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Stunning village built into gigantic stone

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Stunning village built into gigantic stone

Living beneath a roof that weighs more than the average cruise ship may make some people a little nervous. 

But it is commonplace for the residents in the Portuguese village of Monsanto, who adapted their homes around the environment filled with gigantic granite stones.

In the mountaintop village, homes are sandwiched between, under and even in the 200-tonne rocks. 

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Watch your head! The enormous rocks have been utilised as walls, floors, and most astoundingly, as roofs for houses that date back to the 16th century.

In 1938, Monsanto was named 'the most Portuguese village in Portugal', though its jaw-dropping land forms make it anything but regular.

Located in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova, in eastern Portugal near the Spanish border, Monsanto sits at 2,486 feet above sea level and has spectacular views.

Donkey is the preferred form of transport for Monsanto's 800 residents, who have managed to maintain the village's medieval character.

The lush green land with homes built into the landscape looks like something out of Lord of the Rings

The lush green land with homes built into the landscape looks like something out of Lord of the Rings

Villagers have formed their homes around the existing rocks, rather than attempt to move them

Villagers have formed their homes around the existing rocks, rather than attempt to move them

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The cliffs surrounding the village are strewn with enormous rocks

The cliffs surrounding the village are strewn with enormous rocks

Monsanto is perched at 2,486 feet above sea level

Monsanto is perched at 2,486 feet above sea level

Source: Dailymail

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Best European country to visit

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Best European country to visit

Portugal won first place at the USA Today “10Best Readers’ Choice” contest for ‘Best European Country” to travel.

According to the editors, “Portugal is less iconic than other well-known countries, but it offers a wealth of opportunities to travelers: charming villages, great food, fascinating regional music, cultural opportunities, a beautiful coastline and even world-class surfing.”

They also wrote, “Much underrated Portugal has all the trappings of a pretty European country: cobbled villages beneath the shadows of medieval castles, sun-kissed beaches, a delectable culinary tradition and plenty of history to explore. Whether swimming in the turquoise waters of the Algarve, sipping a glass of port at a Porto cafe or listening to the melancholy lament of a fadista in Lisbon, Portugal’s understated beauty becomes obvious.”

The other countries that made the top 10 list include Italy, Austria, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, France, Iceland and Switzerland. All nominees were chosen by experts in the Travel Industry.

The USA Today “10Best” provides its users with original, unbiased, and experiential travel content on top attractions, things to do, and restaurants for top destinations in the US and around the world.

Source: Portuguese American Journal

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TOP 10 LISBON RESTAURANTS

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TOP 10 LISBON RESTAURANTS

BELCANTO

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Many have traveled to Lisbon just to dine at this restaurant. It opened in 1958, and was awarded a Michelin star in 2013, recognizing the talent of chef José Avillez, who revived the space in 2012. Avillez has other restaurants in town, but it's here that he presents his signature cutting-edge Portuguese cuisine.

FEITORIA

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Being located at the starting point of many of the Portuguese explorers' voyages, this restaurant distinguished with a Michelin star adds a touch of the exotic to Portuguese cuisine. The East is everywhere, starting with the décor, which includes an image of the Portuguese arriving in Japan. The menu changes twice a year so that only seasonal ingredients are used, and there's a wide selection of wines.

ELEVEN

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This restaurant with panoramic city views at the top of Edward VII Park is another of Lisbon's Michelin stars. It presents Mediterranean cuisine by the talented chef Joachim Koerper in an elegant dining room.

100 MANEIRAS

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Chef Ljubomir Stanisic mixes innovation and humor in his tasting menus, using products found at the Ribeira Market. That's how he guarantees freshness and surprise in every dish, without forgetting his signature creation, the "Estendal do Bairro," -- cod hanging by clothespins.

TAVARES

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Times change and so do the chefs, but what always remains is one of the grandest dining spaces in the city, and excellence in the kitchen. It's the oldest restaurant in Lisbon (and one of the oldest in the world), having opened, closed and reopened several times since 1784. Contemporary Portuguese cuisine is served surrounded by mirrors in a gilded room.

VARANDA

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This is probably the most expensive restaurant in town. It's the restaurant of the Ritz Four Seasons Hotel, with a Parisian touch in the décor and cuisine. Lunches are served in a varied buffet, while dinner is a la carte, offering international dishes with a strong French influence.

BICA DO SAPATO

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It's one of the trendiest spots in the city, and not just because it's actor John Malkovich's restaurant. It has been a "school" for many young chefs, some of whom are now some of the most promising talents in the city. It serves contemporary Portuguese cuisine at tables facing the waterfront in a stylish space.

ASSINATURA

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This restaurant follows the traditions of Portuguese cuisine, but updates them to modern tastes, and reinvents them with the chef's signature. It has maintained the excellence after the departure of the original chef, and the dining room keeps the mixture of the classic and the modern, which is also reflected in the kitchen.

ALMA

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Henrique Sá Pessoa is one of the best-known chefs in the country, and it's here that he presents his interpretations of Portuguese cuisine. Traditional dishes such as cod or suckling pig are transformed into original creations by mixing ingredients and seasonal products.

PANORAMA

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It's at the top of one of Lisbon's tallest buildings (theSheraton Hotel), so it offers a panoramic view over the city. The regularly-changing menu offers creative cuisine and a good wine selection.

Source: Lisbon Lux

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The most picturesque towns in the world

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The most picturesque towns in the world

There is a Portuguese town among the most picturesque towns in the world.

Ericeira, located about 35 kilometers away from Lisbon, is on the list and is therefore a place for you to visit. The portuguese Meca of Surf stands out, for example, for the houses perched over the sea. 

This list prepared by the San Francisco Globe, elected the most beautiful local photos. See, below, which towns are part of this same list.

Annecy: France

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Colmar: France

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Sidi Bou Said: Tunisia

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Garmisch-Partenkirchen: Germany

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Dinan: France

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Himalayas: Tibet

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Reine: Norway

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Gasadalur: Faroe Islands

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Camden: EUA

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Tenby: Wales

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Tasiilaq: Greenland

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Shirakawa: Japan

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Hallstatt: Austria

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Estrunfes (Smurfs): Spain

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Albarracin: Spain

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Chefchaouen: Marroco

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Ericeira: Portugal

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You want to visit this beautiful town? We have a holiday rental in Ericeira.

Ha Long Bay: Vietnam

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Leavenworth: EUA

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Burano: Italy

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Bled: Slovenia

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Putre: Chile

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Bibury: England

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Source: Idealista

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Insider's Guide to Lisbon

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Insider's Guide to Lisbon

Palacio Fronteira Pedro Guimarães

Palacio Fronteira Pedro Guimarães

This city is often overlooked as a destination, considered an also-ran to Paris, Rome and other European capitals, with their iconic attractions and masses of tourists. But there's something to be said for Lisbon's subtler charms.

Lilac-hued jacaranda blossoms carpeting the stone benches in Largo do Carmo Square, for instance. Or melancholic fado music wafting from cafes in the twisting streets of Alfama. Or the perfume of sea spray along the waterfront in Belém, close to where the Rio Tejo joins the Atlantic Ocean.

Lisbon peaked as a global powerhouse in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Portuguese explorers sailed from its shores, returning with treasures from India and the coast of Africa. A devastating earthquake and tsunami in the 1700s humbled the city. The current economic crisis has put Portugal in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. An upside of centuries out of the spotlight is that Lisbon's gems weren't razed in the name of progress.

