-tiled back of the building faces the bustling Avenida Almirante Reis. If you walk around in search of the main entrance, you’ll be rewarded with the sight…

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Eating by the sea in Azores

I’ve not had the privilege of visiting the Azores, but I’ve flown over them a few times. They are beautiful.

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Beira Mar, a family-owned restaurant in the Azores island of Terceira, has been a favorite dinning destination for four decades. It is always busy so, if you don’t have a reservation,  you’ll probably have to wait for a table.

The service is orchestrated by a small troupe of waiters who move with elegance and speak with eloquence about fish and seafood. We could not tell whether they had trained as ballet dancers or as marine biologists.

Our meal started with “cracas,” a local type of seafood that has a delicate crab-like meat and a wonderful salty juice. We then sampled some orange delicacies called lapas that were briny and full of flavor.

Next, we had some amazing boca negra (black mouth), a fish that in continental Portugal we call cantaril. We also tried some wonderful species that were new to us: cantaro, bicudas, and lírio. They were all incredibly fresh and arrived at the table…

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