Portugal Journey

So, Portugal, last fall, my grand tour landed me in Lisbon, Fatima, Tomar, Sintra, Cascais, the Douro Valley and Porto.

After a 13 day Journey, to understand the importance of each area, the best routing and the VV best hotels…I feel I have a grasp on what locations can be enjoyed as a day trip and areas which necessitate longer visits.

Portugal, Lisbon

An over view, you can read more in-depth posts on city life, must see sites and touring the Douro Valley. I discovered that Lisbon and Porto, although some refer to Porto as the second great city in Portugal, are equally charming. Brimming with history, churches, important museums, and miles of narrow, often hilly cobblestone streets.

A Suggestion Excursion – tailor made to include personal preferences.Lisbon, Sintra, Porto & Douro Valley This exclusive private Portugal Journey features in-depth touring of Portugal’s wonderful art and design from the traditional to the innovative in Lisbon, Sintra and Porto and the Douro Valley. We can include private touring of cultural highlights, significant museums and engrossing architecture reflecting the complex history, as well as select visits to crafts workshops, the beautiful azulejo tile factories and chic boutiques offering the finest work by Portuguese craftspeople. The tour also includes the finest Portuguese food and wine, including private wine tasting in the Douro Valley and suites at exceptional hotels.

Lisbon, Portugal’s vibrant capital on the Tagus River, offers beautiful cityscapes, rich culture, and splendid food and wine. Experience the city as an insider during private touring with an expert local guide. Spend a few days to properly explore the historic Alfama district, the sophisticated Bairro Alto and Lapa districts and the riverside Belem district.

Wander around St. George’s Castle, the famed Mosteiro dos Jeronimos monastery, Belem Tower and other impressive monuments and understand the periods of Manueline and Moorish architecture.  Peruse chic shops offering authentic Portuguese specialties such as azulejo tiles, embroidered linens, fine handmade leather gloves, Indo-Portuguese furniture, and explore the old shops which sell gold and silver jewelry in traditional patterns.

Portuguese Tiles

Nibble local food specialties, including the yummy aspasteis de nata custard tarts, bakeries featuring sweets are on almost every block! Tour all or a select few of the many museums including the National Tile Museum, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and the Museum of Folk Art.  You might enjoy interesting contemporary architecture at the Portugal Pavilion and MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). We will definitely include a memorable fado music performance at a local night club.  If you have an interest, we can suggest a visit to the private Ricardo do Spirito Santo Silva Foundation, dedicated to the preservation and reproduction of traditional Portuguese design and decorative art.

Next, transfer to the sunny coast for a leisurely lunch in the picturesque seaside town of Cascais, a cosmopolitan suburb of the Portuguese capital and one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. Cascais is a delightful Portuguese fishing town, which has a charming center and is located close to some of the finest beaches of the Lisbon region. Within Cascais is a range of interesting tourist attractions, including fascinating museums, historic mansions and pretty parks, along with all the facilities expected for a bustling resort town.

Surrounding Cascais is a varied region of lively resort towns and the beautiful natural scenery of the Serra de Sintra, with its numerous hiking routes and outstanding surfing. This area is perfect for golf, hilly bike riding and hiking. I passed through a beautiful forest outside of Lisbon, the Natural Park of Sintra-Cascais, near the unique surroundings of the mystical Serra de Sintra, where the narrow hilly roads were filled with bikers – who eventually disappeared into the forest on scrubby off road steep trails.

The small resort town of Cascais is on the Atlantic coast, where we can also offer a private cooking class with a market tour, learn to prepare traditional Portuguese dishes in a classic home overlooking the ocean. There is a beach hotel near Cascais, a charming Relais & Chateau property, Fortaleza Do Guincho, a seventeenth-century fortress facing the sea. Within the hotel is a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Quinta da Regaleira,

Continue the drive to Sintra, a refined town of fairy-tale palaces and elegant gardens amid pine forested hillsides. Enjoy private touring in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, stop and explore the romantic National Palace of Pena, the remarkable National Palace of Sintra and the winding cobblestone streets in the historic area the town, including the former Jewish quarter. Also visit Quinta da Regaleira, an estate classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The grand house is split over five floors and has an ornate gothic façade, but the real attraction is the enchanting gardens. The gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira were styled to represent ancient secret orders, with hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism.

Charming Cafes, Portugal

In the misty mountains here, you should make a stop for to enjoy lunch at Tivoli Palacio De Setais.  An elegant 18th century neo-classical palace with interiors of frescoed walls, tapestries and antique furniture. Savor an elegant and light interpretation of the Portuguese table. After your glass of spirits, stroll through the manicured gardens, before continuing on your Journey.

Livraria Lello, a historic bookstore

Continue to Porto, the capital of Port wine and a city with a captivating mix of architectural styles, including Baroque and contemporary, Roman and medieval. Stay in a luxurious hotel, the Yeartman, on a hillside overlooking ancient wine cellars and the Douro River. During private touring, explore the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights may include palaces and gardens, the Palacio da Bolsa (Stock Exchange), the Se do Porto (Porto Cathedral), many of the local buildings are covered with beautiful tiles, and don’t miss the famed Livraria Lello, a historic bookstore with stunning ornate woodwork, also known for its views in Harry Potter. Also view remarkable contemporary architecture such as the Casa da Musica by Rem Koolhaas, the Serralves Museum by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. Of course, we will also arrange a private tour and Port tasting at one of the city’s most celebrated cellars.