There are also advantages to the capital's lack of notoriety on the cultural front. Visitors can enjoy Lisbon's museums—the trendy (the Museu Coleção Berardo and the Museu do Design e da Moda) and the traditional (the fado and tile museums)—without crowds.

Yet the city isn't stuck in the past. Santiago Calatrava designed the futuristic Oriente metro station in Parque das Nacões. The new Beautique Hotels Figueira were created by acclaimed Portuguese designer Nini Andrade e Silva. And British architect Amanda Levete is creating a spaceshiplike EDP Foundation Arts and Technology Centre in Belém.

Back home, regale your friends with your discoveries. Better yet, don't.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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BEST ROOFTOP BARS IN LISBON

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BEST ROOFTOP BARS IN LISBON

SILK CLUB

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This club at the top of a building in the Chiado district is one of the most exclusive addresses in Lisbon since it opened in 2008. It offers a nearly-360º view of the city’s historic center, and has a minimalist decor and a sophisticated-yet-chilled-out ambience. It serves Mediterranean dinners from Tuesday to Saturday from 7:00PM to 11:30PM, and after that it’s time for music by the resident DJ, and cocktails late into the night.

SKY BAR

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Found at the top of the Tivoli Hotel, this is a lounge area with sofas where you may gaze out to the river, to the castle and downtown. It offers a good list of cocktails (including non-alcoholic) and there is also a choice of snacks. It opens late in the afternoon, but only in the warmer months, usually between May and September.

MEMMO ALFAMA TERRACE

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This bar is on the first floor and not on the rooftop of the building of the Memmo Alfama Hotel, but it is at the top of an entire neighborhood -- picturesque Alfama. It has some of the best views of the Tagus and of Lisbon’s oldest district, and a contemporary décor. It’s by the hotel’s outdoor pool, offering a selection of Portuguese wines and tapas, to be enjoyed along with the magnificent views. It opens every day, from 6PM to 11PM.

TERRACE

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It's not spacious but it's already been considered one of the most beautiful terraces in the world. The reason is the view that goes over the rooftops to 25 de Abril Bridge, and a comfortable, cozy atmosphere. Relax amid cushions and wicker chairs, and enjoy a glass of wine or a refreshing drink.

ROOFTOP BAR

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Be blown away by the view from this terrace on the 9th floor of Mundial Hotel. The castle is so close you can almost touch it, and you can see almost all of downtown and Chiado. It opens for pre-dinner drinks but also invites you to end the night with a cocktail to the sound of jazz.

ENTRETANTO

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The terrace on the 7th floor of Hotel do Chiado offers a breathtaking view of Lisbon. You may admire the old city and the Tagus, while enjoying a tea in the afternoon or a cocktail at night.

PARK

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The top of a car park at the doorstep of Bairro Alto instantly became an afternoon and night hotspot when it opened in the summer of 2013. Wooden tables and small potted trees facing 25 de Abril Bridge create the feeling of a garden suspended above the city, serving a variety of drinks and burgers into the night, to the sounds selected by a DJ.

LOST IN

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This colorful terrace faces east, also through its exotic décor inspired by India and zen ambiences. A Hindu goddess is illustrated on a wall, observing the service that includes light meals and drinks for a relaxed afternoon or evening.

VARANDA DO CASTELO

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The rooftop bar of the Vintage Lisboa Hotel opens during the spring and summer months for evenings of views over Lisbon to the sound of music. It serves tapas and a variety of cocktails every day, from 5PM to midnight.

UPSCALE

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While most other rooftop bars are in the historic center of town, this one is in the modern city, at the top of a luxury hotel. It's essentially a summer destination, with an infinity pool and fruity cocktails. While there's a charge for the use of the pool, anyone is welcome to sit on the lounge chairs and try the variety of cocktails together with snacks as they overlook the city. In the background there is always a mix of pop hits for a chill-out atmosphere.

Source: Lisbon Lux

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Portugal voted top destination once again

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Portugal voted top destination once again

For the second consecutive year Portugal has been chosen as the best country in the world to visit by one of the world’s most prestigious travel magazines, Condé Nast Traveller. 

Online voters of the luxury travel publication chose Portugal for its winning combination of culture, gastronomy, excellent wines, beaches, history, golf courses, and for its friendly, open and very sincere people. Readers also described Portugal as having an impressive variety of landscapes.

This distinction comes a month after Portugal’s capital city scooped another accolade when the Post Office City Costs Barometer 2014 revealed a trip to Lisbon is the best for value in the Eurozone, being half the price of a visit to Paris, Amsterdam or Rome.

While a three-course evening meal for two with a bottle of wine in Lisbon would set visitors back £34.48, a similar meal would cost twice the price in Paris, at £68.97, £89.35 in Stockholm (Sweden), or £99.06 in Copenhagen, Denmark, it said.

Thirsty travellers can expect to pay an average of £1.12 for a bottle of beer in Lisbon, with the same costing £3.80 in Belfast, £4.31 in Dublin, and £6.73 in Moscow, Russia.

These latest reports and awards serve to substantiate Portugal’s excellent showing at the most recent World Travel Awards. The Algarve was chosen as Europe’s best beach destination and also scooped the top prize for best boutique resort (Vila Joya, Albufeira), best luxury resort (Conrad Hotel), best golf resort (Hotel Quinta do Lago), and best villa resort (Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, Sagres).

On a national level, a further six awards were given to the Algarve. The Ria Park Hotel & Spa took the title of Portugal’s best business hotel and best hotel for conferences; the Martinhal was voted Portugal’s best family resort, while the best golf resort in the country went to the Hilton Vilamoura.

Hotel Quinta do Lago emerged as Portugal’s best overall resort, while the Blue&Green Vilalara Thalassa Resort took best spa resort.

The rest of the country also made a good impression, with Lisbon taking the title of Europe’s Leading City Break Destination and Madeira taking the title of Europe’s Leading Island Destination.

The Vine Hotel, also in Madeira, was voted Europe’s Leading Design Hotel, while the country as a whole was chosen as Europe’s leading golf destination.

Source: The Portugal News

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Braga, the loveliest city in Portugal

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Braga, the loveliest city in Portugal

It's a sleepy, ancient city, but also brimming with a modern, youthful energy. Check out Braga, the loveliest city in Portugal you've never heard of

Morning at the Cathedral in Braga. Photograph: Alamy

Morning at the Cathedral in Braga. Photograph: Alamy

Given that Braga has almost four dozen places of worship, it's easy to see why the Baroque city, one of Portugal's oldest, has a reputation as a staid, ecclesiastical destination. Each Easter, pious throngs flock here for the city's Semana Santa, and most visitors who end up in a place that barely registers on the global radar are here to tour the churches on a day trip from Porto, an hour away.

I made the journey because I was intrigued to discover why this ancient city – a former stronghold of the Roman empire – was selected as the 2012 European Capital of Youth. Clearly something was going on beyond the obvious. And it wasn't long before I realised that there is another side to this unassuming city in the country's northiwest corner.

Thanks to a large student population and a steady influx of young Portuguese, Braga has some lively cultural offerings, an eclectic vibe, a mellow – mostly underground – bar scene, and the bonus of outdoor adventure on the doorstep thanks to its close proximity to Peneda-Gerês national park.

The small-town warmth of the place is immediately apparent at the Braga Pop Hostel where owner Helena Gomes likes her guests to feel like friends rather than tourists. Her idiosyncratic touches start with a wink in the form of a sign on the second floor stairwell bearing the words: "We're sorry... but you still have one more floor to climb", and on the third-floor: "Hard stairs, aren't they? But, on the other hand, you're welcome."

