From the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel, the Alps to the Pyrenees, France offers magnificent diversity on many levels to include landscapes, cuisines, and traditions. And with a hop, skip and a brief flight, even more variety awaits across the border.
Take Portugal, for example. The small country that ruled much of the world at one point in history, has topped our must-visit list for a couple of years now and we finally made it after a mere two-and-a-quarter-hour flight from Marseille, a sixty-minute drive from Saint-Rémy.
First stop, vibrant Lisbon, and afterward, via an adorable Fiat 500, north to the fishing village of Nazaré, known for its 100-foot waves.
Bustling Lisbon was heaving with tourists, many arriving by ship—the humongous type that transports thousands. From our fourth floor apartment (82 steps, no elevator) overlooking the city—in the charming and wonderfully-located Chiado neighborhood—we observed Common Swifts and bats jetting by, and in the distance, the arrival of the floating cities.
So it should not have been a surprise that on a sunny Saturday, the line for a train ticket to the popular seaside enclave of Casçais stretched to eternity. So instead, we focused on the city, huffing and puffing up and down all the very steep hills. To give our feet a break, we hopped aboard the quaint, old-world yellow tram #28 that rumbles through many of the neighborhoods—an efficient way to get an overview of the sprawling city. (Hint: Snagging a seat on this popular tram requires luck—unless you board at the beginning of one of its tours.)
With just five days in the metropolis, we limited our main objective to getting a feel for the Portuguese capital, or more precisely, a “taste” of it. Ralph had never visited and my last trip was decades ago when I’d been hauling a backpack and considered food as fuel. This time would be different—we were on a foodie tour, of sorts—relying on a Financial Times article (My Lovely Lisboa by Ajesh Patalay) about the fave culinary spots of Lisbon’s native son, Nuno Mendes, who earned a Michelin star for one of his restaurants in London. (His latest is the recently-opened Lisboeta, that he calls his “love letter to Lisbon.”).
Following in the famous chef’s footsteps, we found the hole in the wall called As Bifanas do Afonso. I ordered one of the acclaimed pork sandwiches served up by Afonso himself. He scooped up the marinating meat chunks from a huge pan fit for paella and deftly piled the succulent pieces on a soft, puffy bun, followed by squirts of a special sauce—extraordinarily delicious! Then onward we pushed across town to the huge covered market and the “oldest and only privately-owned kiosk in Lisbon,” Quiosque Sao Paulo. There we enjoyed more typical sandwiches—one with fried squid, which was marvelous!—plus a beer (1 euro) and a glass of local white wine (2 euros). The young wait staff was extremely welcoming and congenial, like nearly everyone we encountered in the frenetic city.
And we found visitors to be very friendly, as well. While waiting in line at tiny Taberna da rua das Flores at 5:30 PM!—the only way to get on the list to have half a chance of being seated—we met a like-minded foodie from Montreal who raved about a traditional place that he’d tried the previous evening—Principe do Calhariz. Both were fab.
We skipped Feitoria, the ultra contemporary and expensive restaurant—100 euros per person for the 9-course menu, drinks not included—and opted instead for Fidalgo, a down to earth, family-run eatery with tables on the street. The octopus with white bean stew was sensational.
When our trip to Casçais was thwarted for a second time—this day due to a train strike—we hopped on a ferry for the short ride to other side of the Tagus River. We walked around the weathered village of Cacilhas, had a coffee, and then, guess what, it was lunch time! Unprepared for this spontaneous side trip, I had no restaurant ideas, but Google came to the rescue. We walked along the river boardwalk past blocks of graffiti and the occasional fisherman until around noon when we arrived at our destination, Ponto Final. The restaurant staff was busy setting the tables, preparing for the 12:30 opening. One helpful guy paused to inform us that without a reservation, we’d need to queue up behind the three ladies seated on the nearby cement steps and hope for the best; at 12:30, they’d begin compiling a waiting list. Surprised at the formality at this out of the way, casual nook, we followed orders. We were soon enlightened by an Israeli tour guide who joined the dining hopefuls. She explained that a few years ago the place had been featured on the TV series, Somebody Feed Phil. Mystery solved! The grilled fish was excellent and the view of Lisbon outstanding!
On our last night, we ate next door to our apartment at a contemporary wine bar named someone with a wry sense of humor: Wine Not? Tapas ruled and that was a fine finale.
Next up, our stay in the surfing mecca, Nazaré—Provence to Portugal: Waves-Baby-Waves!
Until then, stay safe, well, and hopeful—Gayle
Before our Portugal trip, I so pleased and honored to make a presentation about The Birdwatcher’s Wife at the beloved independent, international bookstore/cafe in Aix-en-Provence called Book in Bar. If you get to Aix, pop by for a coffee and a good read—it’s opposite the stunning Caumont Art Center, a couple of blocks from the Cours Mirabeau: https://www.bookinbar.com/