Portugese Tiles

Add a few days to take a private excursion to the Douro Valley, a beautiful region along the Douro River. Here besides a decadent and luxurious stay at The Six Senses Douro Valley, you may visit the best local wineries, explore romantic ancient towns along the Douro River, take an exclusive private river cruise in a traditional rabelo boat and enjoy spectacular views of the hills covered with terraced vineyards. This is an area where not a trace of the terraced hillsides are wasted as open space, miles and miles of grapevines line the sloping hills. There are marvelous hiking trails to be explored, many connect through small farmlands where you can indulge in local cheese making.

The Douro River from The Six Senses Douro Valley

Upon request, we can also arrange cooking classes, walks through villages, kayaking, mountain biking and other activities in the region. We have stayed at most of the top hotels and can provide additional details for several options in each city.

This Journey can easily be extended to include time at a luxury beach resort in the Algarve or add on San Sebastian in Spain.

Search Portugal on gwenbooks.com for additional posts on all described areas in Portugal.





Varvakeios, Athens Central Market

Open markets are often the greatest place to experience the very essence of a city’s culinary culture. I enthusiastically say yes to a Central Market whenever I travel.

On busy Athinas street, the Central Market, also known as Varvakeios, is a lively city market place, opened in 1886 to the food trade. Evripidou Street is synonymous with the scents of the shops selling food from the colonies. The iron-and-glass 19th Century market has massive stalls divided between seafood and fish products and all types of meat on one side of the street, and vegetables and fresh fruits on the other side. The Varvakeios can be sensory overload, do wear close toe shoes, as you may wade through a bit of water in the fish area. I’ll never forget looking down at my tennis shoes in the fish market in Catania, Sicily, fish bits clinging to the tops of my canvas shoes! Nothing worse than fish guts stuck to your shoes!

Varvakeios Market Athens

Shop for the tastiest feta cheese and delicious renowned olives, sun ripened fruits and vegetables and don’t miss my favorites, the spice shops. The meat area may not appeal to everyone, as it is not at all surprising to see hanging meat carcasses, large glass cases of tongue and innards.

From the core of the Mediterranean, Greek cuisine is comprised of an extensive variety of dishes reflecting its diverse backdrop, extensive history and crossroads to other nations.

Varvakeios Market Athens

Wandering around downtown Athens, you will discover a plethora of restaurants, taverns, and cafés, but perhaps the most intriguing and interesting place to discover local Greek food is within Athens’ food markets. This is a superb location to purchase palatable gifts to bring home, especially authentic spices and herbs. The food is pungently fresh, and you’ll mingle with locals buying their daily provisions. This is where you see the little old ladies selecting their evening meals from the fishermen with the daily catch.

Varvakeios Market Athens

Varvakeios Market Athens What might those be?

And it’s an incredible introduction to Balkan market culture: merchants screaming prices, luring you to taste a special apricot, elderly ladies analyzing the perfect tomato with a well-practiced squeeze, and aging gentlemen drinking coffee at the market cafes while observing the scene, whiling away the day.  Within the cavernous halls there are small cafes and tavernas serving traditional Greek dishes, keep your eye open for the underground restaurant near the vegetable market.

Olives – Preserving and seasoning olives is an ancient tradition, dating back to the early Greeks. Each region of Greece has a distinctive method of flavoring and pickling olives. The vendors are very generous with their products, encouraging tasting!

Varvakeios Market Athens Elixir Spice market

Varvakeios Market Athens Elixir Spice market

Greek Spices –  Greek cooking doesn’t rely on many specific herbs, but a few essential spices include oregano and sea salts, many flavored with orange or lemon peel. One of the most colorful and ancient looking spice shops ‘Elixir’, located on one of the streets bordering the Central Market; here, you can also find spatholatho, an ointment originally from Kea Island that ancient Greek soldiers used to heal their wounds. Elixir is a family business operating since the 1950s, they also sell enormous bars of natural Olive Oil  soap. The wooden display boxes also contain many varieties of tea. The young Greek man behind the wood counter will cellophane bag your selection and label all your purchases. Don’t miss the large branches of bay leaves. Spices are easy to pack and bring home. Burning bush, oregano, chamomile and other common Greek herbs, some grown on the slopes of Mt. Olympus and Tayretus. Consultations are offered on the healing properties of various spices; sage is good for memory, cloves help digestion, ask for specific needs.https://www.elixir.com.gr/

Varvakeios Market Athens Elixir Spice market

Cheese  – There are shops in the market who offer traditional Greek feta cheese, made from sheep, goat, or cow. Besides the yummy feta, another popular Greek cheese to look for is kefalotyri, a hard, salty sheep’s-milk cheese.

Varvakeios Market Athens – Meat markets with small dining rooms in the back

Varvakeios Market Athens Grape Leaves

Varvakeios Market Athens Lady Shoppers