Modern design at the Chapel Tree of Life, Braga, Portugal. Photograph: Nelson Garrido

Modern design at the Chapel Tree of Life, Braga, Portugal. Photograph: Nelson Garrido

There's contemporary photography in the Museu da Imagem, which spans two historic buildings: one from the 19th century and a tower from the 14th that was part of the original city wall, and innovative design at the Chapel Tree of Life (open to the public Fridays at 5pm) within the centuries-old seminary of São Pedro and São Paulo. This slatted structure, constructed solely of wood (with no nails or hinges), is suffused with light and evokes the serenity of the nearby forests while providing a singular example of the power of modern architecture.

Another hub of art and cultural activities is Livraria Centésima Página, a popular bookshop behind an 18th-century facade, with a lush garden that seems to have attracted most of the pushchair-wielding mothers of the city. Like many venues in Braga, it multi-tasks – as a coffee bar, exhibition space, workshop and art gallery. I'd expected to hear readings from authors but not to be able to fill my bags with Portuguese wines, jams and other gourmet goodies.

In fact, it was hard to keep my focus on Braga's cultural offerings when my taste buds were constantly being tempted. A lovely old mansion with iron and stone balconies is home to Spirito, a popular cafe serving Oreo and Guylian chocolate cupcakes on an outdoor patio strewn with oversized lamps, comfy day beds, couches and throw pillows.

The lingering clientele are mostly young, but there are some perky over-4os sipping icy mango-passionfruit frappés, though they are all missing out on the main event. "People go mad for our gelato," says co-owner Nuno Freitas. "Recently a group of Americans and Canadians ordered 34 ounces of ice-cream daily."

Centésima Página

Centésima Página

Braga's noticeably unhurried pace of life accelerates after dark, especially in the downtown area. The city's sense of intimacy and compact size make it easy to bar hop – and it offers a more inviting prospect than trying to negotiate Porto's vast urban sprawl.

Even here, among the modish Braga haunts, history is everywhere. At Restaurante Brac, you can sip crafted cocktails beneath contemporary paintings with a view of medieval ruins. The menu focuses on classic Portuguese ingredients, but nudges them into the 21st century with dishes such as octopus carpaccio with olive-caper vinaigrette.

A 10-minute stroll away, Quatorze transforms from a daytime, by-appointment art gallery into a night-time bar and music venue, often with themed events fusing music, food and film from a specific destination. In many towns this would be the preserve of the millenials but here people of all ages, from twentysomethings to over-50s, mingle easily. Like many university towns, Braga has a creative energy that that brings together all sorts of people, transcending age, class and lifestyle. Rather than being stuck in the past, it continues to adapt and thrive, looking to the future with a new-found sense of optimism.

Spirito, Braga

Spirito, Braga

Source: The Guardian by Jeanine Barone

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48 Hours In: Lisbon

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48 Hours In: Lisbon

This charming capital, which combines sea views, steep hills and old-world manners with a vibrant nightlife, is a joy to visit, says Mary Lussiana.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Lisbon's Portela Airport (ana.pt) is an easy 7km journey to the capital. TAP Portugal (0845 601 0932; flytap.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol and Luton; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted and Manchester; and BA (0844 493 0787;ba.com) from Heathrow.

Metro trains (www.metrolisboa.pt) run from the airport to Saldanha station (2), 6.30am-1am (€1.40). Aerobus (carris.pt) shuttles to Cais do Sodre station (3) every 20 minutes, with stops at the city's train and bus stations, including central Avenida da Liberdade (4). Buses run 7am-11pm; tickets (€3.50) are valid for 24 hours. TAP Portugal air passengers travel free with a boarding pass.

Taxis take around 15 minutes to the city and cost around €10.

Get your bearings

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After the 1755 earthquake, Lisbon was rebuilt by the Marques de Pombal, on a grid of parallel streets linking Rossio Square (5) to the Tagus river. A triumphal arch stands on Praca do Comercio (6), near the Tourist Office (7) at Rua do Arsenal 15 (9am-8pm;askmelisboa.com). You can buy a Lisbon Card here for 24 (€18.50), 48 (€31.50) or 72 hours (€39). It entitles you to limitless free rides on city transport (including the city lifts such as the Santa Justa) and free or discounted admission to many cultural attractions.

The city centre, known as Baixa, remains elegantly 18th-century. Rising into the hills to the east is the original Moorish quarter of Alfama, where the fortified Sao Jorge Castle (8) stands above narrow streets (castelodesaojorge.pt); further afield, near the mouth of the Tagus, is Belem, from where explorers set sail in Portugal's golden age.

DAY ONE

Take a hike

Start in the Praca do Comercio (6), for the first view of the city that 16th-century visiting dignitaries would have had as they alighted from their boats on the Tagus and walked up the marble steps to the Royal Palace, which was destroyed in the earthquake. With your back to the river, Lisbon's oldest café, the Martinho da Arcada (12), which dates to 1782, is on the square's right-hand side and is the place to stop for a bica (the local version of an espresso), under the arcades which became the new Royal Palace in the 18th century.

Walk under the triumphal arch into Rua Augusta (13) – a pedestrianised street lined with mosaic pavements and bordered by boutiques – and continue until you meet Rua de Santa Justa. Here, turn left to the Santa Justa lift (14) (7am-9pm; €5 return), which was built in 1902 and is still used. Made of iron and embellished with filigree, it raises you 13 metres to Largo do Carmo and the elegant Chiado district.

Lunch on the run

Head left down Rua do Carmo and into Rua Garrett, where Café a Brasileira (15) offers the perfect pause. Enjoy the pasteis de bacalhau, delicious cod fish cakes with a local wine or a Portuguese beer for under €10. Inside the 1920s café, a favourite haunt of Fernando Pessoa, all is gilded mirrors; outside is a bronze statue of the nation's famous poet.

Window shopping

Across the road is Paris em Lisboa (16) at Rua Garrett 77 (parisemlisboa.pt) a 19th-century family-owned store, which sells attractive tablecloths and napkins.

For the artisanal crafts Portugal excels in, head down Rua Anchieta to A Vida Portuguesa (17) at Rua Anchieta 11 (avidaportuguesa.com) with its Claus Porto soaps, olive oils and hand-woven rugs from the Alentejo.

Loop back to Largo do Chiado for a dip into Vista Alegre (18) at Largo do Chiado 20-23 (myvistaalegre.com), which makes Portugal's most beautiful porcelain and where you can also find striking Atlantis glassware.

An aperitif

To learn more about premium Portuguese wines and enjoy the patio designed by Portugal's greatest architect, Alvaro Siza Vieira, head to the new Wine Spot Chiado (19) at Rua Garrett 19 (00 351 213 460 032; winespotchiado.pt) to explore the different regions with wines by the glass accompanied by plates of cured ham and cheese for around €15 for two people.

Dining with the locals

Traditional flavours with oriental influences is how chef Joao Rodrigues describes his style of cuisine at the riverside restaurant, Feitoria (20) at Doca do Bom Sucesso (00 351 210 400 200;restaurantefeitoria.com), which delivers superb dishes such as lobster and wild seabass with Alcacer do Sal rice, lime and coriander (€37).

The service, setting and sensational tastes make this a favourite with Lisbon's in-crowd, so book early.

DAY TWO

Sunday morning: go to church

The Church of Sao Roque (21) on Largo Trindade Coelho (00 351 213 235 824; open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-6pm) has a plain exterior that belies an opulent interior with ornate hand-painted tiles and beautiful side chapels, particularly that of St John the Baptist, wrought with gold and silver, ivory and lapis lazuli. Sunday mass is held at 11.30am.

In Belem, don't miss the opportunity of mass – or a wander around – in the magnificent Monastery of Jeronimos (22) on Praca do Imperio (open daily 10am-6pm; Sunday mass at 9am, 10.30am and 12pm; otherwise tickets €7; mosteirojeronimos.pt). Built in the 16th century, on wealth from the spices, precious stones and gold that explorer, Vasco da Gama, had returned with, it is a fitting tribute to Portugal's era of discovery. Appropriately, Vasco da Gama is buried here.

Walk in the park

Just across the road from the monastery lies the little-known Jardim Botanico Tropical (23) on Largo dos Jeronimos (00 351 213 921 800; weekends 11am-6pm, Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm; tickets €2). It is a haven of peace with peacocks and ponds among the rich collection of trees from the old Portuguese colonies such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

Out to brunch

At the Varanda Restaurant in the elegant Four Seasons Hotel Ritz (24), Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca 88 (00 351 213 811 400;fourseasons.com/lisbon), the brunch is legendary. From the sweetest of oysters from nearby Setubal to octopus ceviche, huge joints of beef to tiny lemon tarts and runny cheese from the Serra da Estrela, it is a feast fit for the gods; €59pp.

Cultural afternoon

Download the Four Seasons Hotel's free Art Collection app (bit.ly/LisbonAC) to use as your guide to the eclectic mix of contemporary Portuguese artwork found there. Then walk to the Gulbenkian Museum (25) at Avenida de Berna 45 (00 351 217 823 000; gulbenkian.pt; open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5.45pm; €5, free on Sundays). Inaugurated in 1969, this important museum contains collections that span 4,000 years, from ancient Egyptian figurines to Lalique's Art Nouveau jewellery.

Icing on the cake The Hills Tramcar Tour lasts 80 minutes and departs from Praca do Comercio (6) every 20 minutes from 9.20am to 7pm (€8) and follows a similar route to the famous yellow No 28 tram around the old quarter of Lisbon, but with less risk of pickpockets and the inclusion of an audio guide.

Source: www.independent.co.uk

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Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

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Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

People often ask me to name my favorite wine countries. I like to surprise them by putting Portugal high on the list.

Portugal seems to be stuck in an unfortunate dichotomy in our mind’s eye: There’s cheap Mateus, the wine of unsophisticates — Saddam Hussein supposedly was a fan — and vintage port, the expensive postprandial tipple of the stodgy British aristocracy. 

That’s as regrettable as it is incomplete.

I love Portugal because it offers tremendous value and variety, with wines that you won’t find anywhere else. And the Douro Valley, the region famous for those fortified ports and its stunningly beautiful landscape, leads the way.

Much of the country’s charm is in the sheer variety of its grapes, many of which are indigenous and not widely grown in other countries. Portugal has not succumbed to the lure of chardonnay and cabernet. It shares some grapes with Spain, of course. Albariño and godello appear here as alvarinho and gouveio. Tempranillo, the great red grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, plays a supporting role throughout Portugal under a variety of pseudonyms. Syrah makes a cameo appearance, though it hasn’t stolen the show. 

If you enjoy keeping track of the grape varieties you’ve tasted, you can add extensively to your repertoire by exploring the wines of Portugal. The port grapes of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz (Portugal’s main pseudonym for tempranillo) and tinta cao form the major red blends from the Douro. Farther south, trincadeira anchors the reds along with aragonez (another name for tempranillo), while fernao pires shines in aromatic whites. If you search, you can find touriga in Virginia or Australia, and others maybe in experimental vineyards, but most of these varieties are unique to Portugal. 

The Douro is the world’s oldest wine region, having been officially demarcated in 1756 in an attempt to guarantee the authenticity of its wines. Those wines were almost exclusively port — fortified and sweet, in a variety of styles — until the 1990s, when a few wineries began using the same grapes to make dry table wines. Those wines have proved popular enough that more vineyards have been planted farther upriver in the Douro Superior, near the Spanish border. So the Douro is both an old wine region and a new one.  

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Stylistically, Douro’s table wines are similar to Spain’s famous reds from Rioja and Ribera del Duero; remember the tempranillo connection. Yet Douro reds have a complexity that seems to reach down into the schist that makes up the vineyard soils. They also have a leafy, somewhat woodsy character that speaks of the outdoors. They don’t conjure wood-paneled tasting rooms or barrel cellars as much as an autumn hike along a riverside trail. 

The Douro also leads Portugal in value, and I might not have said that a few years ago, when the wines seemed to aim at the higher end of the price spectrum. There are a few priced under $10: Charamba is nationally available, while Lello is available more in the Washington area market. The excitement now starts around the $15 level and up, with wines that outperform for their price. Quinta do Crasto and Muxagat are two labels I highly recommend for their entire line of wines. Others, such as Niepoort and Quinta do Vale Meao, are harder to find but worth seeking out and splurging on.

Another reason to love these wines: They often have a smoky, earthy character that pairs well with grilled foods. And the time for grilling is nigh.

Source: By Dave McIntyre www.washingtonpost.com

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Porto: Best European Destination 2014

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Porto: Best European Destination 2014

Porto, the second Portuguese largest city, was elected for the second time “Best European Destination” of the year, by the European Consumers Choice.

Porto was first awarded the honor in 2012. In 2013 the title was won by Istanbul.

Porto won with 14.8% of the votes, followed by Zagreb, Vienna, Nicosia, Budapest, the island of Madeira, Milan, Madrid, Berlin and Rome the other destinations in the top ten. The voting was carried online involving multiple social networks

According to the European Consumers Choice, “The fact that Porto has once more been selected reflects well its fame, attractiveness and excellence as a tourist destination, as well as the dynamism of this sector with the greatest growth potential and which contributes most to national GDP.”

For three weeks, from 22 January to 12 February, travelers from all over the world voted online on their favorite destination among the 20 shortlisted to participate on the competition.

Porto, population 237,559 (2011), offers a variety of resources and historic authenticity to its visitors. Discovering Porto means discovering what makes it different: the famous Port Wine, the Historical Center designated World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, Museums, enchanting parks and gardens.

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The city has undergone a remarkable renaissance in the last two decades. At the mouth of the Rio Douro, the hilly city presents a diversity of styles from narrow medieval alleyways to extravagant baroque churches, romantic little squares and wide modern boulevards.

The European Consumers Choice is an independent non-profit-making organization based in Brussels created to recognize companies skilled in producing innovative and intelligent designs for easy to use products. European Consumer Choice in partnership with tourism offices also rewards the best holiday destinations in Europe.

Using Eurostat’s annual tourism data and experts’ professional advice, a central jury selects 20 towns to compete for the “European Best Destination” title.

Source: http://portuguese-american-journal.com/

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15 of the prettiest villages in Europe

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15 of the prettiest villages in Europe

Almost everyone loves a pretty village, you know a place where the houses are impossibly perfect and time just seems to stand still. Well luckily Europe has plenty. From dreamy fishing villages to tiny fortifiedtowns, here are our favourite picturesque villages in Europe guaranteed to impress your travel snob friends…

Eze, France

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The ancient village of Eze – with its fabulous views over St Jean-Cap Ferrat – is a more traditional alternative to the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur’s resort towns. Perched on rock 1,400 feet above sea level, the focal point of the village is the ruins of a 12th-century castle. Wander through its labyrinthine streets and then stand back to admire the gorgeous view of the villas that lead down the hillside to the Mediterranean.

Pitigliano, Italy

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Surrounded by woodland and the fabled rolling hills of Tuscany is Pitigliano – an ancient small town built on sheer cliffs. Dating from as early as 1061, the town is filled with Etruscan tombs (which locals use to store wine) which are connected by a network of caves and tunnels. An extraordinary, steep fortress surrounds the commune which ensures its status as one of the most unusual and photogenic towns in the area.

Polperro, England

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The popular English holiday county of Cornwall is filled with chocolate box pretty villages, but perhaps the most beautiful is Polperro. With its narrow winding streets and cottages perched on steep slopes overlooking a tiny harbour it seems to be everyones idea of a picturesque Cornish fishing village.

Hallstatt, Austria

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Often considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe, Hallstatt is very picturesque. This is mostly due to its location on a narrow rocky west bank of the Hallstättersee with the sheer rising mountains behind it. Famous for its production of salt, this tiny village was once a settlement that dates back to prehistoric times.

Wengen, Switzerland

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Wengen is an impossibly perfect example of an Alpine village where traditional timber chalets cling to the slopes of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Yes, it does look something straight out of Heidi and although it’s a little touristy in the summer, in winter the high altitude attracts so many skiers its population increases almost ten-fold. Although Switzerland is famously expensive it doesn’t always have to be, especially if you look around for some late deals.

Obidos, Portugal

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This is an ancient fortified town located in the Estremadura Province. In the 13th century, Portuguese Queen Isabel was so enamoured by the village of Obidos that her husband, King Denis I, gave it to her as a present. Today its perfectly preserved collection of medieval architecture ensures its status as a popular tourist destination.

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Deià, Mallorca

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Deia is a renowned picturesque village – located on the northern ridge of the island – which is known for its literary and musical residents. Positioned in a valley in the shadow of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, its home to a cluster of stone built houses complete with terracotta roofs which seem to hug the dramatic mountain range.

Ravello, Italy

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The Amalfi coast’s most peaceful and charming resort is easily worth the stomach-churningly steep drive to get to. A favourite haunt of celebrities (Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy and Tennessee Williams all holidayed here) Ravello is known for its mostly traffic-free lanes, elegant gardens, picturesque squares and its famous vertigo-inducing glimpses of the Mediterranean miles below.

Pučišća, Croatia

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Pučišća is a small and gorgeous harbour town located on the northern coast of the island of Brač. Sheltered by a protective cove and filled with attractive Mediterranean style white and terracotta houses, this kind of place is the reason why Croatia is such a popular travel destination.

Kazimierz Dolny, Poland

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This small historic town has a pre-war, precommunist charm which really draws the crowds. Besides the cobblestone streets, preserved Renaissance buildings and picturesque ruins of a medieval castle the town is also known for its superb panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Autoire, France

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Autoire – located in Lot, close to the border with the Dordogne department – has the honour of being titled as one of the ‘most beautiful villages of France‘. A place where little has changed in 800 years, it’s filled with a collection of attractive 16th and 17th century honey coloured houses, a pretty church and central fountain all set with a backdrop of the dramatic cliffs of the Causse.

Carlingford, Ireland

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Just an hour’s drive from either Belfast or Dublin, Carlingford Heritage Village is famous for both its attractiveness and its surrounding landscapes. It enjoys a very beautiful location on the southern shore of Carlingford Lough and at the foot of Sliabh Foye surrounded by Irish myth and legend.

Mittenwald, Germany

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Mittenwald is where ‘Old Germany’ stills exists. Traditionally very Bavarian, its has gorgeously decorated houses, painted facades and ornately carved gables. The painted buildings are exceptionally pretty so take your time to stroll around while doing a spot of shopping at the same time.

Crupet, Belgium

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Crupet is a small pretty village set in a woody valley of Wallonia and surrounded by a large moat. Dating from the 13th century its famous for its beautiful castle and its grottoes. Although the medieval Crupet castle can’t be visited (it’s privately owned) it makes for an extremely photogenic backdrop.

Fjallbacka, Sweden

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Fjallbacka is a dreamy fishing village which is also a gateway to Sweden’s most westerly islands, The Weather Islands. Soon you’ll also be hearing a lot more about this tiny village – the forthcoming feature film and TV series, The Fjällbacka Murders – are currently being filmed here.

Source: www.globalgrasshopper.com

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Lisbon on the top 10 beautiful European cities to visit by train

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Lisbon on the top 10 beautiful European cities to visit by train

Lisbon is a beautiful city and well worth a stop. It was once often overlooked as a travel destination but that’s changing rapidly and has become a lot more popular in recent years. Apart from taking a sunny stroll and enjoying the gorgeous baroque architecture, make sure you include a visit to Miradouro da Senhora do Monte for the incredible views of the city (especially at sunset).

My Lisbon tip – Lisbon is also great for shopping so take plenty of cash and include a visit to the sprawling modern Amoreiras Shopping Centre.

Source: www.globalgrasshopper.com

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10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal

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10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal

With its cities fast becoming chic hotspots and gorgeous coastline where you still can escape the crowds, Portugal is entering a new era of cool. So what are you waiting for? Here are ten of the most beautiful places to visit in Portugal:

Lisbon

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Being the capital of Portugal, Lisbon is an obvious place to start. It receives around half the fuss of other European capitals, but can easily equal them in beauty and charm. A lot of its attraction probably lies in its deep-rooted history, coming second only to Athens in the oldest European capital stakes. It’s actually a beautiful mix of old and new, and alongside the city’s endearing old-fashioned qualities, there is also plenty to please the boutique crowds. Visit the Gothic cathedrals, historic cafes, vintage trams and narrow lanes of Lisbon’s lovely backstreets and don’t forget the vibrant coffee bars and fabulous restaurants. The city is built on a series of hills, meaning that everywhere you venture within Lisbon you are practically guaranteed to have a gorgeous view.

Sintra

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Lord Byron’s favourite Portuguese haunt is this exceptional village, ripe with richly coloured buildings and breathtaking architecture. Palaces, turrets, a romantic Moorish castle and a misty dense forest are all part of this sweet little place. The vegetation is lush and exotic due to the microclimate. There are a host of historic buildings to take a look at, as well as clusters of leafy mansions with immaculate lawns and stunningly decorative features.

Porto

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With its 14th century walls, medieval winding streets, colourfully picturesque houses, bell tower and ornate tiles there is much to see in the newly fashionable city of Porto. Sit under the arches at Placa da Ribeira (the riverfront square) and watch the boats float past. Most apartments in the area have terraces that overlook the tranquil waters. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it’s a combination of old worldly charm and bustling metropolitan culture, making it a very intriguing travel destination.

Douro Valley

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The river Douro winds through Spain and Northern Portugal. It was once a wild turbulent river, but the clever introduction of eight vast dams has tamed its spirit and it is now is very tranquil and peaceful. The beauty of the area isn’t limited to these still and shimmering waters, though. Bordered by stunning sweeping hills and expanses of delicate almond blossoms, it really is a beautiful part of the world. The area remains, for the most part, unspoilt, with roads zigzagging through the mountains and cruise boats softly pressing through the water. The Douro Valley is famed for supplying grapes to the best Port companies. In fact, you can see all of the major names proudly displayed on the hillside vineyards, which change colour through the seasons as the vines mature.

Óbidos

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This is an ancient fortified town located in the Estremadura Province. In the 13th century, Portuguese Queen Isabel was so enchanted by the village of Obidos that her husband, King Denis I, gave it to her as a present. This prompted a tradition of Portuguese kings buying this picturesque village for their queens, which lasted for many centuries. When you visit this beautiful spot, you’ll understand exactly why Isabel fell in love with it.

Cascais

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Once a sleepy little fishing village, Cascais is now a chic coastal resort famed for its glorious beaches, sophisticated nightlife, water sports and adventure pursuits. Always popular with artisans, writers and artists, due to its exquisite scenery, it boasts a remarkable selection of art, proudly displayed in The Conde de Castro Guimares Museum. Another of the town’s attractions is the smart new marina filled with yachts which shimmer and glisten in the bright sunshine.

Praia da Marinha

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Because of its proximity to the overly touristy Algarve region, many dismiss the beautiful beach at Praia da Marinha. It is certainly worth visiting though, as it is considered by many to be the best beach in Portugal and is classed as one of the Top 100 beaches of the world. Ideal for snorkelling and striking rocky cliff faces, it’s no wonder that this destination is so popular for luxury 5* holidays in Portugal.

Marvão

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Marvao is a beautiful medieval mountainside town in Alentejo that still has its original 13th century walls. The streets wind seductively between the surrounding walls, making Marvao a very beautiful place to visit. As you can imagine, the views from across the town are not to be missed. The lovely hotel Pousada do Marvao, Santa Maria, is the ideal place to stay. It consists of two of the village houses that have been converted, ensuring it is in keeping with the rest of the town.

Salema

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Situated three hours South of the capital, near Cape Sagres, Salema is a beautifully tranquil beach. Although located in the package holiday favorite the Algarve, this pretty village remains comparatively untouched by the ravages of tourism, offering just a scattering of eating places, a traditional outdoor market, one small main street and clusters of pretty white stucco houses. This peaceful fishing village is located between two sharp cliffs with a glorious sandy beach rolling between.

Évora

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Évora is a Portuguese city in the municipality of Évora. The beautifully preserved historic town has been classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and when you visit, you’ll soon discover why. It’s home to a 2000 year old Templo Romano, a 16th century aqueduct that can be followed by foot for five miles and the incredible Capela da Ossos – a sinister crypt – which displays the full skeletons of over 5000 Evora residents.

Source: www.globalgrasshopper.com

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This is Portugal: Grutas de Mira de Aire

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This is Portugal: Grutas de Mira de Aire

The caves of Mira de Aire, located on the county of Porto de Mós, were discovered in 1947. Are 11 km long but only 600 meters are flyable.

Considered one of the wonders of Portugal, these beautiful caves are open to the public since 1974 and receive daily a large number of tourists.

One more place in Portugal that is worth visiting!

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Beautiful don't you agree?

Source: vilas3.com

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10 wonderful and abandoned places in Portugal

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10 wonderful and abandoned places in Portugal

Portugal is a country rich in beautiful places, romantic gardens, wonderful beaches ... but also some abandoned and haunted places!

1. Quinta do Montado – Quinta de Marques Gomes – Canidelo

This farm was owned by businessman Manuel Marques Gomes. This man, born in Canidelo, was worthy of several institutions and responsible for several works of public interest.

The “Quinta do Montado”, also known as “Quinta Marques Gomes” is today completely abandoned.

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2. Casa da Praça – Frazão

This is another beautiful and great interest from the point of view of architectural work. This house belonged to the family Alves Barbosa and unfortunately is today as you can see in the image below.

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3. Termas Águas Radium/Hotel Serra da Pena – Sabugal

Legend tells that in this place, built in the early twentieth century, Don Rodrigo (Spanish count) have healed his daughter from a severe skin disease, using the radioactive waters of this place. During this situation, the Count decided to build this spa hotel that is now as follows:

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4. Casal do Passal – Cabanas de Viriato

House of the illustrious Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese diplomat that during World War II saved more than 30,000 lives from Nazi persecution (considered as the largest rescue action undertaken by an individual person).

Recent news speaks in this house restoration project.

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5. Clock house – Porto 

Also known as Manueline house, this house is located at the mouth of the Douro at Porto. Built by Republican Arthur Jorge Guimarães and his wife, now lies abandoned as you can see in the image.

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6. Convento Nossa Senhora do Desterro – Monchique

This building, located in Lagos, was founded in 1631 by Pero da Silva. Today lies in ruins.

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7. Convento Santa Clara -Vila do Conde

This convent was founded at the initiative of King Afonso Sanches. In the church also are the graves of Beatrice of Portugal, daughter of Blessed Nuno Alvares Pereira, the Counts of Canterbury and the founders.

Once a female convent, today is just an abandoned building with prospects of becoming a giant hostel.

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8. Palácio Fonte da Pipa- Loulé

The stories of haunting are common when the subject is the palace source Pipa.

This beautiful palace was built by Marçal Pacheco, brother of Duarte Pacheco in order to receive King Carlos when he visited the Algarve. However, Don Carlos opted to stay in another palace in the area.

Named “Quinta da esperança”, this palace was always known as “Fonte da Pipa”, because in this place existed a source with this name.

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9. Panoramic restaurant-Monsanto

This restaurant was built in the 60s. However it has been an office, a disco, a bingo, a warehouse, anyway, today is an abandoned building.

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10. Palacete Rosa Pena – Espinho

The grandeur of this building leaves no one indifferent. It occupies an entire city block of the city of Espinho and unfortunately is in a high state of degradation.

The Rosa Pena palace dates from 1930 and was apparently designed by engineer José Alves Pereira da Silva, married to Rosa Pena da Silva. Although these are not the true owners of the palace, the building was known as Rosa Pena when his real name is just the Pena Palace.

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Source:  3vilas.com

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Minimalist Small Resort House in Portugal

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Minimalist Small Resort House in Portugal

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Casa Areia is pure nakedness and muteness. The platonic suggestion—a sea cottage with sandy floors—is a serene search for simplicity. Sandy ground and wooden frames are an apparently simple attempt at making the space a reciprocal relationship with the beach landscape. The design begins with the conditions of the materials, according to their potential habitability.

Each masonry building was adapted to individual rooms, while one of the two wooden volumes was converted into a two-bedroom pavilion and the other a common area. The exterior and interior wall partitions of the common space have been created with bamboo, and a natural roof tops off each of the constructions on site.

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Source: http://designdautore.blogspot.pt/

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Portugal off the beaten track

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Portugal off the beaten track

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Most Brits head to the Algarve when they go on holiday to Portugal, but it's safe to say they're missing a trick. The relatively unkown area of Alentejo is wildly beautiful, relatively tourist-free, and provides a wonderful alternative to the well-travelled coastline Brits know so well.

First things first: this region is vast. This off the beaten track area covers one third of Portugal but has a population of just 700,000 (ie, just seven per cent of the population). The emptiness becomes increasingly noticeable as we drive further away from Lisbon and approach our destination, Amieira Marina on Lake Alqueva. By the time we arrive, there's hardly a soul around, and this solace continues throughout our stay (we didn't encounter a single diner in either of the restaurants where we enjoyed our evening meals).

It matters not, though. In fact, that's why we're here, a hardy bunch of journalists bought to discover the region and spread the word of all the area has to offer. Alqueva is Europe's largest manmade lake, covering 250 square kilometres (most of it in Portugal but some of it in Spain too) and as soon as we arrive we begin to discover all sorts of things about the region's fascinating history. This area was only dammed in 2002: until then this was one of Europe's most arid, drought-ridden areas. The dam, which reached its current water levels in 2010, was built to provide irrigation and boost local industry and tourism.

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And it's this watery haven that will provide our accommodation during our stay: a houseboat on the lake. After the obligatory training and sailing lessons, we're keen to set out into the large expanse of water. The boats have a maximum speed of 10mph (probably to prevent the tourists from pretending to be James Bond in a speedboat – shame!) and the fastest never feels like more than a mooch. The lake suddenly feels even bigger as we travel from place to place at a sedate pace.

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Fascinating stops abound. First there's the rebuilt village of Luz, which is an eye-opener. The building of the dam meant that the original village had to be submerged and its inhabitants relocated to a new village, complete with a reconstructed church and cemetery. The museum here is fascinating and includes a room showing footage of the villagers before and after their home was sent to its watery grave: the final goodbye to the old cemetery is moving beyond belief. Windmills and even a castle are now submerged in the lake's depths: it could be a scuba diver's dream if someone wanted to develop it.

In the afternoon we drift off to the medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz which has amazing 360 views over the whole region. Walking around the old castle remains, we're lucky enough to be treated to a spectacular rainbow in the distance, and take many stunning panoramic photos.

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Nightfall brings fresh excitement for us all. Alqueva is a stargazer's dream: it was the first site in the world to receive the Starlight Tourism Destination awarded by the Starlight Foundation, supported by UNESCO. In other words, it is one of the rare places in Europe where light pollution is still minimal, and it has cloudless nights for more than half the year. The hotels in the area have been lent high-tech telescopes and I am astounded to be able to see the rings of Saturn as I gaze through one of them.

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Our trip isn't complete without a visit to Evora, the state capital, a UNESCO Heritage-classed town that is a great mix of Roman ruins, medieval walls, crumbling megalithic structures and 17th century palaces. Here you'll find lots of shops - it's the most touristy part of the region. Many of the items on sale are made of cork, which is grown a great deal in the region. You'll find cork bags, mats, wallets, hats and clothing... we even spot a cork wedding dress!

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This town is also home one of the strangest places I have ever been: a creepy chapel made out of human bones called Capela dos Ossos, created in the 17th century by Franciscan monks. As the town expanded beyond its medieval walls the graveyards outside them were dug up so they could be built upon. Rather than letting all the bones go to waste the monks used them to cover the walls and pillar of the surch to remind anyone entering that life is a fleeting thing.

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As we head home to the airport I think about who I'd recommend Alentejo to. It's certainly for those who like a bit of peace and quiet and who are keen to visit a relatively little-known part of Europe, ripe for discovery. The sedate lifestyle, fascinating history, beautiful landscape, starlit skies and laidback people make it a place to remember, and brings a lovely change from the usual hustle and bustle of Europe's more touristy destinations.

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Photos by: Getty, Alamy and Melinda Rogers

Source: www.flightjumpr.com by Melinda Rogers

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Portugal: a Destination to Discover!

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Portugal: a Destination to Discover!

Vacationing in Portugal is not just about Lisbon and Porto.  While I agree that these cities are definitely must-sees for first-time visitors, I have to admit that for even a small country, you are really missing out on so much more if you don’t venture beyond these areas!  If you take a look at this Basic Regional Map, Portugal is firstly divided into 5 distinctly different geographical regions, but then these are further split into.

Sub-Regional (Right) & District (Left), with the districts named after their capital city.  These smaller divisions represent how even more different they are from each other within not just geography, but also architecture, culture and cuisine (including wine!).  That then gives you a perspective of just how much of Portugal you’re actually missing out on experiencing!

I read recently that it used to be that most tourists in general searched for a vacation spot according to the three S’s- Sun, Sea and Sand, which is still apparent on Portugal’s long coastline for being a tourist hot spot.  But now, more and more people are shifting to looking for a vacation with the three L’s- Land, Lore and Leisure, meaning they prefer to stay in a place that best represents the land around them, to learn about the place’s history and folklore while being able to enjoy it through relaxing leisure activities. And for me, this one seems to fit my natural inclinations very well.

For the last 3 years, Miguel and I have maintained a tradition of taking two mini-vacations around Portugal, one in the summer (June/July) and one in the winter (November/December).  And each time, we have made sure to go as deep into the country as we can, in search of finding a hotel that provides those three L’s, along with some other preferences we have.  For example, a comfy bed is a must, as I don’t know how one can relax on vacation without a good night’s sleep!  Also, we prefer a room with a balcony, specifically one with a great view of the land around there, so I guess you could say we normally tend to go to the mountains.  And lastly, if we go in the summer months, a hotel with a pool is usually nice to have.

All of this you can easily find in a hotel using my favorite search site, Booking.com, just put in your dates and type “Portugal” as your destination then scroll down to the map and Portugal Overview where you can search by cities or provinces/regions or even closest airports.  You can also check out Wonderfulland.com which recommends great Portuguese guesthouses and pousadas (luxury boutqiue hotels built within hisorical sites like castles, monasteries etc.) or Pousadas.pt directly for the entire list of pousadas.  However, I find that these sites tend to be pricier to book with for the same hotel that you can almost always find on Booking, so I suggest that if you find a hotel on one of those latter two sites, look it up on Booking next to compare prices before reserving.

So now you may be asking yourself, when do you recommend the best time to go?  What do I look for exactly?  Well below are the guidelines I like to go by when choosing a hotel:

My Guidelines For Picking The Right Getaway Hotel in Portugal For You:

1. Avoid going in August at all cost!

EVERYONE in Europe goes on vacation in August, so most hotels, especially on the coast, are 2-3 times more expensive than other months.  And even if you’re willing to pay the money, it’s almost guaranteed that your hotel will be packed to the brim with lots of families and screaming children….not exactly ideal for a relaxing getaway, you’d almost be better off staying at those people’s empty homes!

If you want the beach without so much of the craziness, try booking in late September/October when it’s still quite warm most of the time and the water has had the opportunity to heat up all summer   Just saw a room at a 5-star hotel in Sagres for more than a €100 less per night in mid-October than if you had booked it in mid-August!  And of course, staying during the week versus the weekend will always be cheaper.

2. Always check the hotel’s room photos carefully to see exactly what you’re sleeping in/on.

I’ve encountered some gorgeous little hotels in the most absolutely beautiful locations to find out that their rooms look like creepy medieval dungeons.  Maybe some people think it’s cool sleeping on a 500yr old piece of history but I prefer my relaxing getaway bed NOT to be a rock-hard tiny mattress that’ll break you’re back as you stare up at a giant gnarled black crucifix.  About as romantic as staying at your deeply-religious grandmother’s house for vacation….Pass!

3. Order your search results by highest rated, NOT most popular.

You don’t necessarily want the most popular hotel, especially if the popular vote comes from families with screaming children.  However, you do still want an overall high rating for your hotel to begin with, as this usually narrows down your search to places with high-quality service and facilities.  I usually tend to not go below about a 7.7 out of 10.0, however I have found exceptions to that before.  If you want to really be sure, read several of the comments from past guests, making sure to read specifically the comments from your specific guest profile.   As I said, it may be great according to families but not so much for young couples looking for a relaxing, romantic getaway.  Also, older couples and families with small children tend to complain the most about any little thing, such as rating the place a 5 out of 10 just because there was no TV in the room.  I think these are unfair complaints when they could have easily chosen a different hotel with those desired features beforehand, instead of crapping on an otherwise fantastic place to stay!

Bottom line, if you spend a little extra time searching, narrowing down and looking in detail at the placese  you have in mind, you’ll have a better chance of choosing the right hotel in the right area that you´ll be satisfied and happy with after. 

So, are you looking for some recommendations to start with? Well, if you have similar preferences as the ones I stated above, then check out the 5 hotels below that I’ve stayed at on my mini-vacations in the last 3 years!

Hotel Folgosa Douro-Folgosa, Douro Valley (Norte) | http://www.hotelfolgosadouro.com/en/

This small but modern 3-star hotel was just a little over a year old when we stayed there for the first time in November, 2009.   Situated in the tiny village of Folgosa, near Peso da Régua, it’s in the heart of Douro wine country.  Which is what we mainly did on our vacation there, spend the day driving up and down the mountains exploring the area and checking out the all the wineries and vineyards and the breathtaking views of the valley.  We liked this place a lot for it’s location right on the river with a great view of the mountains and neighboring villages.  The cleanly decorated rooms have comfy beds and nice mood lighting and the bathrooms have huge bathtubs that made for a great bubble bath to soak in after a day of wine tasting in the colder months.

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The staff were very nice, offering us a complimentary glass port upon arrival and were very accommodating throughout our stay.  The small restaurant serves inexpensive, good food presented nicely in front of their large window with a great view of the river.  And if you’re willing to splurge, you got the famed Restaurante DOC by Chef Rui Paula just across the street from the hotel!

Hotel de Caramulo-Caramulo, Viseu (Centro)

This hotel is basically the only one perched at the top of the Caramulo mountains, just outside of the town of Caramulo.  Don’t be turned off by its lower rating, this is mainly because the hotel is on the older side and some of the facilities need some fixing up but they have plenty of other reasons to make up for it.  The rooms are modest but large and if you book a room with the “Valley View”, you get two double door windows opening up to a large balcony with a table and chairs and of course that GORGEOUS VIEW.  The balcony was also great sitting out there in the evening in our hotel bathrobes and slippers breathing in the delicious mountain air under a star-filled sky with the towns all lit up below.

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If the view still isn’t enough for you, the hotel has a fully equipped gym, spa, sauna, steam room and both an indoor and outdoor pool.  The restaurant is a bit pricey but has good food, however their adjacent lounge/bar has a great mini-menu of soups and sandwiches and afternoon tea goodies that are great to spend a quiet, relaxing afternoon/evening with still that great panoramic view of the valley. 

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Hotel El-Rei Dom Manuel-Marvão (Alto Alentejo)

This was the last hotel we stayed at back in early December and also our first time vacationing in the region of Alentejo.  I must say, we couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to go, with the cold, rain and immense fog, it made it hard at first to appreciate one of the best aspects of the hotel (room) and area-the view!  But thankfully the fog did clear up enough for us to enjoy it and I can say it was definitely worthwhile after that.   

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This is only one of two hotels (the other is the pousada, which has a much lower rating) that are located in the historical village of Marvão, perched at the top of a large hill, complete with the ancient ruins of a castle. This makes it a perfect location to walk through the village and explore the castle and take in all the incredible vistas without ever having to worry about transportation.

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Most of the rooms are small and a bit old-fashioned in decor, but the added rooftop terrace of a superior double room evens it out.  The restaurant also serves good food, especially at breakfast and the staff are very hospitable.

Quinta de Moçamedes- São Miguel do Mato, Viseu (Centro)

Quinta de Moçamedes- São Miguel do Mato, Viseu (Centro)

This cozy, 10-room guesthouse located in a tiny aldeia (village) was rebuilt out of a 12th-century stone manor house and is run by incredibly hospitable Antonio Borges and his family, who live on premises.  All the rooms are spaciously decorated with extra-comfy beds and some with a private courtyard or an outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside.  Our room was located in the original stone house so we had the delight of the thick stone walls keeping our room naturally cool during the day and snuggly warm at night. 

The family puts out a simple but homemade breakfast every morning with local fresh fruit and fresh baked sweets and though there is no restaurant, you can request to have a meal prepared for you in the dining room or you may be invited to dinner instead, if they are already cooking for themselves.  This is what happened to us and the rest of the guests the first night and we had a casual, yet delicious family-style dinner, complete with Antonio and his family, they made everyone feel right at home! 

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The estate has an outdoor pool and you can also get recommendations from Antonio on local sports activities to do, such as hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, rafting, rapeling, BTT and more.

Casas da Lapa- Lapa dos Dinheiros, Serra da Estrela (Centro)

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This tiny 8-room boutique hotel was built totally out of local stone and is perched high up in the Serra da Estrela mountains at the top of the tiny aldeia, Lapa dos Dinheiros.  The super comfy rooms are stylishly decorated with even softer beds and furniture and all are equipped with jacuzzi bathtubs. 

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The outdoor pool has a great view of the valley and village below and since the hotel is so small, you almost feel like you’re the only guest there!  There are also two rooftop terraces for guests to sit out and relax on, sunbathing or taking in the great view.  The staff and service are impeccable and still retain the warm, local friendliness.

Breakfast is great and showcases a lot of local goodies, lunch is available and dinner can be arranged for you on their front terrace at your prior request.  The night that we arrived though, it was already quite late, but the staff the kind enough to offer us the dinner menu that another group of guests had requested before so we lucked out!

Outside the hotel, you can walk up and down the historical cobblestone streets of the village and there is a praia fluvial (“river beach”) a short drive/walk down through the woods with a crystal clear mountain lake with a local “pub” that’s great to watch the moon come up over the mountain at night   And of course, this place is perfectly located to explore all around the beautiful Serra da Estrela mountains and surround villages.

Boa Viagem & Happy Vacationing!

Source: http://americaninportugaltours.com

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The Lisbon Charms

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The Lisbon Charms

Lisboa's neighbourhoods of Belem, Alfama, Chiado and Baixa as well as the Paula Rego Museum in Cascais, are the five tourist attractions in the Portuguese capital recently elected by the Associated Press.

Bestowed with "a special charm" that attracts "more and more visitors", Lisboa has been featured in the international agency's free weekly travel guide published in early 2013. In the guide, the Associated Press (AP) reports that the city has a good offer for hikers, a peaceful way of life, low crime and lots of history. The agency also stresses the "famous Portuguese hospitality" and "exceptional seafood in restaurants."

In Belem, the AP highlights Jeronimos Monastery, the gardens and the maps of sea voyages along the riverside promenade. "The Portuguese like to think (of Belem) as the starting point [ground zero] of globalization," the agency says, noting that the Discoveries Monument pays tribute to Portuguese heroes like Vasco da Gama. The guide also mentions the "famous and irresistible Belem pastries," the 25 de Abril Bridge, which says it is very similar to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, USA, and the "giant statue of Christ that stands watch over the city from the south bank of the river."

In Alfama, AP praises the neighbourhood's typical streets "that ascend towards the castle, where archaeologists have found traces of occupation from the 7th century BC."

Downtown Lisboa, or the Baixa as its is locally known, is another of the free destinations that AP recommends a visit, having been rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, in a "rare geometric pattern." In this area, the guide advises tourists to visit the antique shops and admire the black and white decorated cobblestone pavements.

In Chiado, described as a neighborhood of the 19th century Belle Époque, "when writers and artists gathered in cafés", highlights include the café "A Brasileira", with the statue of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.

Finally, the AP guide praises Paula Rego, described as one of the most famous modern artists, and recommends a visit to the museum with her name, in Cascais, in the Lisboa Region.

Source: www.vivainportugal.pt

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